11 Best Things to Do in Hokkaido in Winter Season

11 Things to Do in Hokkaido to Experience Winter

Ever wondered what it would feel like to walk on drift ice?

For many of us in Southeast Asia, the winter months don’t really feel like one, as the tropical climate just means cooler weather. That all changes when you spend winter in Hokkaido! This island is Japan’s northernmost prefecture and is renowned for its seafood and vibrant landscapes — even during the coldest months of the year.

From skiing spots and astounding natural attractions to brilliant winter festivals, read on for the top things to do in Hokkaido during the winter season. 

Also read: 10 Best Airbnb Homes & Vacation Rentals in Japan for the Trip of a Lifetime

Best things to do in Hokkaido in winter

1. Dive into Hokkaido’s winter activities at Niseko Village

things to do hokkaido winter

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With several ski resorts in Hokkaido and good snow quality, the region is popular for winter sports. Niseko United is the largest ski area in Hokkaido with 48km of groomed slopes, 70 different runs, and 29 lifts. With the high snowfall, extensive facilities, and professional staff, this resort is certainly one of the best in Japan.

Niseko United comprises four interlinked ski resorts around Mount Niseko Annupuri, which is a two-hour drive from Sapporo. Part of the larger Niseko United, Niseko Village is one of the best ski resorts for skiing. Niseko Village has a good blend of novice and intermediate courses as well as a relaxing ambience. It’s certainly a great option for first-timers who want to try Hokkaido winter activities.

Also read: 10 Best Things to Do in Sapporo During Wintertime

2. Watch your step on the Shiretoko Peninsula

hokkaido winter activities

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While skiing in Hokkaido is extremely popular, try your hand at some winter activities unique to the region. Between late January and late March, ice from the Sea of Okhotsk drifts southwards — making it possible to walk on the ocean. 

On the Shiretoko Peninsula, there are several drift ice walking tours that allow visitors to tour the ice floes. This amazing experience will make your winter in Hokkaido unforgettable and give you a story to tell the kids. Just make sure to look out, as the floating ice can easily break apart when you walk on these.

Pro tip: Most tours provide dry suits during your walk but additional layers wouldn’t hurt as sometimes the ice can give way. 

Also read: 13 Tips for Packing Light for Winter Trips

3. Catch your own lunch from the Barato River

One of the best things to do in Hokkaido in winter is smelt ice fishing. Located 30 minutes away from Sapporo, the Barato River is a great place for locals and tourists alike to catch fish. On guided tours, participants are taught the basics of ice fishing before proceeding into tents to catch wakasagi (Japanese smelt).

Following an hour or two of fishing, your catch is fried on the spot into tempura. While these bite-sized tempura probably won’t be enough to fill your belly, the warm and crunchy snacks help to warm your body!  

Pro tip: From personal experience, it is easier to catch fish when the noise level is kept to a minimum. So, refrain from unnecessary conversation and focus on your pole as fishing is a game of patience. 

4. Head to Ningle Terrace and have a magical winter experience

ningle terrace

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Nothing spells an authentic winter experience like a brightly lit log cabin out in the woods. Located in Furano’s surrounding forest, Ningle Terrace is a quaint shopping paradise made up of small log cabins. 

This collection of log cabins doubles as boutique cottages where artists create, display, and sell various hand-crafted goods. The warm timber, fresh pine scent, and rustic charm create a fantasy-like atmosphere perfect for a date. Alongside shopping for craft goods and souvenirs, visitors can also grab a bite at the few cafes around the village.

Also read: 10 Best Winter Destinations in Asia for Your Next Holiday

5. Admire beautiful natural gems on Otsu Coast

otsu coast

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One of the unique things to do in Hokkaido in winter is to check out this natural phenomenon — jewellery ice. This incredible sight can only be found along Otsu Coast, in Toyokoro town.

Essentially, river ice that flows out to sea gets moulded into round lumps before being washed ashore. When bright sunlight hits these lumps, it creates a glimmering effect that makes the ice look like exquisite gemstones.

Pro tip: Walk along the beach during sunsets or sunrises to get the best views of these gems.

6. Appreciate the bewitching blue hues of Shirogane Blue Pond

shirogane blue pond

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No words can describe the beauty of Shirogane Blue Pond located in Biei. This man-made pond was a by-product of a dam that was built on the Biei River to prevent mudslides. To maintain the tranquillity of the pond, visitors can only observe it from the riverbanks; that means no swimming or boating.

The pond has a vivid shade of light or turquoise blue depending on the weather and season. Whichever the case, there is no doubt the half-submerged dead birch trees give the pond a mystical, almost eerie-looking appearance. 

Fun fact: Due to the accidental presence of aluminium hydroxide in the water, the birch trees remain withered throughout the year. This chemical compound is also the reason why the pond is blue. 

7. Visit Goryokaku Park for a spectacular view

goryokaku park

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Goryokaku Park is a fort located in Hakodate and was originally built in 1855 to protect Hokkaido. This iconic star-shaped fort was converted into a public park in the 1910s and holds special historic significance today. The fort represents the transition between the Tokugawa shogunate and the Meiji government spelling the end of Japan’s feudal system.

Something about the undisturbed blanket of white makes this one of the best things to do in Hokkaido in winter. Staying after dark will enable visitors to see unreal views of the park when it is lit up by the surrounding lights. Additionally, visitors can ascend the nearby Goryokaku Tower to take in panoramic views of Hakodate City and the park. 

8. Spend the night on a frozen lake

Apart from these Hokkaido winter activities, there are a host of winter festivals that visitors should definitely check out. The Hokkaido Kamakura Festival is a great way to take in the local culture. This folk celebration revolves around the kamakura (igloo or snow hut): traditionally used to worship gods like the water deities, but nowadays, also serve as tourist attractions. 

On Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan, a man-made ice village is constructed on its frozen surface. This village remains intact between late January and early March. During this time, visitors can enjoy good food, drinks, and music while enjoying the cold weather. You can even stay overnight in one of the igloos, which we highly recommend as there are some great stargazing opportunities! 

9. Feel romance and lanterns in the air in Otaru

things to do hokkaido winter

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The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival is held every February in the port city of Otaru. This festival coincides with the highly popular Sapporo Snow Festival, but it is possible for tourists to visit both.

Locals construct snow sculptures and decorate the town with glittering lanterns and displays. Despite the cold winter winds, the bright festive lights give the town a jovial atmosphere. Along Otaru Canal, one can find floating candles and snow figures that create a romantic setting perfect for any date.

Also read: 8 Extraordinary Winter Festivals to Experience in East Asia

10. Immerse in the festivities in Onuma Quasi-National Park

A winter in Hokkaido isn’t complete without a visit to the Onuma Hakodate Snow and Ice Festival. This annual event takes place in the first week of February in Onuma Quasi-National Park in Hakodate.

Apart from snow sculptures and food stalls, the main attraction is the 20-metre-long ice slide made from frozen lake water. Visitors can also take part in ice carving and other Hokkaido winter activities such as smelt fishing during the festival.   

11. Cap off your trip in style at Noboribetsu Jigokudani

noboribetsu jigokudani

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Noboribetsu Jigokudani or Hell Valley might sound like a terrible place to end your winter in Hokkaido. Given that this spot is actually a volcanic crater with boiling sulfuric steam plumes, one can be forgiven for thinking so. 

In reality, this crater and the neighbouring town Noboribetsu are scenic spots to take a dip in a hot spring. After a long day of playing in the snow, treat your body to a warm and relaxing hot spring. We recommend Noboribetsu Hot Spring (¥900 for adults and ¥450 for children) to soak in the sulfuric waters.  

Also read: 12 Hot Spring Towns in Japan to Relax & Unwind on Vacation

winter in hokkaido

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With so many things to do in Hokkaido during winter, any traveller is guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience. Whether it’s skiing down mountain slopes in Hokkaido or enjoying breathtaking natural views, you’ll likely want to come back for more. And yes, this guide is just the tip of the iceberg!

About Author

Sarvaesh Mohan

Sarvaesh is always on the lookout for the next adventure and loves to get his adrenaline pumping. When he's taking a break from travel, he loves to play video games and watch historical documentaries.