Hokkaido’s autumn foliage is simply awesome. In the fall, all across the Hokkaido region, the leaves turn from green to a vivid palate of fall yellows, organs and reds. There are many places on this island that are great to see fall foliage. Most of these places are part of the various designated National Parks. Though, some fall foliage spots are located in Sapporo city. I have chosen only the top 10 that I felt very special in terms of hunting momijigari. Each place is worth a visit, no doubt.
Here, I have excluded some other fall foliage spots that I visited in the past across the Hokkaido region. Before deciding these as the best ones I first gave priority to the categories: scenery, color, hikes, drives, water reflection, park, and garden. I believe, in Hokkaido, from mountain peaks to seaside ports, there are many cities and towns in which tradition of viewing autumn leaves (koyo) is existed. If you are searching for some great fall foliage trips to Hokkaido then consider at least some of these to make the most of the colors of the season.
1) Daisetsuzan National Park
Daisetsuzan is the largest national park in Hokkaido region. If you are adventurous then you should embark on fall foliage tours in this wild area. The entire park consists of mountain ranges, hiking trails, hot spring resorts and diverse wildlife. In fact, Daisetsuzan national park is well known for featuring the first stunning vibrant autumn colors in Japan each year. It usually happens in mid September when the trees and bushes display their final beauty in red and yellow colors before freezing winter arrives. My travel experience says it is one of the Hokkaido’s most picturesque autumn destinations.
Asahidake Onsen, Daisetsu Kogen Onsen and Sounkyo Onsen are the best hot spring resort towns in Daisetsuzan National Park. I want to describe Sounkyo separately from the others (as mentioned) as I believe it is different from those two. You can follow a hiking trail that leads from Asahidake Onsen to Mount Asahidake. View of Ginsendai (a trail-head) fall color is stunning! On the way to Mount Asahidake, along the trails shimmering yellows, organs and reds would sparkle your eyes. Eye-catching vividly colored fall foliage is right there. While on the other hand Kogen Onsen is a small remote base to explore the National Park. The spectacular autumn colors along the hiking trail could be thrilling to you. You are requested to attend a short lecture at the bear information center before setting off. It would help you to know the directions and trail. These onsens provide high quality hot spring baths for visitors for relaxation.
Sounkyo is located at the foot of Mount Kurodake with two magnificent waterfalls, one giant gorge and home to several world class hot spring baths. The reason I have separated Sounkyo from rest of the places located in Daisetsuzan National Park is that I felt Sounkyo is a real nature paradise. Indeed it is for nature fanatics! I have visited Sounkyo many times before and I just can’t answer the question “what’s the best time to visit Sounkyo?” I think it is a four season’s destination that is magically transformed into various form of beauties.
There are so many things you could experience in this base. It allows you not only take several hiking courses but also offers a dreamy journey toward the higher parts of Daisetsuzan National Park by the Kurodake Ropeway. During the fall season, surrounding forested valleys offers a dramatic fall colors. And the best possible way to enjoy such a beautiful autumn view is when you take the Gondola and the chairlift from the Ropeway station. Words can’t describe the moment you encounter as it takes you to higher parts of the National Park. You can get to Sounkyo quite easily from Asahikawa Station by direct buses.
3) Shiretoko Five Lakes
Shiretoko Five Lakes or so called Shiretoko Goko Lakes are surrounded by native forest, located in Shiretoko National Park. Their picturesque landscapes in summer transform into a natural arena of shimmering colors in autumn. The crystal clear surfaces of these small lakes reflect the surrounding colorful trees and mountain range. It is just breathtaking when you such a wonderful scenery created by the mother of nature. Of course give a credit to the fall season. In addition, you may encounter different species of wild animal and bird. Though, due to bear sightings all or some of the trails get closed to avoid unavoidable circumstances. Please note that, Hokkaido’s famous brown bears often roam around there.
One can enjoy fall colors here by walking along the nature trails and an 800 meter long wooden elevated boardwalk. While walking through this you will see stunning fall color beauty of surrounding unspoiled nature including the first lake and Shiretoko mountain range. I must tell you that there are two one-way hiking courses offered to its visitors: a 3 Km (about 90 minute) course to all five lakes and 1.6 Km (about 40 mintue) course to just the first and second lakes. I took the first hiking course to enjoy Shiretoko’s vast nature in a challenging way. We were without tour guides though nothing bad happened as we were informed before we sat off how to walk along the trails safely. This journey will take you into a world of silence. The best time to see autumn foliage is between early to late October.
4) Shiretoko Pass
There are some byways in Japan which could totally blow your mind during the fall season. Shiretoko Pass (a winding road) that connects Utoro in Shari and Rausu is seen to be one of best ways of enjoying a drive along with experiencing fall colors in the Shiretoko Peninsula. The drive along this pass is an excellent day trip that takes you to Rausu from Utoro coasts and offering you get a magnificent outlook of stunning autumn foliage in every direction. To make this happen you need a rental car. Rent one at an affordable price either from Nissan or Toyota.
Shiretoko pass crosses over the mountain range at an elevation of 740 meters. You can enjoy a spectacular view of autumn foliage on Mount Rausu on the way. In addition, the road that leads to Shirtetoko Five Lakes is also breathtaking. In fact, Shiretoko Peninsula is a paradise of abundance of wilderness. That is for why it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. Mid to late October is the best time to see autumn foliage. When you are in Shiretoko for a great display of the color change, make sure you visit the five lakes areas and Shiretoko Pass. So turn your leaf-watching adventure into a fall weekend getaway.
5) Hokkaido University, Sapporo
Now let’s get to the capital city – Sapporo. Don’t you think that it has charisma for the fall season? My past experiences have helped me to add this popular autumn leaves spot. Hokkaido University’s most famous fall highlight is probably its Ginkgo tree avenue. Ever green leaves of the ginkgo tree transforms into golden yellow color. Though, it is quite bright green in summertime. The avenue starches from Kita-jusanjo Gate all the way to Ono Pond comprises about 70-80 ginkgo trees along the street. As fall rolls in, many people prefer to walk under the shade of the colorful ginkgo trees. You will have to get here in mid-October in order to enjoy the peak season. I think that is the most colorful time of the year! The location is about a-seven minute walk from the north exist of Sapporo Station.
7) Nakajima Park
When does fall foliage take place in Sapporo? For a great display of the color change in this area, try the view at Nakajima Park in mid-October including Hokkaido University’s Ginkgo tree avenue as I have mentioned above. The autumn beauty of Nakajima Park brings a lot of joys as you enter the park. It is situated right in the middle of downtown Sapporo. Trees of Japanese elms, ginkgo and maple leaves turn their colors to yellow, golden, orange and red.
There is a lovely pond called Shobu which can be explored by a rental boat. In addition, during the koyo season it is relaxing while walking along the garden trails around the pond. The historic park ground is home to more than 5000 trees. If you are busy enough to head to Shiretoko or Sounkyo, you better visit Nakajima and I believe it could satisfy your mind fully.
7) Jozankei Onsen
Some places’ hidden beauty is observed only on arrival of particular seasons. Jozankei Onsen – a popular hot spring resort, not far from Sapporo city shows its beauty only in autumn and winter. It is my personal opinion based on my trips to Jozankei that I made. In winter, snow is everywhere that makes the resort area a winter wonderland. On the other hand, during the fall season it becomes one of the most beautiful places in the world. Its scenic beauty has overwhelmed me and it would do the same for you if you get there in autumn.
Use the walking trails and then find out the unspoiled nature, hot springs, foot baths, restaurants and shops for buying souvenirs. As a side trip to Jzankei Onsen you could visit several which are located very near to Onsen area such as Nishikibashi bridge, Toyohira river, Hoheikyo dam and etc. Trees along the valleys produce their best colors in mid-October. It is said that an ascetic monk discovered the hot springs and opened a healing spa in 1866. Please note that there are about 56 hot spring sources in the Jyozankei district. You can take a look at the top sightseeing spots around Jozankei Onsen. They are superb to experience in autumn.
Noboribetsu is a hot spring resort town like Jozankei Onsen. It is part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park. It is the most famous hot spring resort in Hokkaido region. There are eleven different kinds of thermal waters. It is just unbelievable, right?! I had a very pleasant holiday time here. I think you should pick this place as your next holiday destination. Why?! Displays of hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity can only be seen at Jigokudani or so called Hell Valley. The next attraction would be the Oyunuma Pond.
You can reach there talking the trails from the valley. The nearby colored forested valley which display yellow, reds and oranges during the fall season make feel just “Wow” . These trails make it the perfect fall gateway for hikers and nature lovers. In addition, there is a river called Oyunumagawa that flows through the forest is perfect for natural foot bath. In the whole resort area there are plenty of things to do including dining and shopping. I hope you come here in mid-October and find no excuse to miss it.
9) Miharashi Park (Kosetsuen)
When I think of fall foliage tours inside Hakodate area, the first things that come to my mind are fall color, fall dishes and cool weather. Autumn is a relief of excessive hot weather in Tokyo but people of Hakodate don’t think of this way. Locals there try to find out some ideas of exploring city’s most popular fall foliage spots. One of the best I could recommend is called Misharashi Park or Kosetsuen. Inside this traditional Japanese style garden, it is quite peaceful. Here, autumn’s vibrant colors provide the perfect atmosphere for a visit to Hakodate. During the weekends of late October and mid November many visitors gather here with the hope of spending a peaceful time outdoors.
10) Onuma Park
Onuma Park is a famous summer camping spot in Hokkaido. It is situated north of Hakodate. If you think you want to see one other fall foliage spot in Hakodate then visit this picturesque park. The park visitors may enjoy a variety of activities throughout the year. When fall arrives, the park comes alive with colors. It is surrounded by mountains, forests and lakes. On a sunny clear day, the beautiful view of Mount Komagatake and Lake Onuma along with colored leaves in autumn is very majestic. I experienced a lovely view of Lake Onuma against the backdrop of Mt. Kamagatake. It was breathtaking! There are walking courses that let you explore the lakes and the fall colors. Apart from this, there are sightseeing boats for visitors to have a relaxing boat journey on the lakes. Here, mid to late October is the peak season to enjoy fall foliage.
I am done! It is time to start planning your foliage adventures. Hokkaido does not have beautiful temples/shrines like Kyoto has but it has what Kyoto does not have. Do you understand me? A 7-day trip to Hokkaido in fall season takes you to some of the magnificent fall color spots in this region. You just don’t view autumn leaves instead one may enjoy a variety of activities throughout this season. These 10 trip ideas would point you in the direction of vibrant colors which we witness from mid September to early November. Get out there and enjoy it. Thank you.
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