Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan is a popular winter destination in the world. This beautiful island has a lot to offer you (budget and luxury tourists and everyone in between). According to my experience, Hokkaido is a paradise for nature and adventure seekers as you will find many hiking trails that lead you to climb even the highest peak of Hokkaido called Mt. Asahidake.

Focused on the best winter attractions located in central and southern areas of Hokkaido, this travel plan reveals the right way of using a 4-day flexible Hokkaido Pass. This itinerary will take you to see everything from the iconic landmarks to the awe-inspiring snowy landscapes that you may interested in taking photographs with your camera.

I hope that this itinerary will help you plan an exciting and unforgettable Hokkaido trip this winter. In fact, this itinerary below is pretty short but loaded with the best things to do in Hokkaido in winter. Let’s get started!

Please note that to follow this itinerary, it’s highly recommended to stay 1 night in Sapporo city. Sapporo Grand Hotel may suit your budget and meet your expectation.

Day 1 – Sapporo to Noboribetsu

On the way to Jigokudani of Noboribetsu Onsen. Photo Credit: 663highland at Wikimedia Commons.

From Sapporo station to Noboribetsu station, it takes less than 80 minutes by limited express train. If you catch the early morning train from Sapporo station, reaching Noboribetsu will be super easy and you will have plenty of time to explore the onsen town even before you call it a day. There is no need to purchase a train ticket when you have a JR pass or Hokkaido Rail Pass.

Hotel to stay in Noboribetsu: Dai-ichi Takimotokan

Part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park, Noboribetsu is Hokkaido’s most famous onsen town and one of the well-known onsen resorts in Japan. Jigokudani or Hell Valley is considered a must-see spot in Noboribetsu and it’s the main source of hot spring waters in the area.

Dolphin show at Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE. Photo Credit: Ray Swi-hymn at Wikimedia Commons.

One of the reasons people like visiting Noboribetsu is that it boasts eleven different kinds of thermal water. Here you can experience both indoor and outdoor (private and public) baths. Dai-ichi Takimotokan, the popular traditional Japanese style hotel for your overnight stay offers the best modern indoor hot spring baths to its guests.

Although soaking in a hot spring is your main reason to visit this onen resort, there are many other activities you can do. For example, visitors should not miss visiting Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE, Date Historical Village, Oyunuma River Natural Footbath and the restaurants to try some delicious Japanese cuisine.

Day 2 – Noboribetsu to Lake Toya to Hakodate

Usuzan ropeway during winter. Photo Credit: WAKASARESORT Co., Ltd.

Many travelers, especially those looking forward to visiting Hakodate from Noboribetsu usually make a stop at Toyako Onsen. This is another hot spring resort town situated at the foot of Mount Usu. Many hotels and restaurants can be found along the shore of fascinating Lake Toya. One interesting fact about Lake Toya is that it never freezes in the winter months.

You can mark this site as an incredible day trip that can enrich your trip to Hokkaido to the fullest. Walking along the shore of Lake Toya and viewing the lake and surroundings from the observatory platforms can make your journey memorable.

Panoramic views of Lake Toya and Shōwa-Shinzan can be observed from the upper station’s observation deck. So, take the ropeway to reach the Upper station of Usuzan ropeway. It will take you close to the summit, which in fact enables you to go on a short hike up to Usu Crater Observatory.

If you have enough time, like for an hour to spend in the area, I will definitely tell you to enjoy a winter cruise on Lake Toya. That’s going to be a relaxing boat journey and exciting adventure; especially photographers must include this activity in their itinerary.

For an enjoyable lunch time, Boyotei Restaurant is highly recommended.

After spending a day at Toyako Onsen, hop on an evening train to Hakodate Station. Check into this hotel, located very close to JR Hakodate Station.

Day 3 – Hakodate

Evening view of Hakodate city from Mount Hakodate. Photo Credit: Satellizer at Wikimedia Commons.

Fresh seafood and views over the city from Mount Hakodate, these two things are very popular in Hakodate, the 3rd largest city in Hokkaido. Fort Goryukaku is also an iconic attraction to witness in the city. In addition, Motomachi area is pretty picture-perfect with sloping streets and beautiful historical buildings.

You can start your first day in Hakodate city with a visit to Hakodate morning market. For locals and tourists alike, this morning market is very popular to have breakfast with fresh delicious seafood as you will find many restaurants in the market area.

Next place to visit after the morning market is Fort Goryukaku, is a massive, western-style fort build during the Edo period. This site is considered to be one of the best places to see cherry blossoms in the spring in Japan. The area is quite peaceful and offers you to have a pleasant stroll, which leads you to Goryukaku Tower. In winter, the fort is blanketed with lots of snow, and for a picture-perfect view, I recommend you to visit Goryukaku Tower.

To get to the fort, you have to take the tram to Goryokaku Koen Mae stop, which is about a 10-mintue ride. From there, it’s a 10-mintue walk to the fort.

Hachimanzaka of Motomachi, Hakodate city.

After spending a few hours at Fort Goryukaku, you will head over to Bay Area and explore the Red Brick Warehouse. For a little bit of shopping and finding unique souvenirs, this shopping complex in Hakodate is hard to beat! There is a restaurant, which will be a perfect place for your lunch today.

In front of Red Brick Warehouses in the Bay area, you will see a huge Christmas tree. This scene is seen only from late November to late December. At night, the tree is illuminated gorgeously with thousands of lights.

You can spend a lovely afternoon in Motomachi area, located at the foot of Mount Hakodate. The area features many historical buildings including churches and foreign residences and fascinating sloping streets. Walking down these streets is fun and there you find lots of areas to take pictures. The Russian Orthodox Church of Hakodate is a famous building you will witness in this neighborhood.

What comes next is my favorite place to enjoy night views in Japan. Hakodate Ropeway is not far from Motomachi and you can easily get there on foot. Mount Hakodate is Japan’s three best night views and one of the best in Hokkaido alongside the views from Otaru’s Mount Tengu and Sapporo’s Mount Moiwa.

Take the ropeway to get to the mountaintop, where you are offered to enjoy the night views from. Mount Hakodate is all about the beauty of night cityscape! It takes a 3-mintue to reach the observatory from the ropeway’s lower station. The observatory features a shop and restaurants, so when you want some drinks or foods to eat, just go there!

It’s highly recommended to reach the observatory before sunset as the surrounding vista during daytime is also breathtaking. The ropeway costs 1280 yen for a round trip!

Day 4 – Hakodate to Niseko

Mount Yotei, Niseko!

The route: Hakodate Station -> Oshamambe Station -> Hirafu Station

Hotel to stay in Niseko: Aya Niseko

Hop on a limited express train that bounds for Sapporo from Hakodate station and when the train reaches at Oshamambe station, get off there. And then make a transfer to a local train departing for Otaru. You will have to get off at Hirafu Station.

Not every tourist visits Niseko during the winter months, and intends to ski on the snowy slopes. Some prefer other activities than skiing or snowboarding. Grand Hirafu ski resort is a perfect place to take some breathtaking photographs of splendid Mount Yotei and the surrounding snowy landscapes. This mountain quite resembles Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji.

This ski area suits for those looking to learn skiing and wanting to experience some outdoor snow activities. A lot of ski facilities are offered to tourists and professional skiers, and even travelers with kids will enjoy their winter vacation and make their trip a great adventure.

Day 5 – Niseko

Niseko Gondola. Photo Credit: Niseko Village, Hokkaido.

If you don’t walk over snow in Niseko, your trip will not be complete. I really mean it! At Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu, you can go snowshoeing and enjoy outdoor nature. If you don’t know how to walk in snowshoe, you may take advantage of experiencing this in Niseko. You have got to learn it.

Niseko Mt. Resort Grand Hirafu offers a guided tour called “Nature Hiking Program.” This tour lets you enjoy a hike through the tranquil winter forest covered in white powder. For more info, click here.

The snow school of this ski resort is an ideal place to learn skiing, especially if you have never ever tried this before in your life. For the first timers, the school instructors provide a good lesson not only on technical skill but also ensure an enjoyable ski experience.

If Grand Hirafu does not seem an interesting place to enjoy snow activities or cheers you up, then I would recommend you to visit its neighboring ski resort called Niseko Village. There are a lot of things to do with one day at Niseko Village, from skiing to snowboarding, cross-country skiing to snowmobiling. In addition, visitors here can also experience a fun ride on a snow raft towed by a snowmobile.

Day 6 – Niseko to Otaru to Sapporo

Otaru Canal during Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. Photo Credit: t-konno at Wikimedia Commons.

Otaru needs no introduction. For the first timers all I can say is it’s a port town, and a popular day trip from Sapporo city. Before you reach Sapporo today, you are suggested to spend a day in Otaru town.

Here in Otaru, you may start your day with one of my favorite relaxing spots in Hokkaido called Mount Tengu. Take the gondola to the summit and enjoy panoramic views from the observation decks. The observatories provide splendid views over Otrau city, Otaru Port and beautiful Ishikari Bay.

Your next stop is Otaru Canal. This impressive canal is an icon of Otaru. You will see many tourists walking along the canal and enjoy the atmosphere. If you come to Otaru in early February, here you will see lots of beautiful illuminated snow sculptures and lanterns. All these are built to provide an overwhelming magical scene to visitors during the Otaru Snow Light Path Festival.

You will see many restaurants and cafes including many souvenir shops located along the Sakaimachi Street. Finding a perfect place for lunch will not be daunting there. If you want to buy some unique souvenirs for your friends and family members, be sure to pay a visit to Otaru Music Box Museum. A of lot of cool stuffs exist there!

Get to Sapporo by train and stay overnight in a hotel that meets your accommodation budget.