Hokkaido is surely popular as a winter destination, but you might just change your mind after seeing this autumn itinerary we’ve prepared…
Traveling around Hokkaido is one of the best things you can do in Japan in autumn. Due to its northern location, Hokkaido sees the autumn leaves before anywhere else in Japan. The area is packed with a number of famous fall foliage spots, including many exciting bucket list-worthy attractions such as the Sea of Clouds in Unkai Terrace, Blue Pond, the flower fields of Biei and many more!
It may not be the first choice for many travelers going to Japan, but for most who have been to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, Hokkaido is exactly the next Japan adventure we are all looking for! Good thing, you can now conveniently fly from Manila to Sapporo in less than 6 hours! No more stopovers in Tokyo, unlike my previous trips.
And, of course, this guide won’t be complete without the local dishes that are in season. Check out our list from sights, to autumn foliage spots, to incredible landscapes, to food and even shopping!
1. EXPERIENCE THE SEA OF CLOUDS
No need to hike to experience the breathtaking sea of clouds atop mountains where one can feel like he’s on top of the world, even higher than the clouds!
There is a breathtaking spot in Hoshino Resorts Tomamu where you can see unkai (sea of clouds) just by taking a gondola. Japanese as well as foreign visitors come to visit during the peak season to enjoy this fantastic phenomenon that is unique to Hokkaido!
It is easily accessible via a 13-minute gondola ride. Did you know that if you go up early in the morning during this season, there is only a 40% chance you’ll see an unkai flowing over Mt. Hidaka and Mt. Tokach in Tomamu? We felt super lucky that day because it was drizzling for the first two days of our trip, and we didn’t expect the weather to clear up on the most important day of our itinerary when all weather conditions needed to be perfect!
Four people could fit in the gondola. Up we went, reaching an altitude of 1,088m where we actually passed through clouds on our way up. And when the gondola broke through the clouds into the clear blue sky, that moment was just breathtaking!
One of the unique features of Unkai Terrace is its architecture—created and decorated in such a way that it makes one feel like he or she is walking above the clouds.
This rare phenomenon can only be enjoyed early morning from mid-May to early autumn. The experience itself was heavenly and would just leave you in awe; it was totally worth the sacrifice of sleeping and queuing at the gondola station. You can still get fantastic views on sunny days so don’t give up! I hope you get a fantastic view of the sea of clouds on the day of your visit!
Click here to read the full feature of our staycation and sea of cloud experience: Hokkaido’s Unkai Terrace: Sea of Clouds & Staycation at Hoshino Resorts Tomamu!
UNKAI TERRACE: Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
Shimukappu-mura Yufutsu-gun, Hokkaido, Japan
Landline: +81 167-58-1111
2. AUTUMN FOLIAGE: Changing Seasons
If you are planning an autumn trip to Hokkaido, leaf viewing is a must!
Due to its northern location, Hokkaido sees the autumn leaves before anywhere else in Japan. The best time to visit Hokkaido for its colorful fall foliage is between early October and early November.
On our visit to Hoheikyo Dam, you could see the vivid show of colors of its surroundings together with the mystic fog that came with the rain. The result? Beautiful fall foliage that was accentuated by the magnificent engineering feat.
Here are some recommended places where you can enjoy leaf viewing in Hokkaido: Lake Shikotsu (Chitose), Houheikyo Dam (Sapporo), Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort (Autumn Leaves Gondola) and Log Hotel The Maplelodge (Iwamizawa).
3. THE FLOWER FIELDS OF BIEI
I’m not much of a flower kind of girl, but there’s something I love about a whole field of flowers!
Biei is famous for its scenic rolling hills carpeted by insanely beautiful fields of spring flowers from April to October. Peak bloom is from the end of June to end of August.
I know it’s autumn, but it’s still spring somewhere in Hokkaido! This early October, we visited Shikisai-no-oka. Entrance is free but donations are welcome. Find a beautiful sight of colorful flowers of around thirty varieties from spring till fall every year, featuring sunflowers, tulips, lupine, lavender, salvia, dahlia and Japanese anemone.
Nearest Station: Biei Station (Furano Line）
Green Season is from late April to late October.
4. THE BLUE POND OF BIEI
Remember this wallpaper on your Mac screensaver?
The Blue Pond was named after its deep blue color, which it owes to the aluminum that has dissolved in the water. It is said that when this comes in contact with sunlight, it reflects a blue light to the human eye.
Did you know that the Blue Pond was made by accident as the by-product of attempts to control the lava flow from the active volcano, Mt. Tokachi?
This natural breathtakingly majestic view is now a popular tourist destination due to its being used as one of Apple’s wallpapers plus its presence in social networking sites in recent years.
Nearest Station: Biei Station (Furano Line）
Shirogane, Biei-cho, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaido, 071-0235
Golden Week (April 29th to May 5th) to around mid-November)
5. FRUIT PICKING
In Japan, autumn is known as the season for an appetite. The Japanese believe that their appetite increases because of the bountiful amounts of good food during this season.
Japanese fruits are renowned throughout the world for their delicious taste and beautiful appearance. Eating a lot can be quite expensive, so why not go fruit picking, and eat as much as you want without worrying about the price?
Jozankei Farm is a farm where you can harvest fruits that were grown in Hokkaido’s vast natural landscape as well as experience making jam or pizza.
On a trip in October, you could find apples, prunes and grapes in season. Pick all you want for only ¥500 (changes depending on the season)!
Apples are known as “fruits of autumn” in Japan. As you know, besides being eaten fresh, apples can be made into very good jams.
The best fruit I’ve eaten are Jozankei’s sweet prunes. It was my first time to try a fresh batch and not the dried one that we have back home. The taste? They ware so good; I loved the simple refreshing acidity and sweetness.
Tip: Besides the farm, you can also explore the facilities, garden and gorgeous autumn foliage.
Yubinbango061-2301 Sapporo, Hokkaido, Minami-ku Jozankei 832
About 50 minutes by car from Sapporo city center,
About 90 minutes by car from New Chitose Airport
by car from Jozankei Onsen about 5 minutes
6. EAT A LOT OF SEAFOOD!
If there’s one thing you can’t miss when visiting Hokkaido, it’s their seafood!
Fatty salmon and tuna, sweet hairy and king crab and amazing squid sashimi are among the things tourists from Japan and overseas always rave about when in Hokkaido. You’ll surely be impressed by the taste and freshness of their seafood.
What makes Hokkaido seafood so delicious? The cold sea surrounding Hokkaido is rich in plankton, which helps produce high-quality delectable seafood, while the cold temperatures also help with building layers of fat for the fish.
Among the dishes, you must absolutely try at the buffet are the king and queen crabs! Make sure to dip them in their local vinegar.
If you have the chance and budget, why not go on an eat-all-you-can buffet and devour as much crabs, sashimi and beef you want! We had the buffet experience at Buffet Dining Hal in Hoshino Resorts Tomamu. We actually wished, we ate like this every day!
Hanamaru Sushi is a chain of sushi restaurants where Sapporo locals come to eat mainly because of the supremely fresh sushi served in huge portions at very good prices compared to other places!
The sashimi scallops, salmon, salmon roe and hand-rolled sushi were superb. Very fatty and delicious.
The best deal you can get is during lunch time when they offer affordable set lunch meals. We got this set that included a sushi platter, fish head soup and chawanmushi for only JPY 1,500! A must try when in Sapporo!
7. FRESH SEAFOOD MARKET
Sampling delicious seafood isn’t enough. Why not visit the local market and take some of these yummy delicacies back home?
We visited the Nijo Market, the lesser-known fish market for tourists in Sapporo. My friend said that it was cheaper here, so we decided to visit this place instead. Various types of seafood were for sale here such as crabs, squids, tuna, salmon roe, sea urchin, as well as fresh produce like Hokkaido’s famed sweet melons. There were also a few shops offering donburi and aburi seafood specialty.
You’re in for a treat! These scallops live in cold water, which gives them an amazing texture and flavor. With just some light seasoning, you could already taste the sweetness of the scallop.
1 Chome Minami 3 Johigashi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0052, Japan
Landline: +81 11-222-5308
Opens: 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM
8. RAMEN STREET
Hokkaido is known for ramen! How about trying a bowl of miso ramen in its birthplace in Japan? Sapporo is the place to get that authentic ramen taste.
Imagine a yokocho alley made up entirely of 17 ramen restaurants. This alley is famous not just for its concentration of delicious ramen but also for making excellent ramen in typical Hokkaido style!
Miso ramen has a delicious balance of aromatic spices and fattiness in the broth, with semi-thick curly noodles that are authentically used in miso ramen in Sapporo.
Aside from miso, you’ll find plenty of corn and butter added in the soup. Since Hokkaido is known for dairy, you’ll find plenty of butter and cream added to the cuisine.
The Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho
N Grande Building 1F, Minami 5-jo Nishi 3-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
9. KAN YASUDA SCULPTURE MUSEUM- ARTE PIAZZA
Doesn’t this feel like a dark Netflix series?
Arte Piazza Bibai is an outdoor sculpture park where visitors can interact with Kan Yasuda’s artworks exhibited around the park adjacent to a forest as if they were part of nature.
All of the sculptures can be touched freely, and the park makes a great spot for a picnic. The park was first opened in 1992. Since then, the facilities and works of art continued to increase, creating the vast 70,000 square-meter outdoor sculpture park that it is today. Part of their expansion is an obsolete elementary school building renovated into an indoor museum and teaching facility for those who want hands-on classes.
On our visit, we were so lucky to meet the artist himself, Kan Yasuda, on his trip back home.
About the Artist Kan Yasuda
Kan Yasuda was born in the city if Bibai on Japan’s northern island Hokkaido. He received a master’s degree in sculpture from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1969. He moved to Italy in 1970 on a fellowship from the Government of Italy and studied with Professor Pericle Fazzini at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Afterward, he set up his studio at Pietrasanta in northern Italy, world-famous for its superior marble quality. There he continues to live and work at marble and bronze sculptures.
Ochiai-cho Sakae-Machi, Bibai, Hokkaido, Japan
10. DIP IN THE ONSEN (HOT SPRING)
Jozankei is one of the most popular hot spring districts in Hokkaido due to its proximity to Sapporo. The hot springs are only a 45-minutes drive south from the center of the city. The hot springs contain sodium chloride such that when you soak in them, you’ll find your body warming on the inside.
Nothing beats a splendid night in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan) with the onsen right on-premise! Hotel Hana Momiji is a cozy hotel offering ryokan accommodation in the notable Jozankei resort town. Guest rooms feature a minimalist design with traditional tatami mats, futons and chabudai dining tables that allow you to fully immerse in the nostalgic Japanese style.
Furthermore, at Hana Mimiji, you will be able to indulge in traditional Japanese kaiseki dinner prepared with fresh local produce. Our kaiseki dinner was such a special event as we had the chance to try king, queen and hairy crab as the main dish. Other highlights of the menu also were fresh uni, abalone, shrimp, scallops, beef and sea whelk.
Tip: Just 3-min walk from the hotel is Jozankei’s nature illumination show that’s free for anyone. Just stroll around the park at night.
For day visitors who want to try the onsen, you can opt to try Kokoro no Sato Jozan footbath. They don’t have a time limit, so you can enjoy both nature and unlimited sweet treats at the foot spa.
Hotel Hana Momiji
Nishi 3-32, Jozanke-onsen, Minami-ku, Sapporo city,Hokkaido 061-2303
Kokoro no Sato Jozan footbath
4 Chome-372-1 Jozankeionsennishi, Minami Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 061-2303, Japan
11. LOG HOTEL THE MAPLE LODGE
The landscape surrounding the Maple Lodge is picturesque in autumn as the red autumn leaves stand out from the lush green surroundings, making it a perfect place for autumn leaf viewing.
Staycations at The Maple Lodge offer a truly unique and different hotel experience. Imagine waking up to a beautiful immersive forest setting but in the comforts of a spacious cozy bedroom, offering both privacy and full service staff.
Why not relax in the open-air hot springs, either surrounded by a soothing autumnal landscape or under the stars? The water here is very good, with its ”slippery” characteristic—a prized quality in many springs for its beauty benefits.
Dinner was a treat as it featured edible flowers paired with each dish, using fresh local ingredients.
After dinner, we celebrated the great outdoors with campfire activities with the guides of the Maple Activity Center. We gathered round as the sun went down for a little old-fashioned family fun—roasting marshmallows, eating apple cobbler and drinking hot coco next to a crackling fire. It was also fun to try playing with fireworks (hanabi) under the clear starry sky.
Early morning apple orchard picking in the hotel grounds.
Log Hotel The Maplelodge
183 Moyocho, Iwamizawa, Hokkaido 068-3188, Japan
landline: +81 126-46-2222
12. “THE CITY OF BEER”
Of course, a trip to Hokkaido would not be complete without a glass of Classic Sapporo Beer, which is only available in Hokkaido and nowhere else in Japan! The beer was quite sweet and tasted a bit like juice but with some hoppy bitterness.
The history of beer in Sapporo began in 1876 with the Kaitakushi Beer Brewery (the predecessor of Sapporo Beer). Sapporo Beer’s star logo was derived from the “Red Star” symbol of Kaitakushi that was also used on the clock tower and red-brick government buildings.
13. DAIRY PRODUCTS: FRESH MILK, SOFTCREAM & YOGURT
Hokkaido is the largest producer of milk in Japan, so it’s only fitting to have soft serve ice cream shops all over the city.
Hokkaido is well-known for its delicious and high-quality dairy products characterized by their creamy and strong milk taste. It’s the cool climate and fresh air, with freshly grown plants and vegetables, that make the cows grow healthily and naturally.
If you’re not into soft cream, why not try this newly opened yogurt shop in Fukagawa? With an original menu revolving around the yogurt fermented at low temperatures, this unpretentious shop offers creative high-protein low-calorie recipes, including yogurt takoyaki and apple pie!
You’ll just love eating the freshly made creamy, sweet and sour yogurt while overlooking the beautiful fields of the Sorachi Plains.
777 Otoe Aza, Otoe Town, Fukagawa City, Hokkaido
Access: about 20 minutes by car from JR Fukagawa Station
14. WINE TASTING IN SORACHI
There are many wineries and vineyards that focus on making high-quality wine in Sorachi, Hokkaido, home of some of the highest quality wines in Japan.
What’s more, the area is gorgeous, with gently sloping hills and seemingly endless vineyards. Come fall, succulent grapes will be in season, drooping from the vines.
The wines produced in the small scale wineries boast exquisite quality, the kind of wine you just can’t find anywhere. On the first floor, you can find the shop where you can do wine tasting, while the second floor is where you can find the distillery where they prepare the batches.
Besides the wine, another treat I can recommend is the soft serve ice cream covered in either red or white grape syrup produced by the winery. Yum!
Iwamizawa, Hosuicho, 364-3
15. ZOO EXPERIENCE FOR THE FAMILY
Meet the red panda, the far smaller counterpart of its famous black and white cousin. The red panda, known for its cinnamon red fur, kitten-like face and fluffy ringed tail, is my favorite animal. It is so charming even though it’s known for its active lifestyle; it’s actually very quiet by nature.
The zoo’s main selling point is the polar bear enclosure. You’ll also find wolves, elephants, lions, penguins, seals, etc.
Sapporo Maruyama Zoo
Miyagaoka 3-1, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
Admission: Adults ¥600
16. OUTLET SHOPPING
Sapporo City already has enough shopping options as it is. But if the shopaholic in you still isn’t satisfied by what the city has to offer and you’re looking to purchase items for a fraction of the normal price and get bargains on foreign brands, consider stopping by these outlet malls in the suburb of Sapporo for a good retail therapy session.
You’ll find brands including Coach, Furla, Armani, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Tumi, UGG, MICHAEL KORS, Nike, Puma, Adidas, etc.
By train or bus:
・50 minutes by (100) from Bus stop #1 of Sapporo Station Tokyu Hyakaten South-side
・13 minutes to Fukuzumi Station by Chikatetsu Touhou Line and 20 minutes to outlet mall by Utsugashioka Line
・35 minutes and 25 km by car from JR Sapporo Station by Douou Car Road
・30 minutes from Shin-Chitose Airport by Kitabu Kotsu Bus headed toward Makomanai Station
3-7-6 Omagari Saiwai-cho, Kitahiroshima City, Hokkaido
17. IWAMIZAWA ROSE GARDEN
Welcome to the rose garden of the north, where over 8800 roses comprised of 630 varieties bloom in season.
The 40-thousand hectare property is filled with a myriad of roses that bloom between late June and mid-October.
Roses in the garden are of many types, including hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora, miniature and wild rugosa roses that bloom naturally all over Hokkaido.
Inside the rose garden, there is an Italian restaurant famed for winning the best Neapolitan pizza in Italy in 2017. The pizzas here are prepared with a wood kiln and baked at a high temperature on a brick oven.
My favorite was the rose pizza with edible rose, gorgonzola and honey.
Shibun-cho 794, Iwamizawa
Ruch (Italian Resutaurant)
Iwamizawa park Rose Garden Hamaanas hill
HOKKAIDO AUTUMN SAMPLE ITINERARY
10:30 (New Chitose International Airport) Arrival
11:30-13:30 (Chitose) Lake Shikotsu (Lunch:Turuga Resort)
14:30-16:00 (Sapporo) Houheikyo: Autumn leaves
16:30-17:00 (Sapporo) Hotel Check-in Jozankei View Hotel
17:00-18:00 (Sapporo) Kokoro no sato JOZAN: Footbath
18:30 (Sapporo) Jozankei View Hotel
9:00 (Sapporo) Departing the hotel
9:30-10:30 (Sapporo) Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort: Autumn leaves gondola
11:00-13:00 (Sapporo) Jozankei Farm: Fruit Picking
14:00-14:30 (Kita-Hiroshima) Kita-Hiroshima Mitsui Outlet Park: Shopping
17:30-18:30 (Shimukappu) Hoshino Resorts Tomamu
5:30-7:30 (Tomamu) Unkai Terrace: Sea of Clouds
9:30 Breakfast at Tomamu
10:30-10:45 (Minamifurano) Michino-eki MInami-Furano: Toilet break
11:00-11:45 (Biei) Shikisai-no-oka: Flower Fields
12:15-13:00 (Biei) Ferme La Terre (Lunch)
13:30-14:00 (Biei) The“Blue Pond”in Biei
15:30-16:00 (Fukagawa) F YOGURT
17:00-18:00 (Iwamizawa) Log Hotel The Maplelodge
18:30 (Iwamizawa) Log Hotel The Maplelodge (Dinner)
9:00-10:30 (Iwamizawa Mikasa) Sorachi Winery
11:30-13:30 Iwamizawa Rose Garden Park + Ruch Italian Restaurant (lunch)
14:00-15:00 (Bibay) Kan Yasuda Sculpture Museum – Arte Piazza
16:30-17:30 (Sapporo) Hotel Check-in????
17:30-19:00 (Sapporo) Mt. Moiwa Summit Observation Deck
19:30-20:30 (Sapporo)Sapporo Ramen Yokocho (Dinner)
8:30 (Sapporo) Depart Hotel
8:40-9:10 (Sapporo) Nijo Market
9:45-11:45 (Sapporo) Sapporo Maruyama Zoo
12:15-13:15 (Sapporo) Sushi-Hanamaru (lunch)
14:00-15:00 (Sapporo) Free Time
16:00-17:00 (Chitose) Salmon hometown Chitose aquarium- Watch the Salmon Run
17:30-19:00 Air Terminal Hotel New Chitose Airport (Check-in)
09:45 (New Chitose International Airport) Depart for Manila
HOW TO GET THERE
The fastest way is the new direct Manila-Sapporo flight via Philippine Airlines. Thankfully, no more stopovers at Narita/Haneda, Tokyo. The less than 6-hour flight departs from Manila’s NAIA 2 at 2:00 am and arrives at New Chitose Aiport at 6:30 am.
OTHER HOTELS WE STAYED IN:
Mercure Hotel is located near JR Sapporo Station at the heart of Sapporo. With its fantastic location, it is just walking distance to Ganso Ramen Street, Donquijote, Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade, etc.
2 Chome-2-4 Minami 4 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido 064-0804, Japan
landline : +81 11-513-1100
For our last day, we all stayed at the Air Terminal Hotel in New Chitose Airport. Since our flight was early in the morning the next day, it was a great idea to stay overnight and explore the airport itself since there was plenty of places for last minute shopping—one of the biggest Royce shops I’ve seen and even a Doraemon Cafe!
Air Terminal Hotel in New Chitose Airport
Japan, 〒066-0012 Hokkaido, Chitose, Bibi, ターミナルビル内 3階 New Chitose Airport
landline: +81 123-45-6677
This was one of the best trips I’ve had in my life! My last trip to Hokkaido during winter was a blast, and I did not expect my autumn itinerary here would just be as awesome. Not only was I in awe of the sights, but I really loved the carefully planned itinerary. We included everything anyone would want to experience during the fall season in the list
It’s all thanks to our excellent English-speaking guide Ikuko Hino and the staff from the tourism department, including Ryotaro Seino and Murakami Hiroyuki, who showed us great hospitality and planned everything!
Of course, my trip would not be as fun without my travel companions Ana Gonzales (Philippines), Siriwan Paenoi (Thailand), Janpoh Suwannapong (Thailand), Kha Ngan (Vietnam) and Chau Nguyen (Vietnam). Cheers! I hope we meet again on our travels!
Live an Awesome Life,
ABI of Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: We were media guests of Japan National Toursim Organization. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions and insights.