Sapporo comes into its own in summer, but don’t limit yourself—Hokkaido offers mountains, lavender fields and plenty of traditional towns only a day trip away!
If you’re in the area for a few days, then you’re perfectly placed to see a little more of what Hokkaido has to offer. Japan’s northernmost island is famed for its stunning landscapes and hiking is a great way to make the most of it. Summer day trips from Tokyo include outdoor activities, world-famous flower fields and plenty of beaches to relax on too. While having a car is really helpful in Hokkaido, we’ve done our best to include options accessible by public transport too—just be sure to check bus times as they can be pretty infrequent.
1. Lucious lavender fields in Furano
One of the most popular sightseeing spots on the whole island, the lavender fields of Furano and Biei are known across Japan.
The most popular spot is Farm Tomita; it has its own train station called Lavender Stop, which is only open in summer. There are 10 gardens to stroll through with some themed treats including ice cream and cheesecakes available too. At their second farm Lavender East (4 km away), you can take tractor rides around the fields to enjoy views of lavender as well as the Tokashi and Yubari mountains in the background.
Catch the Chuo bus to Furano Station (¥4,150 return) from Sapporo which takes around 2.5 hours. From there, catch the Norokko Train to Lavender Farm Station (15 minutes, [orice amount=750]).
2. Have a beach day
Being an island and all, Hokkaido has a good selection of beaches to choose from, and there are three great options within reasonable distance from Sapporo. While going to the beach on an island famed for its snow festival might not seem like a good idea, in the summer temperatures reach the mid-20s, which isn’t too shabby!
Shimamu Beach is on the Shakotan Peninsula and is known for its crystal-blue waters and striking rock formations. Close to Cape Kamui, you can spend the day exploring and seeing some pretty incredible views.
For a completely different vibe head to Otaru Dream Beach—favored by the younger crowd, there are bars, parties and plenty of seaside shenanigans to enjoy.
The third option is Ranshima Beach which is a in small cove, with golden sand and clear-blue seas as far as the eye can see. It’s popular, but not as crowded as Otaru Dream Beach, so you have the best of both worlds.
Shimamu: There is a bus, but only one per day, with roughly an hour between arrival and departure from the beach, so a car is the only real option, which takes two hours.
Otaru Dream Beach: Head to Zenibako or Hoshimi on the JR Hakodate Line, it takes 25 minutes and costs ¥360!
Ranshima Beach: Catch the JR Hakodate or Airport Line to Otaru and then change to the Hakodate Line for Kutchan. It takes an hour and twenty minutes and costs ¥930 each way.
3. Go hiking: Hokkaido’s best hobby
Known for its stunning scenery, Hokkaido is the perfect place to get some fresh air and altitude with a whole host of hikes. Only available from spring to September, the mountain trails here are really popular thanks to the incredible views, so even if you’re not a natural hiker, you might want to borrow some boots while you’re here. We’ve focused on the two options which don’t require a car, but have some extra ideas if you’re driving too!
Mount Moiwa overlooks Sapporo and is technically still in the city, so it may be more of an afternoon trip, but offers beautiful views, especially at night. There is a ropeway or you can hike with the locals, it’s a pleasant route through primeval forests which is steep to start but not too challenging, with an observation deck at the top.
Catch the Sapporo Shiden to Ropeway Iriguchi for the ropeway or take the free shuttle bus from Maruyama Koen Station on the Tozai Line. To hike, start at Asahigaoka Park (from the car park, about 1.5 hours to the top) or Jikei Hospital (trail between hospital and shrine, one hour to the top).
Mount Tarumae is a little further out, but offers incredible views of Lake Shikotsu and is an active volcano. If you start from the 7th station, it is a relatively short (one hour) but challenging hike with rocky terrain—meaning proper shoes are required. Once you reach the top you can circle the summit and enjoy views of the lake and nearby mountains including Higashi-dake. The Lava dome is unique to see, but don’t leave the trail path as its gasses are poisonous.
You can catch a bus to Lake Shikotsu and then take a taxi to the trailhead at the 7th station for around ¥2,700 each way (or just drive if you have a car).
If you do have a car, there are plenty of amazing hikes to be had, including Poroshiri for the serious hikers and Mount Tokashi for the serious views (over 2000 m high!). Check out our Hokkaido hiking guide for some more ideas.
4. Shikotsu Toya National Park
This place has it all: stunning views, onsen, hiking and forests galore, and all within reaching distance of the capital city. Named after two lakes and divided into five distinct areas, there is plenty to see and you could easily spend a weekend (or a week) exploring it all.
Noboribetsu and Jozankei are popular onsen towns, but in summer we recommend Lake Toya and Toyako Onsen town. Lake Toya is a beautiful area with plenty of onsen and ryokan, nightly fireworks from May to October and an easy hike up Mount Usu. If you have time, catch the boat to Nakajima Island and meet the famous Hokkaido deer as you explore the island.
For Toyako Onsen, catch the Special Express (¥5,920) or the local trains (¥3,240) to Toya Station and then catch a local bus to Toyako Onsen (¥330). If you are planning on staying in an ryokan overnight, many offer shuttle services from Sapporo, which can be cheaper than trains and buses!
Alternatively, you can catch a Donan bus direct from Sapporo, but seats must be reserved in advance (¥2,780 each way).
Popular in winter, but a great spot in summer too, Otaru has some relaxed Venice vibes going on thanks to its picturesque canal ways. Originally an important hub and trading port, this small harbor city has plenty of warehouses and impressive trading buildings now converted into cafes and galleries galore. You can visit the Nikka whiskey distillery in Yoichi, stroll along the canals and explore Sakaimachi Street with its glass souvenirs and it’s old-time feel. There is a museum dedicated to the history of Otaru and a ropeway to the top of Mount Tengu for spectacular views of the area.
Catch the Airport 101 Line for Otaru from Sapporo Station, it takes 30 minutes and costs ¥640 one way. (The Ishikari Liner and Hakodate lines cost the same but take an extra 10 and 20 minutes respectively).
Bonus: Get the chills at Abashiri Prison
If Hokkaido’s temperatures still aren’t low enough for you, there’s one last place you can try to chill you to your bones. In a desolate fishing village on the northern coast, Japan’s version of Alcatraz was built by prison laborers—and soon became infamous. Considered impossible to escape from, the original single-hall building was expanded upon until it burned down in the 1900s, but was replaced by a modern, more Western-style prison soon after.
Forced to do hard labor throughout the year, it is no wonder so many tried to escape, but thanks to the harsh wilderness, no one was ever successful. They did end up growing some incredible vegetables though, so you know…silver linings and all.
Today there are displays complete with tattooed mannequins, and you can even eat a prisoner’s lunch in the canteen!
Unfortunately, its prison-perfect desolation means it’s pretty far for a day trip, but if you have time to kill or love bus journeys, then nowhere will chill you to your soul like Abashiri. You can catch a highway bus during the day or overnight, which takes 6 hours and cost about ¥5,000 each way. If you have the JR Pass you can travel for around 5 hours for free on the JR Okhotsk Limited Express!