Hokkaido, the island at the north of Japan has always been regarded as a winter wonderland with abundant snowfall, sub-zero temperature and mesmerizing winter views. It is also by no doubt, the number one choice for a winter holiday in Japan. Here, I’ll introduce some destinations for winter day trips that are accessible by using the Hokkaido Rail Pass.
1. Chitose North Snowland (Chitose)
Tourists to Hokkaido usually arrive at the New Chitose Airport in Chitose. Did you know that upon arrival, you could actually jump straight into the winter fun by visiting the Chitose North Snowland just 15-minute drive away?
Originally the North Country Golf Club, it turns into a snowland every year from December 29 until early March. Inside, they offer snow activities such as tube sliding, snow strider, snow cruising, 4-wheel buggy, mini snowmobile, horseback riding on snow, snow rafting, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and even outdoor winter barbeque.
To get to Chitose North Snowland, just hop on the complimentary loop service by Guru Guru Chitose Winter Bus with specific pick-up points (which includes New Chitose Airport, JR Chitose Station, RERA Premium Outlet, and others). As such, you can conveniently do sightseeing or shopping by riding the Guru Guru Chitose Winter Bus to other designated drop-off points after enjoying yourselves at the snowland.
Directions (using Hokkaido JR Rail Pass): From JR Sapporo Station, head towards JR Chitose Station (29-minute). After that, transfer to complimentary Guru Guru Chitose Winter Bus.
2. Asahiyama Zoo (Asahikawa)
Asahikawa is the second largest city in Hokkaido that is accessible via an approximate 85-minute train ride from Sapporo. Every winter from mid-November to early April, Asahiyama Zoo attracts visitors for an extraordinary winter zoo visit, with the much highlighted famous winter penguin parade.
I had fond memories visiting this place at -10 degrees and tracking my way through the snow to see different animals. The famous winter penguin parade is nothing short of adorable. Do capture the most candid moment of these little ones parading their way at different motions, some in steady stride and some barely keeping their balances throughout the short snowy path.
Operating Hours (during winter): 10:30 AM – 3:30 PM (Last entry at 3:00 PM)
Directions (using Hokkaido JR Rail Pass): From JR Sapporo Station, head towards JR Asahikawa Station (89-minute). Transfer to Bus 41, 42 or 47 to Asahiyama Zoo (40-minute ride).
3. Ningle Terrace (Furano)
Soak in some whimsical, romantic and fairytale moments at Ningle Terrace located just adjacent to New Furano Prince Hotel in Furano. The atmosphere and vibes at Ningle Terrace during winter are simply magical and spectacular. Everywhere within Ningle Terrace makes a great and natural photo spot. Engage in a delightful shopping experience at the cluster of beautifully lit small cottages selling speciality handmade arts and crafts, take a slow leisure walk in the winter forest lined with snow pine trees, or enjoy your time in a cafe by having a warm meal, coffee and pastries.
The time spent in Ningle Terrace is so relaxing that everything seems to come to beautifully standstill. Though it takes a relatively long travel time from Sapporo, witnessing the magical beauty of Ningle Terrace in winter makes everything worthwhile.
Directions (using Hokkaido JR Rail Pass): From JR Sapporo Station, head towards JR Furano Station (161-minute, then transfer at JR Asahikawa Station). After that, take a 10-minute taxi ride to New Furano Prince Hotel.
4. Noboribetsu Onsen Town (Noboribetsu)
Onsen bathing is regarded as one of the unique cultural activities loved by tourists, especially during cold winter and you can enjoy onsen bath to your fullest at Noboribetsu Onsen Town.
This town is famous and popular in Hokkaido due to the 9-type of hot springs that they have: sulphur spring, aluminium spring, salt spring, iron spring, acidic iron spring, mirabilite spring, melanterite spring, alkaline spring, and radium spring. You can go for onsen hopping among the various large ryokans and hotels around the area.
These establishments open their hot spring baths to non-staying guests during the day for a fee and they are all within walking distance in this small town. The full list of establishments with day-visit onsen service can be obtained from the tourist information office, located next to the bus stop of the onsen town. Alternatively, you can also get it here.
Directions (using Hokkaido JR Rail Pass): From JR Sapporo Station, head towards JR Noboribetsu Station (72-minute). After that, get on a bus that goes to Noboribetsu Onsen Town (bus stop #N1, 15-minute journey)
5. Skiing at Niseko Grand Hirafu (Niseko)
Complete your winter holiday experience with some skiing at Niseko. It’s the most popular skiing town in Hokkaido with its abundant level of light powdery snow and beautiful natural landscape. The popularity of this town by foreign tourists resulted in becoming tourist-friendly with many English signages and menus available. Niseko Grand Hirafu is the largest skiing resort in Niseko and it offers various difficulty level of skiing trails. So don’t worry if you have no skiing experience. There is a wide range of skiing lessons ranging from 2-hour to a few days long, and from private to group lessons. Besides skiing, the Hirafu Town also has many restaurants, bars and day onsen that allows you to rest and relax in the cold winter.
Niseko Grand Hirafu
Address: 〒044-0081, 204 Aza Yamada, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, JAPAN
Directions (using Hokkaido JR Rail Pass): From JR Sapporo Station, head towards JR Kutchan Station (117-minute, transfer at Otaru). After that, transfer to bus to go to Niseko Grand Hirafu (20-minutes journey) or 15 minutes by taxi.
She found her first love for Japan at the tender age of 7 when she was exposed to Hello Kitty. She spent her teens immersing in J-pop culture and has accumulated more than 17 F&E trips to Japan till date. She especially love shopping and visiting kawaii themed cafes in Tokyo, and look forward to share her travel experiences and tips with all Japan travel lovers alike.