Hokkaido has breathtaking winter landscapes for one to enjoy. It has been famous for their powder snow and thanks to that person from all around the world would flock to Hokkaido just to ski or snowboard. What a lot of people don’t know is that there are actually a lot of outdoor activities that one can participate in, apart from skiing or snowboarding. These include snow festivals, hot springs, ice fishing and many more.
Hokkaido showcases beautiful ice and snow sculpture that consists of different sizes in the month of February. Think of the movie “Frozen” and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into that very movie. You can experience this at the most prestigious snow festival – The Sapporo Snow Festival that is held in Odori Park.
Head there to immerse yourself with giant themed snow sculptures that change annually. The TV tower in the background is the best place to get a panoramic view of Sapporo. There is also a snow sculpture contest is held at the end of the festival.
Another of the famous winter festivals of Hokkaido is The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival. This festival is held in Otaru town in the second week of February annually. Snow sculptures are lit up in the evening and at night, especially around the Otaru Canal alongside with 200 blinking floating orb candles. In addition to that, the city is decorated with night illuminations, so take your time walking around Otaru during the evening as it feels very magical.
If you want an artic adventure, take the train towards Abashiri and Shiretoko Peninsula and hop onboard the Aurora Ice Breaker. The drift ice that you can see here is one of the most spectacular winter phenomena and can only be found at a few places in the world: such as the Arctic Ocean, Antarctic Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk in Hokkaido.
It is a beautiful sight as you will be on an ice-breaking cruise, cruising through an abundance of beautiful drift ice across the sea of Okhotsk. You also get to spot seals, Steller’s sea eagles and other marine wildlife in their natural habitat. If you like, you can also rent a dry suit to walk directly on top of the ice.
Have you ever heard of smelt fishing? It’s basically going into a vinyl tent known as ‘koyatsuri’, that is heated it up so you’re nice and warm before you sit, and drill a hole in the ice where you fish for smelt and then make tempura on the spot with what you catch. Alternatively, you can also fish out in the open on the ice if you prefer the cold. It is a super fun activity not only for family and friends but with your loved ones as well. The popular ice fishing spots are Barato Lake, Lake Akan, Lake Shinotsu, Lake Kanayama and Lake Onuma.
Hokkaido is home to hundreds of onsen sources. Noboribetsu Onsen, located in Shikotsu Toya National Park, is considered one of the best onsen spots in Japan. Alternatively, on the outskirts of downtown Sapporo lies Jozankei Onsen.
I do recommend visiting this area during autumn or winter as the valley is surrounded by a beautiful snowy landscape. Bathing in an onsen is the fastest way and also the most relaxing way to heat your body up and rejuvenate yourself. It is particularly romantic when you’re soaking yourself in an outdoor onsen and snowflakes start to fall slowly around you.
In Japan, you do not require a driving license to operate a snowmobile, so why not take this opportunity to take a ride on the snowmobile and enjoy riding with the wind against your face through the untouched, natural surroundings of Hokkaido.
You can choose to do a lap around the track or even head far and high into the mountains of powder with an experienced guide showing you the way. If that feels a bit too extreme for you, why not try banana boat rides instead. Something less adventurous but still fun regardless.
Have you ever wanted to drive your own sled with a team of dogs on a trail stretching out on a snowy white horizon? If you have watched the movie snow dogs, it is similar as you will get to experience the power and stamina of Alaskan Huskies, as you make your way through the trail, surrounded by picturesque snow-capped mountains. It is definitely a memorable experience!
For those who love hiking and also nature walks, why not strap on some snowshoes and explore remote mountains, lakes, and rivers. Snowshoeing is similar to hiking, where you strap extensions onto your winter hiking boots to help you hike in the snow by distributing your weight over a larger area, so as not to sink.
If you’re nearby to Shiretoko National Park, you can even head towards the famous Furepe Waterfall that’s surrounded by the winter forest. If you are lucky, you will also get to glimpse the deer that inhabit the area or even see traces of other wild animals. It is an adventure that is loved by many as you get to enjoy a full day out in nature.
This is a special event that takes place in Shikaoi Town during the coldest time of the year; from late January to early March. During the Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan, a small village is made out of snow on the frozen lake of Lake Shikaribetsu.
You not only get to enter igloos, but there’s also an ice bar for you to order some cocktails, an ice theatre, a chapel to get married at, a foot bath, an onsen experience, a concert hall with live music and night illuminations for one to experience. It feels like a magical dream world is created temporarily and disappears again once the weather becomes warmer.
These are just some of my top picks for what you can do in Hokkaido during winter, aside from skiing and snowboarding; there are many more options!
If you would like to experience the beauty and diversity of Hokkaido, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or your local Travel Agent and we can help plan the perfect itinerary for you!
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