Autumn 6-Day Hokkaido Central and Eastern Road Trip Itinerary

In August last year, we spent six days road tripping around the Northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido inAutumn. Our trip started and ended at the New Chitose Airport, and was focused around the Central and Eastern regions of the island plus the capital, Sapporo. If you are thinking about spending some time exploring Hokkaido, don’t hesitate. You will find some stunning scenery, and in Autumn, you will be treated to flowers from all colours of the rainbow plus, there is a good possibility you will spot some wild deer with their fawns and potentially even bears (you’ll definitely see them if you follow this itinerary). I can guarantee that even on a rainy day, you will find something amazing.

Shirogane Blue Pond is one of the gems you will find in this itinerary.
Shirogane Blue Pond is one of the gems you will find in this itinerary.

One thing to be aware of when planning a trip here is that while Hokkaido is not a huge place, it’s easy to be tricked into thinking you can get around the island quickly by road. Typically, the expressway speed limit is only 70km/h and the speed limits on other roads are 50km/h, so it’s not a quick trip. These speed limits are based on Winter conditions where the island is covered in snow and ice, but the limits remain the same all year round and it is tempting to go faster when you are driving there at other times but beware of police speed traps. So, that said, you can’t actually get around as quickly as you might think you can, especially given much of the expressways are also only single lane roads with limited places to overtake other vehicles.

Don’t worry about that though, just enjoy the trip, you can see so many amazing sights when you explore this unique island in a car. I will note though that in this itinerary we rarely dined at restaurants. Most of our meals were hotel breakfasts followed by instant food from convenience stores that we could easily eat while driving. Fortunately, I love maki rolls, so they made a quick, cheap, easy meal! I’m talking the equivalent of AUD $1-$2 per meal. One other thing to note is that this is a road trip, so this itinerary and times are based on having a car that you can drive yourself in. This trip would be much more difficult and require more time to do via public transport.

Just before I jump into it, I’ll also note that we booked this itinerary about two weeks before we went, and it turned out that the first weekend overlapped with Obon Festival (August 13-15), which meant accommodation was hard to find and expensive. We wanted to see the festival since we arrived on the 13th but sadly nothing happened in Sapporo at Odori Park even though it was advertised there would be.

Disclaimer:

This article is all our own experience. Everything we did was paid for by us, and no part of it was free or subsidised. That said, some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that I get a small commission if you click it and make a booking or purchase. I hope that you’ll use these links anytime you need to book a place to stay or activity! These small commissions help me to keep travelling so I can write and film more travel guides for you. I would never recommend anything I don’t or would not personally use!

Anyway, enough of that, into the itinerary! We stayed at Tokyo Narita airport the night before (at the Toyoko Inn Kuko) we arrived in Sapporo, so our flight landed at New Chitose Airport at midday.

Map Overview

Expand the map to enable and disable each day.

Day 1: Chitose to Sapporo via Lake Shikotsu

73km’s, approx 1 hour, 31 minutes.

Matt at Lake Shikotsu
Matt at Lake Shikotsu
  • Arrive – Sapporo (Chitose), Domestic Airport Terminal, 1F
  • Stacks of food options in the airport if you are hungry, we had lunch at Cobara-Hetta Indian Curry (Domestic Airport Terminal, 3F)
  • Royce Chocolate World
    • Located at the terminal Connecting Path on 3F aka Smile Road.
    • Most of their dark chocolate is vegan.
    • There are other attractions on Smile Road including Hello Kitty Happy Flight and Doraemon Waku Waku Sky Park if you have time. Unfortunately, we spent waaaaaaay too long at Royce Chocolate World!
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Pick up a hire car. There are no hire cars at the airport itself, head to the hire car booths to check-in for your shuttle transfer to the car rental location. The hire car companies all have booths located at 1F near the ANA check-in.
  • Lake Shikotsu
    • Distance: 30km’s from New Chitose Airport, approx 36 mins.
    • A gorgeous lake to drive past where the road follows the edge of the lake for a while.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • 6:45 pm: Hokkai Bon Odori dancing, Sapporo Summer Festival (everything was set up but nothing happened)
    • Distance: 43km’s from Lake Shikotsu, approx 55 mins drive. It’s also about 400m walk from our hotel in Sapporo.
    • Price: 720 yen p.p.
    • We checked into our hotel first and parked the car there then walked to the Sapporo TV Tower.
    • Stunning night time views looking back towards Okurayama Observatory.
    • Read my review.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Stay: Hotel WBF Sapporo Chuo
    • Superior Double Room, Non-smoking
    • Price: AUD $237.27 / night
    • Breakfast included
    • Parking: 1200 yen / night
    • Earliest check-in: 3:00 pm
    • Latest check-out: 11:00 am
    • Read my review.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews

Day 2: Sapporo to Kushiro

301km’s, approximately 4 hours drive plus stops.

Us in front of the Aurora Fountain inside Ishiyia Chocolate Factory
Us in front of the Aurora Fountain inside Ishiyia Chocolate Factory

 

Day 3: Kushiro to Abashiri via Cape Kiritappu, Cape Nosappu and Rausu

445km’s, approx 8 hours, 40 minutes drive plus stops.

Unlikely: Japanese, Russian and English on this sign at Hanasakiminato, Nemuro.
Unlikely: Japanese, Russian and English on this sign at Hanasakiminato, Nemuro.
  • Hamanaka
    • Distance: 83km’s from Kushiro to Hamanaka, approx 1 hr, 33 mins.
      • Cape Kiritappu
        • Actually two capes that are very close together, Cape Kiritappu and Cape Tofutsu.
        • You’ll find Tofutsu Lighthouse at Cape Tofutsu.
        • TripAdvisor Reviews
      • Cape Azechi

  • Nemuro
    • One of only a few places that you will find Japanese, Russian and English on the same signs.
    • We passed through the southern side including Hanasakiminato on the way to Cape Nosappu and then went through the town of Nemuro on the way back out.
  • Cape Nosappu
    • Distance: 90.1km’s from Cape Azechi, approx 1 hr, 37 mins.
    • Cape Nosappu Lighthouse
    • Four Island Bridge
      • Monument of peace representing a bridge betwen Hokkaido and the four disputed Habomai islands.
      • Part of Bokyonomisaki Park.
    • Russian-controlled Habomai Islands
    • Sasagawa Memorial Tower of Peace
  • Rausu
    • Distance: 162km’s from Cape Nosappu to Rausu, approx 2 hrs, 20 mins.
      • Rausu Kunashiri Observatory Deck
        • Price: Free
        • You can look out to the very close Kunashir Island, the southernmost of the Kuril island chain which is under Russian control.
        • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Shiretoko Pass
    • This is the route we took between Rausu and Abashiri.
    • Closed during Winter.
    • Windy road but stunning views, even if it is overcast like it was for us.
    • Keep an eye out for wild deer on and near the road.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Abashiri
    • Distance: 109km’s from Rausu via Shiretoko Pass, approx 2 hrs 30 mins
    • You will want to stop along the way to take photos, trust me.
  • Stay: Dormy Inn, Abashiri
    • Modern Double Room, Non-smoking
    • Price: AUD $239.82 / night
    • Breakfast included.
    • Earliest check-in: 3:00 pm
    • Latest check-out: 11:00 am
    • TripAdvisor Reviews

 

Day 4: Abashiri to Kitami via the Akan National Park Lakes

Today we had to make it to Lake Akan in time for the Ainu Ancient Dance in the Ikoro Ainu Theatre and the Lake Akan cruise. Make sure to check your times carefully.

240km’s, approx 4 hours, 45 minutes drive plus stops.

The view across Lake Kussharo from Kotan Onsen at sunset.
The view across Lake Kussharo from Kotan Onsen at sunset.
  • Lake Abashiri
    • We just stopped on the side of the road on the way past and otherwise enjoyed it while driving.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Lake Akan
    • A little bit of a tourist trap.
    • One of the most well-known lakes in Japan due to the Ainu village and the Marimo only found here.
    • Distance: 86km’s from Abashiri, approx 1 hrs, 30 mins.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
    • Ainu Kotan 
    • Akan Lake Sightseeing Cruise Circuit.
      • Price: 1900 yen p.p.
      • 85 minute trip including 15 minutes at the Marimo Observation Centre on Churui Island.
      • TripAdvisor Reviews
    • Pan de Pan Bakery
  • Lake Mashu First Observatory
    • Distance: 49km’s from Lake Akan, approx 55 mins
    • Price: 500 yen per car to park at the first observatory
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Lake Mashu Third Observatory 
    • Distance: 3.5km’s from Lake Mashu First Observatory, approx 4 mins.
    • Price: Free
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Lake Kussharo
    • Via Kawayu Onsen. This route takes you past Mt Io, a sulfur mountain (TripAdvisor). Parking is paid, and we didn’t have time to stop, but you can still take in the view on the way past!
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
    • Ikenoyu Hot Spring
    • Kotan Onsen
  • Kitami
    • Distance: 69km’s from Kotan Onsen, approx 1 hr 16 mins.
    • Double room / Non-smoking,
    • Price: AUD $128.43 / night
    • Breakfast included
    • Earliest check-in: 3:00 pm
    • Latest check-out: 11:00 am
    • TripAdvisor Reviews

 

Day 5:  Kitami to Furano via Sounkyo and Biei

215km’s, approx 4 hours, 40 minutes drive plus stops.

Sounkyo Ropeway Lookout
Sounkyo Ropeway Lookout
  • Taisetsu Dam Wall
    • Distance: 82km’s from Kitami, approx 1 hr 30 mins.
    • Not a whole lot to see, but the surroundings are pretty.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Ginga-no-Taki and Ryusei-no-Taki falls
  • Daisetsuzan Sounkyo – Kurodake Ropeway
    • Distance: 74km’s from Ginga-no-Taki and Ryusei-no-Taki falls, approx 1 hr 15 mins.
    • Price: 1900 yen p.p. round trip on the ropeway plus an additional 600 yen p.p. round trip to take the chair lift up even further.
    • Website
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Hokkaido Ice Pavilion
    • Distance: 24km’s from Sounkyo, approx 35 mins.
    • Price: 1080 yen p.p. or 980 yen p.p with a discount ticket.
    • Experience the -20°c ice hall and feel blasts of -41°c, the coldest temperature ever recorded in Hokkaido.
    • Website
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Hokuseino-oka Observatory Park
    • Distance: 60km’s from the Hokkaido Ice Pavilion, approx 1 hr, 21 mins.
    • Price: Free
    • A pyramid shaped look out where you can see across hills covered in patchwork-like fields towards Furano.
    • Try some of the fresh cooked corn on the cob from one of the neighbouring stores. YUM!
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Kanno Farm
    • Distance: 9.2km’s, approx 13 mins.
    • We didn’t stop here, we just enjoyed the beautiful flowers on the way past.
    • Website
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Rollercoaster Road
    • Distance: 4km’s from Kanno Farm, approx 5 mins.
    • Called “Path of the roller coaster” on Google Maps.
    • This is just a road that is long and straight but somewhat resembles a roller coaster with lots of ups and downs. We used this route to get to Flower Land.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Flower Land Kamifurano
    • Distance: 5km’s from Rollercoaster Road, approx 5 mins.
    • Again, we didn’t stop here, we just went past it so we had some idea what to expect and could make a decision about whether to come back in the morning or go to Farm Tomita.
    • You can see lots of the flowers from the road, but we ultimately decided to go to Farm Tomita in the morning instead.
    • Website
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Furano
    • Distance: 20.2km’s from Flower Land Kamifurano, approx 30 mins.
  • Stay: Furano Fresh Powder Apartments
    • Studio Apartment with Fireplace,
    • Price: AUD $230.70
    • Breakfast not included
    • Earliest check-in: Between 3pm-6pm only.
    • Latest check out: 10:00 am
    • TripAdvisor Reviews

 

Day 6: Furano to Chitose via Shirogane and Bear Mountain

280km’s, approx 4 hours, 55 minutes drive plus stops.

Shirahige Waterfall
Shirahige Waterfall
  • Shirogane Blue Pond
    • Distance: 36.5 km’s from Fresh Powder, approx 45 mins.
    • A stunning, vibrant blue pond made famous when Apple included it as a wallpaper on OS X.
    • Get here first thing in the morning if you can to avoid the hoards of people. We arrived at 8:20 am and the car park was nearly empty. By 9:00 am when we left, the closest parking lot was full and the second one was almost full too.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Shirahige Waterfall
    • Distance: 2.9 km’s from Blue Pond, Shirogane, approx 4 mins.
    • Flows into Blue Pond and has the same brilliant blue water.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Farm Tomita
    • Distance: 28.4km’s from Shirahige Waterfall, approx 35 mins.
    • Lunch at Farm Tomita – try one of their many lavender dishes and drinks.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • Bear Mountain, Bear Research Centre, Shintoku
    • Distance: 77 km’s from Farm Tomita, approx 1 hr 23 mins.
    • Take the Armoured Bear Watching Bus.
    • Price: 2,916 yen p.p.
    • Either take the bus, or walk the high rise walkway over the forest back to the information centre.
    • TripAdvisor Reviews
  • New Chitose Airport
    • Distance: 131 km’s from Bear Mountain, approx 1 hr 47 mins
    • Our flight out was at midnight, but we had to return the rental car by 6:00 pm to make sure we got on one of the last shuttles back to the airport.

 

Summing Up

This is a pretty full itinerary. The distances are not long, but the speed limits do mean it takes longer to get between destinations. In fact, almost every night we arrived at our hotel after dark with the exception of Furano where we arrived just before dusk. That said, we aimed to leave by 8:00 am every morning. We didn’t always leave that early, but if you prefer shorter days, be prepared to cut some things out. On a side note, a lot of these hotels have their own onsen’s, so you might prefer to take a little extra time in the evenings to enjoy that.

Been there?

Been to Hokkaido and done a road trip? What are your must-see attractions? Let me know in the comments below!

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Our trip started and ended in Sapporo at the New Chitose Airport, and was focused around the Central and Eastern regions of the island. If you are thinking about spending some time exploring Hokkaido, don't hesitate. You will find some stunning scenery, and in Spring, you will be treated to flowers from all colours of the rainbow and more active wildlife. The snow melts will also be fresher so the waterfalls are flowing and even on a rainy day, you will find something amazing.
Our trip started and ended in Sapporo at the New Chitose Airport, and was focused around the Central and Eastern regions of the island. If you are thinking about spending some time exploring Hokkaido, don’t hesitate. You will find some stunning scenery, and in Spring, you will be treated to flowers from all colours of the rainbow and more active wildlife. The snow melts will also be fresher so the waterfalls are flowing and even on a rainy day, you will find something amazing.

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