Road trip through Hokkaido: Scenic spots and scrumptious eats you can’t miss
When most of us think of Hokkaido (北海道), places like Sapporo (札幌) or Otaru (小樽) are names we instantly recognise. These places are popular for good reason—beautiful scenery, vibrant history, and delicious food make them tourist havens. While each of these areas have their charms, they offer but a taste of what the entire prefecture of Hokkaido has to offer.
Hokkaido is a huge landmass, and within the areas of Japan’s largest prefecture are mountains and falls shaped entirely by the hands of nature. Then there are forests and roads painted shades of pink and green by the trees, a new scene with every changing season. And who can forget the culinary delights from the likes of crab, to prized melt-in-your-mouth wagyu? It’d be a trip you won’t soon forget, but to get the complete experience requires taking a more unconventional route.
A car and a license to drive are all you need to uncover the hidden gems of Hokkaido. Not only does driving give you the freedom to explore at your own time and pace, the landscape of Hokkaido makes every route a scenic one.
Two areas in particular are truly worth exploring. The first is the Hokkaido Tongari Road Area (北海道とんがりロードエリア), a triangular area towards the south of the island, and the Hokkaido Hashikko United Area, located in the southwest of the prefecture.
Highlights from the Hokkaido Tongari Road Area
Map of the Tongari Road Area. (Image credit: Hokkaido Prefecture)
Urakawa (浦河): Yushun Sakura Road
Yushun Sakura Road in full bloom. (Image credit: Urakawa Town)
At Yushun Sakura Road (優駿さくらロード) at the beginning of May each year, 1,000 Ezoyamazakura (蝦夷山桜), or North Japanese hill cherry trees simultaneously burst into full bloom. The scene that unfolds is a 3km stretch of road with a pink sakura tree tunnel overhead, releasing a drifting rain of petals. The Urakawa Sakura Festival (浦河桜まつり Urakawa sakura matsuri) also takes place in May, during which the trees are lit up in the evening, giving the place an ethereal quality.
Samani (様似): UNESCO Global Geopark Mt. APOI
Hiking at Global Geopark Mt. Apoi. (Image credit: Samani Town)
There’s a lot to see at the UNESCO Global Geopark Mt. APOI (アポイ岳ジオパーク Apoidake jiopāku). Encompassing mountain ranges, towns, and the coast, the views from here are remarkable in every direction. As you stroll through the towns, witness firsthand mankind’s relationship with nature, and even learn a little more by joining a local guided tour. There are several walking and hiking courses for every fitness level, and afterwards, indulge in some local cuisine prepared with fresh seafood from the coast.
Erimo (えりも): Kaze no Yakata
The Wind Tunnel Experience (Image credit: Erimo Town)
Erimo is one windy town. Located by the coast at the southern tip of Hokkaido, the wind that sweeps through the area over 260 days per year exceed speeds of 10m/s—strong enough to sway tree branches. A popular attraction here is Kaze no Yakata (風の館), an education centre stocked with exhibits and a theatre. The real draw though is something called the “Wind tunnel challenge”, a room within the facility where the 25m/s wind renders it impossible to stand in place, let alone speak!
Hiroo (広尾): Fumbe Falls
Fumbe Falls in winter (Image credit: Hiroo Town)
In an unlikely location just by the road is Fumbe Falls (フンベの滝 Funbe no taki), a cliffside waterfall that emerges from the rocks and dribbles down below. The view of the waterfall is spectacular, particularly when sunlight from the coast hits the flowing water, making it glisten. In winter, the water freezes over, forming columns of icicles that look like water suspended in time mid-flow.
Highlights from the Hokkaido Hashikko United Area
Map of the Hashikko United Area (Image credit: Hokkaido Prefecture)
Kuromatsunai (黒松内): Utasai Beech Forest Guided Walk
Utasai beech forest in summer (Image credit: Kuromatsunai Town)
The town of Kuromatsunai prides itself on its otherworldly virgin beech forest, a slice of land untouched by civilisation. The colours of the forest are vivid throughout the seasons, turning from shades of yellow and green in spring, to the white of powder snow in winter. A trek through the beech forest is refreshing for the senses and the soul, and be sure to join the Utasai Beech Forest Guided Walk (ブナ林ガイドウォーク) with a local expert for an in-depth exploration of the area.
Imakane (今金): Imakane Kuroge Wagyu
Grilled Imakane Kuroge Wagyu (Image credit: Imakane Town)
One of life’s best luxuries is having a slice of perfectly marbled wagyu that melts in your mouth. At Imakane, an amazing culinary experience is guaranteed with Imakane Kuroge Wagyu (今金黒毛和牛). While Imakane Town is well-known for breeding wagyu, the majority of cattle from Imakane are shipped to other parts of Japan as calfs, becoming known varieties like Matsusaka beef and Hida beef. Therefore, cattle that have been raised entirely in Imakane are exceedingly rare. There, the cattle grow stress-free under optimum conditions, a tried and tested recipe for amazingly tender and scrumptious beef. Head to Kur Plaza Pirika (クアプラザピリカ) for a taste of Imakane Wagyu.
Toyoura (豊浦): Michi-no-Eki Toyoura
Toyoura strawberry soft serve ice cream (Image credit: Toyoura Town)
Toyoura is a town of not just one, but at least three famous culinary delights. They are the Toyoura Strawberry (豊浦いちご Toyoura ichigo), grown in the cool summer climate, scallops farmed at Funka Bay (噴火湾 Funka-wan), and juicy Toyoura SPF Pork (豊浦産SPF豚 Toyoura-san SPF ton). Don’t worry, you won’t have to go far to taste all three—each of these delicacies can be found at Michi-no-Eki Toyoura (道の駅とようら). Look out for the delightful Toyoura strawberry soft serve ice cream, incorporated with jam handmade with Toyoura strawberries. For something savoury, try the fried scallops, fresh from the bay. Another popular attraction in Toyoura is a guided tour of the fishing ports, and guests are invited to the fish auction normally closed to the public.
Oshamambe (長万部): Kanimeshi
Packaged Kanimeshi bento (Image credit: Oshamambe Town)
Historically, Oshamambe has been a place most people travelling through Hokkaido have passed through. Today, the town of Oshamambe is synonymous with Kanimeshi (かにめし), or crab meat served on a bed of rice. This came to be in the years after World War II, when Horsehair Crab was caught in abundance in the face of food shortage, salted and boiled and sold to travellers in trains and buses. The one caveat was that Horsehair Crabs were only in season in summer. To make Kanimeshi, crab meat is processed into delicious flakes, making it available throughout the year so that all who pass through Oshamambe can have a taste of this historical dish.
A slow drive, a thrilling adventure
Breathtaking scenery, unforgettable experiences, and tantalising dishes are just the beginning. There’s no telling what other surprises and hidden treasures of Hokkaido are waiting to be discovered on the road. So get a playlist ready with your favourite tunes, and buckle up for a road trip to remember!
Click here to find out more about traffic rules and regulation in Hokkaido.
Header image credit: Urakawa Town
This article is written in collaboration with Hokkaido Tongari Road and Hokkaido Hashikko United.