Splendourous awe-tumn colours of Hokkaido!
Is autumn (秋 aki) your favourite season in Japan? It’s one of the most beautiful times in the country, when people can witness the autumn foliage that is made up of fiery red, vibrant orange, and golden hues. The season’s period varies according to the region, and the dates may also change depending on the climate for the year. But usually, the northernmost region of Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō) is the first area to experience autumn in Japan because of its geographical location.
Autumn in Hokkaido is always early, and autumn leaves could be seen as early as mid-September. The colours began to appear starting from the Daisetsuzan (大雪山) mountain range, located in the middle of Hokkaido. Compared to Honshu, Hokkaido has more broad-leaved trees so the locals and visitors can enjoy magnificent autumn views in the region, with vivid shades of red, orange, and yellow contrasting against the green coniferous trees.
Ginsendai at Daisetsuzan National Park. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Let me introduce to you some of the must-see spots for autumn leaves for your next autumn adventure to Hokkaido!
① Sapporo (札幌)
Gingko trees in Hokkaido University. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Sapporo is the capital city of Hokkaido, and here there is one of the best autumn viewing spots in the region. Hokkaido University (北海道大学 Hokkaidō Daigaku) is recognised as one of the national universities in Japan, and it is also the location for a wondrous sight: a row of vivid yellow ginkgo trees!
Take a leisurely stroll and enjoy the autumn scenery at Hokkaido University. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
It is only a 15-minute walk from JR Sapporo Station (JR札幌駅 Sapporo-eki), so getting there is really easy The best time to see these wonderful trees is from late October to early November, and since the golden tree-lined path is also a road belonging to the university, it can get crowded with students, so early morning is best for shooting when there are less people around.
Sapporo Beer Museum, covered in red autumn leaves. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
The entire city of Sapporo is filled with picturesque autumn spots, such as the Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール博物館 Sapporo Bīru Hatsubutsukan) and the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (北海道庁旧本庁舎 Hokkaidō-chō kyū-honchōsha) so you can also relish the autumn ambiance while taking a leisurely stroll around the city.
The Former Hokkaido Government Office Building, in the day (top and bottom-left) and at night (bottom-right). (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
② Otaru (小樽)
Retro designs found throughout JR Otaru Station. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
The port city of Otaru is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hokkaido, and it features a retro atmosphere full of exoticism, such as stone warehouses lined up along the iconic Otaru Canal (小樽運河 Otaru Unga). Located just 33 minutes by train from Sapporo, Otaru is also highly accessible, and if you’re going there straight from New Chitose Airport Station, you can take the Rapid Airport Express directly to the city and reach JR Otaru Station (JR小樽駅 Otaru-eki) in approximately 73 minutes without needing to transfer trains.
Red autumn leaves covering the walls of buildings in Otaru. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Walk for about 10 minutes from JR Otaru Station, and you can see the wondrous sight of autumn leaves with red vines that cover the walls of the warehouses along the Otaru Canal and the surrounding buildings. The best time to see this outstanding contrast of the historical buildings and the fiery red autumn leaves is from late October to early November.
③ Biei (美瑛)
Panoramic view of Biei. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Another famous tourist destination that is highly representative of Hokkaido, Biei is known for its spectacular scenery of the hills during the summer, but in autumn, the hills are thoroughly dyed in golden hues, and I strongly implore everyone to come and see it for themselves.
The snow caps of the Tokachidake (十勝岳) mountain range can also be seen in the far distance, and the contrast of the white snow with the clear blue sky is breathtakingly beautiful. The landscape of undulating hills and gold-coloured Japanese larches spreads wide open, and you can't stop snapping photos of the endlessly picturesque scenery, which looks like a painting from every angle. The best time to see the autumn colours of Biei is from mid-October to early November.
The first must-see spot for autumn leaves in Biei is the Blue Pond (青い池 Aoi-ike). The water in the pond is always turquoise, but only during the autumn season, the water will be surrounded by golden foliage.
The Blue Pond during autumn. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Another spot is Shikisai no Oka (四季彩の丘), which is famous for its flowers especially in the summer, but even without them during autumn, you can still see amazing natural scenery.
Shikisai no Oka. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
And the third must-see spot is the Roller Coaster Road (ジェットコースターの路), whose name comes from how the road goes up and down like a roller coaster for as far the eyes can see. There are fields on both sides of the straight road, and although they are not all covered in golden hues, the overall autumn landscape is a majestic sight that is starkly different from that of summer.
A sign stating “Kamifurano Hakkei” (かみふらの八景) stands upright at the observation area, and the Tokachidake mountain range that can be seen beyond the golden trees from here is an impressive sight to behold.
Rollercoaster Road (left) and Kamifurano Hakkei (right). (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
④ Noboribetsu (登別)
Noboribetsu. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Take the limited express train from JR Sapporo Station for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, and you will reach JR Noboribetsu Station. There are many hot water spouts and hot steam vents in Jigokudani (地獄谷 Hell Valley), and it is a spot where vibrant autumn leaves contrast against the white steam. The best time to see is from mid to late October.
Taking a stroll along Jigokudani. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
I highly recommended taking a walk along the promenade while enjoying the autumn leaves, and visiting nearby tourist attractions such as Oyunuma Pond (大湯沼 Ōyunuma) and Oyunuma River Natural Footbath (大湯沼川天然足湯 Ōyunuma-gawa Tennen-ashiyu). You can soothe your tired feet and body at the footbath with a water that is at a moderate temperature.
Oyunuma Pond (top-left) and Oyunuma River Natural Footbath (bottom-left and right). (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
You can also see vibrant autumn foliage from Shinnoboribetsu Ohashi Bridge (新登別大橋 Shinnoboribetsu-ōhashi). The bridge stretches over a deep 120m valley that is filled with autumn leaves of trees such as maple (カエデ kaede), lacquer trees (ウルシ urushi), and azaleas (ツツジ tsutsuji).
Views from Shinnoboribetsu Ohashi Bridge. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Autumn in Hokkaido is short, but the vivid scenery filled with charms is a spectacular view that can only be seen here. So make your next autumn travel adventure to Hokkaido, a region filled with amazing foliage that you have to see for yourself!
Travelling around Hokkaido by train
Travelling around Hokkaido by train. (Image credit: Hokkaido Railway Company)
Not only is travelling around Hokkaido by train fun, it’s also very easy with the Hokkaido Rail Pass. Moreover, there are also other passes you can consider, such as the Sapporo-Furano Area Pass and the Sapporo-Noboribetsu Area Pass, both of which are very handy for travelling around Hokkaido to visit must-see spots with wonderful autumn views!
For more details, have a look here.
Header credit image: Hokkaido Railway Company