The Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) defines adventure travel as a trip that must include at least two of the following elements: activities, nature, and culture.
Hokkaido offers natural wonders such as the World Heritage Site of Shiretoko and drift ice, nature-based activities that people of all ages can enjoy, and the traditions of the indigenous Ainu people, as well as the culture of the early pioneering communities.

Hokkaido has the ideal combination of all three elements. Read on to learn what makes Hokkaido the perfect adventure travel destination.

Unique Topography, Dynamic Nature

Hokkaido is the northernmost of the five main islands that make up the Japanese archipelago, with an area almost equivalent to Ireland or Austria. It covers vast swaths of land, stretching 500 km from east to west and 400 km from north to south, and is surrounded by three bodies of water—the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan, and the Sea of Okhotsk. Mountains, forests, lakes, wetlands, and rivers cover the landscape, giving Hokkaido a dynamic appeal that cannot be found in the Japanese mainland. The region is packed with infinite opportunities for adventure travel.

Hokkaido is home to the World Natural Heritage site of Shiretoko, six national parks, five geoparks, and 13 Ramsar wetlands. It is inhabited by a rich variety of wildlife found nowhere else in Japan, including brown bears, red-crowned cranes, Ezo red foxes, and Ezo deer.

Hokkaido has four distinct seasons, which you can experience with all five senses. Summer offers an array of vibrant landscapes—take in magnificent views around Mount Asahidake, the island’s highest peak, or visit Lake Mashu, one of the clearest lakes in the world. Alternatively, you can visit Niseko to enjoy activities around the foot of Mount Yotei, also known as Ezo Fuji (Ezo is the former name of Hokkaido.), or explore the little-known marine paradise of the with its distinct shade of “Shakotan” blue.

Fall comes early to Hokkaido, and one of the best places to experience the season is the Daisetsuzan mountain range, a picturesque site where you’ll find the mountains colored with hues of yellow and red.

In winter, temperatures plummet below freezing, creating unique and enchanting views. Visitors can observe natural phenomenon such as drift ice, frost flowers, and frozen ice bubbles in lakes, as well as diamond dust—rapidly cooled grains of water vapor shimmering in the sunlight, and juhyo—trees turned white by frozen mist.

Fun Activities Throughout the Year

Japan is a humid country, but Hokkaido is an exception—the region is blessed with dry, crisp air throughout the year. Although mainland Japan experiences heavy rainfall in June, Hokkaido does not have a rainy season. The clear skies and mild climate are perfect for enjoying outdoor activities without worrying about the weather forecast.

The short but beautiful summer season is ideal for activities like hiking, canoeing, sea-kayaking, and rafting, and they can all be combined with wildlife observation. You can also choose to fish in one of the many great fishing spots in the area or go cycling to enjoy the fine weather and magnificent landscape at your own pace.

In winter, Hokkaido is a mecca for winter sports. It’s home to world-class powder snow spots like Niseko that are perfect for skiing and snowboarding, and visitors can also try snowshoeing, dog sledding, and smelt fishing in the ice. At Abashiri and Shiretoko in Eastern Hokkaido, you can observe and walk on drift ice wearing a dry suit. Thrill seekers can even try the unusual experience of ice diving.

Deep Cultural Insights

Hokkaido’s landscape, natural resources, and cultural assets are all steeped in history. Hokkaido is home to the indigenous Ainu people who have their own culture and language and have inhabited the area since ancient times. About 150 years ago, the Meiji Restoration led to the establishment of the modern state of Japan. It was around this time that the entire island was renamed from Ezochi to Hokkaido and internationally declared as Japanese territory. The new government played a pioneering role in modernization and introducing Western technology and culture, but development projects throughout the island posed a major threat to the traditional society and culture of the indigenous Ainu people.

Upopoy, the National Ainu Museum and Park, was established in Shiraoi Town in 2020 as the first national museum focusing exclusively on Ainu culture. It offers a variety of interactive workshops such as woodcarving and playing traditional musical instruments.

Another major attraction of the area is the rich culinary culture nurtured by the cool climate and abundance of agricultural and marine products. Genghis Khan, grilled lamb or mutton, is a signature local dish deeply rooted in Hokkaido’s history. The dish’s origins in the region go back to late 1910s, after the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, when sheep farming spread in Hokkaido because of the increasing demand for wool for military use. Genghis Khan eventually became popular with locals after the Second World War. You will also find other unique fare such as ishikari-nabe, a hot pot with salmon and vegetables stewed in miso soup.

Japanese whisky has recently been in the international spotlight and the foundations for it were laid in Nikka Whisky distillery located in Yoichi, Hokkaido. Sake made from delicious Hokkaido-grown rice and cool, quality water is also growing in popularity. Many of these distilleries offer tours and tastings (some are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so check beforehand).

Delicious natural water is indispensable to making good whisky and sake. Households in Higashikawa Town in central Hokkaido use groundwater from melt snow that comes from the Daisetzusan mountain range—some people even move to the area for the water. About 90% of the area in Shimokawa in northern Hokkaido is forested. It has become renowned nationwide for its cyclical forest management, which preserves sustainable forest resources through a cycle of planting, nurturing, and harvesting, while creating employment in the forestry industry. The area is self-sufficient in producing energy from wood-sourced biomass.

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