Japan: Hokkaido hidden gems
When planning a trip to a new place, I first start to collect as much informations as possible in order to be able to have the best experiences, avoid crowds and disappointments.
For my first time to Hokkaido I wanted the nature to be the highlight. The Daisetsuzan National Park is the largest of this kind all over Japan and nicknamed “the rooftop of Hokkaido”. It consists of different volcanoes, hidden Onsens, blue water lakes and dense forests. The park is rich in hiking trails, small mountain huts and a few thermal towns, where people can enjoy a hot bath after a day in nature. I got a lot of information on the conditions of the roads, on the best hiking paths and of course on where to enjoy the best Onsens.
After leaving the area of Mt Asahidake, we drove to the opposite site of the Park (2 hours) and we reached the first spot Sounkyo Onsen. The small town is famous for being the access to Mt Kurodake and for Onsens. You can take the Ropeway and the chairlift till the seventh station and continue the hike till the top (3 hours both ways).
During fall the view from the TOP is amazing and the Gorge is covered with all the colors from bright yellow to intense red. We didn’t have time to do the hike but we chose to visit an other part of the town famous for the fall leafs. It is an intense 1.30 hours walk deep into a forest until you reach a beautiful waterfall.
Interesting enough, when you plan your trip to Hokkaido you need to be very careful on where to find fuel stations and supermarkets. If you follow this way, be sure to stop in Kamikawa to buy some food (you will need it for the day after if you plan to hike) and to fill up your car, because you will not find fuel stations in Sounkyo and there is a limited offer in terms of food. When you are in Sounkyo, you will notice many busses of tourists coming to stay in one of the Onsens Hotels or just for a day trip to the summit of the Mount to enjoy the view. BUT if you want to be the only ones who are brave, then drive all way up to Kogen Onsen.
Daisetsu Kogen Onsen, about 20 Km south of Sounkyo, is the remote location I was looking for. It is located in the heart of the park at the end of a 10 Km unsealed road (check the roads conditions before to go). Here you will find the starting point of the Kogen-numa Meguri Hike. It is a beautiful 5 hours hike around lakes and ponds and it is strictly regulated, since the area is home to wild brown bears. Everybody needs to be registered at the Brown Bear Info Center before to start the hike and to attend a 20 minutes lecture on rules and way of conduct in case you meet one of them.
I was ready for this adventure but I needed something more to complete the experience. The majority of hikers spend the night in Sounkyo and drive very early the next morning to Kogen (1 hour) to start he hike. Next to the Brown Bear Info Center you will find the Daisetsu Kogen Sanso. It is a fantastic mountain style Japanese Ryokan, with warm fireplaces, a great Onsen and amazing food. We spend here the night before the hike and it was a great find. The staff are very helpful if you need information and the ladies working in the kitchen provide you with meals from the freshest seasonal mountain ingredients.
The day of the hike. After an early breakfast, we got ready with our hiking gears and we registered at the Info Center. The first part of the trail crosses rivers and hot springs, with smoking holes all around. Then it is all about beautiful ponds reflecting the high peaks of the park. You shouldn’t miss this when going to Hokkaido.
I will tell you more about Hokkaido’s main towns and attractions.