At the top of Japan is Hokkaido, a place famous for being one small cultural step removed from the rest of the country. It’s colder, flatter, and is famous for its sheep. But one thing Hokkaido has in common with the rest of Japan is some of the best hot springs in the world.
Here are Hokkaido’s top 7 all-natural onsen:
Pop any of these hot springs into your Japan itinerary and before long you’ll be walking away feeling lighter than the Hokkaido air.
Most people have heard of Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido. It’s the launching pad for many adventures in Japan’s northernmost island and also happens to be the name of a world-class beer.
About an hour away from that prefectural capital is Jozankei Onsen, a lush onsen surrounded by the mountains of Shikotsu-Toya National Park.
It’s a bit more developed than some of the sleepier options on this list, but with that extra attention comes a range of great bathing and accommodation options. There are also plenty of attractions in this gorgeous section of Hokkaido including:
- Hiking in the late spring, summer, and early fall
- Sites such as Lake Toya and Lake Shikotsu
- Niseko ski resort
- Dozens of awesome restaurants and ryokans
Not only is Noboribetsu Onsen one of Hokkaido’s best destinations, it’s also among the most famous onsen in Japan. One of those reasons is the Jigokudani, or ‘Hell Valley.’
The region gets its name because of the volcanic surroundings that frequently produce steam from the ground. Hiking through that part of Hokkaido with its ashy grey sections can make you feel a bit like you’re in, well, hell!
Aside from the sections of bleak scenery, Noboribetsu also boasts a variety of baths. The waters of these Hokkaido onsens are packed with therapeutic minerals said to have properties that can ease fatigue and promote overall well-being.
If you decide to hit this hot spring instead of Jozankei Onsen, you can see many of the same sites since it’s in the same Shikotsu-Toya National Park. You can also check out the Ainu Museum while you’re there for an education on Hokkaido’s aboriginal history.
3. Toyako Onsen
One final hot spring hot spot in Shikotsu-Toya national park is at Lake Toya itself. The area is known as Toyako Onsen, and as the name suggests, it sits along the picturesque shores of Lake Toya.
The area is famous for its geothermal activity, and the hot springs here offer a lakeside bathing experience not so different from Hakone, a top onsen spot closer to Tokyo. Toyako Onsen is also the perfect launching pad for the outdoor enthusiasts with plenty of lake and mountain activities at their fingertips.
You can enjoy this Hokkaido hot spring at any point in the year, but if you enjoy fireworks, consider popping in from late April to October as they put on a lakeside display every night.
Further south, at the very tip of Hokkaido, is Hakodate’s Yunokawa Onsen. It’s been a popular retreat for centuries because of its supposed healing waters and breathtaking coastal views.
Visitors to this area have their choice between a mix of ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) and modern resorts, all featuring hot spring baths with panoramic vistas. If you’re looking to give this famous Hokkaido onsen town a try, it’s a 20-minute train or bus ride away from Hakodate station or less than ten minutes from Hakodate airport.
While you’re there, you can also see the Goryokaku, a famous star-shaped military fortress built in 1866.
If you’re planning on hiking in Japan, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Daisetsuzan National Park. It’s one of the top outdoor destinations in Japan with its dramatic ridgeline views and multi-day hiking courses. And nestled away among all of that beauty is Sounkyo Onsen.
Visitors can expect a tranquil atmosphere surrounded by waterfalls, towering cliffs, and lush forest. Oh, and waters that’ll melt all of your troubles away.
The main drawback is that renting a car is the best way to see the area as it’s in the middle of Hokkaido, but don’t let that stop you. There are plenty of charming accommodation options in the area that’ll get you in touch with mother nature.
6. Asahidake Onsen
A hop, skip, and a jump away from Sounkyo onsen is Asahidake Onsen, located at the base of Mount Asahi, Hokkaido’s tallest mountain at 2,290 meters (7513 ft). The area is just as famous as the rest of Daisetsuzan for its hiking, and what better way to wind down after a challenging hike than by soaking in mineral-rich baths?
This onsen retreat is renowned for its rustic environment full of log houses and a lovely youth hostel, offering a more down-to-earth hot spring experience. After a day of hiking or skiing in the surrounding areas, it’s a can’t-miss opportunity.
Like Sounkyo Onsen, getting to Asahidake can be a bit of a challenge. The least stressful option is renting a car, but there are also buses that take off from several points nearby. There are also multiple options for accommodations in the Asahidake Onsen area:
7. Akanko Onsen
It may not come as a surprise that the final entry on this list is yet another Hokkaido hot spring sitting inside a gorgeous national park. The northernmost island is packed full of these protected natural paradises, after all.
Located on the eastern side of Hokkaido, Akan-Mashu National Park is one of the most remote of them all, but it’s worth a trip, especially if you’re driving. And Akanko onsen is a must-visit if you’re in that neighborhood.
Lake Akan is known for its unique marimo, a rare type of algae that forms into round green balls. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to see those sights from the nearby onsen and, of course, refill your energy bars to max capacity.
Japan is a country blessed with some incredible nature, but if one area were to get the highest grades for its rich and varied landscapes, it might be Hokkaido. And what better way to experience that nature than by literally soaking it up?
From lakeside resorts with fireworks to areas with enough geothermal activity to be named after the underworld, Hokkaido’s onsen game is among the best around. You can get your fix of outdoor activities and tasty foods, and at the end of the day stop by one of the destinations on this for the perfect end to the perfect day.
Jozankei pic by t-konno, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60149514