Home >> Japan Travel >> Hokkaido with Kids (December 2014) Part 4: Chitose, Lake Shikotsu, Niseko, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, Rusutsu

This post is continued from…

Hokkaido with Kids (December 2014) Part 3: Kushiro, Obihiro, Tomamu


The drive from Tomamu to Niseko was extremely long and I wouldn’t recommend doing it in a day.  We didn’t plan to do this drive in a day initially.  Our initial plan was to go:

Tomamu -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Niseko -> Rusutsu.

However, due to accommodation cost (doing that would have put us in Niseko over a weekend which would have been exorbitant), we ended up going:

Tomamu -> Niseko -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya  -> Rusutsu

Which resulted in us having to do the loooong Tomamu -> Niseko drive (but we saved a few hundred bucks on our Niseko accomodation).

We planned a lunch stop mid-point at Chitose Rera Outlet.  Chitose Rera Outlet was a great place to visit with kids.

There were many shops selling kids stuff and areas for kids to play – indoor and outdoor playgrounds, kiddy rides, mazes etc.  The indoor play room was a particularly great hideout during winter.  And it was free to play!

The kids had so much fun in the indoor play room that they didn’t want to leave.  After we finally persuaded them to leave, we continued our drive to Niseko, stopping by Lake Shikotsu to buy my favourite cheese imo mochi.

I found Lake Shikotsu much more beautiful in winter compare to summer because of the snow-capped mountains around the lake.

Read More: Our visit to Lake Shikotsu in June 2014

The drive to Niseko was absolutely terrifying.  Driving after sunset in heavy snowfall (which was common for Niseko) meant ZERO visibility.  It is something I would really advise against, so if you are planning to drive to Niseko, please try to get there by 4pm latest so that there’ll still be daylight.

We eventually made it safe and sound (amidst MF ranting, “Why are we not there yet? Why are you driving so slowly?” non-stop) to Hilton Niseko Village where we would be staying for the next 2 nights.   Since we were too tired after the traumatizing drive to Niseko to venture anywhere for dinner, we had dinner at the super overpriced tourist-trap Niseko Village beside the hotel.  I was just so happy to have made it to Niseko alive that I didn’t care about paying more than I should for average food.  Here’s a disheveled celebratory shot at Niseko Village to mark my survival.

Day 11: Niseko

The next morning, we decided to drive to Hirafu for breakfast, because we reckoned everything in Niseko Village was overpriced.  But before that, we had to figure our two things:

1) Which car was ours;

2) How to get our car out from under all that snow.

Ah.. the joys of driving in winter.  After sweeping off enough snow off the windows and windscreen with the teeny brush provided in the rental car, I hopped into the car and switched on the heater at full blast to defrost my frozen hands.  As for the rest of the snow on top of the car, never mind them.  I drove to the lobby of Hilton Niseko and there were staff there armed with large brushes (much bigger than the one the car rental company provided) who efficiently swept off the snow on the roof of the car for me.  And off to Hirafu we went!

After breakfast, we went to the Grand Hirafu Base where the kids snow park was supposed to be located – but the snow park was not ready yet! The website said it would be open from 6 Dec, we were there on the 12th and it was not open.  Grrr… Lesson learnt: Don’t trust the opening dates on the websites (the same thing happened at Rusutsu resort, I will come to that later.)  So the kids just hung around and threw the snow around until they were covered in snow and decided they wanted to go back to the hotel.

Not that it really bothered the boys, who had fun just throwing snow around.  Until they were quite frozen.

We drove back to Hilton and MF decided that he wanted to learn to ski.  So hubby brought MF for a ski lesson.  They offered ski lessons for kids aged 3 and above at Hilton.  Their ski instructors came from all over the world so no worries about language barrier.  (In fact, everyone at Hilton was speaking English.  I didn’t hear a word of Japanese during my stay there.)

The kids ski area at Hilton was great because it had a travelator to bring the kids (and adult beginners) up the slope. (I remember when I went Australia and took my first ski lesson, I spent all my energy climbing up the slope just to ski back down in seconds.)  After just one lesson, MF could go up the travelator and ski down the beginner slope on his own!!

Hilton also offered drop off services.  You can drop off your kids for half a day and there would be staff to look after them while they played in a designated playroom and attended a ski lesson.  However, MF refused to be dropped of so hubby stayed with him throughout his lesson.

So what was MY and I doing while MF was having his ski lesson? Eating!  During lunch hours, Prativo at Niseko Milk Kobo offered semi-buffet lunch sets (you get a main dish plus salad and dessert buffet).

The desserts at the buffet bar was produced by Niseko Milk Kobo no less.  And the highlight was their award-winning yoghurt drink which you could drink as much as you liked.

If the weather is good, you can enjoyed a view of Mount Yotei while dining at Prativo.   Too bad, our luck wasn’t very good.  But having been to Niseko a couple of times, trust me, it could have been much worse.

After we finished our lunch, the sky was pretty clear and we quickly made our drive back to the hotel.  Because when it starts snowing, even driving a couple of kilometres would be a real pain!

Back at the hotel, MY took his afternoon nap and I just bummed around waiting for MF to finish his ski lesson.   Oh, did I mention that our room at Hilton Niseko had a view of Mount Yotei? Yeah, I didn’t even realise it until the afternoon of our second day when the snow finally cleared enough for me to get a glimpse of the mountain.  Even then, I never got a totally clear view because of that pesky bit of cloud that hung around the top of the mountain.  Reminded me of my first visit to Mount Fuji.

In the evening, we took the hotel shuttle bus to Hirafu for dinner.  I didn’t fancy driving around Niseko in the dark, so it was a good thing that Hilton ran shuttle buses in the evening for guests who wish to have dinner at Hirafu.  The shuttle bus was super packed and it was a good thing we stayed at Hilton.  The bus subsequently went to Green Leaf Niseko Village to pick up the guests there but half of them couldn’t board because the bus was full.  And those at Kasara could forget about boarding.

We had dinner at Steak Rosso Rosso which was super expensive and totally blah. The appetizers and entrees were good, but the steak was tough and definitely not worth the price.  I’m not sure why they had such good reviews on TripAdvisor, but I guess taste is subjective.  Just like not everyone agrees with the stuff I write on this blog.  :p

After dinner, we were walking back towards to shuttle bus pick-up point near Hirafu intersection when we passed by a quaint-looking cafe called Cafe IF.  We decided to hop in for some desserts, since the dinner at Steak Rosso Rosso was rather unsatisfying.

The hot chocolate and cheesecake here were heavenly! I was so glad we decided to take some times to visit Cafe IF and go back by the later shuttle.  However, do keep track of your time and make sure you have ample time for a visit to Cafe IF because waiting time was pretty long even when there were no other customers in the cafe.  The cafe owners took their time to slowly heat up and whisk that hot chocolate and cheesecake.  But it was well worth the wait.

Day 12: Niseko – Lake Toya – Noboribetsu

Following morning, for convenience, we decided to have breakfast at Niseko Village.  Like we didn’t learn our lesson from our dinner on our first evening here. But there are times we would rather pay for convenience.

We only found one cafe in Niseko Village open for breakfast.  Ordered a drink, a cake and waffles and paid 4000 yen.  Blah.  The breakfast we had the previous morning at Hirafu was way better.  Definitely.

After breakfast, we let the kids play for a bit in the kids play room at the hotel lobby before checking out.  The kids play room required the room card to enter, so it was strictly for staying guests only. (i.e. if you are just going to Niseko Village for a day to ski, you can’t make use of this play room.)

Overall, I am not sure if I would recommend staying at Hilton Niseko.  I liked it for the hassle-free skiing, but I disliked the fact that everything in Niseko Village was so touristy and overpriced.  Also, at Hilton Niseko, I didn’t feel like I was in Japan at all.  Everyone spoke English and it was over-run by overseas tourists.  They had an onsen, but many people disobeyed bathing rules like not talking loudly and not bringing towels into the onsen.  Personally, I would not come back to Niseko during ski season. (Okay, I may come back as a day trip just to eat at Prativo and Cafe IF.)  I would go to Tomamu instead.

After checking out of Hilton Niseko, we dropped by Niseko Milk Kobo to buy some tarts, ice-cream and cream puffs.  I so love everything at Milk Kobo!

From there, we drove to Lake Toya for lunch.

We ate at our favourite restaurant at Lake Toya, Sendoan.

After lunch, we continued our drive to Noboribetsu via Orofure Pass.  The scenery along Orofure Pass was incredible.  We felt like we were driving through Narnia!

But here’s a word of caution.  Only use the Orofure Pass if the weather is bright and sunny.  DO NOT use the pass if it is snowing.  You won’t see a thing and it’ll probably be quite traumatising.

Around the mid-point of the pass, there was a parking area with pretty good scenery.  Of course we pulled over to snap a couple of photos.

Be sure that you have proper snow boots before you start hopping around the parking area.  You can’t see this, but I was actually standing in knee deep snow.

We arrived at Hotel Mahoroba at Noboribetsu just in time for check-in.  Right after checking in, I brought MF to the onsen which had an outdoor slide which MF had so much fun with!

In the evening, we had buffet dinner at the hotel.  The dinner spread here was fantastic! It was one of the highlights of our trip, I kid you not.

Free flow sashimi, checked.

Free flow crabs, checked.

Free flow grilled hotate, OMG.

Free flow wagyu beef, done medium rare the way I liked my beef.

And I have to show you the marbling of the beef they served.  One slice of this beef cost a bomb in Singapore.  I couldn’t believe we were having them buffet style here!

After dinner, we went to the arcade where the kids had a lot of fun.  Usually arcades at onsen hotels are pretty sad with a few outdated machines, but the arcade at Hotel Mahoroba was on par with a Timezone arcade.  The machines were very new and there were lots of games to play.  And there was a lady who went around with a cloth wiping each machine after it has been used.. Amazing.

Day 13: Noboribetsu – Lake Toya

The next morning, we had buffet breakfast at the hotel before checking out and driving to Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE.

Initially I thought visiting an aquarium during winter would be a good idea since it would be indoors and warm.  I was dead wrong.

It was freaking cold at NIXE and we had to go into the cold to get between the different buildings and to watch the penguin parade!

Overall, NIXE wasn’t very fun and I wouldn’t recommend it as much as Asahiyama Zoo.  The admission fee was expensive, dining option was sad and the displays were pretty small (mostly small tanks of creatures) – nothing like our S.E.A. Aquarium.

On the positive side, they had a sea lion show and a dolphin show which the kids loved.  And we could get really close to the penguins during the penguin parade just like at Asahiyama Zoo.  The good thing about the penguin parade at Noboribetsu Marine Park NIXE was that they had it throughout the year.  Whereas Asahiyama Zoo only had their penguin parade for a limited time during winter.

From NIXE, we drove to Lake Toya and checked in to Toya Kohantei.

We did the usual take turns to go onsen, go for buffet dinner and go to sleep.  The dinner at Kohantei was nothing to shout about.  Not after the dinner we had the previous evening at Hotel Mahoroba.

Day 14: Lake Toya – Rusutsu – Sapporo

The next morning, we had an amazing view of Lake Toya from our hotel!

We went for a stroll around the lake after breakfast before driving on to Rusutsu.

If you are going to Lake Toya with kids, I would recommend Toya Sunpalace where we stayed in June more than Toya Kohantei because of the swimming pool at Sunpalace.

Along the way to Rusutsu, we passed a place called Silo Observatory where many tour buses were parked and decided to check it out.

It was no wonder all the tour buses made a stop at the Silo Observatory.  The view was amazing on this beautiful morning!

Few things make me happier than a clear blue sky when travelling.  Especially in Hokkaido, where the weather can be far from perfect.

Take note that the snow around Silo Observatory beyond the shovelled path can be very deep.  I wanted to venture around to take photos, but realised I was sinking into the snow and decided to keep to the paths.

My only gripe was that the piece of cloud around Mount Yotei never went away throughout our entire time here! So just like our trip in June, we left without seeing Mount Yotei in all its glory.

Our main purpose for visiting Rusutsu was for the Crayon Shinchan Kids Park.  Before we went, the website said that they would be open from 13 December and we were there on 15th.  Initially, we even wanted to stay at Rusutsu Resort for 2 nights because it looked so fun with the kids park and snow activities like dog sledding.  But from 13 December onwards, they doubled their room rates and it cost more than SGD400 per night without any meals to stay there, so we changed our mind and decided to go there as a day trip.  THANK GOODNESS WE DID THAT because it turned out that the snow park was not ready yet when we were there.  Can you imagine if we had spent SGD800+ to stay there for 2 nights only to find that the kids park was not open?? I would have condemned them totally.

So after learning that the kids park was not open, I contemplated if we should just drive back to Sapporo.  But hubby said that since we were there already, we should just rent skis for MF to practice skiing.  So we did that.  But because there was no travelator here, MF couldn’t go up the slope on his own! Hubby ended up having to push him up the slope and it was freaking tiring so that didn’t turn out too well.  To add to the disappointment, I wanted to go dog sledding but it was fully booked.  Zzzz…

From Rusutsu, we drove back to Sapporo via Nakayama Pass.  Along the way, we stopped by a roadside shop, Kinoko Ou Koku.

Kinoko Ou Koku specializes in selling mushrooms and mushroom products.  So we grab some mushroom snacks like mushroom tempura and mushroom sausage before hitting the road again.

To be continued…

Hokkaido with Kids (December 2014) Part 5: Sapporo, Otaru, New Chitose Airport


Posts from the same trip:

Summarized itinerary for 17-day trip
Part 1: Sapporo
Part 2: Asahikawa, Akan National Park
Part 3: Kushiro, Obihiro, Tomamu
Part 4: Niseko, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Rusutsu
Part 5: Otaru, New Chitose Airport

Posts from our other Hokkaido Trips:

Hokkaido in Autumn (October 2013):

Part 1: Flight, Hotel Mercure Sapporo, Toyota Rent-A-Car Sapporo
Part 2: Itinerary (with telephone numbers and GPS Map Codes)

Hokkaido in Summer (June 2014):

Part 1: New Chitose Airport, Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya, Hakodate
Part 2: Onuma Koen, Niseko, Shakotan
Part 3: Otaru
Part 4: Sapporo
Part 5: Furano, Biei, Tomamu, Obihiro, New Chitose Airport

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the author

Supposed to be a stay-home mom, but hates staying home. Definition of parenting is bringing the boys out for 'experiential learning' in Singapore, Japan and wherever else in the world her husband can afford to pay for.


  1. Anonymous says:

    This is probably the best blog I have found on Hokkaido. Thanks for your generous sharing.

    I have 6 nights in Hokkaido and will be travelling in late May. I will arrive in Chitose in early afternoon then drive to Lake Toya for 1 night. Then it is to Hakodate for 1 night followed by another night in Niseko. Then it is off to Sapporo for a 2-night stay. As such, I have an extra night.

    Should I stay 2 nights in Lake Toya or 2 nights in Hakodate instead of 1?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1 night in Lake Toya is sufficient. But I also think 1 night in Hakodate is sufficient. Hmm… Actually, if I were to go Hokkaido in late May, I would want to go up North to visit Takinoue Shibazakura Park and Kamiyubetsu Tulip Park. And I would slot it in at the start the trip because late May would be reaching the end of the shibazakura and tulip season already. These places are extremely far from New Chitose Airport, so you will have to spend a night at Asahikawa and visit these two places on Day 2 as a day trip.

      • Anonymous says:

        In this case, is it better that I fly to Asahikawa airport or Monbetsu airport instead of Chitose airport? Don’t want to drive too much. I think I will be changing my itinerary as I want to take up your suggestion.

        Is Lake Toya nicer than Lake Akan? For 6 nights I will do Asahikawa (1 night), Lake Toya (1 night), Sapporo/Otaru (3 nights). I have one more night. Where to break the journey between Asahikawa and Lake Toya?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yes Yes, if you want to visit Takinoue and Kamiyubetsu, it will be better to fly to Asahikawa or Monbetsu Airport. If you can fly to Memanbetsu Airport, you can even visit Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park!

          If you still want to visit Hakodate, you can fly in to Monbetsu / Memanbetsu and out from Hakodate.

          I think Lake Toya and Lake Akan are about the same. So it really depends on which area you are visiting. If you want to visit Hakodate, you should visit Lake Toya because it is along the way.

          Day 1: Catch a morning flight to Monbetsu / Memanbetsu. For Monbetsu, visit Kamiyubetsu Park, then Takinoue Park then spend the night at Asahikawa. For Memanbetsu, visit Higashimokoto then Kamiyubetsu and spend the night at Monbetsu. You can visit Takinoue Park the next morning.

          Day 2: Visit Takinoue Park if you haven’t done so. Then drive to Sapporo. Stay 2 nights.

          Day 3: Sapporo

          Day 4: Drive to Otaru. Stay 1 night.

          Day 5: Drive to Lake Toya. Stay 1 night.

          Day 6: Drive to Hakodate. Stay 1 night.

          Day 7: Fly back from Hakodate.

          • Anonymous says:

            Wow! That was quick! I appreciate it cos I will be leaving in 3 weeks’ time and I have not for my itinerary sorted out.

            So I will fly to Memanbetsu to visit Higashimokoto then Kamiyubetsu and spend the night at Monbetsu.

            For day 2, after my visit to Takinoue Park, it is a long drive to Sapporo. Where should I do a stop? Anywhere to visit before Sapporo? I will stay in Sapporo

            Day 3: Sapporo
            Day 4:Day trip to Otaru (stay in Sapporo – don’t want to change too many hotels ok?)
            Day 5: Drive to Lake Toya. Stay 1 night
            Day 6: Drive to Hakodate. Stay 1 night
            Day 7: Fly back from Hakodate

            • bumblebeemum says:

              For the drive back to Sapporo, you can stop at SA Sunagawa (SA 砂川). It is a pretty touristy rest stop along the expressway where you can just pull over for a break without exiting the expressway. Alternatively, you can go to Asahikawa and visit Asahikawa Ramen Village for lunch.

              Day 4: Yup, if you don’t want to change hotel, you can go back to Sapporo. Just that it’s a bit of a detour and there are toll fees between Otaru and Sapporo (whereas the direct drive from Otaru to Lake Toya is toll free). I have mapped out the two routes for your comparison to decide if it is worth the effort to change hotel:

              > Otaru to Lake Toya via Sapporo
              > Otaru to Lake Toya Direct

              • Anonymous says:

                After considering all your suggestions and combing thru your blog, I have decided to fly to Memanbetsu to visit Higashimokoto, stay a night at Lake Abashiri Tsuruga resort.

                Second day, drive to Kamiyubetsu and then drive down to stay at night at Hoshino Resort Tomamu. (long journey, anywhere to go enroute?)

                Third day early morning, go to Unkai Terrace then drive to Lake Toya. (go the Chitose Outlet mall enroute)

                Fourth day, drive to Otaru and rest at Sapporo for the night.

                Fifth and Sixth night at Sapporo

                Any suggestion what I can do enroute during the long drive on the second day?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  From Kamiyubetsu to Tomamu, you can stop at Ikeda (where Happiness Dairy is) or Obihiro.

                  Alternatively, you can go to Lake Akan but it is a detour. I would actually recommend spending 1 night less in Sapporo and slot in 1 night at Lake Akan between Kamiyubetsu and Tomamu instead. Lake Akan is very beautiful, and Akan National Park is very scenic – especially Lake Mashu. It seems a bit of a pity to just drive right past the area and rush to Tomamu.

  2. Edenz says:

    Hi its me again, can you recommend me a reasonable place to stay at Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, and Furano? And do you actually mentioned the number of person during bookings? Is it possible that I book for 1 person but just squeeze in another person in together without mentioning it to them?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For Lake Toya, I like Toya Sunpalace. It’s a bit out-dated though, but my kids like the pool. If you want somewhere more modern, try Lake View Toya Nonokaze. It is more pricey though.

      For Noboribetsu, I have only stayed in Hotel Mahoroba before. I enjoyed my stay there, loved their onsen and dinner.

      For Furano, I stayed at Hotel Edel Warme. Nothing to really shout about, just that it was the cheapest reasonably sized room I could find for my travelling dates. The more famous hotel in Furano is New Furano Prince Hotel which houses Ningle Terrace and the popular Forest Clock Cafe.

      If meals are included in your stay, you will need to include the correct number of people staying because meal coupons will be issued. However, I usually don’t state the number of children because Agoda limits the room choices once I include the kids. But I will check to make sure that the hotels accept children (because some hotels in Japan do not allow children to stay). So I’ll book 2 adults, and when I’m checking in, I pay for the children if required. Usually city hotels don’t charge for young children if they are using the existing bedding, but hot spring resorts will. It is possible to book a room for 1 person first, then at check-in see if they will charge you for the additional people. Some hotels close one eye, some hotels will charge. It is a risk you’re taking, because to pay for extra persons charges at the hotel may be more expensive than what the booking sites charge for 2 people to stay.

      • Edenz says:

        Do you book directly from the hotel website or through Agoda instead? Some of the hotels provided the meals without any option to opt out of it is it true? I’ve looked through the hotels that you recommended. Is it comfortable at those hotels? They doesn’t look too old and run down right?

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Depends, sometimes I book through the hotel directly, sometimes I book through Agoda. Usually I book city hotels through Agoda because it is cheaper. But for onsen hotels, I sometimes book through the hotel directly because I get to choose the accommodation plan I want (the room type and the type of meal) unless Agoda is much cheaper.

          The truth is, many onsen resorts in Hokkaido are pretty old and dated. But they are always clean and well-maintained, so I never have a problem with them. However I always read reviewers complain on sites like TripAdvisor or hotel booking websites about the hotels looking old and in need of renewal. My two cents worth is, you pay for what you get. At every onsen town, there will be some newer and more modern resorts, and some older ones. The newer ones easily cost double of what the older ones charge. What you get is a more modern-looking room and facilities and dining areas. But I generally opt for the more budget (and hence older) options which saves me hundreds of dollars. I think they are comfortable enough, but I am really not a very fussy traveller and have pretty low expectations.. hah.

          • Edenz says:

            Icic, thanks for your feedback. Anyway, you stayed at The Tower Tomamu during winter right? How much was it per night? I tried searching at their website but it seems that the bookings and pricelist for January 2016 is not open yet.

            • bumblebeemum says:

              Yes I stayed at The Tower. They will only release their winter pricing later in the year. Our twin room cost 12,400 Yen after 90 Day Advanced Purchase discount. Both my kids were below 4 years old and could stay for free. This was in early December which is considered lull period.

              • Edenz says:

                What do you mean by lull period ya? Is 28 Jan 2016 considered as peak period? Where do you booked the tower? Their main website or through agoda?

                • bumblebeemum says:

                  Yes, January will be considered peak period. Early December was lull period because only part of the ski resort was open (skiing was restricted to the activity centre, which required a shuttle bus ride from The Tower). The Ice Village was only partially completed then. By January, all the facilities (the snow parks, various snow activities and the ski lifts behind The Tower) will be fully operational and The Ice Village should be completed by then. Hence, price will also increase.

                  For Tomamu, I booked through the hotel website.

                  • Edenz says:

                    Alright!! Anyway, you drove from Furano to Tomamu before right? Which road did you took? Was the road very narrow or winding? Or is it some easy drive? And have you drove from Narita Airport to Fuji Five Lakes area before?

                    • bumblebeemum says:

                      I have mapped out the route from Furano to Tomamu on google map:
                      Click here to view

                      The road is a typical rural road in Hokkaido, single lane with some curves and turns and no street lights along the way. In winter, the snow is very heavy in this region so I wouldn’t say it is easy to drive. There is a very sharp turning as you approach the entry to Hoshino Resort.
                      Click here for zoomed in map on the turning

                      It is very easy to miss and it is very easy to turn onto the wrong lane (i.e. into oncoming traffic) if you are unaware of it. There are signboards but they may not be easy to spot if it’s snowing. Just drive dead slow when you approach that junction and remember you are making almost like a V-shaped turn. There is a divider between the the lanes for the 2 directions, if you do a perpendicular turn, you will be turning into the oncoming traffic. You need to go past the divider and do a V-shaped turn back into the lane of your direction.

                      To help you understand what I’m saying, click on > this link <. Imagine yourself coming from the right along route 136. If you take a perpendicular right too early, can you see you will be driving into the wrong direction? You need to go forward a bit more, past the divider (that triangular patch of blue) and do a V-shaped turn. I have never drove from Narita Airport to Fuji Five Lakes before. But it looks like it's expressway all the way. There is little snow in that region so I think it should be a pretty easy drive. Just that toll fees will be expensive.

  3. gwen says:

    Hello fellow Hokkaido fan! Thank you for sharing yr travel blog. This Dec will be our 3rd self drive in this beautiful winter wonderland. First yr we were at Rusutsu and Niseko. 2nd yr at Furano, Asahikawa, Otaru and met with other friends at Niseko. This year we’re planning 5 nights at Niseko (last stop-ski trip), where would you suggest for 1st 4 nights? We’re taking the morning Chitose-Sin direct so where would you suggest we spend the night before our flight? We’ve to return the car the night before…… Come think of it the direct flight is not so great after all! Oh well bought the tickets already. Traveling with 2 kids 9, 12 and hubby doing the driving while I plan all the stops 😉 Hope to hear from you soon!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Nice to see someone who goes to Hokkaido as frequently as I do! Proves I’m not crazy.. haha!

      How did you get a direct CTS-SIN flight??? (sorry for the digression, just curious.)

      Back to your questions. Have you visited Eastern Hokkaido (Obihiro / Kushiro)? If not, maybe you can go there. Winter is a good time for that region because the cranes and swans will gather. And I LOVE Tokachigawa onsen near Obihiro.. and of course the buta don there. Kushiro has a great seafood market, and the cranes are not to be missed.

      As for the night before you fly, I recommend staying at Air Terminal Hotel which is located within New Chitose Airport. I always stay there for my last night in Hokkaido. The best part about staying there in winter is that you can pack your winter jackets into the check-in luggage and wear comfy ready-for-Singapore clothes onto the plane.. hah!

      • Gwen says:

        Hello bumblebeemum, SQ has direct flight to Chitose during the winter months. Past year I saw it was offered by JTB only from Sep and not cheap. First year we took ANA via Tokyo, that was such an uncomfortable flight! Second year we took SQ with ANA domestic. Both trips we paid between $1100-1300 each. This year the fares have gone down considerably due to the lower surcharges. SQ has also started offering the Sin-Chitose direct, available since beginning of the year. I monitored the fare for a while and found the lowest fare at $1250 each and I grabbed it right way! its a bit more than ANA but without the transit I save a few hours and hassle. But only thing is getting there the night bf for the morning flight 🙁 I think we’ll stay at the airport terminal as you have suggested.

        I read you didn’t quite enjoy Hilton Niseko as its pretty expensive. We managed to book Hilton at good rates. 1st year was ¥18000 but last year it was just ¥12000 with breakfast and that’s for stay up to 20 Dec. Unfortunately good things don’t come often, its going to be about ¥20000 (with bf) this yr end but we like the ski in and out convenience so we’ll stick to that. We’ll usually head out for lunch and dinners so I welcome any restaurants recommendations you may have.

        Thank you for yr suggestion of Eastern Hokkaido, will check it out. Have a lovely June holiday with the kids!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Icic.. Thanks for sharing about SQ direct flights! I’ve never monitored SQ because it’s always out of my budget. Compared to $700 by Thai Airways with transit in Bangkok, $1200 is still expensive. But of course direct flights are so convenient!

          I agree Hilton is great for skiers. It’s super convenient with ski in ski out and ski valet right at the lobby. But I don’t ski… hahaha… I’m more into food and onsen, and neither are great at Hilton. But for skiers, Hilton is a great choice especially if rates are going as low as ¥12000!

          Restaurant wise my favourite is Prativo at Niseko Milk Kobo. As for Hirafu, I love the cheesecake and hot chocolate at Cafe IF.

  4. Jasmine says:

    Hi bumblebeemum, it’s so enjoyable reading your blogs with so much useful information and nice pic! Would appreciate if you could help out with some of my questions? We are planning a 11 day trip to Hokkaido this dec, including 3 days skiing in Niseko.. my husband was thinking to do self drive from Chitose airport to Niseko, then Otaru and Lake Toya, maybe a few more places and final destination back to Sapporo. Do you think it’s ok? He has never drive in winter condition before, so I’m a bit worried but he insist driving slowly and carefully will be fine..

    • bumblebeemum says:

      There is a first time for everything, but Niseko is really not the best place to start your first winter drive. The snow condition and visibility there is terrible. I drove throughout Hokkaido in winter and found Niseko region the most harrowing. I would advise taking the bus for Niseko, train for Otaru and you can drive just for the Lake Toya bit.

  5. Jasmine says:

    Thanks so much for the advice! 🙂

  6. Richard Sim says:

    Hi bumblebeemum, your Travel blog is very informative. I will be travelling to Hokaiddo this Dec for the first time. Need some advise on the iternary I am planning.. I am trying to have some driving as weill to experience first time driving in winter. I have about 9 days in Hokaiddo.

    Day 1-2: Arrived at Sapporo and walking tour of Sapporo: Sapporo Clock tower, Sapporo Beer Factory, Ishiya Chocolate factory, Odori Park, Night life scene and Underground shopping, Old Hokkaido Government Buidling, Hokkaido Museum.

    Day 3-4: Take coach to Niseko

    Day 5: Take Hokkaido JR to Otaru and stay there for one night. Hope to enjoy some onsen there and eat some fresh seafood. Rent car here.

    Day 6: Drive to Lake Toya. Stay 1 night

    Day 7: Drive back to Sapporo (via Rusutsu via Nakayama Pass)

    Day 8 :Flight to Tokyo

    (Traveling with wife and 3 kids(13,11 and 8)

    Thanks in advance.

  7. Tan says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    It was great reading your blog, We are planning a trip to Hokkaido in Dec and have the following places in mind: Sapporo, Tomamu and Rusutsu. As we do not intend to drive, do you think the route is possible (it seems quite far from Tomamu and Rusutsu)? Should there be any stopovers in between?

    Thanks and regards.

  8. Tan says:

    Thanks for the prompt reply and useful links, will check them out 🙂 is there a difference going Tomamu first or Rusutsu first? Is obihiro or Kushiro (where the swans are), along the route to either Tomamu or Rusutsu?

  9. Tan says:

    Wow, the distance sure looks far and inaccessible by public transport. Cannot be too ambitious then. We hope to travel in the last two weeks of Dec, so shd go Tamamu first? But the ice village is opened only in late Dec?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Ice Village is opened from end November, though only partially (just the Ice slide + snow tubing and Santa’s cottage).
      If you see the above website, you can get an estimated date of when the various facilities at Ice Village will open. We were there in early Dec last year and all the Ice Bars / Ice Cafe / Ice Skating rink etc were not opened yet.

      Based on last year’s opening dates, Tomamu Ice Village opened earlier (13 Dec 2014 for Ice bar / Ice cafe / Ice Skating / Ice School / Ice Shop) compared to Rusutsu’s snow park (18 Dec 2014). That was why I recommended going Tomamu first.

  10. Tan says:

    Thank you so much for the useful info 🙂

  11. JS says:

    Thanks for sharing, your blog is great. I am planning a trip to Hokkaido this December. We have a 4 year old and we do not ski. Would like to seek your opinion where is a good place to stay for a snow/winter holiday without skiing, with activities for the kids like snowman, snow sledding, tubing etc.

    From research, Hit boils down to Niseko vs Rusutsu. Hilton Niseko (HN) is a bit out of our budget and do not seem as family-friendly as Rusutsu Resort (RR); whereas RR is much cheaper but have many “weird, quaint, long queues at meal times” comments online.

    Can I seek your suggestion please, or is there any alternatives we missed out?


    • bumblebeemum says:


      Are you going in early or end December? If you are going early December, the only place I know of with ice slide and snow tubing in Tomamu:

      You can read on this post that we managed to do sledding, ice slide, tubing and reindeer sleighing at Tomamu.

      Rusutsu’s snow park only opens in late December. Their most unique activity was dog sledding, but I was unable to book a slot when I was there. Otherwise, before their snow park opens, it is mostly for skiing and snowboarding. But if you are going end December, then their snow park looks great:

      I did not really dine at Rusutsu. But I think what the comments meant was that, at Rusutsu, you are unlikely to go out of the resort for meals. Hence, your meal options are restrictly to the restaurants within the resort. So during peak period, I would expect long queues for the restaurants. Unlike Niseko, there are plenty of restaurants to explore at Grand Hirafu. From Hilton, there are shuttle buses in the evening and many people would take the shuttle out to eat, rather than to eat at the restaurants in the resort. So they will not have this problem.

  12. danny says:

    Hi Pretty,
    Is driving safe in Hokkaido in December?

  13. Lim Kian Peng says:


    My buddy and myself are planning for both families trip to Japan. Never been to Japan. While surfing the website for blog on Japan trips, we found your wonderful blog. It was excellent place to get your sharing and experience of your travel in Japan, particularly with the kids.

    Would like to seek you advice how to go about planning F&E for Japan? Our 4 kids are between 5 to 10 yrs old. Two main must do things are Disney Land theme parks and ski. Was thinking of doing Tokyo and Hokkaido in 12 days, possible?

    Thank you.

    Kian Peng

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your plan sounds exactly like my friend’s! She will be going Tokyo first, then flying to Hokkaido to ski.

      Since your main aim of going Tokyo is for Disney, fly to Tokyo and catch an airport bus straight to Disney resort, staying at a hotel in that area. Spend 3 days at Tokyo Disney resort. After that, take the airport bus back to the airport to catch a domestic flight to Hokkaido.

      So a 12 days itinerary may look something like this:

      Day 1: SIN – Tokyo (bus to tokyo resort. Relax and use the hotel facilities.)
      Day 2: Tokyo Disney
      Day 3: Tokyo Disney
      Day 4: Tokyo Disney
      Day 5: Bus to airport, domestic flight to Hokkaido. Stay in Sapporo.
      Day 6: Sapporo
      Day 7: Sapporo (you can do a day trip to Asahiyama Zoo)
      Day 8: Sapporo (you can do a day trip to Otaru)
      Day 9: Bus to ski resort
      Day 10: Ski resort
      Day 11: Ski resort
      Day 12: Bus to New Chitose Airport for flight home.

      You may have to make a bit of adjustments, depending on your actual flight timing. E.g. if your flight home on Day 12 is early in the morning, you may have to return to New Chitose Airpot on Day 11 and spend the night at Air Terminal Hotel within the airport for the last night.

  14. ET says:


    Thanks for sharing all your tips. It is really useful for our planning!
    My family – 2A & 2C (7 & 4) will be going to Hokkaido for a 10 days F&E trip for the 1st time on this coming Dec too.
    We don’t drive so will take public transport for our trip. A bit worry as not sure can cope with carrying the luggage and at the same time need to holding my 2 young kids’s hands in the snow condition to catch up the public transport!
    I have booked the hotel for the 1st 6 night and would like to seek for your advice for the last 4 days.

    My tentatively itinerary as below:

    Day 1: SIN – Tokyo – Chitose – Sapporo (Stay Sapporo)
    Day 2: Sapporo – exploring around Sapporo
    Day 3: Sapporo – day trip to Asahiyama Zoo
    Day 4: Niseko
    Day 5: Niseko
    Day 6: Niseko
    Day 7: Sapporo (day trip to Otaru)
    Day 8: Sapporo
    Day 9: Noboribetsu
    Day 10: From Noboribetsu to Chitose

    I am not sure from Niseko, it is better to travel back to Sapporo via Otaru?
    Or it will be better to go Noboribetsu directly from Niseko, than back to Sapporo again? I check the Google map and Hyperdia, it seems like from Niseko to Noboribetsu, the travel distance is very far via train if we are not driving?
    Appreciate your advice.

    Thank you very much!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For winter travel by public transport, the aim should be to minimize moving around. Do not underestimate the difficulty of moving around in snowy condition, with luggage and especially with kids. It is pretty much a nightmare combi. You cannot pull trolley luggage through snow, neither can you push strollers. It is easy to slip and fall when walking on snow, and if you carry the kids, they weigh a few kg heavier with winter clothing on. My advise is to use backpacks as much as possible. Your kids are old enough to carry a backpack each, make them carry one. You should at most have 1 trolley luggage, and be prepared to have to lift it up if you are walking through snow with it. Bear in mind you will have no hands to hold on to the kids when you have to carry trolley luggage – compared to backpacks that keep your hands free. That’s why keeping it to 1 trolley luggage, in the event you need to heave the trolley luggage through the snow, at least your wife can still hold on to the kids.

      Since you have already booked your accommodation, I can’t advise you much with regards to the choice of hotel in Sapporo. But I shall say it anyway.. Haha. In winter if you are using public transport and travelling with kids, try to choose a hotel connected to Sapporo station. i.e. you should be able to walk all the way from the train station to the hotel without going into the snow. That would solve all your problems of trying to drag trolley bags through the snow while trying not to slip on icy pavements.

      Alright, with that said, regarding your question about Otaru. Otaru should be done as a day trip from Sapporo to reduce movement with luggage. So you just go Sapporo – Niseko – Sapporo by direct bus.

      As for Noboribetsu, the onsen town is NOT near Noboribetsu train station. Again, you should do it as a side-trip from Sapporo. Hotel Mahoroba provides direct shuttle service from Sapporo. I recommend you use it. So what you do is, you leave your large luggage case in the Sapporo hotel and just pack 1 night’s worth of stuff into a small backpack for the night in Noboribetsu. Then you come back Sapporo again after that. So your itinerary for Day 7 – 10 would look like this:

      Day 7: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru)
      Day 8: Sapporo – Noboribetsu
      Day 9: Noboribetsu – Sapporo
      Day 10: Sapporo – CTS

      Actually.. Are you going back to Sapporo on Day 6 or Day 7? If you are going back to Sapporo from Niseko on Day 7, you may want to do the Otaru day trip on Day 2 instead. And the Sapporo sightseeing on Day 7.

      • ET says:

        Hi, thanks for your prompt reply and advice! BTW, I am the mummy here and hubby will be lift out luggage instead if needed :p.
        Ahhh… how i wish can read your blog more earlier before we booked the first few days hotel!! We will be staying at Mercure Sapporo hotel for first 3 nights, do you know is this hotel direct connect to train station as you mentioned? After that, we will be transfer to Hilton Niseko for another 3 nights.
        I have not book the hotel for the last 3 nights so I shall do what you have suggested to use the direct shuttle to Hotel Maharobo. If the Mercure Sapporo is not direct connect to train station, do you have any hotel recommendation for us to stay on the 2 nights in Sapporo? Appreciate you time and many thanks in advance!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hahaha… Okay… ET sounds boyish… *oops*

          For Mercure, you are better off taking the airport limousine bus from the airport. Get off at the Susukino stop. It is not directly connected, you need to cross a big traffic junction and that’s about it. Then to transfer to Hilton Niseko, the easiest way is to take the Hokkaido Resort Liner to Niseko.
          There is no information for winter buses yet, you would need to check their website later in the year. The nearest meeting point to Mercure Hotel is this one, which is 3 blocks West of Mercure:

          For hotels near Sapporo station, I have never stayed there before (because I always self-drive, so transport is not an issue for me). But I did research before and found the following hotels that look like they are connected to Sapporo station:

          JR Inn Sapporo
          (Their website says “Accessibility without being drenched with rain”.)

          Hotel North Gate Sapporo
          (From the map it looks like it is right smack outside Sapporo Station’s North exit.)

          JR Tower Hotel Nikko Sapporo
          (The hotel that is within JR station i.e. you don’t even need to step out of the station to get there)

          JR Tower Hotel Nikko also happens to be a meeting point for Hokkaido Resort Liner, so that would be most convenient. But JR Tower Hotel Nikko is pricey. :p

  15. ET says:


    Wow, you are so fast and really informative!
    Thanks a lot! And I shall check out the info accordingly.

  16. Grace says:

    Hi bumblebee mum, your blog is really useful! Am planning a trip to Sapporo with my 2 kids(2 and 7) from 6-13 December and will be bringing my 73 yr old mum along. It seems like tomamu looks like a good idea as the kids will enjoy the snow activity. I am thinking of driving and using tomamu as a base. Can u recommend any other sightseeingspots worth visiting en route that my mum can enjoy?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      In winter, the best sightseeing spots are in Eastern Hokkaido imo. Mainly the cranes near Kushiro and Akan National Park (Lake Mashu , Lake Kussharo, Iozan). Kushiro also has a great market, Washo Market. Tomamu is not a particularly good base, Lake Akan or Kushiro would be a better base for that region. It is a ski resort, where you just go there, stay a night or two (longer if you have plans to ski) and take off. You can also try Sounkyo Onsen (there are some gorges and waterfalls in that area) and Asahikawa (for Asahiyama zoo).

      The typical route I recommend for winter self-drive is CTS – Tomamu – Kushiro – Lake Akan – Sounkyo Onsen – Asahikawa – Sapporo – CTS.

      6 Dec: CTS – Tomamu
      7 Dec: Tomamu
      8 Dec: Tomamu – Kushiro
      9 Dec: Kushiro – Lake Akan
      10 Dec: Lake Akan – Sounkyo Onsen
      11 Dec: Sounkyo Onsen – Asahikawa
      12 Dec: Asahikawa – Sapporo
      13 Dec: Sapporo – CTS

      If you don’t want to move around that much, just forego Sapporo and spend 1 more night at Lake Akan to relax and enjoy the scenery and onsen. And if your flight arrives late on 6 Dec, you may want to do the whole itinerary in reverse order, starting from Sapporo instead and using public transport to go to Sapporo instead of driving. Please do not drive after dark in winter (the sky turns dark at about 4pm then).

  17. dinookong says:

    Hi, am going this to Hokkaido during 3rd week of Dec. Am wondering why you are doing 2 SKI resort i.e. both Tomamu & Niseko. Any specific reason ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I just like to try out different resorts. 🙂

      Okay.. My main aim of going Tomamu was for the Ice Village. That’s why I only stayed a night there. As for Niseko, well, it was supposed to be super world famous and I have never been there in winter before, so I decided to just go try it out. Anyway I’m not entirely into skiing. I’m more into exploring new places and sightseeing, that’s why I tend to hop around. But if you really want to ski, then you should just go to Niseko and spend a few nights there.

  18. Viv says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, I enjoy reading your blog. I am planning my Hokkaido trip in mid December now. This is our first time to Hokkaido and we plan to just cover the central and southern region (Hokodate) for 10d 9n.
    I have reserved a self-contained apt in Niseko (Grand hirafu) for my 1st 5 nights. I plan to base here and take day trips to otaru and Sapporo via train. On our 6th day, we will take JR to Hakodate for 2 Nights. I will put up my last 2 nights in Sapporo.
    My only concern is driving to Niseko from Cihitose airport. We will arrive at Cihitose at 8 am via Thai. I find this to our advantage because we will have a longer daylight for sightseeing .so I can visit Noboribetsu and Lake Toya before arriving at Grand Hirafu. Is this doable? I only plan to visit Hell Valley and do a scenic drive along lake Toya. But there are many ppl advice us against driving during winter. This route, Chitose->Nobo->Lake Toya->Niseko is not readily accessible by train. Furthermore, our luggage will be a hassle if taking train and changing buses in between. Therefore our most efficient and cost saving option is to self drive.
    What is your view to my itinerary above? I appreciate your contribution.


    • bumblebeemum says:

      I would not drive to Niseko if I were you, and just take a direct bus from CTS to Niseko. It is very difficult to drive to Niseko in winter. And most of the time, you would be skiing at Niseko and your car would just be sitting there collecting snow.

      What you can do is to just spend the 5 days in Niseko, maybe with day trip to Otaru if you don’t want to ski so much (but why would you spend 5 nights at Niseko if not to ski?). After those 5 nights, catch a bus back to CTS and rent a car from there to go to Noboribetsu / Lake Toya / Hakodate. These regions do not have as heavy snow fall as Noboribetsu.

      You can go:
      6th night: Noboribetsu
      7th night: Hakodate
      8th night: Lake Toya
      9th night: Air terminal Hotel

      iirc Thai Airways departs CTS in the morning, hence I recommend spending the last night at the airport.

      • Viv says:

        Wow, thanks for your quick reply.
        Yes, you are right! I am mad to stay 5 nights at Niseko esp when I don’t ski.(except for my 3 teenagers). But that is the min occupancy if I rent an apartment! And at a very reasonable price for 5 people. Most hotel rooms are either too expensive for my dates or they cannot accommodate 3 ppl in a room. If no driving, then perhaps I would do day trips to lake Toya and Noboribetsu as well depending on availability of time.

        It’s also a practical suggestion to stay overnight in Airport Hotel. I will check on this.

        Thanks for your suggestion. Since I haven’t paid any deposit yet, I will probably relook at my itinerary (no driving).

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Yeah, that’s the thing about apartments.. They are cheaper but have minimum stay periods.. not sure where your apartment is, but public transport is not great around Niseko.. plus driving is quite dangerous in that region. Hence I don’t think Niseko is a good base for exploring neighbouring towns. Daylight hours are short, not sure how much you can cover after minusing time required to get in between Niseko and neighbouring towns by public transport. If skiing is not your priority, you should really reconsider spending those 5 days in Niseko. It may not be as cheap as you wish if meals are not provided, because I find food in Niseko extremely overpriced. If you consider a room at Niseko without meals vs a room at a lower end onsen resort which provides breakfast and dinner, on the surface, apartment at Niseko may look cheaper. But after factoring food cost it may not be so. Many onsen resorts have rooms that can accommodate up to 5 people.

          • Viv says:

            Yea,in hindsight the 5 nights in Niseko really hinders my planning. No wonder I don’t have a concrete plan till now! Skiing is definitely not my priority. It is just for my girls. They want to pick up skiing. We chose Niseko largely for its popularity and powder snow.
            My family usually have self-drive free and easy holidays. It is such a let down if we cant drive, but of course safety come first.
            From your blog I discover the beauty of eastern part of Hokkaido. What a revelation! But then, it will be easier if we drive.
            Thanks for your sharing.

            So for now, it will be strictly by public transport. I have a draft plan. Do you think this is feasible?

            15/12 CTS-Sapporo
            Arrive at 8 am. We try to book in one of the Sapporo Hotel that provides a shuttle to Nobo. Then tour the city of Sapporo. An evening trip to otaru.

            16/12 Sapporo- asahikawa
            Take a day trip there to visit zoo. Anyway other places beside the zoo? Overnight in Sapporo

            17/12 Sapporo – Nobo
            Visit the osen town and if possible Lake Toya

            18/12 Nobo – Hakodate
            19/12 Hakodate

            20/12 Niseko
            21/12 Niseko
            22/12 Niseko
            23/12 Niseko – CTS
            BY Bus or transfer. Will check into airport terminal Hotel

            24/12 CTS – bkk

  19. AJ says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,
    I stumbled upon your blog while searching for hokkaido winter with kids and have been reading fervently.
    It’s our first time to hokkaido and snow for that matter with 2 kids, 6 and 3. Planning for a late nov/early dec trip and wonder if tomamu or rurutsu is better for kids activities and such that they won’t get bored. I know that early December the childrens park at rurutsu won’t be open yet. Ice village at tomamu (based on 2014) dates seem to open from end Nov. Do you know if the ice slide is functional by then?
    I’m not really looking to ski like a pro, probably try a thing or two for the kids. How many nights at the ski resort for this? The only other thing is visit the zoo for the penguin parade. And probably Sapporo tower. Possible to advise a reccomended itinerary (public transport)? Thanks so much in advance

    • bumblebeemum says:

      The exact opening dates of things like snow parks and ice slides will not be known until much closer to the actual date, because these are weather-dependent. Some days the snow arrives earlier or they get more snow, the snow parks can open earlier. Some years there is simply not enough snow, so the snow parks get delayed. I would say push Tomamu all the way to the end your trip to increase your chances of the ice slide being open by then. Rusutsu’s kids activities will definitely not be ready yet.

      If you just want to ski for fun, one day is sufficient. You may want to stay 2 nights so that you have one full day for skiing.

      The penguin parade will not have started during your period of travel. Again, it is weather dependent and usually only starts at the very end of December. So definitely you will miss the parade. Nevertheless, the zoo is very nice and worth visiting. Hopefully it will be covered with snow by then and it’ll be an experience you can never get in Singapore Zoo. :p

      For transport, you can base yourself in Sapporo. For a trip by public transport, I recommend you stay near Sapporo Station for convenience. Sapporo station is connect to CTS by train.

      Asahiyama Zoo can done as a day trip from Sapporo. You can purchase a package from JR which includes Zoo tickets + Return train tickets + return bus tickets:

      Tomamu is also reachable by direct train from Sapporo station. You can just pack a small bag for this side trip and leave your big luggage cases with the hotel in Sapporo so that it is easier to move around.

      For train schedules and ticket prices, you can check using hyperdia:

      • AJ says:

        Hi bumbleemum, thanks so much for your reply.

        ‘For reindeer sledding that you did in Tomamu, do you know if it’s available from 1st Dec?
        I was looking at rusutsu resort and saw the free carousel and the Disneyland like theme at the north/south tower – seems quite attractive to bring the kids there….any opinion on this?

        I have two alternatives of draft itinerary from 26 Nov – 3 Dec that looks like the following and was wondering if you can give your good advice whether it’s too rushed or if there’s enough activities other than snow at either Tomamu or Rusutsu to keep the kids occupied..Any other places of interest I may be missing out? My kids are 3 and 6 thank you so much….

        Day 1 – Arrive at Sapporo
        Narrowed down century royal hotel as my base for 4 nights as its beside Sapporo JR station (any comments on this hotel)?
        Day 2 – Explore Sapporo city by foot ( odori park, TV tower, Government heritage building, Clock tower etc)
        Day 3 – Explore Shiroi Koibitoi Park (take JR from Sapporo to Miyanasawa station)
        Day 4 – Go to Asahimaya Zoo (take the special Zoo train from Sapporo station)
        Day 5 – Check out from century royal and take direct bus from century royal hotel to Tomamu resort
        Day 6 – Tomamu resort (ski and reindeer sledding)
        Day 7 – Tomamu resort (mina mina indoor beach, ice village)
        Day 8 – Checkout – take bus to CTS and back to SIN


        Day 1 – Arrive at Sapporo
        Narrowed down century royal hotel as my base for 4 nights as its beside Sapporo JR station (any comments on this hotel)?
        Day 2 – Explore Sapporo city by foot ( odori park, TV tower, Government heritage building, Clock tower etc)
        Day 3 – Explore Shiroi Koibitoi Park (take JR from Sapporo to Miyanasawa station)
        Day 4 – Go to Asahimaya Zoo (take the special Zoo train from Sapporo station)
        Day 5 – Check out from century royal and take direct bus from Sapporo station to Rusutsu Resort (bus is free provided by resort)
        Day 6 – Rusutsu resort (ski)
        Day 7 – Rusutsu resort (indoor wave pool, carousel, is there an indoor amusement park?)
        Day 8 – Checkout – take bus to CTS and back to SIN

        Hope to hear from you 🙂

        • bumblebeemum says:

          I went to Rusutsu for a day trip. The lobby was a bit more Disneyland-like compared to Tomamu, but Rusutsu was a lot pricier. Their snow park was not up till end December, so we did not get to play with ice slides / snow tubing. The one thing Rusutsu had that nowhere else had was dog sledding. But it was fully booked for the day I was there. Probably booked up by hotel guests who had arrived the day before or even earlier.

          I am not sure whether the reindeer sleighing will be available on 1 Dec. All these winter activities are weather dependent, so there is never a guarantee.

          Century Royal Hotel does look very near to Sapporo station on the map. Should make a good base.

          I don’t recall there being an indoor amusement park at Rusutsu. They do have an outdoor amusement park but it’s only operational in Summer. Winter is all about skiing, snowboarding and snow activities such as dog sledding. Their snow park and indoor ski school does not open until much later in December. For early December, I would opt for Tomamu instead of Rusutsu.

  20. dinookong says:

    Hi I am thinking to either stay one night in Noboribetsu or Lake Toya during 3 weeks of Dec. Which one would you recomemnd for a family with 10 years old kid ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Personally I prefer Lake Toya. I love the lakeside scenery! But Lake Toya requires a rental car to get around the various sightseeing spots such as the ropeway, the Silo Observatory and Lake Hill Farm. Noboribetsu onsen town is more compact.

  21. sl says:

    My family of 4 planning a f&e winter skii trip to hokkaido, we are from dec 5-13, and i plan to ski in later part of my vacation. Planning to do a 2 night stays at ski resorts. This is our 1st time to ski. Have been to Hokkaido during June period some times back, hence i have some places in mind such as sappora, otaru.
    But i also like to cover some scenic areas, any recommendation on the itinerary?
    For ski resort, is Tomamu resort suitable for kids 10-15yrs old.? or any recommendation?

    Pls. advise about transport arrangement.

    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      All major ski resorts in Hokkaido such as Niseko, Tomamu and Rusutsu will have classes for children / teens. I like Tomamu mostly for the ice village at night.

      The scenic areas I generally recommend in December is the Akan National Park region where you can see the cranes gather at feeding grounds near Tsurui, as well as the beautiful Lake Mashu, Lake Akan, Lake Kussharo and Iozan. You will need to self-drive around Akan National Park. If you are concerned about driving in winter, I recommend you take the train till Kushiro and rent a car for 2 days just to explore the Akan area.

      A rough itinerary would be something like this:

      5 Dec: CTS – Sapporo
      6 Dec: Sapporo
      7 Dec: Sapporo (Day trip to Otaru by train)
      8 Dec: Sapporo – Kushiro by train
      9 Dec: Kushiro – Tsurui – Lake Akan by car
      10 Dec: Akan National Park – Kushiro by car
      11 Dec: Kushiro – Tomamu
      12 Dec: Tomamu
      13 Dec: Tomamu – CTS

  22. Jaclyn says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I am going to Hokkaido in end of this month.
    Have done the hotel booking for Day 1 to Day 5, stuck half way now…
    May I have your advice as below, based on my draft itinerary as below (FYI, we would be taking public transport as hubby is not use to driving during winter):

    Day 1- Sapporo (Stay at Sapporo)
    Day 2- Asashikawa- Day Trip (Stay at Sapporo)
    Day 3- Otaru- Day Trip (Stay at Sapporo)
    Day 4- Niseko (Stay at Niseko Hilton)
    Day 5- Niseko (Stay at Niseko Hilton)
    Day 6- Check out from Niseko Hilton, hope to go to Lake Toya, but seem like no public transport, any advise???
    Day 7- ???
    Day 8- Fly back to KL at 9:30am

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Getting from Niseko to Lake Toya by public transport is a real hassle, though not impossible. You can use Hilton’s shuttle bus to get from Niseko to Kutchan, then use Donan bus from Kutchan to Lake Toya. Bus frequency is not great though, you may have to ask the concierge at Niseko Hilton to help you figure out the best connection at Kutchan.

      For day 7, I recommend you stay at Air Terminal Hotel in CTS since you have a morning flight back. From Lake Toya, to get back to CTS, you will need to catch a bus to Toya station and train back to CTS. You can read more here:

  23. Peng says:

    Hi bumblebee,

    Can you advise on how to set the GPS to drive via Orofure pass? Is that call route 2?
    How long is the drive during winter from Noboribetsu to Toya?
    Is the road 2-way road?

    Should I buy a toll pass if my rental car is for: Airport -> Rera outlet -> Noboribetsu -> Lake Toya -> Mecure Sapporo

    How can I buy the 7-day train pass? Is 7 days the max? Where do I change the the tickets in Sapporo? Change on the 1st day of pass usage?

    Thank you

    • bumblebeemum says:

      For driving along Orofure Pass, set your GPS to avoid tollways and it should choose the route via Orofure Pass. If all else fails, just ignore the GPS and follow road signs to Orofure Pass (オロフレ峠). The GPS will auto-adjust the route as your drive. It is a 2-way road.

      Neh, you don’t need the Hokkaido Exressway Pass for your route.

      Yup, 7 days is the max for Hokkaido Rail Pass, unless you get the Flexi 4-day pass which can be used on any 4 days within a 10-day period. You change your pass on the first day of usage at the JR Information desk in Sapporo station:

  24. AJ says:

    Hi bumbleemum
    An urgent question as we leave for Hokkaido tomorrow. We are staying 5 nights rusutsu, 5 nights sapporo and 5 nights tomamu. Taking big run buses from one place to another (not opting for trains). Excluding the ski areas, will there be opportunities/ pathways for stroller usage? I’m in a dilemma as to whether to bring their strollers. I have twins both almost 20kg who’s still at the carrying age and I can’t possibly survive carrying them around with their winter wear. Considered hip seats but they are too heavy for baby carriers.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      You may still have a chance to use your stroller in Sapporo city. When we went there beginning of December, the snow hasn’t accumulated on the pavements yet and we could push our stroller around easily. But later on in the month, once the pavements became covered with snow, it is a chore pushing the stroller around and some pavements became so narrow because of the snow ‘walls’ that accumulate by the sidewalks that we couldn’t push our stroller through at all. I would say bring it along and if the pavements are clear (most likely it is since it’s still early in the season), you can use it.

  25. Yee Huey Lee says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Is the onsen at Mahoroba a public one? I’m trying to find a private onsen for my family trip in May 2016.

  26. Lucida says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,

    I’m now thinking of making some last minute to my travel plan to hokkaido. Following is my current plan:

    14 Dec: Hokkaido, Sapporo (Hotel Mercure)
    15 Dec: Sapporo
    16 to 18 Dec: Tomamu (will use this as a base to go Kushiro for crane watch, etc..??)
    19 Dec: Noboribetsu, (Hotel Mahoroba)
    20 Dec: Sapporo (Hotel Mercure)
    21 Dec: Day trip to Asahikawa zoo
    22 Dec: back to Singapore

    My problem now is that I just checked the schedule for the Asahikawa train zoo. Apparently, the train operates on 19 and 20 Dec. The next train is scheduled on the 23 Dec.. which is I’m back in Singapore already… So my question now is should I forget about staying in Noboribetsu and go straight back to Sapporo after my 3 nights at Tomamu? Or should I actually go straight up to Asahikawa and stay a night there instead of staying in Noboribetsu so that I can take the 20 Dec Asahikawa zoo train back to Sapporo? Is it worth to change just to take a ride in the zoo train?? Also, do you think i will be able to see the penguin walk by 21 Dec?? The information not out and it’s quite difficult to plan… to the minimum, I hope to be able to see the penguin walk…


    Please advise.

    Thank you.


  27. SP Ang says:

    Dear Bumbleemum
    We are in ski resort at Niseko now, and booked for 2 nights at Lake Toya, but it’s supposedly difficult to get around once in Lake Toya. Is 2 nights too much (actually too late to cancel now, without paying charges) Any suggestions or advice? sorry to end such last minute questios!

  28. Shawn says:

    Hi BumbleBeeMum
    Thank you for your blog self driving info in Hokkaido. Really enjoy to read all.
    We are 4 adults ( 2 couples) plan to Hokkaido on March 9-16. I hope you can give me some advice

    The following is my drafted itinerary:

    Day 1: New Chitiose Airport (Pickup rent car in morning) –> Lake Shikotsu (stop by couple hours) –> Noboribetsu ( Hotel Onsen)

    Day 2: Noboribetsu –> Lake Toya (stop by few hours and lunch) –> Niseko (arrive before dark)

    Day 3: Niseko Grand Hirafu Village (skiing & Onsen)
    Day 4: Niseko Grand Hirafu Village (skiing & Onsen)

    Day 5: Niseko (morning check out) –> Sappora ( return car in Sappora City)

    Day 6: Otaru day trip & Sappora (via Otaru-Sappora Pass)

    Day 7: Sappora

    Day 8: Early morning to New Chitiose Airport

    1) For my driving itinerary, I can save cost and avoid toll/Highway by using national roads 16, 276, 141, 2, 230, 6, Orofure Pass and so on. What is your advise? Do I need to rent the ETC card from Tocoo (charge 300yen per day) in case I use highway? Do I pay toll fees base on how much I use HWY in ETC card when I return car?

    2) I check your recommended Hotel Mahoroba@ Noboribetsu, Agoda show price 22,000yen with room+dinner& Breakfast . Their website via English, price is 33000yen(Breakfast:Buffet Style Dinner:Japanese Style). Their website via Japanese, price is 12500yen (if i translate via google correctly). Can it be so many different prices? Where should I book it?

    3) Is Hakodate worth to visit? It is not in my itinerary due to long distance driving and may cause rushing schedule.

    4) 2 days cccommodation and Skiing at Niseko Grand Hirafu is quite expensive. Worry 2 ladies get bored and tired after 1st day skiing. What other things they can do on 2nd day?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) For your itinerary, I will not get the ETC card. It doesn’t look like you’ll be using the toll road much. If you do get the ETC card from Tocoo, they will ask for a deposit which they will charge to your credit card. At the end of the trip, they will deduct the toll fees from there and refund you the balance. But like I said, it’s not worth the hassle for your route. You will use the toll road once between Lake Shikotsu and Noboribetsu and that’s it. Between Noboribetsu and Lake Toya, use the Orofure Pass which is toll free.

      2) On the japanese website, I think 12500 yen is the price for 1 pax. I would book through Agoda if it’s cheaper. Don’t forget to use their credit card discounts.

      3) If you are going to spend 2 days skiing, then you definitely don’t have enough time for Hakodate.

      4) You can go and eat. My favourite haunts are Niseko Milk Kobo and Cafe IF. But I don’t think you will be bored. If you find skiing is not your cup of tea after a day, you can go to the snow parks instead and try ice slides and snow tubing. There are also other activities like snow mobile, snow rafting etc. Since you have a car, you can try Hanazono Snow Park:

      • Shawn says:

        Hi BumbleBee Mum,
        Thank you for your speedy reply! Your advice and suggestion are very helpful.

        Have a good weekend!


  29. Chrisian says:

    Dear Bumblebee Mom,

    This is my previous itin in eastern hokkaido :
    31 jan CTS – Tomamu (JR Pass)
    1 feb Tomamu – Obihiro (JR Pass)
    2 feb Obihiro – Kushiro (JR Pass)
    3 feb Kushiro – Lake Akan (hire a driver to pick you up at Kushiro, bring you to the crane area, followed by Lake Mashu, Iozan and Lake Kussharo before dropping you off at Lake Akan)
    4 feb Lake Akan – Kitami (by shuttle bus), then Kitami – Abashiri (JR Pass)
    5 feb Abashiri – Asahikawa (JR Pass)
    6 feb Asahikawa – Sapporo (JR Pass)
    7 feb Sapporo
    8 feb flight back

    i try to find alternative route below :
    31 jan CTS – Tomamu (JR Pass)
    1 feb Tomamu – Hakodate
    3 feb Hakodate – Lake Toya
    4 Feb Day trip Lake Toya – Noboribetsu – Lake Toya
    5 feb Lake Toya – Niseko – Asahikawa
    6 feb Asahikawa – Sapporo (JR Pass)
    7 feb Sapporo
    8 feb flight back

    In your opinion, which route is better ?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      I would do route 1 based on your dates. Akan National Park is very beautiful in winter as winter is the only time you can catch the cranes at the feeding grounds. And if you’re lucky and there is drift ice when you are Abashiri, you can catch the ice-breaker cruise.

  30. annisa says:

    Haiii 🙂
    I really thank you to you because of your blog
    I really don’t know the condition of Lake Shikotsu and Lake Toya in winter, until I found your blog.
    Cause me and my husband planning to go that places.
    Sadly, I am not using car, because I’m from Indonesia.
    I think it’s a little bit difficult to get license in japan.

    May I ask something?
    Is that a good idea if I go to one day trip by bus to Lake shikotsu? or one day trip to Lake Toya?

    I really appreciate if you reply my message 🙂

    • bumblebeemum says:

      When are you going? If it is during the period of Chitose-Lake Shikotsu Winter Festival, then Lake Shikotsu is worth a visit. Otherwise, I would recommend Lake Toya. I suggest you spend a night at a ryokan that offers free transfers between Sapporo and the ryokan. For e.g. Toya Sunpalace at Lake Toya offers free courtesy bus from Sapporo:

  31. Choonie says:

    We are planning a trip in Dec to hokkaido, flying in from Kansai. Can I check with you regarding the following:

    1)for domestic flights peach airlinea, did you purchase the baggages online or when you reach the airport? I noted that you took peach from Taiwan to Okinawa last year.

    2)for niseko, if we are not into ski, is it worthwhile to make a trip there? We are thinking of staying in a cottage in izumikyo & go for snow activities like kids snow park. Anything else to do in niseko like scenary?

    Thanks a million!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      1) We purchased our luggage during our flight booking. For LCC in general, it is usually cheaper to purchase baggage during flight booking vs at the airport.

      2) Are you going early or end Dec? Snow parks will only open toward the end of Dec. If it is snow parks you are after, why not try Rusutsu if you are going in end of Dec? Their crayon shin-chan kids snow park looks so fun. Plus Rusutsu has dog sledding (something I’ve been wanting to try, hence the personal preference.)

      • Choonie says:

        Thanks so much. We are planning from 14 to 22 Dec in hokkaido. Before that we will be in Kansai area.

        Our rough itinerary will be 3 days sapporo, 2 days niseko, 1 day jozankei onsen & 2 days tommamu.

        If skip niseko, then will go to kinosaki onsen before flying to hokkaido. Then it will be 4 days sapporo, 1 day jozankei onsen, 2 days tommamu.

        However we are hesitant to travel all the way to kinosaki onsen (3h) from Osaka & another 4 h to Kansai airport.

        Thanks for helping. Any comments will be useful.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          If you ask me, I think the best onsens are in Hokkaido. There is something about soaking in an onsen in sub-zero temperature while surrounded by snow. I would gladly trade any mainland onsen (except maybe those with Mount Fuji view) for an onsen in Hokkaido in winter. Since you will be going Jozankei onsen and there is also onsen at Tomamu, I don’t see the point is spending so much transport time to visit Kinosaki Onsen.

  32. Choonie says:

    Thanks a lot! Think will skip kinosaki onsen. It’s also hectic to travel all the way there with 2 kids…

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yeah, I think so too. And the kids aren’t exactly going to appreciate it. I can imagine my kids… “Why we travel so long to come to this BORING place?” Unless the onsen there has slides like Toya Sunpalace? lol…

  33. Mag says:

    Bumblebee Mom

    I enjoyed reading your blog on self driving in Hokkaido which was most informative and interesting.

    I’m planning a family trip (3 gals in their twenties, hubby & I) and hope you can give me some advice. My tentative itinerary is:

    Nov 5 : Takayama
    Nov 6 : Shirakawago & Kanazawa
    Nov 7 : Kyoto
    Nov 8 : Osaka
    Nov 9 : Osaka (dep @17:45 for Chitose)

    Nov 10 : Sapporo (pickup car) ~ Noboribetsu (Jigokudani, Date Jidaimura) ~ Lunch ~ Lake Toya & Usuzan Ropeway ~ dinner & stay at Lake View Toya Resort

    Nov 11 : Lake Toya ~ Otaru (Otaru Canal, Sakaimachi Street, Otaru Musical Box museum) ~ lunch ~ Shiroi Koibitoi Park ~ Sapporo (drop car) ~ dinner ~ stay at Sapporo Mercure

    Nov 12 : Sapporo (walking tour) ~ Chitose Airport (dep @1405 for Narita)

    As this is the first time we’re driving/visiting Hokkaido, do you think this route is workable or should we do a reverse itinerary. Is there anything I should include/exclude?

    Thanks / Mag

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your itinerary looks a bit rushed, considering short daylight hours and slow driving speed if you encounter snow. On Nov 10, you may not have enough time for Usuzan Ropeway and on Nov 11 you may not have enough time for Shiroi Koibito Park. Personally, I would just skip Noboribetsu and spend the day at Lake Toya on Nov 10. And I would just take my time to have a leisurely breakfast at Lake Toya and spend the day slowly checking out all the cafes and shops at Otaru instead of trying to rush back for Shiroi Koibito Park.

  34. Anne says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, I really enjoy reading your blog – really great information for newbie like me. I kinda plan half way before I have read some of your good advises.

    Am planning to go on Aug 20 – 27 ( arrive on Aug 20 morning and leave Aug 27 morning flight ). I’ve already booked hotels at Sapporo on Aug 20, 21 and 26 nights thus unable to change that. Thus, need your good advise on the following for the in between days/nights :
    We intend to drive from Sapporo to Furano / Biei / Asahikawa regions.

    Aug 20 – Airport to Sapporo via bus limo (full day )
    Aug 21 – Sapporo ( full day )
    Aug 22 – Drive to Furano
    Aug 23 – Furano / Biei
    Aug 24 – Onsen town with private outdoor onsen ( need your recommendation on place, how to get there, etc )
    Aug 25 – Otaru ( maybe drive back to Sapporo then take train to Otaru or drive there ?? )
    Aug 26 – Sapporo
    Aug 27 – Fly back to Sin

    It’s for anniversary purpose – just 2 of us.

    Appreciate for your recommendation in Furano regions and what to do after Furano. Thank you so much.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Hmm.. I don’t know of any private outdoor onsen in the Furano / Biei region. The onsens in the region (Tokachidake Onsen, Shirogane Onsen, Furano La Terre, New Furano Prince Hotel etc.) that I know of seem to only have public open air baths.

      If driving back to Sapporo first then taking train to Otaru can save you one day of car rental, then you should drive back to Sapporo and train to Otaru. If it doesn’t make a difference in car rental price, then use the car to to go Otaru.

      You can refer to this post on places to visit in the Furano region:

  35. Grace says:

    Hi Bumblebee Mum,

    We plan to go to Japan in early December including Hokkaido. We will be buying JR Pass and coming by train from Tokyo to Hakodate (stay 2 nights) then have 3 nights in Sapporo before flying out from Shin-Chitose.

    We plan to visit Lake Toya during the trip, and not sure if should just use our JR pass or rent a car for a day. If we rent a car, do you think doable to do Lake Toya / Noboribetsu / Lake Shikotsu in a day? Would it be better to rent and return the car at Shin-Chitose airport? What do you think?

    Thank you so much.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      In winter, I do not think it is possible to do Lake Toya, Noboribetsu and Lake Shikotsu in a day. Daylight hours and very short and you need to drive very slowly in winter. I think you only have time for Lake Toya if you do not plan to spend a night in the region. So what you can do is to take a train from Hakodate to Toya station and rent a car from there to explore Lake Toya. Then you return the car to Toya station and continue the train ride back to Sapporo.

      • Grace says:

        Thank you so much for your reply. We changed our plan, instead will have 3 days (2 nights) to spend to drive around to visit Lake Toya / Noboribetsu / Lake Shikotsu.

        Day 1: Pick up car from Sapporo (the night before stay in Sapporo). Visit Otaru, Cape Shakotan, Niseko and stay overnight in Niseko area.

        Day 2: Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, stay in Lake Toya.

        Day 3: Rusutsu, Lake Shikotsu, return the car in Sapporo.

        Do you think the above is ok during early December? We don’t intend to ski, just sightseeing and for the kids to experience some snow so not sure worthwhile to stay in Niseko. I am not sure as well if Cape Shakotan area is worth going during winter. Thanks again.

        • bumblebeemum says:

          In winter, it is not feasible to drive from Sapporo to Otaru to Shakotan to Niseko in a day. It is very dangerous to drive in Niseko after dark and it gets pitch dark by 4+pm in winter. I suggest you skip Cape Shakotan and choose only 1 between Niseko and Rusutsu to experience snow. If you just want to see and touch snow, there is no need to stay there.

          This is what I would suggest:

          Day 1: Sapporo – Otaru
          Day 2: Otaru – Rusutsu or Niseko – Lake Toya
          Day 3: Lake Toya – Noboribetsu – Lake Shikotsu – Sapporo

          Rusutsu would be more along the way compared to Niseko.

          • Grace says:

            Hi Bumblebee mum, thanks again for the quick reply.

            After the drive, we will have 3 more nights in Sapporo and come to think again, it would perhaps be better to visit Otaru by train during that time.

            Day 1 – Arrive Sapporo in evening (Stay in Sapporo)
            Day 2 (drive) – Sapporo – Drive to xx (Stay xx)
            Day 3 (drive) – Rusutsu – Lake Toya (Stay at Lake Toya)
            Day 4 (drive) – Lake Toya – Noboribetsu – Lake Shikotsu – Sapporo (Stay in Sapporo)
            Day 5 – Otaru by train (stay in Sapporo)
            Day 6 – Sapporo (stay in Sapporo)
            Day 7 – Sapporo (stay in Sapporo)
            Day 7 – Sapporo (fly in morning)

            Now for the drive… if we use train instead to go to Otaru, do you have other suggestion the place to go in Day 2?

            Thanks again!

  36. Grace says:

    Thanks very much for your advice – really appreciate it.

  37. Siew says:

    Hi, bumblebeemum, really enjoyed reading your blog. I would like to seek for your kind advice.I want to visit lake shikotsu and lake toya in one day by driving from Sapporo early morning in early February. Do you think that’s enough time return to Sapporo before dark? The road conditions to the both place safe for driving?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      If you want to get back before dark, you will need to set off really early. Which means you should collect your car the night before. It is possible if you set off early since the sun rises very early. However in early Feb, there is the Chitose-Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival going on at Lake Shikotsu. And I find the festival at night because of the lighting. I would actually recommend spending the night at Lake Shikotsu for the festival.

  38. George says:

    Hi bumblebeemum,

    Thank you so much for your amazing blog. I don’t think I would know where to even start without this. I’m trying to finalize an itinerary for a Japan trip this December/January with my parents (who have no Japan experience at all, and I’ve never been to Hokkaido!). So far, we have flights to Tokyo and my plan is to use the 14 day national rail pass, but also rent a car for 3 days in eastern Hokkaido.

    Does the itinerary below look feasible to you?

    Format is place for overnight accommodation +Minimum time on train/car from previous destination in hours, excluding travel from stations to hotels, between sights etc.

    23/12/16 Tokyo (Arrive Haneda airport 3.35PM and pick up Jr pass)
    24/12/16 Kyoto 2.25
    25/12/16 Kyoto (Visit Nara)
    26/12/16 Tokyo 2.25
    27/12/16 Hakodate 4
    28/12/16 Noboribetsu 2.75
    29/12/16 Tomamu 2.25
    30/12/16 Tomamu –
    31/12/16 Akan-ko 4 (travel time includes 2.5 hour train to Kushiro, pick up car, at Kushiro St., visit marshlands area with cranes and head on by car for ~1-1.5 hours to lake Akan)
    1/1/17 Sounkyo 3 (also drive around Lakes Mashu and Kussharo, through Akan and Daisetsuzan National Parks to Sounkyo)
    2/1/17 Sapporo 2.5 (Travel time includes 1 hour drive from Sounkyo to Asahiyama zoo [which is not open on 1st Jan, but hopefully is on 2nd Jan], then return car at Asahikawa St. and take 1.5 hour train to Sapporo)
    3/1/17 Hakodate 5.5 (day trip to Otaru – 1.5 hour return trip, the head to Hakodate – 4hour from sapporo)
    4/1/17 Tokyo 4
    5/1/17 Depart Narrita airport – 11.05AM

    Thanks in advance for any suggestions! I’m a bit fearful about the next step of finding accommodation, especially for the onsen towns over such a peak period – some already seem to be full/outrageously priced for those dates!

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Your dates are super peak season in Japan unfortunately so yeah, accommodation is terrible expensive during that time.

      Your itinerary looks EXTREMELY rushed to me. Daylight hours are very short in winter, it seems to be you will be spending a lot of precious daylight hours on the train / road. I actually would skip the Kyoto part altogether and just go to Hokkaido. For that, you can consider getting this pass instead, which is much cheaper than a 14-days Japan Rail Pass:

      The above pass only gets you as far as Sapporo and not into Eastern Hokkkaido. So you may want to consider driving for the Eastern Hokkaido segment of the trip. With 14 days, this is what you can do:

      23/12/16 Tokyo (arrive 3.35pm)
      24/12/16 Tokyo – Hakodate
      25/12/16 Hakodate – Sapporo
      26/12/16 (rent car) Sapporo – Asahikawa (If you want to visit the zoo on this day, you need to set off very early. Which means you will need to pick up the car the previous night and park it at your hotel.)
      27/12/16 Asahikawa – Sounkyo
      28/12/16 Sounkyo – Lake Akan
      29/12/16 Lake Akan – Kushiro
      30/12/16 Kushiro – Obihiro – Tomamu
      31/12/16 Tomamu
      1/1/17 Tomamu – Sapporo (return car)
      2/1/17 Sapporo – Noboribetsu
      3/1/17 Noboribestu – Hakodate
      4/1/17 Hakodate – Tokyo
      5/1/17 Depart Narrita airport – 11.05AM

  39. Joey says:

    Hi! Is it dangerous to drive around in Hokkaido during winter? I read many review saying is dangerous to drive cos it’s slippery and might face snow storm. But driving is much cheaper and accessible to many places!

  40. Techgal says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum, I am going Hokkaido end of Sep and am interested to do a day trip to Lake Shikotsu on public transport from Sapporo via Chitose. What is your view about strolling around the lake? Do you think it would take me two hours just to walk around? Or way too large and would take too long to walk around? Are there any activities you’d suggest there?

  41. Grace Chin says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum,

    First I want to thank you for sharing your travelling experience with us. Really helping me a lot. I would like to seek your advise as I’ve hit a snag in my itinerary. We are family of 2A2C (10yo & 6yo) going to Hokkaido in Dec16. Part of our itinerary is to travel from Kiroro Resort to Lake Toya by train. I’ve checked Hyperdia and JRHokkaido sites, it seems we have to take the train from Otaruchikko to Sapporo and make a big round to Toyako instead of cutting straight from Otaruchikko to Kutchan to Toyako. Really appreciate if you can provide advise on how best to plan this leg of our trip. Is it less hassle & time saving for us to rent a car from Otaruchikko and drive to Lake Toya? Thank you in advance for your help! Below is summary of our trip (accommodations booked but is cancellable):

    Dec 11-14 Sapporo (day trips to Asahiyama Zoo & Otaru by train)
    Dec 15-16 Train & taxi to Kiroro Resort
    Dec 16-17 Train to Lake Toya (this is where I am facing logistic issue)
    Dec 17-18 Train to Noboribetsu
    Dec 19 Train to Obihiro to pick up rental car to Lake Akan (overnight)
    Dec 20 Drive to crane reserves, overnight at Kushiro
    Dec 21-22 Train to Tomamu
    Dec 23 Train to Sapporo for few days stay before flying back to SG

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Yeah, that’s the thing about public transport in Hokkaido. Places may look near to each other on the map, but direct transport between them is often lacking. Transport always goes through the major hubs like Sapporo or New Chitose Airport. So you have direct transport between Sapporo and point A, Sapporo and point B, but no transport between point A and B although they may just be like an hour drive apart. Which is really why we almost always end up doing self-drive in Hokkaido.

      Even from Toya to Noboribetsu, it is much easier to drive because both onsen towns are not near the train stations. You need to bus / taxi from Lake Toya to Toya station, train to Noboribetsu and then bus / taxi to Noboribetsu onsen town.

      Considering you also need a car for Lake Akan, I may just rent a car from Sapporo all the way to Kushiro actually.

      • Grace Chin says:

        Hi Bumblemum,

        I’m here to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to you for sharing your valuable experiences and insights on Hokkaido. It is never too late since we were back from our trip since 27 Dec 2016 😀

        We had the holiday of our life, yet. Haha!

        First, our flight couldn’t land in Sapporo and we spent a night in Tokyo Haneda. Luckily, we got to see Mt Fuji the next morning from our hotel room. After a few days in Sapporo, we rented a car from car rental at JR Sapporo Station, drove to Kiroro, passed by Rusutsu, Lake Toya, Noboribetsu, Chitose, Obihiro, Kushiro, Lake Akan, Tomamu, Sapporo. At Tomamu, the storm of the decade (I think) was already underway… after 2 nights in Tomamu we had to drive back to Sapporo. We spent 9 hours driving on country roads as the highway was closed. It was terrifying for my husband and I. My 2 kids were thankfully quite well behaved throughout the ordeal. After we returned our car, we took a taxi from Sapporo Station to our hotel. We thought driving 9 hours were bad. Riding a taxi to our station navigating the icy bumpy roads were the icing on the cake!!!! It was hilarious now that I think back 😛

        Anyway, we had such a great adventure. We’re lucky we got home safely. And we must be crazy because we plan to go back again in winter. Haha!

        Once again thank you for your help. Muaks!

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Thank you for finding your way back here to share with us about your adventure!

          Oh yes, last year’s winter was scary! Storm of a decade… Think for us Singaporeans it was probably like storm of our lifetime. Glad you made it through safe and sound and it’s not stopping you from planning your next adventure.

  42. jac chua says:

    hi, i love your hokkaido blog. It’s informative and very detailed. Will be spending 6 days in Hokkaido from mid december with old folks and teenagers. WE will do it slowly, overnight in Noboribetsu, niseko, otaru and sapporo. Where do you think it’s a best place for lunch and dinner near niseko? We will be driving. What must we not miss in Otaru?

  43. Glissa says:

    Hi BBM,

    Can you advise should our rental car is equipped w a Multilingual GPS, do we key in phone numbers of places of interest to navigate?
    If yes, how did you navigate to Lake Toya? I cant seem to find its number on the internet T_T

    Many thanks,

  44. Elaine says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    I am planning a trip to hokkaido from 25 Dec 2017 to 6Jan 2018.

    May I know between Lake Toya, Noboribetsu and Lake Shikotsu, which destination should I give up for one night stay? And if you could tell me pros and cons of each of these three. I’ve been having difficulty deciding.

    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      Between the 3, I would drop Lake Shikotsu. It is nearest to CTS and I usually just drop by the lake for a while on the way to or from the airport. I have never found a reason to spend a night there, unless I happen to be there during the Chitose – Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, but your dates don’t coincide with it.

      Also in terms of sightseeing, I find Lake Toya has the most things to see. Followed by Noboribetsu.

      But if you are someone who likes to get away from touristy crowds and just enjoy a nice quiet onsen experience, then you should go to Lake Shikotsu. Lake Toya and Noboribetsu are pretty touristy.

  45. JC says:

    Hi Bumblebeemum,

    Good day to you. So excited to read your bog.

    Our family will go to Hokkaido from mid of November for 10 days. Could you please suggest where are the good places to visit during this off season time ? Is it possible to do some skiing or at least to see some snow ? Is it best to rent a car or by public transport ?
    Thank you.

    • bumblebeemum says:

      In Mid Nov, you probably should head up to Niseko for snow and skiing.

      For off-season, I usually recommend visiting the major cities (Sapporo, Otaru, Hakodate) and spending at least a night at an onsen town such as Lake Toya or Noboribetsu.

      If you are visiting Sapporo / Otaru / Hakodate / Niseko mainly, public transport should suffice.

  46. Sandy says:

    Hi Bumblebee mum! Your blogs are so informative, really helps a lot in my itinerary planning for winter Hokkaido. Can I ask did you bring snow boots for everyone or buy them at Hokkaido?

    • bumblebeemum says:

      My kids and I bought our snow boots from Hokkaido (at the Mitsui Outlet in Sapporo). My husband used his army boots.

      • Sandy says:

        Oic. Thanks for your prompt reply! My family of 4 (2 adults & 2 kids, 4 & 6y/o) plan to visit Hokkaido during the last 2 weeks of Dec 2017. Would you be able to advise if the following itinerary is feasible?

        Day 1: SIN-Tokyo Hanade (overnight flight)
        Day 2: Asakusa,Sensoji Temple & Shibuya
        Day 3: Tokyo-Hakodate via JR, Mt Hakodate
        Day 4: Hakodate-Tomamu resort
        Day 5: Tomamu-Sapporo-Mitsui Outlet Park
        Day 6: Sapporo-Asahikawa Zoo-German Christmas Market
        Day 7: Ishiya Choc Factory-Otaru Canal-Sapporo Beer Garden
        Day 8: Sapporo-Hakodate Red Brick Warehouse
        Day 9: Hakodate morning market-Tokyo via JR
        Day 10: Tokyo Disneyland
        Day 11: Evening flight back to SIN

        We have done self-drive in Hokkaido during summer a few years back & main objective of this trip is to let our kids experience a white Christmas. I feel that 7 days in Hokkaido is rather short. We have never ski before so my initial plan was to stay 2 nights at Tomamu but that cannot be done due to the restricted 7-day JR pass (next option is 14-day pass which is out of our budget).

        • bumblebeemum says:

          Hmmm.. It looks too rushed. With the time you have, my suggestion is for you to just do Tomamu as a day trip from Sapporo.

          Day 3: Tokyo-Hakodate via JR, Mt Hakodate
          Day 4: Hakodate – Sapporo (visit Mitsui Oulet Park)
          Day 5: Sapporo (day trip to Tomamu)
          Day 6: Sapporo (day trip to Asahiyama Zoo, visit White Illumination & German Christmas Market after you return to Sapporo in the evening)
          Day 7: Sapporo (Ishiya Choc Factory-Otaru Canal-Sapporo Beer Garden) – I assume you are just going Sapporo Beer Garden for dinner? It’s too rushed if you want to visit the beer museum.
          Day 8: Sapporo-Hakodate Red Brick Warehouse
          Day 9: Hakodate morning market-Tokyo via JR

      • Sandy says:

        Your suggested itinerary look perfect! I just found out it cost about SGD1400/night at Hoshino Tomamu resort 😱… Shall make it as a day trip from Sapporo instead. Thank you so much for taking time to reply!

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