I was in Hokkaido with my parents and two kids from 15 to 19 October, which was autumn, and the main focus of the trip was to view autumn foliage. It was not particularly interesting to the kids, who spent most of the time just sleeping in the car and stroller.
But they were at the age where they weren’t too demanding. So I got away with planning a trip with little regard to their interest and indulging my parents and I in photo-worthy scenery. Which is the whole point of AUTUMN right??
Day 1: Sapporo
By the time we arrived at Sapporo, it was late in the evening. We had been awake since 3 am, taken a 7 hour flight from Singapore to Narita, followed by a 1.5 hour flight from Narita to New Chitose Airport, followed by a 1 hour bus ride from New Chitose Airport to Sapporo. So all we did was have a quick dinner at Matsuya near our hotel, Hotel Mercure Sapporo, and went back to the hotel to rest. Matsuya was not particularly kids friendly – no high chair or kids meal, but there was enough space to put our stroller so MY just sat in the stroller during the meal.
Day 2: Houheikyou Dam, Jozankei Onsen, Otaru
We woke up bright and early and went to Odori Park (about 10 min walk from our hotel) for a morning stroll. Odori Park was beautiful in autumn, with some trees turning bright red.
As it turns out, Autumn was not just a season for bright red ‘koyo’. There were many other flowers blooming beautifully around Odori Park.
And I was super happy to even spot sunflowers!
We also popped by the Sapporo Clock Tower, but it was not open yet.
We only walked about half of Odori Park, before heading to Toyota Rent-A-Car Sapporo‘s Susukino Minami 4-jo office office to pick up our rental car. We drove through Jozankei Onsen town to Houheikyou Dam, which was a popular place for viewing autumn foliage.
The GPS map code for Houheikyou dam did not work very well.. It guided us to the middle of nowhere – I suspect it was guiding us to the dam itself, rather than to the carpark for the electric bus tour. Thankfully it was peak tourist season for Houheikyou dam and there were many cars and tour buses headed that way, so we just followed the main road where many tour buses were coming out from.
The were soooo many tourists there, the electric buses were all packed to the brim. It was not a very comfortable ride, with the kids and our bulky stroller and all. And we discovered that we could actually skip the bus ride and walk to the dam (about 30 min walk – stroller friendly) and save the 600 yen per pax bus ticket.
There was a mini cable car that you could take to the restaurant at the top, but there was a long queue plus a long flight of stairs to climb before that – not a good idea with kids and stroller involved, so we did not bother with that. We could have walked up to the restaurant instead of taking the cable car, but it was drizzling and we were kinda lazy, so we just walked around the dam area.
The view at the bottom was good enough. It was simply breathtaking, with autumn colours at its peak while we were there.
Although we purchased return trip tickets for the electric bus, we decided to walk out instead of queueing for the bus. MF had fallen asleep in the stroller and we did not want to take him out, so we just pushed the stroller and walked all the way out.
Along the way out, we passed by a waterfall, so at least I felt rewarded for walking… in a way.
After leaving Houheikyou Dam, we drove through Jozankei Onsen town, where many visitors come to stay in autumn because the whole town turns yellow and orange in autumn.
We proceeded to drive to Otaru, via the Jozankei lakeline. The autumn colours along the way were simply beautiful.
We made a brief photo stop at Sapporo Lake. Which was much less crowded (trash that, we were the ONLY people there to be precise) compared to Houheikyou dam. There was parking lot where we could pull over and take photos by the lake without much walking and definitely no need to take an electric car.
The scenery was not as gorgeous as Houheikyou Dam for sure (which explains the lack of crowd), but for us Singaporeans, to be able to see a dam surrounded by autumn foliage was well worth the brief stop. Anyway it was totally along the way from Jozankei to Otaru, so if you’re doing the drive, don’t forget to keep a look out for the carpark and pull over.
There was a sushi street in the heart of Otaru with many good sushi restaurants, but we chose to dine at somewhere less touristy (and hence cheaper): Toppii sushi, which was a short walk from Otaru canal. Toppii sushi had a free carpark for its patron, so it saved us the hassle of looking for a coin parking. There were high chairs available, and kids were entitled to the drinks bar – FREE!
When we finished eating, we sneaked off for a quick walk to the Otaru canal, leaving our car at Toppii. If you don’t wish to be inconsiderate, or if it’s peak dining hours, there is a Times open-air carpark (click here for location of carpark on Google Map) just next to the canal.
Beside Times carpark, you will find the famous ice-cream shop, Kita No Ice, in a small historic building. The ice-cream shop sells really strange flavoured ice-cream.. Like uni (sea urchin), squid ink and crab flavours.
After I had my fill of weird ice-cream for dessert, we headed back to our car and drove through Sakaimachi, the main street of Otaru. If it’s your first trip to Otaru, I would advise you to walk through Sakaimachi instead of drive, because there is so much to see, do and eat along the way! There are many shops selling intricate glass handicraft where you can experience glass-blowing, a candle workshop where you can make your own candle, and the famous music box museum at the end of Sakaimachi is definitely worth a visit. Along the way, there are cafes like Amato and LeTao where you can sit down and enjoy delicious Hokkaido sweets, and you can also find Rokkatei (六花亭) and Kitakaro (北菓楼) which are famous confectionery shops. In particular, Kitakaro has the most yummylicious ice-cream and cream puffs.
Since bringing kids (esp one with itchy hands like MF) to glass shops and music box museum sounds like a pretty bad idea, I asked my parents if they wanted to go and take a look, and I could drop them off at the music box museum while I chill out at Le Tao or take a drive to the Otaru Aquarium with the kids, but they passed. So we just drove through the street, stopping the car at the side of the road in front of Kitakaro while I hopped off to grab a cream puff, before driving back to Sapporo.
For dinner, we had ramen at my favourite ramen joint: Barikiya, located at Tanukikoji 4-chome.
The eatery was a little cramp and did not provide high chairs, you basically sit on stools along a counter to eat. But we managed to find a spot to leave our stroller (and MY just bummed there while we ate).
MF managed to balance himself on the stool and stretched his neck a bit to finish his noodles (I guess it helped that he LOVED the noodles here!). The shop had small bowls and children’s fork ready for kids.
Day 3: Furano
This was the day when Typhoon Wipha, Japan’s worst typhoon in a decade, hit. Although Hokkaido was spared the full brunt of the typhoon, it still brought heavy wind and rain (or snow in the colder regions). Being ignorant Singaporeans, we clearly did not understand how bad things would get when there was a typhoon, and went driving around anyway.
In the morning, the weather did not look too bad, so we decided to drive to Furano to see the flower fields. It was windy and rainy (not that we could feel it in the car) along the way. We made a brief stop at SA (i.e. service-area, referring to large parking areas with toilets, shops, restaurants and petrol kiosk) Sunagawa (SA 砂川）along the expressway, which was a nice place to take a break if you are driving from Sapporo to Furano. There was a cafe serving hot meals and a beautiful little park next to it.
There were also Gashapon machines for the kids, and we bought some gashapon toys to let MF entertain himself on the car before moving on. If you have time and weather is good, you can visit Kodomo No Kuni （子どもの国 – translates to mean ‘Children’s Country’) – there was an entrance to it from SA Sunagawa. From across the road, I saw some beautiful autumn foliage and playgrounds for kids there.
We finally arrived at some flower fields belonging to Choei Lavender Park just before reaching Farm Tomita. There were no more lavenders in autumn, but there were still those neat rows of colourful flowers. It was snowing and the kids were sleeping in the car, so we took turns to go down to take some photos.
We then drove on to Farm Tomita. It was snowing heavily, but we somehow managed to unload the kids and stroller and make a mad dash for the shelter from the carpark.
Since it was snowing heavily outside, we started by checking out the beautiful dried flower shop.
There was a balcony at the second storey of the cafe where we could see the flower fields without having to go into the snow.
It was time for lunch, so we had our lunch at the cafe there. We found a seat next to the window with a nice view of the flower field.
If the weather had been better, we could have been sitting out there right next to the flower fields. But oh well, it was not meant to be.
MF had a burger and MY had some potatoes and pumpkins (a nice change for him from cereal and food pouches), while I had some yummy lavendar-flavoured cheescake and drink.
The snow got heavier and heavier as we were eating, and we figured it was not going to go away anytime soon. So after eating, we got MF into the stroller and wrapped it up with a rain cover, and I wrapped MY in the carrier and, armed with our umbrellas, we made a mad dash for the greenhouse to see some lavender. And yeah, I actually bothered to take some photos along the way to remind myself how crazy we were, running through a typhoon to see lavender.
It was so cold and my fingers were freezing by the time I reached the greenhouse! But I was so happy to see (and smell) the lavenders in the greenhouse that it called for a celebratory shot. Never mind the messy hair.
After we were warmed up enough, and MF had ran enough rounds around the greenhouse checking out all the flowers, we dashed back to the dried flower shop. I made a slight detour to check out the autumn field.
Not that I could seem much in the storm… But at least I can say I’ve been here. Next challenge was how to get the kids and stroller back to the car in the storm. We decided to just ignore no-entry signs and drive the car all the way to the porch of the dried flower shop to load the kids in. A staff looked like she was about to stop us, but when she saw that we had a toddler and baby in tow, she let us go ahead. So yeah, there are perks to travelling with kids!
By the time we left Farm Tomita, snow had covered all the roads and everything was just a piece of white. We couldn’t see the roads, and underestimated the difficulty of driving in the snow, and our car ended up in a ditch. Thankfully Toyota had an English-speaking emergency hotline. I called them to explain our situation, and they said they would call us back. While waiting for them to call back, a passer-by, who had a chain in his car, helped us pull our car out of the ditch. Toyota only called us back much later, so thank goodness for the good Samaritan, or we would have been stuck in the car for hours, in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of the snow storm and with 2 screaming kids. Lesson learnt: Never drive out when there is a typhoon.
Somehow, we managed to crawl back to Sapporo. We had dinner at Barikiya again (a piping hot bowl of yummy soupy ramen was the ultimate comfort food after our stormy ordeal) before calling it a day.
Day 4: Noboribetsu, Lake Toya
We were planning to go to Noboribetsu today. It was raining in the morning, and weather forecast said that it should clear up by the afternoon, so I suggested we visit Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe until the rain stopped. As we drove towards Noboribetsu, the sky started getting nice and blue, and thanks for the snow storm from the previous day, we got to see beautiful snow-capped mountains amidst the autumn colours.
Since it was no longer raining, we skipped the marine park and resumed our autumn foliage viewing at Jigokudani (地獄谷 – translates to mean Hell’s Valley) instead.
The walk around Jigokudani was pretty stroller friendly. You could push your stroller most of the way.
There were some stairs to the view points, but you could leave your stroller at the side for a while to go to the view point.
Next, we went to view Oyunuma (大湯沼), which was a short drive away. There weren’t much autumn colours yet, so we did not stay long.
Next stop was the Shinnoboribetsu bridge (新登別大橋). There was no map code or telephone number for the location of the bridge, so I asked for directions from the tourist information centre at Jigokudani. To get to the bridge, you drive out along the main road from Jigokudani, all the way until you see a petrol kiosk on your left. After the petrol kiosk, there is a traffic light junction where you can turn right. Take the right turn, then take the first left turn and you will be driving across the Shinnoboribetsu bridge. After you cross the bridge, there will be a carpark on your right. (Click here to see route on Google Map.)
After all the effort to find the Shinnoboribetsu bridge, sad to say, the autumn colours have yet to arrive in the gorge. Imagine how amazing this view would be when all the trees turn shades of orange, red and yellow!
At least we saw ONE tree near the carpark that was a nice shade of red.
From here, we decided to drive to Mount Usu (or Usuzan 有珠山). The GPS gave us directions via the expressway, but we wanted to take the scenie route via Orofure pass (オロフレ峠), so we had no GPS help here and had to follow road signs directing to Lake Toya and Orofure pass. However, after about 10 min of driving, we saw a sign that said Orofure pass was closed due to accumulated snow! So we backtracked and followed the GPS instructions to get to Usuzan via the expressway.
It was not all in vane, because using the expressway, we got to stop at SA Usuzan (SA 有珠山), which provided beautiful panaromic views of the town below.
I was convinced that the Japanese deliberately chose spots along the expressway which were good vantage points to be their rest stops. We had our lunch there, which was quite yummy. And MF got to buy more gashapon toys.
A short drive from there and we arrived at Showa Shinzan / Usuzan.
At the foot of Usuzan, where the ropeway station was, there was a huge carpark with some shops and restaurants right next to it. And plenty of photo ops.
We went to ride the Usuzan Gondola, which MF enjoyed a lot. At the start of the ride, the trees were still pretty green but the trees turned slightly redder as we got to higher elevation.
On the whole, the autumn foliage along the Usuzan ropeway wasn’t as nice as what we saw at Jozankei. But the mountain and lake scenery along the way more than made up for it.
The scenery that greeted us as we alighted from the ropeway at the top was just amazing. Thank goodness for good weather!
We brought our stroller along and had no problem getting up to the ropeway with it – there were ramps all the way. At the summit, the lake toya observatory was just beside the station and we could see Lake Toya and Showa Shinzan from there.
After soaking in the scenery at the observation deck, we took a walk towards the crater observatory, and noticed some interesting autumn colours along the way.
We took the walk to the crater observatory, and we could push our stroller all the way until the very last part, where we had to climb the stairs to the top. We left our stroller at the bottom and climbed up.
And there we have it. THE CRATER! Muahaha…
Never mind the crater. I think I still preferred looking at the lake.
After visiting Usuzan, we drove to the nearby Lake Toya onsen town.
We parked near where the dock for the Lake Toya sightseeing cruise was, and went down for a walk around the shores of Lake Toya.
MF found a playground nearby and ran right for it. We were happy to let him play for a while, since he hasn’t exactly had much fun besides the ropeway ride.
Lake Toya was actually worth a stay for the night, because one could go for a ride on the castle-like boat, and every night for a few months (between end April and end October), there was a 20 minute fireworks display at Lake Toya from 8.45pm to 9.05pm.
But since we had a long drive back to Sapporo, and we were pretty traumatised with the snowy drive from the previous day, we decided to skip the cruise and fireworks and start driving back to Sapporo while there was still daylight.
Driving back from Lake Toya, the shortest route was actually via the Nakayama Pass and the GPS provided this route for us. However, since it was getting dark and we did not want to risk running into any road closure (considering the snow storm yesterday and our encounter with Orofure Pass), we chose to go back using the expressway. So, without the help of the GPS, we backtracked the same road we came from to get to the expressway.
The restaurant was very child-friendly and welcoming to the kids. They brought out toys for the kids to play, high chair for MY and children’s utensils.
They had kids meals on their menu, and the kids meal came with a free toy.
If you drive and park at Daimaru and dine at one of the restaurants there, don’t forget to pass your parking ticket to the cashier when you are paying the bill for parking discount.
After dinner, we went to level 1 and exiting Daimaru, we found ourselves right inside Sapporo station. There was a large souvenir shop selling famous confectionary from different parts of Hokkaido there, where I grabbed a box of my favourite Snaffles cheesecake.
And the highlight of T38 observatory in my opinion, has to be the toilet with a view. LOL…
Day 5: Sapporo
In the morning, our original plan was to visit Takino Suzuran Hillside Park which was supposed to be holding an autumn festival and a pretty kids-friendly park with playgrounds and all. But, believe it or not, it was closed for a bear hunt! How unlucky. Hence, we went for a stroll at Hokkaido University instead.
Non-authorised cars were not allowed inside Hokkaido University, but there were plenty of coin carparks nearby. We just parked at a random public carpark near the main entrance of the university.
There were some autumn colours around the University grounds, but nothing really spectacular.
Our main purpose of going to Hokkaido University was to find the gingko avenue, where the row of trees turn a beautiful yellow during autumn. But we got hopelessly lost within the university grounds.
Eventually, we asked people for directions to the gingko avenue and finally managed to find it.
Disappointingly, only ONE of the trees had turned yellow.
Well… One was better than nothing so… No complaints!
Next, we drove on to Sapporo Beer Factory. The carpark at Sapporo Beer Factory was huge and free of charge, and the beer museum was free to enter too!
As I was still breastfeeding, I kept thinking whether I should help myself to some freshly brewed Sapporo beer. It seemed like such an injustice to go all the way to Sapporo Beer Factory and not drink any beer. Turned out, they actually had a non-alcoholic beer! Bottoms up!
After drinking up, we drove on to Sapporo TV Tower. The nearest carpark was the underground parking of Odori Park, which was huge but kind of expensive.
We went up the TV Tower for a bird’s eye view of Odori Park. I absolutely loved the view of Odori Park with the mountains behind!
I doubted MY could see a thing, but he didn’t seem to mind.
From the TV tower, we walked to Nijo Market for some shopping and lunch. On hindsight, we should have drove over, because there was a large public carpark just beside Nijo market which was cheaper than the Odori Park carpark. At least the walk was not entirely boring, as we walked through a small park which had some autumn leaves.
At Nijo market, we walked around looking at giant crabs and other seafood. Popular souvenirs to buy home included vacuumed packed corns, yummy Japanese melons (which will be packed nicely in a cardboard box) and dried scallops (much cheaper here compared to Singapore – great for cooking baby porridge). We had lunch at the kaisen don (seafood rice bowl) shop inside the market, and bought a big melon before heading back to Odori Park.
We hung around Odori Park for a while to admire the autumn colours.
The trees were looking redder compared to our visit at the start of the trip!
Next, we drove to Makomanai Park, which was a popular spot for viewing autumn leaves. The telephone number we keyed into the GPS brought us to an isolated coach carpark, so we had to drive around the park a bit to find the road going into the centre of the park where there was a huge carpark in front of the stadium.
Unless it was autumn, I wouldn’t recommend coming to Makomanai Park because there was nothing much to do or see.
But in autumn, it was absolutely beautiful, because the park was FULL of momiji trees!
Makomanai Park was pretty flat and well paved, which made it a nice park to stroll around with kids and stroller.
From Makomanai Park, we drove to Mount Moiwa. You can drive up the Mount Moiwa sightseeing road, but we chose to take the ropeway up because MF really enjoyed taking ropeways.
We went up in the late afternoon so that we could catch both day and night views and also see the sunset from the top of Mount Moiwa.
There was a restaurant-cum-cafe at the top where we sat around and ate very yummy quiche while waiting for the sun to set. There was also a Star Hall with 3D movie screenings.
After the sun set, we took the ropeway back down and went to return our rental car. We walked around the Susukino area and went to a small shop called Go Tsubo (五坪）which is one of my favourite places to eat in Hokkaido. They served really cheap (105 yen each) and delicious grilled oysters. The shop was really small so we just ate from the window and left.
And since it was our last dinner in Hokkaido *sobs*, my dad suggested we ate somewhere nice, so we walked around and found a random restaurant with English menu and english-speaking waitress and dined there.
It was tatami-style dining, so MY did not need a high chair and could sit with us – making him one happy baby.
On our way back to the hotel, we passed by Gindaco, and I couldn’t resist buying some takoyaki – It tasted pretty much the same as the Gindaco at ION Orchard, of which I was not a big fan. I have had much nicer takoyaki at Tokyo and Osaka. Hokkaido was not the best place for takoyaki after all.
Day 6: Sapporo, Narita
There were some autumn colours around Nakajima Koen. Not as spectacular as Makomanai Koen, but still beautiful and worth a visit if you have time.
What I liked most about Nakajima Koen was the pond at the centre of the park which mirrored the buildings and plants around beautifully.
After our morning stroll, we went back to hotel and caught the airport limousine bus to Shin-Chitose airport. The airport was a destination in itself – it gathered all the famous food from all over Hokkaido and I happily stocked up on Snaffles and Kitakaro goodies to munch on during the flight. I would have bought more.. If not for MF making a big fuss about wanting to see Doraemon. There were lots of kids stuff on the 3rd floor, including a Doraemon Waku Waku Sky Park. Well.. We never made it there because we did not have enough time. By the time we found our way there (the airport was bigger than expected), it was almost time to head to the boarding gate. If I ever come to Hokkaido with the kids again, I shall make it a point to spend more time at the Shin-Chitose airport.
At Narita airport, we had a few hours in transit before our evening flight back to Singapore. So we checked in our luggage first, then hopped on the subway to Narita to visit the Naritasan Shinshoji Temple.
The temple was approximately 1.3km walk from Narita station. Although the route to the temple was stroller friendly and we could push the stroller all the way, there were some pretty steep slopes which made it a tad tiring. It was made worse by the fact that it was drizzling when we were there.
Ah well.. On the while, the visit to Naritasan Shinshoji Temple was boring for us, partly due to the gloomy weather and partly due to super bored kids. MF basically slept through it. Haha…
If I ever have a few hours to bum at Narita airport next time with the kids, I shall go shopping at Narita Aeon mall instead (there is a shuttle bus running between Narita airport and Narita Aeon Mall).
And that ends our short trip to Hokkaido! If you have more time and want to make it more interesting for the kids, possible day trips from Sapporo include visits to Asahiyama Zoo (near Asahikawa), Maruyama Zoo (in Sapporo), Otaru Aquarium and Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe. Within Sapporo, Takino Suzuran Hillside Park is also pretty kids-friendly and we would have visited if not for the bear hunt (we eventually visited it in June 2014 and it was awesome fun!). Despite the lack of child-friendly activities in our itinerary, MF did get to enjoy riding the gondolas at Usuzan and Mount Moiwa, and simply running around the parks and abundant spaces. I imagine in good weather, he would have loved running around the flower fields at Furano. Till next time, I am going to miss you Hokkaido…
Telephone Numbers (For GPS):
Daimaru, at Sapporo station (011-828-1111)
Vicinity near Hokkaido University’s main entrance (011-242-2220)
Odori Park underground carpark (011-231-3733)
Makomanai Park (011-581-1961)
Mount Moiwa (011-561-8177)
Takino Suzuran Hillside Park (011-592-3333)
Hitsujigaoka Observation Hill (011-851-3080)
Jozankei Tourist Association (011-598-2012)
Houheikyou Dam (011-598-3452)
Food Hall beside Otaru Canal (0134 – 24 – 8002)
Music Box Museum (0134 – 22 – 1108)
Otaru Aquarium (0134 – 33 – 1400)
Toppii Sushi (0134-27-8111)
Furano / Biei:
Farm Tomita (0167 – 39 – 3939)
Furano Marche (0167 – 22 – 1001)
Shikisai No Oka (0166-95-2758)
Hokusei No Oka Observation Park (0166 – 92 – 4445)
Hill of Zerubu and Atom (0166-92-3160)
Noboribetsu / Lake Toya:
Noboribetsu Tourist Association (0143-84-3311)
Usuzan Gondola (0142-75-2401)
Sobetsu Fruit Village (0142-66-2333)
Map Codes for GPS
(forgive the crumples and torn corner.. That’s what happens when you drive with kids)
More posts of my trips to Hokkaido with the kids:
Hokkaido in Winter (Feb – March 2010)
> Eastern Hokkaido Winter Self-drive
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)
> Outline of Itinerary
> Part 1: Chitose, Lake Toya, Hakodate, Niseko, Otaru
> Part 2: Sapporo
> Part 3: Furano, Biei, Tomamu, Obihiro, New Chitose Airport
Hokkaido in Winter (December 2014)
> Outline of Itinerary
> Part 1: Sapporo
> Part 2: Asahikawa, Lake Akan, Lake Mashu, Iozan, Lake Kussharo
> Part 3: Kushiro, Obihiro, Tomamu
> Part 4: Chitose, Lake Shikotsu, Niseko, Noboribetsu, Lake Toya, Rusutsu
> Part 5: Sapporo, Otaru, New Chitose Airport
Hokkaido in Summer (June 2016)
> Outline of Itinerary
> Part 1: Furano, Biei, Asahikawa
> Part 2: Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya, Niseko
> Part 3: Sapporo, Otaru
> Part 4: Asahikawa, Sounkyo, Abashiri, Shiretoko
> Part 5: Akan National Park. Kushiro, Akkeshi, Ikeda
> Part 6: Obihiro, Yubai, New Chitose Airport
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