Hokkaido is the northern most island of Japan and for some reason it is often omitted from many people’s Japan itineraries but it shouldn’t be. Hokkaido is most commonly associated as a winter travel destination especially due to its skiing and the famous Sapporo Snow Festival but for me Hokkaido is a great four season destination with something to offer a visitor in spring, summer, autumn or Winter. It is now on my Japan Bucket List to visit Hokkaido during every season because of the variety of activities on offer in every season. But if you are wondering what is the best time to visit Hokkaido for your next visit this guide will round up all the great unique and seasonal things to do in Hokkaido and provide information on the weather in Hokkaido for each season to help you decide what is the best time to travel Hokkaido for you!
Note: In this guide we are concentrating on the seasonal activities available in Hokkaido only. If you would like to know more about the best things to do in Hokkaido all year round then check out our other guide.
What is the best time to visit Hokkaido?
The difficulty about picking the best time to visit Hokkaido is that it Hokkaido bucks the weather trends of other parts of Japan. So even if you are a seasoned Japan traveller you may find some unexpected weather patterns when looking at the best time to travel Hokkaido.
As a general rule of thumb the weather in Hokkaido is cooler than the rest of Japan being it’s most northerly island. The Winters are colder and the summers slightly more comfortable than on Honshu, and the flowers bloom at a slightly different time to the South. For that reason a more in-depth look at each season is required to help you pick the best time to travel Hokkaido.
Visiting Hokkaido in Summer
We visited Hokkaido in Summer on our last trip to Japan and I would say that this is a great time to visit Hokkaido. When we were in Tokyo and Kyoto the weather was almost unbearably hot and humid on certain days. Some of our tours such as walking the famous Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto were difficult to do because of the heat which was one of the reasons we decided to escape to the Northern Island.
We weren’t the only ones. Hokkaido is also a very popular vacation destination for Japanese residents and nationals however while we were there we saw few Western tourists especially by comparison to our time in Kyoto. Overall I would say Summer is perhaps the most popular and crowded time to visit Hokkaido but it is still a season that is worth considering for your visit even with the crowds.
Weather in Hokkaido in Summer
Hokkaido in August rarely reaches above 30 degrees which is significantly cooler than you will experience in the southern islands. There is also no rainy season in Hokkaido in summer which also leads to less humidity. For us the heat wasn’t the killer down south it was the humidity so overall the weather in Hokkaido in Summer is a win win.
Whatever time of year you visit Hokkaido even in Summer you can experience rain so I would advise taking a rain jacket with you whenever you go.
Best Things to do in Hokkaido in Summer
See the Flower Fields in Furano
Hokkaido is one of the best floral destinations in the world and seeing them should be near the top of you Japan Bucket list. Famed for beautiful fields of colourful flowers in Furano the best time to see these is in Summer. The Summer runs from June – August and the flowers of Furano will start to bloom with the peak bloom being in mid-August making seeing the flower fields of Furano one of the best things to do in Hokkaido in August.
One of the best places to view these flowers are on Farm Tomita. Farm Tomita has a large bloom of lavender flowering from late July to mid August which is the recommended time to visit.
How to Reach Farm Tomita and Furano: Accessible by train, car and bus. One of the easiest ways to reach Farm Tomita is to drive yourself and getting a car is recommended generally when travelling around Hokkaido.
From June to August there is a seasonal train that has a stop a 7 minute walk away from the fields. This train is called the Furano Biei Norokko-go train. For more information check out the Farm Tomita website.
There are also many options for private tours to the flower fields and surrounding area. For more information click here!
While in Furano you can also partake in more outdoorsy pursuits especially those on the Shisorapuchi and Sorachi Rivers such as water rafting and canoeing.
See the Blue Pond
While the Blue Pond is not only accessible in Summer one of the easiest times to visit the Blue Pond of Hokkaido is in Summer. In good summer weather with no wind this pond offers reflection perfection.
Hokuryu Sunflower Festival
If you don’t get enough of a flower fix at Furano be sure to head to the Hokuryu Sunflower Festival which is held from Mid-July to Mid-August every year. Be sure to check dates for your year of travel.
See Hokkaido from High
There are some amazing view points around Hokkaido. We saw two on our trip – Hakodate and on our one day Otaru itinerary. These views are spectacular whatever time of year you visit but you are more likely to get clear views in summer.
With beautiful national parks and countryside landscapes Hokkaido is one of the best places to go hiking in the whole of Japan. The hikes are most achievable in summer when you will have the perfect weather conditions for a day hike.
Why the best time to Travel Hokkaido is Autumn
Our trip to Hokkaido spanned late summer to early Autumn and we definitely noticed a change in the weather conditions on our trip. The weather suddenly cooled and rain showers became more frequent as we moved into Autumn however don’t let a change in the weather put you off visiting Hokkaido in Autumn.
Autumn in Hokkaido spans September – November but Hokkaido might start to see in some regions from mid-late October while September can be particularly rainy. If you are travelling to Hokkaido in Autumn be sure to pack plenty of layers as it can get chilly, a rain jacket and water proof shoes.
Best Things to do in Hokkaido in Autumn
See the Fall Foilage
Hokkaido is a beautiful and has many rural landscapes that are easily accessible and as such has some of the best fall foliage in the country.
One of the best places to see the fall foliage is in one of Hokkaido’s national Parks Shiretoko. Shiretoko is at the northern end of Hokkaido and can be reached by car most easily. One of the reasons to visit Shiretoko is to see the brown bears that still live in the park. When we visited the area we were lucky enough to see a bear in the distance. Unfortunately we were there slightly too early for the leaves to really turn however I can imagine the beauty of the area in Autumn.
If you don’t want to travel that far to see the fall colours then another area renowned for its foliage is the beautiful Lake Toya area which is an easy day trip to do from Sapporo.
Visit the onsen town of Noboribetsu
Onsens are basically spa towns and autumn is the perfect time of year to visit one. One of the most accessible onsen towns is Noboribetsu which could be combined with a visit to the Lake Toya area. This is also easily done as a day trip from Sapporo
Visiting Hokkaido in Winter
When people think about Hokkaido I tend to think they associate it with Winter and Hokkaido is a great place to visit in Japan in Winter because it becomes a winter wonderland. However at the same time the winter days in Hokkaido tend to be long and cold – very cold. The temperatures in Hokkaido in mid winter will often dip below freezing and many layers will be required for those visiting during winter in Hokkaido. But at the same time there are lots of things that can be done during Winter in Hokkaido.
What to do in Hokkaido in Winter
Sapporo Snow Festival
Perhaps one of the most famous things to do in Hokkaido in Winter is the Sapporo Snow Festival. The Snow Festival in Sapporo is held in the centrally located Odori Park as well as a couple of other sites around the city. The festival celebrates everything snow and ice with gigantic ice sculptures as well as places for sledding.
For the 2020 Festival dates check our the official Snow Festival website.
Usually (though not always) coinciding with the Sapporo Snow Festival is the Snow Light Path Festival in Otaru. I’d recommend doing at least one day in Otaru on your itinerary no matter what time of year you visit. While not as large as the Sapporo Festival the Otaru Festival is a nice accompaniment.
Why Travel to Hokkaido in Spring
Spring like Autumn is one of the less frequented times of year to visit Hokkaido so if you want to visit Hokkaido without crowds then Spring might be the perfect time for you.
Best things to do during Spring in Hokkaido
See the Cherry Blossoms in Hokkaido
Japan and Spring are synonymous mainly because people want to see the cherry blossoms during the Sakura season. Perhaps the most famous cherry blossom viewing location in Japan is Kyoto but Hokkaido is a great alternate. The cherry blossoms in Hokkaido slight later than on Honshu with the season usually being late April to Early May.
You can see cherry blossoms in Sapporo or take a day trip to Hakodate to see them in Goryokaku Park but there are plenty of other places to see the blooms around the island. Perhaps one of the best places to see the blooms is at Matsumae Park.
Frequently Asked Questions about Hokkaido Travel
Which month is the best month to visit Hokkaido?
I don’t think there is a bad month to visit Hokkaido. If you are a flower fan then the best month to visit Hokkaido will be August, if you want to see cherry blossoms then maybe May is for you. But if you want to see the snow festivals then February should be on your itinerary.
How long is the bullet train from Tokyo to Hokkaido?
It takes about eight hours to get from Tokyo to Hokkaido via bullet train with one change to get to Sapporo rather than Hakodate.
Have you visit Hokkaido? What time of year did you go? What did you enjoy most about it?