Hokkaido: Onsen Towns

It’s getting colder out there, and one of the best things to do while you’re in Hokkaido is to visit the many many onsens all over the island. I mean, what better way to warm up your cold body than a soak in a the healing waters of a hot spring filled with all kinds of minerals?

I firmly believe that a visit to Hokkaido won’t be complete unless you’ve gone to an onsen, and while you’re in Sapporo, you can usually rely on the hotels to have some kind of bath. Or you can also visit the smaller local ones that residents usually go to.

However, I’m going to highlight the onsen towns that are really popular in Hokkaido. These onsen towns are primarily geared towards tourists because there are lots of hotels and ryokans to match your budget. You also have other things to do besides soak in the water. These towns usually have walkable areas like local gourmet shops and restaurants, tourist spots to visit, souvenir shops, and also various activities you can do. This means that you can usually spend a full day or a night in these onsen towns.

So in no particular order:

Jozankei

This is the closest one to Sapporo and is easily available by bus. It is technically part of Sapporo itself, so you don’t really need to travel very far. There are lots of buses departing from Odori and Sapporo Station.

There are a lot of hotels to choose from and they tend to be generally cheaper than what you would get in Noboribetsu.

What I love about Jozankei is that there are lots of events held here. They have jazz, fireworks, and winter festivals, just to name a few.

If you’re into winter sports, this is the place to stay if you want access to Sapporo Kokusai Mountain, one of the better local slopes in the city itself. I used to go here a lot with my friends. We’d spend the day snowboarding, stop at Jozankei for a soak, then head home for the night.

Noboribetsu

Me and my nephew walking around the town. He’s wearing the hotel yukata, which is the thing to do here.

Be prepared to spend a lot of money. Noboribetsu consistently ranks in the top three onsen towns in all of Japan, which means it’s very popular with Japanese tourists. Most of them fly into Chitose, spend a couple days in Sapporo, then visit this area.

There’s lots to do here. Like Jozankei, they have many kinds of events, and the most popular one is the Demon Festival in late summer. If you’re interested, I wrote about an article in Taiken Japan here.

But the onsens itself are fantastic because the minerals make the water different from what you normally get. There are all kinds of hotels that will cater to whatever you want. There are some budget ones for those looking who want something more affordable and there are also the five-star hotels where you will be pampered.

Lake Toya

From the Good Hokkaido Website

Toya is lesser known as an onsen town, but the lake is very famous. I actually prefer this area because it’s very quiet and not as popular. There’s a very small area for walking around, eating, and sightseeing, but the best part has always been the lake. I recommend going on the little ship that takes you on a tour and a mini-cruise around the lake. If that’s not your thing, you can always take a walk around the banks of the lake.

Lake Shikotsu

Lake Shikotsu means Marukoma Onsen, very famous for the open-air bath that is built directly into the banks of Lake Shikotsu. The best time to visit is in the fall, at the height of the glorious colors and then soaking in the warm water. The warmer months are also good times to visit. Unfortunately, winter makes driving here very dangerous, and I think some of the area do close because the roads become inaccessible. Shikotsuko has an area by the lake where you can walk around, eat local delicacy, and buy souvenirs.

See my post on Marukoma Onsen here.

Yunokawa

From the Official Hakodate Travel Website

This one is a little bit far from Sapporo but it’s part of Hakodate. It’s smaller in scale compared to Jozankei and Noboribetsu, but it’s the onsen town that is closest to the big cities down south of Hokkaido. There is a very small botanical garden and a monkey park in the area.

Happy soaking!

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