Summer is synonymous with road trips, and Hokkaido is the perfect Japanese prefecture to explore by car during the warmer months. Because of Niseko's northern situation, even during the peak of summer, temperatures rarely surpass 30°C and humidity is not an issue. Home to countless natural spectacles and hidden gems, Niseko is more than just a winter destination. We've compiled this suggested day trip itinerary to help make your summer road trip from Niseko less daunting. Discover which towns, activities and sights we recommend below!
In the summertime, Niseko is a hub of activity and adventure. From incredible food to thrilling outdoor sports, it makes sense to base yourself in Niseko for the duration of your trip and venture outwards from there to discover what Hokkaio has to offer. Combine some of the destinations we have listed below into a day trip, or visit them all, the options are endless. We'd love for you to share with us on Facebook or Instagram how your summer day trip pans out, and don't forget to use the hashtag #mnkniseko.
Makkari is a village located on the southern foot of Mount Yōtei. The name is derived from the Ainu word "mak-kari-pet", meaning "River which flows around Mount Yōtei". The village is located approximately 20-30 minutes' drive from Country Resort, The Orchards and Akazora. Makkari is most famous for lily bulbs and lilies in all their forms (i.e. lily-bulb shochu, pie lily and lil-bulb castella).
Top places to visit in Makkari includes:
Follow Route 66, heading east from Makkari, and you'll find yourself in the village of Rusutsu after a short 10-15 minute drive. The name Rusutsu stems from the Ainu word "Ru-sutu", meaning "Road at the foot of the mountain". There are no less than 8 different golf courses within a 15 minute drive from the resort hotel, and with beautiful mountain views and rolling green hills, what's not to love? Rusutsu Resort even has an amusement park, and Mount Shiribetsudake proves a popular hiking spot for outdoor lovers. Whatever you do, don't miss out on tasting some Rusutsu pork, one of the village's most notable specialties.
Notable locations in Rusutsu:
Sōbetsu town offers beautiful views, and is in easy reach of Tōyako (the lake's biggest town), Mount Usu and Shōwa-Shinzan. Simply follow Route 230, changing at Route 66 then onto Route 132. Follow Lake Toya around, with many opportunities along the shore to stop and take photoes. The drive from Rusutsu to Sōbetsu should take approximately 40 minutes.
Whilst in Sōbetsu, we highly, highly recommend visiting Sōbetsu waterfall or Sōbetsu no Taki 壮瞥滝. The waterfall is the only outlet of Lake Toya, and flows at a height of 18m. The waterfall leads into the Sōbetsu river (which flows through the centre of town from east to west), with the waterfall and river being the reason behind the town's name. In Ainu language, "so" means waterfall and "petz" means river. Tucked away in the midst of lush greenery, the entrance has a nondescript signpost. Take a 5 minute walk and you're there. Tranquil, peaceful and beautiful. For directions on how to find the waterfall, see here.
Interested in seeing what a volcanic lava dome looks like? Then Shōwa-shinzan is right up your alley. Situated next to Mount Usu, the mountain was created between 1943 and 1945. A series of strong earthquakes shook the area, then lava broke through the surface and the current peak was created, now standing at 398m and still actively smoking. Shōwa-shinzan stands at the foot of Mount Usu. Mount Usu lies on the southern rim of the caldera, and is a 737m high active volcano that formed about 20,000 years ago.
Take the Usuzan Ropeway from the foot of Shōwa-shinzan to the top of Mount Usu for a great panoramic view, the journey taking about 6 minutes. There is a 40 minute walking trail from the observatory to the outer rim of the crater. Enjoy a bird's eye view of Lake Toya and the Pacific for your efforts.
As mentioned, Tōyako is the lake's biggest town. See the town map here. At the centre sits Lake Tōya, which is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park and is a volcanic caldera lake 10km in diameter. During summer, Lake Tōya proves a popular destination for camping, swimming, fishing and stand up paddle boarding.
Our itinerary is by no means exhaustive as there are always new places to discover. Furthermore, the places we have mentioned above are also spectacular during different time of the year. For example spots like Lake Tōya and Mount Usu transform in autumn, and the transition from summer needs to be seen to be believed. Be sure to also watch our autumn road trip video below where we visit all of the places mentioned above in one day!