We’re always on the lookout for the next great adventure spot, and Hokkaido, Japan fits the bill. Japan’s northernmost island is a dream destination for adventure lovers—powder skiing, untouched nature, hot springs galore, and delicious cuisine to refuel on. Hokkaido is the birthplace of miso ramen, and the home of Sapporo beer, the perfect brew to toast to a day of exploring.
Here are 5 reasons why Hokkaido should be on your adventure list this year:
Ski in legendary Japow
Hokkaido is known for its super-soft, power snow, dubbed Ja-Pow. Some powderhounds believe it has the best powder skiing anywhere in the world. Niesko, the island’s most popular ski area, gets roughly 600 inches of snow annually. But if you want to see a more local’s ski resort (Niesko has been referred to as a “little Australia”), head to Kiroro, where average snowfall is over 700 inches, the slopes are less crowded, and fresh tracks await. And for the experts, there’s backcountry access to off-piste terrain. Whatever your level, skiing in Japan is unlike anywhere else in the world—and a hearty bowl of piping-hot ramen is the most rewarding après-ski meal you’ll likely ever have.
Explore untouched nature
There’s more to do in Hokkaido beyond skiing. The island has dedicated two million acres to national parkland across mountains, lakes, volcanoes, and waterfalls. And there are numerous ways to explore all this untouched nature: hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing, fishing, and biking (fat biking over the snow in winter). For a unique adventure don a drysuit on Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula where you can trek on drift ice from Siberia January through March. If you’re an advanced scuba diver, you can go drift ice diving. And there’s plenty to see in summer months as well, including the colorful Furano flower fields, and the Blue Pond (Biei Town), with its piercing cobalt blue water.
Warm up in onsen, or hot springs
Japan’s far north might be cold, but they know how to warm up here, too. Hokkaido is “hot spring heaven” with numerous geothermal heated springs all over the island, either attached to hotels or ryokans, Japanese inns, or freestanding ones deep in the mountains. First-timers to Japan should be aware there are often onsen rules, including washing before entering, tattoos and drinking restrictions, and proper attire. But if you follow onsen etiquette, you’ll be able to enjoy a relaxing ritual that combines the best of Hokkaido’s natural wonders with a unique part of Japanese culture.
Photograph Japan’s most sacred bird
The red-crowned crane has mythical status in Japan: it’s a symbol of luck and longevity. You can see these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat in Eastern Hokkaido, where over half of the world’s red-crowned crane population can be found year-round. Learn more about the iconic birds and see them in person at the Akan International Crane Center, the only facility in Japan dedicated to research and conservation of the red-crowned crane. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness the cranes taking flight here and dancing, their signature mating ritual.
Get your fill of beer and ramen in Sapporo
The capital city of Hokkaido is mostly known for its namesake beer, which has been brewed in Sapporo since 1877. This snowy capital rose to fame when it held the 1972 Winter Olympic Games, but today its more known for its world-famous beer, ramen, and the annual Snow Festival held annually in February featuring massive snow sculptures made even more fantastical when they’re illuminated at night. Be sure to visit the Sapporo Beer Museum, where you can learn more about Japan’s oldest beer brand, and throw back a few pints at the museum’s biergarten, where you can also try the Genghis Khan-style barbecued lamb, a dish that the region is known for. And then save room for dessert—a late-night trip to Ramen Alley. Take your pick of 17 ramen shops on this little street and be sure to try the miso ramen—this is the birthplace of the dish after all.