Hokkaido: the northern loop

Itinerary: Sapporo - Asahikawa - Kushiro - Sapporo

3 days from $ 274*

Hokkaido, this vast northern island, which alone represents 22% of the area of Japan, is the land of road trips par excellence. Indeed, what better than to have a vehicle to travel freely across its extensive plains and numerous national parks.
The itinerary below will take you through the centre of Hokkaido and Daisetsuzan National Park, it will lead you to Abashiri, the northern city from where you can see the drift ice in winter, and finally to the famous onsens of Noboribetsu.




Before heading north from Sapporo (the largest city in Hokkaido), go for a short excursion to Otaru. Also serving as a commuter dormitory for Sapporo, the city of Victorian architecture and famous for its canals, is easily reached by the Sasson motorway (札 樽 自动 车) that connects the two cities. (Take the motorway entrance Kita-Sapporo or Sapporo North.)

Journey time: 30 min / approx. 40 km
Cost **: 1,200 yen

To go from Sapporo to Furano, known as Hokkaido’s navel due to its central location, you can take the Do-o motorway (道央自动车). This time take the Sapporo entrance of the Do-o motorway in the direction of Asahikawa, travel for 80 km and exit at Takikawa. Take the Ashibetsu Road (芦别) or Route 38 for about 45 km to reach Furano. Furano is where the series "Kita no Kuni kara" was filmed, with its scenery reminiscent of Europe and its lavender fields, it will make you forget you are in Japan.

Journey time: 2 h 30 min / 140 km
Cost **: 2,250 yen

It will then only take you 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Asahikawa. Without going back onto the motorway, take the road for Furano or Route 237, which will take you 60 km to Asahikawa.
With Mount Daisetsuzan as a backdrop, the town is home to the famous Asahiyama zoo and in early February, a festival brightens up the winter with its ice sculptures and other visual events.





From Asashikawa, take Route 39 or "the great snow road" to Abashiri. Beware, the journey is long, but on the way you will cross Daisetsuzan Park, a national park and the largest primitive natural environment in Japan (called the playground of the Gods by the Ainu). You will pass So-unkyo (层云峡), its famous waterfall Ginga no Taki (make a detour via the old road to see it) and its onsens, go left at the entrance to Lake Daisetsuko to continue on Route 39. Pay attention, near Bihoro town (美幌) you will turn left and Route 39 will take the name of Kitami Kokudo (北见国道) You will have about 25 km left to reach Abashiri.

Journey time: 5 h / approximately 210 km

From Abashiri, located on the coast of the Okhotsk Sea, it is possible to see the arrival of the drift ice around the end of January. Other landscapes include Notori-ko Lake covered with red coralline algae and Tofutsu Lake, which is known for its swans.
Then, to travel from Abashiri to Kushiro, you will cross the Akan National Park, known for its three lakes: Akan, Mashu and Kussharo. First of all take Route 39 to return to Bihoro, then take Route 240 to Kushiro (you will pass near Lake Akan), or take Route 243 to Bihoro, then go right on Route 391 at the Mashu exit (you will pass near Lake Kussharo).
Before arriving in the town, on your right, you will pass the Kushiro wetlands where cranes or "Tancho" can be seen. Kushiro Town, which has always played an important economic and cultural role in Hokkaido, has preserved the atmosphere of its beginnings as a port town in the early 20th century.

Journey time: 4 h / approximately 160 km






It does not really seem necessary to stop in Obihiro, and the road is long, it is best to proceed directly to Noboribetsu. It is the Hokkaido hot spring town par excellence, with its Hell Valley, the "Jigokudani", with apocalyptic landscapes and scents of sulphur.
The idea is first of all to reach the Doto motorway (道东自动车道). To do this, take Route 38, which runs along the sea for some thirty kilometres to the Shiranukacho crossroads (白糠町), where you will turn right onto Route 392 and then the 274. After about sixty kilometres, you will arrive at the entrance to the Doto motorway.
After 190 km you will reach the Chitose junction where you turn left to change motorway and take the Do-o towards Chitose and Tomakomai. After 80 km you arrive in Noboribetsu.

Journey time: 5 h 50 min / about 370 km
Cost **: 6,645 yen

To return to Chitose or Sapporo Airport, why not go via the Shikotsu Toya Lakes. To do so, go south on the Do-o motorway as far as the Date exit ("伊达"). Head north through the town and near Chowa station enter Usu Road or Route 453 ("有珠国道"). After Lake Toya and 35 km, take Route 276 or the Shiribestu Road ("尻别国道") and pass in front of Shikotsu Lake. At the end of the lake you will take Shikotsu Road ("支笏湖通"), then Route 36 to Chitose.

Journey time: 3 h 10 min / about 125 km
Cost **: 750 yen

For those returning to Sapporo, take the Do-o motorway to Sapporo. (45 km, 50 min)

* Price for category P1, pick-up and drop off of the vehicle in the same agency
** This cost corresponds to toll fares and ferries

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