If you visit Sapporo, don’t limit yourself to the activities within the city. While there are many fun things to do in town, there’s even more to discover in the nearby area.Mt. Teine, an Olympic ski field visible from Sapporo, is a must-visit in winter.
The historic town of Otaru offers scenic canals and warehouses. It’s delightful any time of year. At Shikotsu-Toya National Park, you can enjoy the park’s beauty and witness the raw power of active volcanoes. Finally, The Sapporo Art Park offers an unusual mix of art and nature. You can even create a masterpiece of your own!
The area around Sapporo has a lot to offer any time of year.
Day Trips Around Sapporo
Mt. Teine is the largest of the area’s ski-fields. The mountain is famous for hosting several events during the 1972 Winter Olympics. The ski field is so big you can see it from Sapporo!
Getting to the mountain is easy; it’s only a 40 minute car ride from downtown Sapporo.
With a wide variety of slopes, it’s good for beginners, yet still offers challenging runs for more advanced skiers.
You can take lessons without knowing Japanese, as many of the ski and snowboard instructors speak English.
Book your lessons before finalizing your travel arrangements – the lessons in English sell out fast!
In the summer, Mt. Teine has a golf course. I’ve never been, but it has a reputation for being a very good course with breathtaking views of the area.
The Two Zones
Mt. Teine has two zones: The Highland Zone and the Olympia Zone
The Highland Zone
The Highland Zone features some of the steepest runs on Hokkaido. One is so steep it was used as a slalom course in the Olympics!
The Highland zone offers beautiful views of Sapporo city. You look out over the area from 1,000 meters above sea level. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the Sea of Japan!
Teine’s Olympia zone honors its Olympian past. The Olympic flame-holder monument still towers over the ski-fields, just as it did during the games.
There are gentle slopes for beginners. You can also try night skiing, sledding, and tubing. There’s a course connecting the Highland and Olympia zones. As with the Highland zone, the view is fantastic!
Getting to Mt. Teine
Mt. Teine is very popular due to its proximity to Sapporo. It’s easy to reach even if you don’t have access to a car. Many hotels have shuttle buses during the winter months. You can also take public transportation.
From Sapporo Station, Teine Station is a 16-minute train ride. At Teine Station, transfer to the bus going directly to the ski fields.
Bus times vary by season. Make sure you check the timetable so you don’t miss the last bus and get stranded!
For More Information
Winter Season Hours
- Highland Zone: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Olympia Zone: 9:00am – 9:00pm
Open every day during the ski-season only: November 18, 2017, to April 8, 2018.
From April 8, 2018, to May 6, 2018, open weekends only.
Please check their website to confirm their opening hours and days, as it can change with each season.
Lift passes range from 360 yen for a single use ticket to 5,200 yen for an all-day pass.
The Big Runs Bus and Ticket Combo
A one-day ski pass with a bus ticket between Teine and Sapporo’s major hotels for 6,900 yen. Reservations are required for this ticket.
For More Information
Known as “The Sea Entrance of Hokkaido” and “The Town of Hills,” Otaru is a coastal town facing Ishikari Bay.
Otaru is surrounded by gorgeous scenery. It sits on the edge of the Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Beach Quasi-National Park.
Otaru is best known for its beautiful, historic canals.
It was once a thriving commercial town. Shipping, fishing, and distilling were prominent here; Otaru was the economic hub of Hokkaido.
Today, Otaru has an interesting art scene.
The warehouses have been replaced with glassblowing studios.
Historical Sites of Interest
The city museum provides an interesting introduction to Otaru’s past.
The whiskey distillery in neighboring Yoichi provides a more detailed look into the area’s history.
History lovers will enjoy visiting the mansion built by a prosperous herring fishermen.
You can explore old Otaru’s atmosphere by strolling along the canals or taking a walk down historic Sakaimachi street.
Another way to sample the town’s rich heritage is to take a cruise on a canal boat.
Unusual Things to Do in Town
- If you want to try something different, take a glass blowing workshop
- Otaru is famous for its unique music boxes. They make great souvenirs
- Otaru is also known for its high-quality sake — don’t miss it while you’re in town!
The Snow Light Path Festival
The Otaru Snow Light Path Festival makes the town a popular destination in winter.
Statues crafted from snow sit alongside the canal. The area lights up from 5:00pm – 9:00pm. The entire town gets into the spirit; many businesses and houses display lanterns.
The festival takes place in two locations.
Unga Kaijo is only 300 meters from Otaru’s main canal in an area filled with old warehouses. They provide a charming backdrop to the statues as they light up at night.
The Temiyasen Kaijo area follows the track of a retired railway. It offers food stands in addition to the festive statues.
The festival takes place in February. It’s timed to coincide with the Hokkaido Snow Festival.
Getting to Otaru
Otaru is a 45-minute drive or 30-minute train ride from Sapporo. With many places to stay, it could even replace Sapporo as your base to explore Hokkaido!
Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Shikotsu-Toya National Park is easily accessible from Sapporo… although you’ll want to spend more than a day exploring the park! The name of the park comes from its two biggest lakes.
The park offers caldera lakes, active volcanoes, and hiking trails. The trails take you through beautiful forests and mountains. There are also onsen towns and camping grounds within the park’s expansive 983 km² zone.
Don’t miss the sanctuary. You can count on seeing lots of birds, foxes and maybe even some deer.
*WARNING: The park has black bears. Make sure you take precautions before hiking.
Lake Shikotsu is the 8th largest lake in Japan, with a diameter of around 14 kilometers. It was formed 40,000 years ago when three of the surrounding volcanoes erupted.
Today it’s famous for the clarity of its water and the interconnected mossy gorges nearby. The gorges are free to explore and absolutely worth seeing.
You can scuba dive in the lake. You can also go out on a variety of boats. They include lake cruises, underwater sightseeing boats, and self-propelled swan pedal boats. Fishing and cycling are also popular activities.
From late January to mid-February, Lake Shikotsu has a winter festival. The festival features ice sculptures made from the lake’s frozen water. The sculptures light up at night and the atmosphere comes alive with taiko drums and fireworks.
Lake Toya was also formed by a volcanic eruption. The water is prevented from freezing by the geothermal activity around the lake — it’s right beside Mt. Usu, the most active volcano in Shikotsu-Toya National Park.
You can see the volcano’s most recent activity for yourself. Follow the Nishiyama Trail to the newly formed craters on the west of the mountain.
On your hike, you’ll see just how destructive a volcanic eruption can be. You’ll marvel at a bridge moved 300 meters by a mudflow and a housing block buried up to the first floor.
After your hike, celebrate the benefits of Mt. Usu’s active nature with a long soak in one of the town’s many onsen.
From Toyako Onsen, a cable car takes you to the Mt. Usu crater rim walk. This two to three-hour hike allows you to see the steam escaping from Mt. Usu’s vents.
You might hear this tour only takes an hour. It can…but only if you rush. Don’t. Take a few hours and really enjoy yourself. You’ll learn more about volcanos than most books could teach you.
If you take the cable car, look out for Showa-Shinzan, the most recent addition to the mountain range.
This mountain first appeared in a farmer’s field in 1943. Two years later it reached its current height of 398 meters!
Getting to the Park
You can travel to the park directly from New Chitose Airport or Sapporo.
From JR Sapporo Station, take the limited express to Toya Station. Switch to the local bus to Toya Onsen, a town within the park. The bus schedule coincides with train departures, so don’t mess around at Toya Station!
The train takes just under 2 hours. It costs 5,920 yen including seat reservations.
You can make the journey using only local trains. You save money but increase the travel time.
To save money without eating up too much time, take a bus from Sapporo to Toyako Kohan (2.5 hours, 2,700 yen).
From New Chitose Airport
Take the bus to Shikotsuko Kohan (50 minutes, 930 yen). Once you reach Shikotsu-Toya National Park, there are local buses there. However, they are infrequent. This is where having a car would really cut down on the waiting time, but driving when it’s winter in Hokkaido definately isn’t fun!
Sapporo Art Park
The Sapporo Art Park sits in a forest in Sapporo’s southern suburbs.
The park leaves no aspect of art unexplored. You can see a sculpture garden, art museum, outdoor museum, and studios devoted to working with glass, ceramics, and wood. There’s an outdoor arena for concerts and stage facilities for all kinds of performances.
The park doesn’t just display art, it promotes art, researches art, and enables artists to create it. This approach is evident right down to the commissioning of the sculptures. Many of the sculptors visited the garden to see where their work would be before starting work. This leads to a great synergy between art and landscape. It ensures Sapporo Art Park has a permanent place among Japan’s best parks.
Exploring the art park typically takes only a couple of hours. If you book a workshop at the Craft Hall or Studios (recommended for art lovers), the visit can last all day.
There are activities for children in the park’s Sato Churyo Children’s Atelier. You don’t need to leave for food. Pack a picnic and eat while enjoying the scenery, or take advantage of the park’s buffet restaurant.
Although it’s only a 40-minute drive from Sapporo Station, Sapporo Art Park is a great day trip destination because of the number of fun activities it offers.
- September 1st – May 31st: 9:45am – 5:00pm (last entry 4:30pm)
- June 1st – August 31st: 9:45am – 5:30pm (last entry 5:00pm)
- Open every day from April 29th to November 3rd
- Closed from December 29th – January 3rd
- From November 4th – April 28th, the park is closed Mondays
- When Monday is a public holiday, the park will close the following Tuesday
- Adults (high school students and above): 700 yen
- Seniors (65 and over): 560 yen
- Children (Junior High and under): Free
Sapporo Art Museum
Admission varies by exhibition
For More Information
Is the Area Worth Visiting?
Otaru has a unique atmosphere, even for Japan. The town has done a fantastic job preserving its history.
is a must for nature-lovers and volcano enthusiasts. Even if you don’t think you’re a volcano fan, I recommend checking it out. You’ll be a volcano fan by the time you leave!
Mt. Teine and the Sapporo Art Park appeal to smaller audiences, but they’re a must if art or skiing is your thing.
Extend your visit to Sapporo and take in the surrounding area — you won’t regret it!
Book in advance. Do your research on the train and bus timetables!
Sapporo is busiest during the Snow Festival. Otaru and Lake Shikotsu time their festivals to coincide with Sapporo’s.
There are frequent buses and trains during festival season. However, accommodations and things like ski and snowboarding lessons book out fast. There are deals to be had on flights and bus tickets if you make reservations in advance.
Organize your trip ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss out!
For Train and Bus Timetables
What Do You Think?
Have you tried any of our suggested day trips from Sapporo? Would you like to? Let us know in the comments.
Don’t forget to share this article with your volcano, art, history, or ski-loving friends. Take my advice… don’t miss the tour of the volcano!
If you’re going on a day trip in the Sapporo area, let me know. I might just go with you!
Chon Kit Leong/123rf.com