Deciding when to go to Japan can be easy if you’re planning to see cherry blossoms, a particular festival, or prefer to travel on a budget. However, when you add Hokkaido to your itinerary, it’s difficult to say exactly when is the best time to visit, because every season is well worth the trip! To help you get started, we’ve broken down our favorite annual activities by month below.
Hokkaido’s winter is cold and snowy, as you might expect from a subarctic climate. If you’re going during this time of the year, pack plenty of layers, your sturdiest snow boots, and your best camera. The winter scenery in Hokkaido is one of the most impressive sights in the world.
What to Do in Hokkaido in December
Nothing warms your bones better than soaking in a hot spring, and Hokkaido’s onsen resorts offer some of the most scenic views in Japan. As you soak in a piping hot open-air bath, you can breathe in the fresh air and look out onto snow-capped forests and mountains. Some of the best onsen towns to visit in Hokkaido are Jozankei, Noboribestu, and Yonokawa.
What to Do in Hokkaido in January
January—or as some call it “Japanuary”—is the best time to go skiing and snowboarding in Hokkaido, especially if you love powder snow. There are over a hundred resorts across the island that offer various types of accommodations ranging from five-star to economical stays. Locals and visitors especially love Niseko, which is an entire town dedicated to winter sports. Among the many slopes, you can find groomed, ungroomed, backcountry, and tree skiing.
What to Do in Hokkaido in February
As the coldest and snowiest month of the year, February is a time for celebration, and several cities come alive with joyous festivals. The Sapporo Snow Festival showcases massive snow statues and ice sculptures. During the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival, artists create an entire village out of ice. In Otaru, the romantic port town becomes a dazzling spectacle with thousands of lanterns made from snow and ice lining the canal and several streets.
What to Do in Hokkaido in March
While other parts of Japan start to see warm temperatures in March, Hokkaido stays chilly and can reach sub-zero temperatures. Although the amount of snowfall starts to wane, it’s still too early to explore the countryside. However, you can see natural ice floes that gather on the Sea of Okhotsk. March is also a low travel season for Hokkaido, so you’ll be able to avoid crowds and save on accommodations and flights.
As Hokkaido slowly transitions from winter to spring, nights stay chilly, but the days start getting warmer. You can leave the ski pants behind but plan on layering up to manage fluctuating temperatures. In early April, you’ll probably want a heavy coat during the day, but by the end of the month, some people are comfortable with light jackets. If you’ve brought the wrong clothes while packing, many department stores have bargain sales on winter gear during March and April.
What to Do in Hokkaido in April
The snow starts to melt in early April, but it's still too cold for cherry blossoms to bloom. Instead, take this time to go on a food tour as the roads start to become more accessible, and you can reach far-flung dining destinations like the Asahikawa Ramen Village. April is also the beginning of the horsehair crab season, and you can try this delicacy in places like the Sapporo Nijo Market.
What to Do in Hokkaido in May
Hokkaido’s cherry blossoms begin to open in late April, but they usually reach their peak bloom in May. One of the best cherry blossom festivals to attend is the Matsumae Park Hanami Matsuri. The park has about 10,000 cherry trees in total, rivaling the beauty of Kyoto’s sakura season. There are 250 varieties represented in the park that bloom at different times, and some last through the entire month of May.
Hands down, Hokkaido is the best place to go to in Japan in summer. While Tokyo can get unbearably humid and rainy, Hokkaido is sunny and has mild temperatures. Bring your walking shoes, because this is the time to explore the island’s bountiful nature.
What to Do in Hokkaido in June
In the countryside, you can see brown bears and other wild animals as you take a cruise through the unspoiled Shiretoko Peninsula. Advanced hikers can take week-long journeys through Daisetsuzan National Park, while beginners can stroll through Sounkyo Gorge to see the Ginga and Ryusei Waterfalls. Meanwhile, Sapporo holds the Yosakoi Soran and Hokkaido Shrine Festivals in early and mid-June.
What to Do in Hokkaido in July
July is the best month to see the lavender fields in Furano and Biei. Although the flowers begin growing in June, places like Farm Tomita and Lavender East don’t see the full bloom until mid-July. July is also the best time of year to try the legendary Yubari Melons, which can sell at auction for up to 1,300,000 JPY (about US $13,000) a pop. Don’t worry—you can find slices for much more affordable prices.
What to Do in Hokkaido in August
Travelers from mainland Japan flock to Hokkaido in August for its comparatively mild temperatures. You don’t want to miss Aoike Blue Pond in Biei or head north to watch sperm whales swimming off the coast of Monbetsu. August is also the perfect time to see seasonal blooms at Shikisai Hill and sunflowers in Hokuryu. Or, if you want to stay in the city, head the Sapporo Odori Beer Garden, which runs until mid-August.
With its exceptional fall foliage found all around the island, autumn is one of the best seasons to visit Hokkaido. The weather stays pleasant through September, but nights start to get chilly from mid to late October. Leather, fleece, or thick denim jackets are a must during these months. If you’re coming in November, but aren’t used to cold temperatures, consider bringing a lightweight down coat.
What to Do in Hokkaido in September
In September, you can witness the sacred Ashiri Cheppu Nomi and Kotan Ainu Festivals. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Japan, and they mainly live in Hokkaido. If you miss the festivals, you can learn more about them at the Nibutani Ainu Culture Museum, which has over 10,000 artifacts related to the daily lives and religious practices of the Ainu.
What to Do in Hokkaido in October
The autumn leaves turn their most brilliant colors in October. The sunny skies and mild temperatures bring out hikers and campers in droves. Whether you head to rural areas like Lake Toya or stick to the cities such as Hakodate, you’ll spot explosive hues of red, orange, and gold everywhere.
What to Do in Hokkaido in November
As Hokkaido starts to feel the beginnings of winter, the autumn leaves quickly drop, and everyone spends less and less time outside. However, this is the best season to try Hokkaido’s sushi and sashimi at the Hakodate Morning Market. You can also get into the holiday spirit in Sapporo as winter illuminations take over Odori Park, and the Munich Christmas Market opens.