Adventure Tourism in Hokkaido: Canoeing, Trekking, Exploring, and More!

Due to the impact of the coronavirus and restrictions on overseas travel, tourists are now looking towards their own countries and neighborhoods for adventure inspiration. In Japan, many are avoiding the “Three Cs” (closed spaces, crowded places, and close-contact settings) by traveling to remote local areas, allowing for safe, quality time with families (or alone) while still enjoying unique experiences and discovering new things. Within this world of travel during the new normal, so-called “adventure tourism” is gaining particular attention. Let us introduce you to this new form of travel within Japan's premier adventure destination, Hokkaido.



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What Is Adventure Tourism?

Don’t worry, adventure tourism isn’t intense jungle trekking to uncover historical remains or anything like that! Instead, AT travelers spend 1-2 weeks slowly traversing the land while soaking in the surrounding nature, culture, and cuisine, and just experiencing their travel destination with all five senses. Through outdoor activities, contact with nature, and cultural experiences, travelers can get to the heart of the region’s culture while discovering natural wonders, befriending locals, and broadening their minds.

Taking all of this into account, it’s no surprise that Japan’s expansive northern island of Hokkaido is a leading destination for adventure holidays! In fact, Hokkaido has become so synonymous with adventure tourism in Japan that in September 2021, it will host the Adventure Travel World Summit 2021, the largest event of its kind in the world!

In this article, we’ll explore the charms of Hokkaido as an adventure tourism destination while introducing potential tours to get the most out of a visit to the island.

Niseko: Japan’s Premium Powder Snow Destination!

Particularly popular with avid skiers and snowboarders, Niseko is celebrated worldwide as Japan’s premier ski resort region. This is mostly thanks to their high-quality powder snow, which is light and fluffy and perfect for winter sports. Niseko is the only place in Japan where you can experience this level of top-quality powder snow, but be careful because once you do, you’ll instantly get hooked.

The best way to experience Niseko and its powder snow is through a “back-country tour.” Together with an experienced local deeply familiar with the land, you will be guided safely through a thrilling powder snow course in the deep backwoods of Niseko that few tourists ever get to see.

Hokkaido - Niseko: Back-country Tour (Adults from 13,800 yen/person)

Niseko: Explore the Pristine Waters of Japan’s Purest Rivers While Gazing Up at Hokkaido’s Famous Mount Yotei!

Once the bitter cold of winter and early spring recedes, the melting snows surge into Hokkaido’s rivers, filling them up and making them perfect for downstream river rafting! The Shiribetsu River, topped up from the melting snow of Hokkaido’s iconic Mount Yotei, is particularly favored by fans of extreme white-water rafting. This beautiful river is also home to the Japanese stringfish, one of the world’s most elusive fish, with its waters often being named the purest in all of Japan! You’ll undoubtedly encounter something special and get closer to nature on the rivers of Niseko!

Hokkaido - Niseko: Rafting Tour (Adults from 5,200 yen/person)

Noboribetsu: Where You Can Ride Freely Through Vast Plains on Horseback!

Hokkaido is full of wide, open plains free from any artificial structures, which provide natural farm grounds for free-range animals. Many of them are found in Noboribetsu, which boasts a horse farm larger than 20 American football fields put together! These healthy and friendly horses are more than happy to give visitors a ride, allowing for a sense of freedom and old-world adventure seldom felt in modern society.

Hokkaido - Noboribetsu: Horse Trekking Tour (Adults from 11,000 yen/person)

Noboribetsu: Hike in a Valley With Nine Different Natural Hot Springs!

Close to the farms of Noboribetsu you’ll find Noboribetsu Onsen, widely recognized as one of Japan’s leading hot spring villages. Visitors can experience it up close on a hiking tour through the Jigokudani “Hell Valley”, famous for its flowing hot spring waters. Its proximity also makes it easy to visit before or after your horse-riding tour!

Hokkaido - Noboribetsu: Guided Walking Tour (Adults from 1,800 yen/person)

Lake Shikotsu: Kayak Across a 40,000-Year-Old Lake!

Lake Shikotsu is a caldera lake formed by an eruption of the Shikotsu volcano about 40,000 years ago. Originally just a large depression in the land, it slowly filled up with water to become the lake we see today. Renowned for its high-quality water, the area is full of fantastic natural phenomena, including Lake Okotanpe, the Koke-no-Domon Gully, and the over 1,000-meter-high Mount Fuppushi. Visitors can see it all up close with minimal disturbance to the environment through a guided kayak tour, whereby you’ll also gain extra insight into the formation and ecosystem of Lake Shikotsu. And who knows, maybe you’ll even discover something new and exciting while you’re here!

Hokkaido - Lake Shikotsu: Clear Kayak Tour (Adults from 7,000 yen/person)

Tokachi-Obihiro: Dog Sledding Across the Great Snow Plains!

Adorned by the world-famous mountain ranges of Daisetsuzan National Park, the Tokachi Plain provides a vast, open space free of any obstructions, not to mention plenty of snow, making it perfect for dog sledding! Rather than just sitting quietly and enjoying the sights, participants will need to communicate and form a bond with their dogs in order to successfully traverse the 12 km extended trail. As you bound through the powdery snow plains, you’ll be able to feel just how much fun the dogs are having from their palpable energy and excited breathing. The sense of achievement and satisfaction you get from completing the course is a treasure in itself!

Hokkaido - Tokachi: Dog Sledding Tour (Adults from 10,800 yen/person)

Shiretoko: Feel the Heartbeat of the Hokkaido Wilderness on a Nature Cruise!

The name “Shiretoko” comes from the native Ainu word “shirietoku,” meaning “the end of the earth”. A fitting description considering the peninsula’s largely untouched natural expanse. Shiretoko’s force of nature can also be felt through its unique food chain, which begins with the plankton that thrives thanks to the nutrient-rich drift ice covering much of the Shiretoko waters in winter. This in turn supports a bountiful network of fish, sea animals, and birds, each life connecting to the other. A good example are the salmon traveling upstream and being eaten by brown bears while their remains are absorbed by the earth, nourishing the surrounding forest. Indeed, the circle of life is on full display in Shiretoko, making for some fascinating sightseeing!

Visitors can get up close to the mystical nature of Shiretoko on a wildlife-watching cruise. The kinds of animals you’ll see along the way differ depending on the season. Between spring and summer, you’ll have a chance to spot dolphins and whales in the Nemuro Strait, while giant Steller's sea eagles dominate the skies in winter. In addition to wildlife, there are adventure tours exploring the drift ice, which floats over from Russia during midwinter to cover much of the ocean surface.

Hokkaido - Shiretoko/Rausu: Nature-Watching Cruise (Adults from 8,800 yen/person)

Hokkaido - Shiretoko: Nature Trekking Tour (Adults from 13,000/person)

Rishiri and Rebun Islands: Trekking on the Frontier of Japan!

Located off the northern coast of Hokkaido, Rishiri Island is famous for its spectacular stratovolcano of Mt. Rishiri. In addition to its distinctive appearance, the island was once a place of worship and an important navigational point for sea voyages and fishing excursions. Its name comes from the Ainu word “riishiri,” meaning “tall island mountain,” and its incredible appearance has become symbolic of Hokkaido’s nature and culture. Together with vigorous alpine plants and challenging mountainous terrain, Rishiri is best taken in through a guided trekking tour.

Further north is Rebun Island, which is also known as the “Floating Island of Flowers” due to its magnificent assortment of rare flowers endemic to the island, including a species of orchid. The natural flower beds scattered throughout make for an alluring treasure hunt during a guided flower tour.

Hokkaido - Rebun Island: Flower Guide Tour (Adults: 6,600 yen/person)

Teshio River: Canoe on One of Hokkaido’s Greatest Rivers!

The Teshio River stretches for 256 km from northern Hokkaido to the Sea of Japan. Along the way, rare birds, such as the white-tailed eagle (a designated natural monument), rest in its riverbank forests, while the Japanese stringfish, known to only live in the purest streams, flourishes within its waters. Beginning at the mouth of the river, a 158 km long obstacle-free stretch of the Teshio River makes for easy and carefree canoeing. Relax and let the gentle river flow take you on a downstream journey through the heart of nature. The calming waters, pristine nature, and a showcase of animals will surely leave you feeling refreshed and help you forget the troubles of the modern world!

Hokkaido - Teshio River: Canoe Tour (Adults: 9,000 yen/person)


To fully appreciate the supreme bliss of Hokkaido’s lavish nature, a simple one or two-day trip is not nearly enough! With such a staggering range of wildlife, terrain, natural attractions, outdoor activities, and culture, it’s worth extending your vacation by one or two weeks to relish everything slowly, thoroughly, and without haste through the power of adventure tourism!


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Hokkaido Feature

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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