Explore Japan’s Hidden Gem, Lake Akan Throughout the Year and Discover Its Seasonal Charms

Together with Instagram influencer anaoha, we explored Hokkaido’s majestic Lake Akan. Nestled in the wilderness of Akan Mashu National Park, Lake Akan is home to one of Japan’s most famous indigenous Ainu villages, the Akanko Ainu Kotan. Boasting fascinating cultural activities and opportunities to immerse yourself in nature, Lake Akan has something to offer in each and every season, with lush-green panoramas in summer, blazing colors in autumn, and superb snowy scenery in winter!


Things to Do

Immerse Yourself in Lake Akan’s Summer to Discover the Area’s Healing Nature

Brushed up against sparkling blue waters, thick woods nurtured by Hokkaido’s pleasantly fresh summer thrive on Lake Akan’s shores, extending up mountains blessed with equally green mantles of vegetation forming lush panoramas. This is the scenery we found ourselves mesmerized by when we first visited the town of Akanko Onsen in summer 2022. While many picture Hokkaido as a place ideal for winter activities, this vast northern region is a great summer getaway from the heavily humid weather of Japan during the warmer months. With milder temperatures and plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself amongst invigorating nature, a visit to the pristine Lake Akan will instantly make you feel refreshed! 

One of the best places to experience Lake Akan’s dazzling wilderness is the Bokke Walking Trail, a healing hike in the woods that led us through tunnels of flourishing greenery, lakesides tinged in the vibrant colors of surrounding flora, and even volcanic mud pools bubbling up from the magma below, leaving us with a deep sense of connection with nature.

Fascinating treasures hide in these unspoiled forests, and there’s no better way to unveil their wonders than with “Anytime, Ainutime!!,” guided tours, where a local Ainu guide takes you to  the depths of the forest while sharing Ainu beliefs and wisdoms on the natural world. 

For those wanting to experience rare sights of the lake after dark, night walks along its forested shores are also possible at “Kamuy Lumina,” an immersive adventure blending Ainu folktales and enchanting projections using trees, plants, and ponds as their canvas.

Another way to appreciate Lake Akan’s fabulous natural scenery is through its gorgeous waters. You can either board a scenic pleasure cruise across the lake to Churui Island and visit the Marimo Exhibition and Observation Center to learn about the area’s exceptional biodiversity and symbol “marimo” (a rare type of spherical, moss-green algae), or paddle over the lake’s tranquil blue expanse yourself on a canoe tour and admire the spectacular views from up close! Sumptuous are not just the waters of the lake but also those of the hot springs gushing out in the area. Both can be enjoyed at New Akan Hotel’s Infinity Edge Spa which, although sitting 30 meters above the ground on the hotel’s rooftop, appears to be one with Lake Akan thanks to a trick of perspective! 

Admire Some of Japan’s Earliest Autumn Colors at Lake Akan

Displaying some of Japan’s earliest autumn colors, the creeping cold imbues the mountains and forests around Lake Akan with the warmest tones. Enriched by the foliage’s reflection on the water, the scenery becomes a magical spectacle that will take your breath away. The spectacular fiery leaves, visible as early as the beginning of October, also come together with one of the area’s most important celebrations, the Marimo Matsuri. Dedicated to the lake’s marimo algae, a protected species and a Special National Treasure of Japan, the festival embodies the Ainu people’s appreciation for nature and their efforts to preserve it, steeping the town in a sacred atmosphere.

Autumn mornings in Akanko Onsen might also be your chance to witness a rare natural phenomenon called “unkai” or “sea of clouds.” From Mt. Hakuto Observatory, the serene sight of the sunrise above an expansive blanket of fluffy clouds is sure to leave a lasting impression!   

Bursting with amazing spots to soak in autumnal scenery, the area surrounding Lake Akan is a dream destination for foliage lovers. You can walk into forests glimmering in gold, rent a private taxi to reach some of the more off-the-beaten-path spots, and even tour the area on an e-bike. Easy-to-access attractions by bike include Takimi Bridge, where you can admire Lake Akan and Lake Taro converging in the waterfall-like headwaters of the Akan River amidst a carpet of crimson and yellow vegetation. 

Those who are up for a challenge can also go on a day trip and ride amongst the wilderness of the secluded Lake Onneto to Onneto Yunotaki, a mysterious hot spring waterfall streaming 30 meters down over moss-covered volcanic rocks. Famed for its ever-changing colored waters, Lake Onneto itself offers superb autumnal sights of mountains veiled in blazing shades and uninterrupted views of the majestic Mt. Meakan and Akan Fuji, which may already be covered in snow by the time you visit, creating a splendid contrast! 

All these wonderful adventures in nature might also make you want to take your time and simply relish the profound peace of such an untainted environment. You can replenish your energy at the nearby Nonaka Onsen, a local hidden gem with rustic hot spring baths and silky geothermal water. Or take a break at Onneto Campground, a camping facility next to Lake Onneto that provides a free rest area with wifi overlooking greenery where you can refresh yourself with  drinks and snacks unique to the area, such as Hokkaido’s prized soft-serve ice cream! 

Enjoy Japan’s Best Snowy Adventures at Lake Akan’s Winter Wonderland

When snow and ice drape Akanko Onsen in layers of white, the lake and surroundings transform into a winter paradise of astonishing beauty. Glimmering with frost, the scene is often colored by some of the most beautifully crisp sunrises and sunsets you’ve ever seen! During the winter months, not only can you experience a completely different side to Lake Akan’s natural environment, but with the lake’s surface completely frozen, visitors can also enjoy a multitude of distinctive snowy adventures.

During the day, the frozen Lake Akan turns into the fun-filled “Ice Land Akan,” a hub for winter activities that are rarely found elsewhere in Japan. From ice fishing and riding on a banana boat towed by a snowmobile, to following local guides on snowshoe tours, cycling courses, and more, visitors can experience the fun and beauty of Akanko’s winter through whatever activities catch their eye!! 

Even early mornings and late nights offer a dose of northern enjoyments, like throwing boiling-hot water into the freezing air to see it turn into an arch of steam, or the Winter Fireworks Display dyeing the ice lake in a myriad of shining reflections synchronized with music. At nighttime, even some of the town’s shops and landmarks transform into a dreamy world of light and music decorated with patterns of snowflakes, flowing water, and other gorgeous designs animated through projection mapping! 

Thrill-seeking travelers also won’t be disappointed, as they can take advantage of the area’s superb powder snow at the nearby Kokusetsu Akankohan Ski Resort to spend a day on the slopes. The ski resort boasts a multitude of different courses, from beginner to expert-level, making it easy to slide down the mountain according to your preference and skills while looking over an unbroken view of the frozen Lake Akan. Best of all, the slopes are close to the onsen town, so you can jump into the rejuvenating hot springs right after!

If arctic panoramas are more of your thing, the city of Abashiri would make for an amazing day trip, as it is the southernmost point where you can see “ryuhyo” or “drift ice.” Onboard the icebreaker ship Aurora, you can cruise across the vast expanse of ice floating on the Sea of Okhotsk and feel like a true arctic explorer! 

Abashiri also offers attractions of invaluable historic importance. The Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples introduces the lifestyles and rich cultures of northern peoples from around the world. Meanwhile, the Abashiri Prison Museum stands today as the oldest existing wooden penological facility in the world, and was considered cutting-edge and escape-proof at the time of its construction. 

Access - How to Get To and Around Akanko Onsen and Abashiri

Akanko Ainu Kotan can be easily accessed by plane from Haneda Airport, with the flight to Tancho Kushiro Airport only taking 1 hour and 40 minutes. From Tancho Kushiro Airport, the village can be reached by Akan Line local buses bound for Akanko Onsen Bus Center. The bus ride costs 2,190 yen one way and takes around 70 minutes.

All the attractions mentioned in this article are conveniently located within walking distance both from the Akanko Onsen Bus Center and the center of Akanko Onsen, except for Takimi Bridge, Lake Onneto, and the Abashiri area. Takimi Bridge can be reached by a 6-minute car ride or a 15-minute e-bike ride from Akanko Onsen, while Lake Onneto requires a 20-minute car ride or a 90-minute ride by e-bike (e-bikes with electric assist can be rented at Akanko Onsen.) Abashiri can be reached in approximately 90 minutes by car. To visit Abashiri and its attractions, we suggest you rent a car or reserve a taxi or a jumbo taxi (depending on the number of people) at the front desk of your hotel. A professional taxi driver will help you create a travel plan to explore Hokkaido to your heart’s content!

A Year of Wonders at Lake Akan

No matter what season you are visiting in, Lake Akan’s ever-changing nature flourishes into a multitude of contrasting, majestic panoramas throughout the year, always offering opportunities to experience unique activities and new, unexpected sides of Japan! Entwined with the rich culture of the Ainu people, Akanko Onsen is a dream destination you should note down for your next Hokkaido trip! 

Click here to learn more about gorgeous Lake Akan and all the activities and spots for the perfect Hokkaido itinerary!

Thumbnail: anaoha

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Hokkaido Feature

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

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Stefania Sabia
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