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The Complete Guide to Cycling Hokkaido

By Kamalpreet Singh

Understanding Hokkaido


Hokkaido is the northernmost Japanese island located at about 43°N latitude and 142°E longitude. It is surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the east. Russia’s Sakhalin island lies just 43 kms (26 mi) to the north across the Sea of Okhotsk. Like the rest of Japan, the island is mountainous. However, it also has extensive plains and plateaus.

Calderas, or volcanic lakes are also a special feature of Hokkaido’s ecology.

When cycling in Hokkaido, riders can expect a few challenging climbs, but also extended periods of cycling on plains.


Hokkaido is Japan’s coldest region, and has cool summers and snowy winters. The northern part of Hokkaido falls in the Taiga or subarctic biome, giving it a unique climate and ecology.

Southern Hokkaido is more temperate. August is the warmest month and the average temperature ranges from 17 to 22 °C (62.6 to 71.6 °F), although the altitude and proximity to the sea also has a bearing on the local climate.

Hokkaido does not receive much rainfall during July and August like the rest of Japan.

Winters are snowy in Hokkaido, and the island is known for its high-quality powder snow prized by skiers and winter sports enthusiasts. Hokkaido is home to several ski resorts. The annual Sapporo Snow Festival is held in Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, in the month of February each year. The festival features an International Snow Sculpture event attended by snow sculpting enthusiasts from all over the world.

The Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival is another festival held in Hokkaido in February. It is held at the Shikotsu thermal springs.

Flora and Fauna

Hokkaido is heavily forested, and accounts for nearly 22% of Japan’s forest area.

Hokkaido has the largest population of brown bears anywhere in Asia except Russia. When cycling in Hokkaido, however, the animal cyclists are most likely to encounter is the Yezo Sika Deer, a species of deer endemic to Hokkaido. Occasionally, the Eze red fox can also be seen crossing the roads in rural areas.

Hokkaido Inu is a species of dog native to the island, and rarely found outside of Japan. The species was bred to help rescue people caught in snowstorms.

The Sakhalin fir is the most common species of tree found on the island.


Hokkaido doesn’t have many industries, and the main drivers of its economy are agriculture and the services sector, especially tourism.

Hokkaido has nearly one-fourth of the all the arable land in Japan, and is its largest producer of wheat, soybeans, milk, beef, potatoes, onions and pumpkins. It is also Japan’s largest producer of seafood.

The services sector is largely centered around tourism. Given Hokkaido’s cool summers, it receives visitors from not just Japan but other Asian countries as well. During winters, its high quality and abundant powder snow attracts winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world.

Hokkaido has a population of around 5 million, most of which is concentrated in its two largest cities — Sapporo and Asahikawa. At 61 people living per square km of its area, Hokkaido is the least densely populated of Japan’s islands.


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Why Go Cycling Hokkaido?

1. Untamed Wilderness: Hokkaido is heavily forested and is home to 6 national parks. In fact, national parks cover up to 10% of Hokkaido’s land area. The largest national park in Japan, Daisetsuzan National Park, spread over some 226.8 thousand hectares is located in Hokkaido.

2. The Best Food: Hokkaido is known by several names in Japan, and all of them relate to food. ‘The Kingdom of Food’, ‘Rice Bowl Filled With Seafood’ are just two of them. The highly regarded Rausu kelp grows only in eastern Hokkaido

3. Some of the Clearest Lakes in the World: Hokkaido’s characteristic caldera or volcanic lakes are considered to be some of the clearest in the world. Lake Mashu, for instance, is famous for not just being one of the clearest in the world, but also one of the most mysterious, as it is forbidden to go down to its shores. Similarly, Lake Shikotsu is another clear caldera lake, albeit one in which one can fish and swim. The lake is known for its red salmon.

Which Are the Best Places for Cycling in Hokkaido?

Shiretoko Peninsula

Shiretoko peninsula is a strip of land 70 kms long and 25 kms long at its widest that is located on the northeastern edge of Hokkaido. It is separated from the Kuril Islands of Russia by the narrow Nemuro Strait.

The entire peninsula is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is the southernmost latitude at which sea ice forms in the northern hemisphere, being located at about 43°N. However, there’s a lot more to Shiretoko than just sea ice. A ridge of volcanic mountains runs down the spine of the peninsula.from its base to the tip, making for excellent views while cycling.

Another special feature of the Shiretoko Peninsula is whale watching. The Shiretoko Peninsula is one of the few places on earth where whales such as sperm whales and beaked whales can be spotted from the shore itself. The North Pacific right whale, considered the most endangered species of whale on earth, can also be spotted from Shiretoko. No more than a few hundred individuals of this whale species survive in the world.

The word Shiretoko in the Ainu language means “the end of the earth”, and the place certainly lives up to its name.


Furano and Biei are twin cities in central Hokkaido known for their spectacular fields of flowers that come alive especially in the months of June, July and August. These include lavenders, poppies, lupins, salvias, and sunflowers. As the different colored flowers bloom across its meadows, the region looks like it has been blanketed in a rainbow-colored sheet.

The Daisetsuzan National Park is also located in close proximity to Furano, and visitors can go hiking and wildlife spotting in the park.


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When Is the Best Time to Cycle Hokkaido?

Best Season: July to September

This is the best time to visit Hokkaido as it coincides with the summer on the island. Temperatures hover around 20-25 °C and there is very little rain. July is also when the lavender fields blossom in Furano-Biei, presenting a spectacular view of hill-upon-hill covered with lavenders, poppies, and sunflowers.

Shoulder Season: April to June and October

April to June is spring in Hokkaido. Daytime temperatures are between 7 to 15°C. Cherry blossoms begin to show up by the middle of May. Also, unlike in the rest of Japan, the plum blossoms too begin to show up at the same time as the cherry blossoms. In the rest of Japan, plum blossoms usually precede cherry blossoms by about a month.

These months see considerably less tourist footfall, and this season is ideal for those who prefer to avoid the peak season crowd.

October is the fall season in Hokkaido, which turns the flora into brilliant shades of red and orange, presenting a spectacular sight. The average temperature is around 10°C. Southern Hokkaido tends to receive a fair amount of rainfall in the first week of October. Like spring, there is considerably less tourist footfall in October, although Hokkaido remains beautiful and welcoming.

Off-Season: November to March

November is the beginning of winter in Hokkaido. The first snow of the season begins to fall by mid-November. The first half of November, however, is good for cycling. Make sure to carry adequate winter clothing though. Although off-season for cycling, this is the second peak season in Hokkaido as tourists flock to the island to enjoy its fine powder snow and enjoy winter sports such as skiing. Numerous ice and snow sculpting festivals are also held in the winter.

Enjoying the Food in Hokkaido

1. Jingisukan

Jingisukan is a dish named after Genghis Khan, the great Mongol, and it sure does pack a punch. The dish is made from grilled lamb meat cooked with beansprouts, onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms, and served with soya sauce. It gets its name from the distinctive iron skillet in which it is made, which supposedly resembles the helmets worn by Mongol soldiers of yore.

2. Ikameshi

Ikameshi is Japanese fine dining at its best. It is made with squid stuffed with sweet rice. The squid is first cooked in a sweet and salty sauce so that its flavors pervades the rice itself. A Hokkaido specialty, today it has become popular in other parts of Japan as well.

3. Hokkaido Butter Ramen

Hokkaido leads Japan in dairy production, and the milk and butter in Hokkaido just taste so much better than most places in the world. Which is why people in Hokkaido use dairy liberally in their cuisine. The Hokkaido butter ramen, also known as Sapporo ramen, is traditional miso ramen but with a dollop of Hokkaido butter added on top, giving it its distinctive taste.

4. Lavender-flavored Ice Cream from Furano

This is a unique soft-serve made from Hokkaido’s premium milk that is valued all over Japan. To this creamy goodness is added lavender essence extracted from Hokkaido’s own lavender fields. The result is a rich, creamy, lavender-scented ice cream which will have you asking for more. In fact, when cycling in Hokkaido, a lavender soft-serve is the prefect refreshment to recharge your tired legs.

Embrace the Thrill of a Bike Tour in Hokkaido

Explore Hokkaido's stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage on a bike tour, an immersive way to experience the country's beauty up close. From the picturesque Shiretoko coastline to the lavender fields of Furano, cycling offers a unique perspective on Hokkaido's diverse scenery and vibrant culture.

Art of Bicycle Trips, a pioneer in crafting curated cycling holidays for over a decade, offers expertly guided cycling tours in Hokkaido. Experience the pinnacle of comfort and safety with handpicked hotels, local cultural encounters, seasoned tour leaders, and a dedicated support vehicle.


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