Niseko is best known for the winter ski holidays, especially for the meters of powdery snow that fall every year. But this mountainous and outdoorsy part of Japan’s Hokkaido Island is also a great summer getaway. You can also relax here among nature in cooler temperatures. If you are wondering how you can flee the warmer Asian summer months, Niseko is your key. Read on for the perfect itinerary for 4 days of mountainous summer in Niseko.
Day 1: Arrive and treat yourself
As most people will have to fly from Tokyo, I assume that you are taking a morning flight from the Japanese capital to Chitose, about 2h away from Niseko. After landing, you will take the shuttle bus from your hotel, departing at around 2pm and arrive in Niseko at around 4pm. Or better yet, rent a car and pick it up from the airport. If you do that, make stops along the way to Niseko to look for Bambi deers, stare at quiet lakes, take some photos and smell the fragrant nature. There are some rest stops along the way for bathroom breaks and supplies (with the omnipresent vending machines to re-stock on drinks).
So almost all of Day 1 will be gone getting there but you will still have time to treat yourself to some great ice cream, cream cheese puffs and some me time at the onsen.
And if you do, after check in, head back out and retrace your steps to the wonderful Prativo bakery and restaurant. It’s about a 15 min walk from the hotel along the main road. If you missed it on the way there, check out Google Maps, it is clearly marked. There, you can enjoy some ice cream, drinking yogurt, cream cheese puffs or tarts and generally all the goodness of Niseko’s milk industry. Lay on the grass even while observing the views.
With a happy stomach, walk back up to the resort and head out to the onsen. If you stay at either of these two hotels you have access to both onsen so why choose? Check one out today and another tomorrow. Back in the room you will have a bathrobe to wrap yourself around and a paper with the instructions for how to behave. This is very important so that you don’t make a fool of yourself and to respect local customs. Don’t worry about being naked and surrounded by strangers, nobody is looking, promise!
Make sure to wash yourself properly on the small cubicles before getting in. You can take your small towel with you to the water, place it on your head or leave it by the side of the pools. Do check out the outdoor area, it is peaceful and beautiful, while the cooler boulders provide a respite from the 42 degree spring water.
You will not be there for long because you will quickly prune. So after an hour or so it is time to head back to the room and get ready for dinner. Some people shower again after the onsen but I do recommend you let the minerals stay on your skin.
For dinner you can choose any of the restaurants available at Niseko Village or at the Hilton. The sun sets very late in Niseko in the summer. So if you choose the Hilton’s restaurant on the 2nd floor, you will have nice views of Mount Yotei as the light fades away.
After dinner, enjoy some cozy time either at the Hilton restaurant or back at The Green Leaf Niseko Village lounge on the ground floor, chilling on one of their leather sofas.
Day 2: Adventure galore
You have come to Niseko to enjoy nature, so head out to one of the many outdoor adventures available in the area, from white water rafting to trekking, cycling or abseiling. If you chose an activity, have your lunch there. Or you can go back to Prativo and have a meat and vegetable buffet with farm to table ingredients.
Continue the afternoon at Pure Adventure Park by the Hilton. Relive your childhood by either zip-lining across the forest, bouncing in the inflatable castle, climbing with the children or driving a golf cart around. You can also play mini golf.
After an active day out you will no doubt be hungry. So enjoy a the Japanese speciality Jingisukan (or Genghis Khan) mutton barbecue at the Niseko Village restaurant. Water it down with lovely local sake or wine. Cook your meat to your choice and indulge in Hokkaido lobster, crab and large scallops. Yum!
Why not have an early night? But before you do, the onsen are open all night long, so go watch the stars from the peace and quiet of the outdoor onsen. I guarantee you the sight will be memorable.
Day 3: Take it all in
If you rented a car, as suggested, this is the time to put it to good use. You can head back out after breakfast to have another cream cheese puff, tart or ice cream. I know, but who can say no? I had them every day. Then look out for Niseko’s downtown area where there is a grocery market and a few stores selling local produce and essentials. Stop by, wander the aisles and simply see the fruits and vegetables that are on sale.
Make stops when you see a landscape that inspires you. Take it all in and simply wander around the area. Make it all the way to Niseko Annupuri Gondola where you can take the gondola up to the 1,000 meter viewing platform. The gondola also runs in the summer for stunning views of the valley and mountains below. You can also go up the Annupuri Gondola, then trek all the way to and go back down on the Hirafu Summer Gondola.
Have lunch somewhere in Annupuri or Hirafu at a restaurant that tickles your fancy, you can’t go wrong in Japan.
Drive back up and head towards the Marsh Shinsen, while using Google Maps to find the way. Park by the Tourism Office and cross the road so you can walk the paths towards the marsh. A walk around the entire park should probably take around 30 mins. Take in the views, the landscapes and the smells. The area is very pretty, so depending on the month there will be different flowers in bloom. When you return to the car park, check out the view point on the same side of the road, through the path that leaves from the parking lot area. You will be able to spot the sea and the coast below.
On your way back, stop at the natural hot springs and smell the pungent sulphurs while observing the magnificent area. Don’t touch the water because you will get third degree burns.
If you have not rented a car, you can book a trekking tour of 2-3h at the Nature Centre and ask to be taken to the same places. You can make use of the free shuttle service from the hotels to take you to Annupuri and/or Hirafu, but they do not run very often so make sure to plan well ahead.
Back at the resort for lunch you can eat at any of the restaurants available or head back out to another of the awesome outdoor adventures available. Cycling around the area is particularly nice. The roads are relatively flat, so you don’t need to be incredibly fit to enjoy the ride.
If you love golf, this is the opportunity to practice among the beautiful surroundings of Niseko. You might rather want to exchange the order and tee-off in the morning and trek and explore the area in the afternoon.
In the evening, chill at one of the restaurants in the Niseko Village Resort area and try out the lovely Hokkaido beef dishes, they are delicious. Or you can rather head out to the local dining spots in other resort areas for something a bit different.
Day 4: Make food
You will have a very short fourth day as you will have to head back to the airport, but there is still time to learn to make some traditional local food. Niseko and Hokkaido are at the agricultural heart of Japan, so local food grows plentiful and flavourful. The Niseko Outdoor Center runs a few cooking classes for you to try your luck at cooking the foods in season. Learn to make either jam or soba noodles. Or you can rather try your skills at other handicrafts.
Enjoy a last lunch as you pack your bags to go, or perhaps take one last dip into the onsen and drive back all the way to the airport. Don’t forget to buy some souvenirs (cream cheese tarts anyone?) for those who were not lucky enough to enjoy summer in Niseko!
Once in a Lifetime Journey was a guest of the Green Leaf Niseko Village. As always, all opinions are our own.