Hokkaido Cycle Touring Routes


Hokkaido is Japan’s northern-most island and largest prefecture. Far, far away from the madding crowds of more southern climes, Hokkaido lives up to it’s frontier roots. Wild forests, long, wide open roads. Capes and offshore islands that feel like the end of the world. Almost half of the year, Hokkaido slips into a beautiful, deep winter slumber (with its own joys). During the summer months, from around the end of May till the beginning of November, the island becomes a mecca for cycle tourists wanting to get off the beaten track in Japan.

NOTES | PDF DOWNLOAD | ROUTE MAPS | ROUTE OVERVIEWS & LINKS

By Rob and Haidee Thomson, Hokkaido, Japan

  • Road condition: For all intents and purposes, the roads in Hokkaido are beautiful smooth pavement. Note however, that I have a particular penchant for gravel off-the-beaten-track routes, so many of the routes below include at least half a day of gravel, to keep things interesting. Those gravel sections are rough and steep, so consider a detour if that’s not your cup’o tea.
  • Weather and climate: Early May is the absolute earliest, and mid-November the absolute latest you can cycle tour in Hokkaido without it being a ‘winter’ tour. Earlier and later that this, and there will be snow on the ground and you’ll have to be prepared for shoveling snow as part of setting up camp. Most of the gravel routes and many of the cycle roads will be closed due to snow. Throughout the summer season (late July to early September), however, expect temperatures up to 30 degrees during the daytime, down to 10 degrees overnight.
  • Food: It is very unlikely that you’ll go for more than a day’s worth of cycling in Hokkaido without passing a convenience store. Pack one meal’s worth of ’emergency’ food in your panniers, and you’ll be perfectly fine. If a route below doesn’t have any grocery stores or convenience stores marked, you can take that to mean that there isn’t too much difficulty in finding places to get food along the way.
  • Water: Water is abundant across the island. If it comes out of a tap, you can be confident that it is drinkable without treatment. Drinking straight from streams is not recommended without treatment – echinococcus, mainly carried by foxes, is not something you want to catch.
  • Campgrounds: Many cyclists in Japan opt to free-camp rather than pay for campgrounds that offer marginal services. Awesome map of free campgrounds and hot springs (onsen) here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1ZBVjXbJKXFgt7AFBFQlSn5Zx3to&hl=en_US. The paid campgrounds are cheap though, and are often right next door to onsen (hot springs). That said, most of the campgrounds in Hokkaido don’t open officially until May, with many not open until early July. Many then shut down for the year around the end of September.
  • Rider Houses: Hokkaido is home to the cheap and cheerful Rider Houses – basic accommodation for cyclists, motorcyclists, walkers etc. Many are free, most charge between 500 and 1,000yen, and only rarely will you pay more than 1,500yen. A map of all Rider houses in Hokkaido here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?hl=en_US&mid=1E6xC2EFGTcbXOGjF2OPWFZJVUAI (some, if not many, may be derelict or no longer in business – make sure you have a backup plan.
  • Michi-no-eki: Micho-no-eki (literally ‘road stations’) are local ‘roadstop’ areas that have toilets, a small store, and running water. Most have 24-hour toilets. They are not official accommodation providers, but they are popular places for campervans to park up for the night. As such, they are also popular places for cyclists and other travelers to camp at. See a full list of locations here: https://www.michi-no-eki.jp/stations/searche?prefecture_id=1

Hokkaido is home to the Hokkaido brown bear. While traveling on paved roads and camping in designated campsites, you are extremely unlikely to see one. If you’re heading more into the backcountry routes (such as the Trans-Hokkaido Gravel Route below), then please take precautions: a bear-bell on your handlebars will let them know you’re coming, and basic bear safety skills should be applied if camping wild.

There are a couple of bicycle shops in Sapporo that cater to touring cyclists. Arguably the best stocked shop is the Shirosishi Shugakuso Outdoor Store Cycle Division.

  • Shugakuso Outdoor Store (the Shiroishi Store, not the one next to Hokkaido University) – Arguably the best-stocked of any bike store in Sapporo – the big-name brands plus Surly, Brompton, etc. Google Maps location here.
  • Sam’s Bike (their blog here) – This is the smallest of the three bike shops I recommend in Sapporo, but the staff are super friendly, intelligent, and open-minded. More than a few long-haul cycle travelers (including Sarah Outen with her belt-drive Rohloff Santos bike) have had their bikes serviced here. While they can order in pretty much anything, they may have more limited parts on hand than the folks at Shugakuso. They are, however, arguably the best shop for wheel-building in Sapporo. They are my first stop for any serious work I need done on my bike. Google Maps location here./li>
  • Minami-kaze Bike Shop – If you’re on a folding bike, and need parts or service, the effervescent Mr. Arimori from this tiny hole-in-the-wall shop will no doubt be able to help you out. Google Maps location here.
  • Cycle Shop ONO – Kinda old-school and catering to either racing bikes or mountain bikes (or the ubiquitous shopping-basket bikes), but do have an OK selection of parts. Google Maps location here.
  • Nakamura Cycles – These guys have a fairly good range of big brand high-end bikes (road and mountain) and parts. They also offer the best rental bikes in Sapporo, for around 3,250yen a day (link). In summer the rental bikes are booked out most days, so getting a person who speaks Japanese to help you book in advance is recommended. Google Maps link here.
  • Multi-day bicycle hire for cycling touring in Hokkaido: You’ll generally pay around 1,500yen to 5,000yen a day for a bike suited to cycle touring (prices per day are cheaper the longer you rent for). Check out the following providers for options. It is always best to try to book in advance. The Niseko-based providers are located in Niseko Town, accessible by bus from New Chitose Airport (approx. 2.5hrs) or Sapporo by train or bus (about 2.5hrs).
    • Spark Cycling (Sapporo City) – These guys should be your first-stop when looking for a bike for touring in Hokkaido. They offer service in English, their bikes are super good value, and have racks, panniers…everything you need for cycle tour | Link | Location
    • Nakamura Cycles (Sapporo City) – Also good value bicycle hire in Hokkaido. But booking is in Japanese only. Bikes must be booked at least a week in advance | Link (Japanese only) | Location
    • Rhythm Cycles (Niseko)Link | Location
    • Groove Cycles (Niseko)Link | Location | Recommended cycle routes | Note: Groove Cycles works in conjunction with Rhythm Cycles, apparently.
    • The Bicycle Corner (Niseko)Link
    • Cycle Japan (Furano) – If you’re after a road bike, then these guys should be able to help | Link
  • Buying camping gear in Hokkaido: Overall, prices for new camping gear in Hokkaido (e.g., tents, cookers, sleeping bags, sleeping mats etc) are similar to what you’ll pay overseas, but outside of Sapporo it can be difficult to find well-stocked stores.
    • Shugakuso Outdoor Store – You can get almost anything you need from the Shugakuso Outdoor Store, either at their Hokkaido University store which is walking distance from Sapporo Station (location) or their Shiroishi Ward store which has a basement floor dedicated to very good quality bicycles and parts (location). Shugakuso also has a store in Asahikawa City (location). There are other outdoor stores around (see my Hokkaido Ski Touring page), but Shugakuso just has an awesome range of excellent gear and parts.
    • Super Sports Sebio – Shugakuso is all about big-brand gear (e.g., MSR, Sea-to-Summit, Thermarest etc), so if you are on a budget, consider one of the one-stop sports stores like Super Sports Sebio. Their biggest store in Sapporo is massive, with a huge range of camping gear from Coleman etc, and is walking distance from the Fukuzumi Subway Station on the Nanboku (green) line (location).
    • Second-hand gear – As for second-hand gear, probably your best bet would be the two second hand stores in Makomanai – Second Street Outdoor (location) and Hard Off (location). Personally I feel like second hand outdoor gear here is overpriced compared with what you can get new, and the selection can be a little meager.
  • Tandem bikes in Hokkaido: Is it illegal to ride a tandem bicycle in Hokkaido?
    • Short answer: On almost all public roads, yes, it is illegal – you are not allowed to ride a tandem. On designated cycleways, no, it is not illegal – you can ride a tandem. BUT, I would find it impossibly unlikely that tandem bicycle riders would encounter the law being enforced. See Tokyo by Bike’s reasoning here. Furthermore, upon calling the Sapporo Cycling Association, a representative said they couldn’t imagine police calling well-equipped tandem tourers out (they’d certainly never heard of it happening).
    • Long answer (with references): As far as Japan national road law is concerned, it is permissible for as many people to ride a vehicle as there are seats to do so (See Article 57 of the national Road Traffic Act – in Japanese). Bicycles are classed as vehicles, so for all intents and purposes, the Road Traffic Act allows as many people on a bike as there are saddles/seats. However, the national Road Traffic Act has a provision which allows for prefectural bylaws to override the national Road Traffic Act in regards to ‘light’ vehicles (keisharyou – 軽車両), of which bicycles are a variety (Article 57-2) . Unfortunately, according to Hokkaido road law, two- and three-wheeled cycles are not allowed to have more than one person riding them at the same time (Article 10-1 (p.10) of the Hokkaido Road Traffic Law).
      • NOTE: This rule does not apply if 1) you are on a signposted, designated cycleway or combined cycle/pedestrian pathway (as defined by Chapter 6, Article 48-14 of the Road Act) or 2) you are 16yrs and over carrying up to two children 6yrs and under on approved bicycle seats or 3) you are operating a business whereby you offer transport to up to two people on a bike with appropriate apparatus to do so (Article 10-1 (p.10) of the Hokkaido Road Traffic Law). Furthermore, if your bike has 4 wheels (or more), then you can have as many people on it as there are seats.
  • Bicycle registration: Do I need to register my bike in Japan/Hokkaido?
    • Short answer: For most people reading this page, the answer is no. If you don’t live in Japan, you do not need to register your bicycle.
    • Long answer: I just called the Hokkaido Police to find out a definite answer to this issue. I said “What if someone from overseas, who has no Japan address or phone number, comes to Japan for cycle touring for a few months? They plan to be here for an indefinite period of time, but will not have a Japanese address or telephone number during that time.”

      Here is what I was told (paraphrased): “Bicycle registration is only required by law if the owner of the bicycle has a Japanese residential address and phone number. In order to register your bicycle in Japan, you must have a Japanese residential address and telephone number. Therefore, because the cycle tourist has no Japanese address or telephone number, they cannot register their bicycle. If they are stopped by police for any reason, they should explain the situation – i.e., that they have no Japan address or phone – and that will be no problem at all.”

      Just to make sure, I just called the Tokyo-based Tokyo Bicycle Registration Association (http://www.bouhan-net.com), and they confirmed what the Hokkaido Police told me – officially you can’t do bicycle registration without some form of Japan-issued ID that shows a Japanese address and telephone number. A bike shop will probably happily take 500yen from you and do the registration for you, using your current hotel address…but you are under no obligation to register a bike if you’re not living in Japan.

  • The best map book for cycle touring in Hokkaido is the Touring Mapple (http://amzn.to/29zK3Na – ISBN: 978-4398656261). It is all in Japanese, but the icons (such as convenience store, campground, hotsprings etc) are self-explanatory. It marks gravel roads too.
  • For campground information, we use the Hokkaido Campground Guide (http://amzn.to/29Cigum – ISBN: 978-4906740208). It is updated every year, and is super helpful, with details on the nearest onsen etc. All the campground info on my route maps is based on this book. It is also all in Japanese, and is unlikely to be any use unless you can read Japanese.
  • Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau’s Hokkaido Cycle Touring Pamphlet has a good deal of information on cycle touring in Hokkaido (PDF)
  • Cycling Japan has some routes outlined on their site here: http://cyclingjapan.jp/map.htm
  • The Japan Cycling Navigator team has some great resources on their website here: http://www.japancycling.org/v2/aguide/hokkaido/. In particular, they’ve highlighted some natural features of Hokkaido that would make for a nice join-the-dots tour! Their Hokkaido leg of their length of Japan tour would be a nice way to see some of the island too: http://www.japancycling.org/v2/cguide/part3/
  • A great video series of two people cycling around old closed train lines in Hokkaido: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfn3_nqQK28
+ Cycling Conditions
  • Road condition: For all intents and purposes, the roads in Hokkaido are beautiful smooth pavement. Note however, that I have a particular penchant for gravel off-the-beaten-track routes, so many of the routes below include at least half a day of gravel, to keep things interesting. Those gravel sections are rough and steep, so consider a detour if that’s not your cup’o tea.
  • Weather and climate: Early May is the absolute earliest, and mid-November the absolute latest you can cycle tour in Hokkaido without it being a ‘winter’ tour. Earlier and later that this, and there will be snow on the ground and you’ll have to be prepared for shoveling snow as part of setting up camp. Most of the gravel routes and many of the cycle roads will be closed due to snow. Throughout the summer season (late July to early September), however, expect temperatures up to 30 degrees during the daytime, down to 10 degrees overnight.
+ Food and Water
  • Food: It is very unlikely that you’ll go for more than a day’s worth of cycling in Hokkaido without passing a convenience store. Pack one meal’s worth of ’emergency’ food in your panniers, and you’ll be perfectly fine. If a route below doesn’t have any grocery stores or convenience stores marked, you can take that to mean that there isn’t too much difficulty in finding places to get food along the way.
  • Water: Water is abundant across the island. If it comes out of a tap, you can be confident that it is drinkable without treatment. Drinking straight from streams is not recommended without treatment – echinococcus, mainly carried by foxes, is not something you want to catch.
+ Accommodation
  • Campgrounds: Many cyclists in Japan opt to free-camp rather than pay for campgrounds that offer marginal services. Awesome map of free campgrounds and hot springs (onsen) here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1ZBVjXbJKXFgt7AFBFQlSn5Zx3to&hl=en_US. The paid campgrounds are cheap though, and are often right next door to onsen (hot springs). That said, most of the campgrounds in Hokkaido don’t open officially until May, with many not open until early July. Many then shut down for the year around the end of September.
  • Rider Houses: Hokkaido is home to the cheap and cheerful Rider Houses – basic accommodation for cyclists, motorcyclists, walkers etc. Many are free, most charge between 500 and 1,000yen, and only rarely will you pay more than 1,500yen. A map of all Rider houses in Hokkaido here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?hl=en_US&mid=1E6xC2EFGTcbXOGjF2OPWFZJVUAI (some, if not many, may be derelict or no longer in business – make sure you have a backup plan.
  • Michi-no-eki: Micho-no-eki (literally ‘road stations’) are local ‘roadstop’ areas that have toilets, a small store, and running water. Most have 24-hour toilets. They are not official accommodation providers, but they are popular places for campervans to park up for the night. As such, they are also popular places for cyclists and other travelers to camp at. See a full list of locations here: https://www.michi-no-eki.jp/stations/searche?prefecture_id=1
+ Bears

Hokkaido is home to the Hokkaido brown bear. While traveling on paved roads and camping in designated campsites, you are extremely unlikely to see one. If you’re heading more into the backcountry routes (such as the Trans-Hokkaido Gravel Route below), then please take precautions: a bear-bell on your handlebars will let them know you’re coming, and basic bear safety skills should be applied if camping wild.

+ Good Bike Shops

There are a couple of bicycle shops in Sapporo that cater to touring cyclists. Arguably the best stocked shop is the Shirosishi Shugakuso Outdoor Store Cycle Division.

  • Shugakuso Outdoor Store (the Shiroishi Store, not the one next to Hokkaido University) – Arguably the best-stocked of any bike store in Sapporo – the big-name brands plus Surly, Brompton, etc. Google Maps location here.
  • Sam’s Bike (their blog here) – This is the smallest of the three bike shops I recommend in Sapporo, but the staff are super friendly, intelligent, and open-minded. More than a few long-haul cycle travelers (including Sarah Outen with her belt-drive Rohloff Santos bike) have had their bikes serviced here. While they can order in pretty much anything, they may have more limited parts on hand than the folks at Shugakuso. They are, however, arguably the best shop for wheel-building in Sapporo. They are my first stop for any serious work I need done on my bike. Google Maps location here./li>
  • Minami-kaze Bike Shop – If you’re on a folding bike, and need parts or service, the effervescent Mr. Arimori from this tiny hole-in-the-wall shop will no doubt be able to help you out. Google Maps location here.
  • Cycle Shop ONO – Kinda old-school and catering to either racing bikes or mountain bikes (or the ubiquitous shopping-basket bikes), but do have an OK selection of parts. Google Maps location here.
  • Nakamura Cycles – These guys have a fairly good range of big brand high-end bikes (road and mountain) and parts. They also offer the best rental bikes in Sapporo, for around 3,250yen a day (link). In summer the rental bikes are booked out most days, so getting a person who speaks Japanese to help you book in advance is recommended. Google Maps link here.
+ Bicycle Hire
  • Multi-day bicycle hire for cycling touring in Hokkaido: You’ll generally pay around 1,500yen to 5,000yen a day for a bike suited to cycle touring (prices per day are cheaper the longer you rent for). Check out the following providers for options. It is always best to try to book in advance. The Niseko-based providers are located in Niseko Town, accessible by bus from New Chitose Airport (approx. 2.5hrs) or Sapporo by train or bus (about 2.5hrs).
    • Spark Cycling (Sapporo City) – These guys should be your first-stop when looking for a bike for touring in Hokkaido. They offer service in English, their bikes are super good value, and have racks, panniers…everything you need for cycle tour | Link | Location
    • Nakamura Cycles (Sapporo City) – Also good value bicycle hire in Hokkaido. But booking is in Japanese only. Bikes must be booked at least a week in advance | Link (Japanese only) | Location
    • Rhythm Cycles (Niseko)Link | Location
    • Groove Cycles (Niseko)Link | Location | Recommended cycle routes | Note: Groove Cycles works in conjunction with Rhythm Cycles, apparently.
    • The Bicycle Corner (Niseko)Link
    • Cycle Japan (Furano) – If you’re after a road bike, then these guys should be able to help | Link
+ Camping Gear
  • Buying camping gear in Hokkaido: Overall, prices for new camping gear in Hokkaido (e.g., tents, cookers, sleeping bags, sleeping mats etc) are similar to what you’ll pay overseas, but outside of Sapporo it can be difficult to find well-stocked stores.
    • Shugakuso Outdoor Store – You can get almost anything you need from the Shugakuso Outdoor Store, either at their Hokkaido University store which is walking distance from Sapporo Station (location) or their Shiroishi Ward store which has a basement floor dedicated to very good quality bicycles and parts (location). Shugakuso also has a store in Asahikawa City (location). There are other outdoor stores around (see my Hokkaido Ski Touring page), but Shugakuso just has an awesome range of excellent gear and parts.
    • Super Sports Sebio – Shugakuso is all about big-brand gear (e.g., MSR, Sea-to-Summit, Thermarest etc), so if you are on a budget, consider one of the one-stop sports stores like Super Sports Sebio. Their biggest store in Sapporo is massive, with a huge range of camping gear from Coleman etc, and is walking distance from the Fukuzumi Subway Station on the Nanboku (green) line (location).
    • Second-hand gear – As for second-hand gear, probably your best bet would be the two second hand stores in Makomanai – Second Street Outdoor (location) and Hard Off (location). Personally I feel like second hand outdoor gear here is overpriced compared with what you can get new, and the selection can be a little meager.
+ Miscellaneous Info
  • Tandem bikes in Hokkaido: Is it illegal to ride a tandem bicycle in Hokkaido?
    • Short answer: On almost all public roads, yes, it is illegal – you are not allowed to ride a tandem. On designated cycleways, no, it is not illegal – you can ride a tandem. BUT, I would find it impossibly unlikely that tandem bicycle riders would encounter the law being enforced. See Tokyo by Bike’s reasoning here. Furthermore, upon calling the Sapporo Cycling Association, a representative said they couldn’t imagine police calling well-equipped tandem tourers out (they’d certainly never heard of it happening).
    • Long answer (with references): As far as Japan national road law is concerned, it is permissible for as many people to ride a vehicle as there are seats to do so (See Article 57 of the national Road Traffic Act – in Japanese). Bicycles are classed as vehicles, so for all intents and purposes, the Road Traffic Act allows as many people on a bike as there are saddles/seats. However, the national Road Traffic Act has a provision which allows for prefectural bylaws to override the national Road Traffic Act in regards to ‘light’ vehicles (keisharyou – 軽車両), of which bicycles are a variety (Article 57-2) . Unfortunately, according to Hokkaido road law, two- and three-wheeled cycles are not allowed to have more than one person riding them at the same time (Article 10-1 (p.10) of the Hokkaido Road Traffic Law).
      • NOTE: This rule does not apply if 1) you are on a signposted, designated cycleway or combined cycle/pedestrian pathway (as defined by Chapter 6, Article 48-14 of the Road Act) or 2) you are 16yrs and over carrying up to two children 6yrs and under on approved bicycle seats or 3) you are operating a business whereby you offer transport to up to two people on a bike with appropriate apparatus to do so (Article 10-1 (p.10) of the Hokkaido Road Traffic Law). Furthermore, if your bike has 4 wheels (or more), then you can have as many people on it as there are seats.
  • Bicycle registration: Do I need to register my bike in Japan/Hokkaido?
    • Short answer: For most people reading this page, the answer is no. If you don’t live in Japan, you do not need to register your bicycle.
    • Long answer: I just called the Hokkaido Police to find out a definite answer to this issue. I said “What if someone from overseas, who has no Japan address or phone number, comes to Japan for cycle touring for a few months? They plan to be here for an indefinite period of time, but will not have a Japanese address or telephone number during that time.”

      Here is what I was told (paraphrased): “Bicycle registration is only required by law if the owner of the bicycle has a Japanese residential address and phone number. In order to register your bicycle in Japan, you must have a Japanese residential address and telephone number. Therefore, because the cycle tourist has no Japanese address or telephone number, they cannot register their bicycle. If they are stopped by police for any reason, they should explain the situation – i.e., that they have no Japan address or phone – and that will be no problem at all.”

      Just to make sure, I just called the Tokyo-based Tokyo Bicycle Registration Association (http://www.bouhan-net.com), and they confirmed what the Hokkaido Police told me – officially you can’t do bicycle registration without some form of Japan-issued ID that shows a Japanese address and telephone number. A bike shop will probably happily take 500yen from you and do the registration for you, using your current hotel address…but you are under no obligation to register a bike if you’re not living in Japan.

+ Extra Resources
  • The best map book for cycle touring in Hokkaido is the Touring Mapple (http://amzn.to/29zK3Na – ISBN: 978-4398656261). It is all in Japanese, but the icons (such as convenience store, campground, hotsprings etc) are self-explanatory. It marks gravel roads too.
  • For campground information, we use the Hokkaido Campground Guide (http://amzn.to/29Cigum – ISBN: 978-4906740208). It is updated every year, and is super helpful, with details on the nearest onsen etc. All the campground info on my route maps is based on this book. It is also all in Japanese, and is unlikely to be any use unless you can read Japanese.
  • Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau’s Hokkaido Cycle Touring Pamphlet has a good deal of information on cycle touring in Hokkaido (PDF)
  • Cycling Japan has some routes outlined on their site here: http://cyclingjapan.jp/map.htm
  • The Japan Cycling Navigator team has some great resources on their website here: http://www.japancycling.org/v2/aguide/hokkaido/. In particular, they’ve highlighted some natural features of Hokkaido that would make for a nice join-the-dots tour! Their Hokkaido leg of their length of Japan tour would be a nice way to see some of the island too: http://www.japancycling.org/v2/cguide/part3/
  • A great video series of two people cycling around old closed train lines in Hokkaido: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfn3_nqQK28

Download this entire page as a PDF (29Mb)

Download link: http://www.14degrees.org/hokkaido-cycle-touring-routes.pdf

Route Overviews

Sapporo Out-and-Back via Tsukigata (140km)

  • Highlights: This easy, flat route follows two large rivers in the Sapporo area: the Toyohira River and Ishikari River. Paved riverside roads come and go, so enjoy the challenge of finding the best route, off the main trafficked roads. If doing this route in early spring or late autumn, the lake near the Tsukigata campground is frequented by thousands of migratory geese.
  • Access: Out and back from Sapporo via the Toyohira River cycle path or the Shiroishi Cycling Road, so no need for public transport.
  • Links

Dirt farm roads near the Ishikari River (Iwamizawa, Hokkaido, Japan)

Sapporo Out-and-Back via Lake Shikotsu (145km)

Swimming in Lake Shikotsu, Hokkaido, Japan

Sapporo Out-and-Back via Yubari (197km)

  • Highlights: This short three- to four-day loop escapes Sapporo via the fantastic Shiroishi Cycling road. Yuni Onsen is a mainstay; plan to eat there in the evening. Do this route in honey dew melon season (around August) and enjoy the cheap soils of the region from road-side stalls in Yubari. From Hobetsu campground to Mukawa, either challenge yourself to some nice forestry roads (marked on the route map below), or take the easier paved route.
  • Access: Out and back from Sapporo via the Shiroishi Cycling Road, so no need for public transport.
  • Links

Shiroishi Cycling Road in full blossom mode, Sapporo, Japan

Southern Hokkaido Week-Long (234km)

  • Highlights: The Japan Sea coast along the western side of the peninsula is rugged and drop-dead gorgeous. Take the coast the whole way round to Shimamaki, or head inland over the closed gravel road to get properly off the beaten track.
  • Access: Express trains stop a few times a day at Onuma-Koen station north of Hakodate. At the other end of the route, Kuromatsunai Town’s tiny station only attracts the local trains. But head from Kuromatsunai to Sapporo via Niseko and Otaru, and you’ll be treated to some beautiful mountain scenery.
  • Links

Trying out the Makomanai forestry road from Kitahiyama to Shimamaki, Hokkaido, Japan

Shakotan and Niseko Hills Tour (332km)

  • Highlights: Once you’re out of the urban sprawl, past Yoichi, the coastal bays and beaches are fantastic. Approaching the famous ski resort town of Niseko from the north, up up up over the hills is tough going but very rewarding. The highland Goshiki area is onsen heaven. The detour down to the expansive Lake Toya is worth it.
  • Access: We did this trip as a door-to-door trip from Sapporo. If you’re running low on time, there are trains from Niseko to Sapporo via Otaru.
  • Links

Relaxing in Kyogoku Camping Ground, Kyogoku, Hokkaido, Japan

Shiretoko Loop Tour (350km)

Camper-cycle hybrid tour of eastern Hokkaido, Japan

Hokkaido Deep-South Tour (400km)

The  Pothandle Rock (Okushiri Island, Hokkaido, Japan)

Trans-Hokkaido Gravel Route (490km)

  • IMPORTANT: This route is a back-country route that I’ve planned, but not cycled yet in its entirety (just bits here and there). As of July 2016, the route follows roads marked in the 2015 Touring Mapple map book. I’ve intentionally tried to link up as many gravel- and close-road routes as possible, and this route intentionally ignores all logic as far as getting from A to B is concerned, unless your logic revolves around seeking out the most remote, off-the-beaten-track routes. Many of the forestry roads on the route are closed to public vehicular thoroughfare, so cyclists need to be very self-sufficient. On any average day, there would unlikely to be any traffic on many of the routes. Road conditions vary from abandoned paved roads in fair condition to rutted un-kept gravel, and everything in between. The forestry-road sections require careful attention to the route on the map – there are plenty of forks in the road, and the most well-worn option is not always the one that will get you where you want to go. Signs will all be in Japanese, and generally only refer to local road names, rather than major destinations (i.e., they’re not much use, even if you read Japanese). Follow this route at your own risk.
  • Highlights: The stretch of closed road approaching Niniu from the south feels like a forgotten post-Armageddon landscape. The detour up towards Tomuraushi, into the guts of the Tokachi mountain range, should be fairly spectacular. Consider cycling all the way up to the top of Mikuni Pass (highest paved pass in Hokkaido) before hurtling back down to the forestry road that will take you over to Lake Oketo.
  • Access: From Honshu, ferries arrive at Tomakomai Port, just 23km from the start of the route (Google Maps link). From Sapporo, either cycle down to the start, or take a train on the JR line to Hama-Atsuma Station. At the other end, Engaru Station is one main hub for express trains to and from Sapporo/Tomakomai.
  • Links

Japan Far North (Rishiri and Rebun Islands) (600km)

Cycling Across Hokkaido (Nemuro to Sapporo) (635km)

  • Highlights: Kiritappu Cape and the Kushiro wetlands. The endless gorgeous farmlands of the Tokachi region. Nissho Pass is a highlight for all the wrong reasons – lots of trucks. But the diminutive mountain town of Hidaka is a nice refuge. Consider a more northerly route via Shimukappu if the high pass doesn’t appeal.
  • Access: There is an express train direct from Sapporo to Kushiro City. From Kushiro City, transfer to the local train to Nemuro, the end of the line.
  • July 2017 UPDATE: Nissho Pass is closed until October 2017 due to multiple road washouts. See this link (in Japanese) for current situation. The gravel-road shortcut between the 270km and 300km mark (from Nemuro)
    as of July 2017 had multiple trees down across the road. Thanks to CyclingAbout.com for their Youtube report about this.
  • Links

Arashimaya Campground (Memuro, Hokkaido, Japan)

Abashiri to Sapporo Trans-Hokkaido Route (665km)

  • Highlights: Mikuni Pass, Hokkaido’s highest at over 1,100m. Sounkyo Gorge and the cycle road alongside the Ishikari River is also a nice long downhill if coming from the Abashiri direction. The gravel forestry road part from Onneyu to just below the Mikuni Pass is rough and steep, but worth the effort.
  • Access: JR Abashiri Station is an eastern-Hokkaido hub, with four or five Sapporo-bound express trains leaving daily. The journey by train from Sapporo to Abashiri takes around 5 hours.
  • Links

View from Mikuni Pass (Hokkaido, Japan)


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42 thoughts on “Hokkaido Cycle Touring Routes

  • Andrew

    Like the website.

    My wife and I, who live in England, want to tour Hokkaido this summer on our tandem. We have now realised that there is a hitch. After reading around I think we understand the strict legal position – you can’t ride a tandem in Hokkaido – but it seems that it is not enforced – I can’t find anyone saying that they have been stopped. On the basis of what I have been able to find out I think we would risk it. But what I can’t find is any recent discussion of the issue. Has there been any change? Any up-to-date information would be gratefully received. If it makes any difference my wife has a damaged knee from an accident a few years ago and now finds it difficult to ride a solo for the kind of distances touring requires.

    Any thoughts?

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Hi Andrew, thanks for the message. It gave me cause to take a look at the relevant laws and bylaws, and update the page with the relevant information – see the ‘notes’ section at the top of the page. Cheers! Rob

  • Georg

    Very impressive website packed with useful information- you must have spent a lot of time making it!
    I will use it to plan our summer bicycle vacation in eastern Hokkaido.

  • Pamela James-Martin

    Firstly, the information on your website is amazing, and I shall read more. In the meantime I am wondering if you could give me some advice. My husband and I want to spend a week cycling in Hokkaido in autumn. We are road cyclists and would like to stay in ryokan accommodation (not camping). We would like to stay for 3 days in a couple of different places as our base, and do day rides around 60- 80 km. Would you have recommendation of a couple of places to stay that would give us good day rides? Would like to time our visit to see the autumn colours – would mid to end of Sept be good timing for that?

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Hi Pamela, thanks for the message. I’m afraid that I haven’t spent much time at ryokan in Hokkaido. However, if you can find a nice pension in Niseko, that would be a perfect place to base yourselves for a few days – amazing riding around Mt. Yotei, and some great riding up to Goshiki Onsen and other onsen up in the hills. All very accessible from somewhere like Hirafu (in Niseko). If you search for pension in Niseko on the Internet, you should be able to find somewhere suitable.

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      And I should probably recommend the Tokachi region near Obihiro City, too. This mostly-flat region is home to massive wide open farmland (crops and livestock) as well as vineyards. We loved cycling through there on our trans-Hokkaido trip from Nemuro to Sapporo (here).

  • Stephen Maniam

    Really informative site Rob. I’m slowly working my round the world by bike and gonna hit Japan later this year, starting in Hokkaido and working my way south from there.

    The question is, where to begin! Where would you start for a once-only point-to-point cycle? Nemuro? Wakkanai? Or elsewhere? And where in Hokkaido would you say is most unmissable for a cycle tourist?

      • Rob Thomson Post author

        Hey Stephen, my wife and I live near Shin-Sapporo JR Train Station in Sapporo (on the way to New Chitose Airport), and have a garage where you would be welcome to store your bike. Send me an email at rob.thomson@14degrees.org, and we can see if we can figure out if we can meet up – we’re pretty busy for the next few weeks starting new jobs.

          • Rob Thomson Post author

            Just in case anyone else is perusing these comments and would like to know options for storing bicycles in Sapporo:

            One option is the covered, secured, security-guard-manned bike parking next to Kinokuniya Bookstore next to Sapporo Station – the 5.5 Bicycle Parking (Location: https://goo.gl/maps/jhxwbDSV5Bz). As of March 2017, they charge 1,500yen for a month, 3,000yen for 2 months, 4,100yen for 3 months. I used that place for about 4 years when I was studying/working at Hokkaido University.

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Many people start in Wakkanai and head south along the Rumoi coast (along the Japan Sea coast), but I don’t think this is the best option. That coastline is nice, but it is not particularly variable in terms of scenery.

      Option 1 – If you have lots of time and just *must* go to the top of Japan (i.e., Wakkanai), consider cycling from Wakkanai to Abashiri, and then do the Abashiri-Sapporo route (http://www.14degrees.org/hokkaido-cycle-touring-routes/#abashiri-sapporo-trans-hokkaido).

      Option 2 – The Nemuro-Sapporo route I think captures much more of the variety and beauty of Hokkaido (http://www.14degrees.org/hokkaido-cycle-touring-routes/#across-hokkaido-nemuro).

      Option 3 – Join up the Shiretoko Tour (which starts in Abashiri) and Nemuro-Sapporo route if you have time. The Shiretoko area is really quite beautiful.

      I hope this helps!

  • scott cole

    Holy cramp Rob, this is a hell of a website. I’m an American living in Northern Sweden and my wife and I just booked plane ticket to Sapporo for a 6 week bike tour around Hokkaido (with our trail running shoes!) Looks like we’ll be spending a lot of time on your site. Wow, thanks for this. Really like the dirt road option — we’ll be checking that one out ! Great pics too !

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Awesome – great to hear that my website may assist you in getting thoroughly lost in the Hokkaido wilderness 🙂

      • scott

        Rob, even if we plan to use GPS maps on phone during our bike tour, we want to order a reasonably large (not too big) Hokkaido paper map that we can lay on kitchen floor for our planning. tips? … Also, tips on how/if European smartphones (Iphone) can be easily converted with local Japanese SIM card?

        • Rob Thomson Post author

          Using a Japanese SIM card in an overseas smartphone is possible, and your best bet is to get that sorted at the airport. New Chitose Airport (Sapporo’s airport) apparently has a SIM card vending machine. You might want to get some more intel via the interweb regarding New Chitose Airport’s offerings though, and if you have time after you land in Tokyo, you’ll have more options at the airport there (i.e., Narita or Haneda Airport).

          As for a big Hokkaido paper map, I haven’t searched for an English version before, so I’m not sure what’s out there in that regard sorry! We have a massive map on our wall in Japanese (this one), but it uses quite heavy paper, so wouldn’t be great for carrying around during the trip. A better option (also in Japanese) would be the Mapple issued one, ISBN 978-4398765314. And of course, the Touring Mapple Hokkaido version (ISBN 978-4398656339, also in Japanese) is the king of the bunch, but doesn’t have a really big Hokkaido-wide map, just smaller detailed sections – including dirt roads 🙂

  • Andrew O'Regan

    Hi Rob
    Great site. Myself, wife and 2 teenage daughters – the girls are not very experienced or even that fit at the moment- looking at a 5 day flat cycling tour around your beautiful island post exams. What would you suggest? We’re not campers so perhaps 3 days based in x and 3 days in y would work to get the best scenery? Is early June a good time? Coming from HK.

    Thanks in advance Rob

  • roi

    very helpfull article
    i was wondering if its possible to buy a second hand tour bike and sell it. i want to ride across hokaido, or if you know of a better way to get buke for that

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Hi Roi,

      In my experience, in Hokkaido it is quite difficult to find a secondhand bicycle suitable for cycle touring. That is, a bike with racks etc. If you don’t mind cycle touring on a single-speed bicycle like this, then you will be fine – and many Japanese university students do it!

  • Bianca

    G’day Rob, I am so happy I found this website. We are Australians with a 2.5 year old son who have been looking for a place near (ish) to home to cycle tour this July-August. I haven’t been able to find any really good solid info for our local region, something we need more of now that we are towing our son in a trailer (although we cycled Samoa last year which we had lots of info for). Now that we have a son on a trailer we need to do a bit more research and consider safety, humidity etc. I was recommended Hokkaido or Taiwan and I feel so excited about Japan. Some questions though: we have bikes/trailer but would prefer to hire them there- are trailers able to be hired readily? We have about 2 weeks to tour and average about 30-50km a day with our son who needs to wriggle about every so often. The Shiritoko Loop Tour interests me, we love coast and wilderness/camping…would you recommend doing this with a 2 year old in a trailer? Any safety issues to take note of?

    many thanks, bonza website too 🙂
    Bianca

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Hey Bianca, great to hear you are considering heading up this way. The summer here is much more mild than down south. I am sure you’d all love it. Renting trailers: I have not heard of anywhere in Hokkaido offering trailers for hire. Try Spark Cycling in my list of bike hire places above. They might be able to point you in the right direction, or at least be able to help out with bikes that will work with your trailers.

      As for the Shiretoko Loop tour, this would be quite nice with a kid in tow. You have the separated cycle path on the Chitose side, and the Morappu Campground at the eastern end of the lake is nice enough. There is also a Rider’s House next to the campground where you could stay if the weather was too frightful (1,500yen a night, here). Traffic is generally well behaved on the road sections. The only bit where traffic is busy and the road narrow is the bit between the 11.5km point on the RideWithGPS route, for about 5km or so.

      The only thing to keep in mind is that the bit between Sapporo and the lake is a lot of climbing…deceptively so. Give yourselves plenty of time.

      I hope this helps!

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      Sorry, I completely misread your comment…thought you were talking about the Lake Shikotsu trip! The Shiretoko Loop Tour would be even better. A bit of a mission to get all your gear on the train, but certainly doable with patience and plenty of time to carry/shuttle gear up onto the platform (you cannot wheel bikes onto the platforms in Japan).

      The roads out east in Hokkaido are generally quiet, and traffic is always well behaved in our experience. If I had a 2.5 year old it would definitely be an option!

      • Bianca

        Thank you so much Rob! We could bring our trailer along, bit of a pain but do-able…will check out the shop you mentioned….I’m happy you think its great for kid towing, I thought so too! And train platforms and shuffling gear onto them, throwing them onto trains in a hurry etc. Done all that before in Europe (was in tears often lol) but hopefully now with our son we will have more thought-out strategies 🙂

        Many thanks! Bianca

  • Marina

    Hi Rob,

    firstly, I can only agree on the previous comments: great blog with really useful information! One of very few sources of well organized infromation in english in fact!
    I’m from Germany and staying in Osaka for two month for work. I would like to profit from the Golden Week holiday to explore Hokkaido. I am flying in to Sapporo for only 5 days but I am very keen on exploring the outdoors. I wonder if you can give me some advices for my plans.

    Do you have any recommendation what is doable in this time of year? I was thinking of lake Shikotsu. An other idea was to catch the bus to Shiretoko, but I realizide it might be too early and most of the interesting hikes will be closed, right? Should I have any concerns as a solo female traveler?
    Meanwhile I have read a few of your blog posts on Golden Week rides, which were particulary interesting to get an idea of how the weather might be 🙂 Is there any chance that you are doing an other Golden Week cycle where I could join you guys for couple of days?

    Thanks alot in advance!
    Marina

    P.S.: Didn’t see the comment function first (with really usefull comments!) and tried to e-mail you… but thought it might be better to write a comment in the end 🙂

  • Marcos de Paiva Bueno

    wow, thanks for sharing all this helpful information!

    I’m planing to ride around Hokkaido this summer and now I’m trying to combine this routes you shared to come up with a loop tour (Sapporo to Sapporo). Any recomendations? Would be apporpriate to take a train at any point?

    • Rob Thomson Post author

      As for taking a train, it all really depends on how much time you have. There are express trains that go from Sapporo to Hakodate, Wakkanai, Abashiri, and Nemuro. Plenty of local trains in between too.

  • Carla Koopman

    We are interested in a bike trip in Hokkaido may/June 2018, we are a couple and would like to make a tour of 2-3 weeks, self-guided or not.
    We would like to hire the bikes and are interested in the Shiretoko tour in combination with another tour (not gravel roads) as for instance the trans-hokkaido tour, we prefer tarmac roads and do an average of 50-70 km/day level 2
    What could you recommend us and what is the price ?

  • Georg Henriksson

    Note that Shiraruto Lake Campground has closed – we went there mid July 2017. The onsen next to it is still open though. Toromotomura Camping Ground some kilometers down the road at Lake Toro is open though.

  • robert

    Great site I love it.
    I’ve just arrived in Chitose and have a month to tour. However i am thinking of doing just 20 days and then taking the ferry to kyoto and flying out of osaka.
    I’m wndering which of these itineraries you think would be the best, for my duration and this time of year 11 october.

    Cheers. Rob from Australia

  • robert

    Great site I love it.
    I’ve just arrived in Chitose and have a month to tour. However i am thinking of doing just 20 days and then taking the ferry to kyoto and flying out of osaka.
    Which of these itineraries do you think would be the best, for my duration and this time of year 11 october.
    I’m leaning towards the “across Hokkaido” one plus the shiretoko loop but 1 way, then a train back to sapporo/otaru and off to kyoto

    Cheers. Rob from Australia

  • Clemens

    That is a great website with mouth-watering pictures and infos…Will consider this for a planned cycling trip in 2019!

    Does anybody have firsthand information on transporting bicycles on trains? In commuter trains around the large cities (Tokyo, where we started last year) there is no space – we would have felt uncomfortable even if it was legal. Outside the urban areas it is apparently possible if you pack the bike – which is a very unpractical thing to have to do, especially when you use a travel bike with racks and fenders. Is it any different in Hokkaido?

    Last year we ended up just cycling everything from Narita Airport and back. For another visit we would either have to go to a different airport, or ride many of the same roads again and visit the same regions…

    Thanks!