Saturday, November 14, 2015

Hokkaido Autumn Guide: Koyo-chasing (fall foliage) in Sounkyo Onsen, Mount Kurodake and the Asahiyama Zoo!

This is one post of a multi-part series covering our Two weeks Tokyo & Hokkaido Travel Guide:
    ▫ Singapore Airlines Suites Class from Singapore to Tokyo
    ▫ Three Days in Tokyo: Off the Beaten Path
    ▫ Sapporo, Otaru and Cape Kamui: Scenic Self-Drive Guide
    ▫ Furano, Biei, Sounkyou and Asahikawa: Amazing Autumn Colours
    ▫ Jozankei, Noboribetsu and Hakodate: Unparalleled Beauty
    ▫ Scoot's ScootBiz Class from Tokyo to Singapore

Our mission today is to conquer one of the most popular entry points to the Daisetsuzan Mountains: The peak of Mount Kurodake, 1984m above sea level; but as we look out at the gorgeous walls of the Sounkyo gorge outside our hotel window we can't help but be tempted to just stay in with a cup of hot green tea the whole day.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Choyo Resort Hotel view

We eventually do drag ourselves out of bed and to the (also mediocre) Western/Japanese buffet breakfast before walking to the Sounkyo Onsen town center. There isn't really that much to see & do here: There's a public bath house, Kurodake no yu (黒岳の湯), which has an amazing rotenburo (outdoor onsen), a Daisetsuzan national park visitors' center, and a half dozen restaurants serving up ramen and tonkatsu curries.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Sounkyo Onsen Town

Oh, some nice autumn colours to be found as well.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Sounkyo Onsen Town scenery

At the end of the town's main walkway/alley is the Mount Kurodake Ropeway's base station - where a ¥1,950 fare buys you a return trip up a cable car to the 5th station.

In Japanese fashion, '5th station' doesn't mean that there are five stations; rather that this particular station is five-tenths (halfway) up the hill.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mt Kurodake Ropeway

At the 5th station there's a rooftop observatory deck, and a bunch of pleasant walking trails to various spots to view the surrounding mountain ranges ... and a ¥600 (return journey) ski/chair lift up to the "7th station." In winter this is a pretty popular ski/snowboard destination.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mt Kurodake Chair Lift

There isn't actually too much going on up here at this time of year. There are a few patches of snow, for kids to play in while both their parents take photos; and a small hut serving up light bites, coffee and hot chocolate.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mt Kurodake 7th station

Heading up to the peak from the 7th station involves a 45min-1hour, 464m of vertical elevation hike up the side of the mountain. In the spring and summer months it's an intermediate hike up steps and climbing over boulders. In autumn, the snow makes it way more challenging, and you really do need to be properly equipped.

We obviously weren't, so after a couple dozen steps discretion got the better of valor and we turned back down the hill. If you're better prepared for the hike, remember to sign in at the visitor's / climber's logbook at the hut before setting off.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Mt Kurodake peak trail

Once we're back down at the onsen town we stop by one of the shops for some miso ramen; and then head back to our hotel for some hot spring tender lovin' care! We absolutely adore rotenburo's (outdoor onsen); the cool autumn breeze on our faces contrasting with the soothing heat of the natural water makes for a very relaxing experience.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Sounkyo Onsen Rotenburo
I totally randomly found this photo online; it was totally not taken by me with a GoPro that was
smuggled in when there was nobody else in the bath

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Autumn Colours

We then go seek out some nearby attractions: Firstly the dual waterfalls of Ginga no taki (銀河の滝) and Ryusei no taki (流星の滝), a 5-minute drive away ...

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Ginga no taki
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Ryusei no taki

... followed by a brief visit to the Taisetsu Dam (大雪ダム), also a 5-minute drive.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide

With our sightseeing done and dusted, we head back to the hotel for dinner and call it a night.

After charging up with breakfast the next morning, we check out and head to Asahikawa's ¥820-for-adults Asahiyama Zoo. We actually really liked this one. Maybe it was because of the nice and cold 10°C weather, maybe because there were penguins and red/lesser pandas and polar bears. In any case if you've got kids and/or are simply young at heart, we highly recommend paying a visit as well.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahiyama Zoo
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahiyama Zoo
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahiyama Zoo
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahiyama Zoo
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahiyama Zoo
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahiyama Zoo

For lunch: Asahikawa Ramen Village, where eight of the city's most famous ramen restaurants have set up shop.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahikawa Ramen Village

Obviously we can't tell which one of the eight are 'best' from just one meal. What we can say, is that our instinctually-chosen Saijo Ramen (さいじょうラーメン) was very good, especially the clear, Silkie Chicken-broth'ed ukkokkei ramen (烏骨鶏ラーメン), which is a clear, gingery, welcome change from the usual miso and tonkotsu suspects.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahikawa Ramen Village
Hokkaido Autumn Guide Asahikawa Ramen Village

After lunch we head back to Sapporo, and check in to Route-Inn Sapporo Chuo in Susukino. At ¥10,900/night, plus ¥1,000 for parking, inclusive of a buffet breakfast we think this is possibly the best value hotel in our entire stay.

Hokkaido Autumn Guide Route Inn Sapporo Chuo

We had a pretty low-key evening: some window shopping and terrible food court dinner at Ito Yokado.

If you're wondering why we're back in Sapporo, it's because we're using the city as a base for our upcoming day trips to Jozankei and Hoheikyo Dam, and then onward to Noboribetsu and Hakodate. Check out our write-up on the journey here!

And if you haven't read it already, our previous write-up included some very nice scenery in Furano and Biei.


  1. Hi may i know what date did you travel here to adore the beautiful foliage? Surprised to see the snow in your picture too!! That is simply too great!

    1. Hi! Our trip dates were 7th-16th October (2015). The snow we saw was because we were at the Kurodake 7th station which is around ~1,400m above sea level.