Planning to visit Hokkaido on your next holiday? We bet you have many places in mind you would like to see. If you love nature and sightseeing and don’t mind some trekking, a visit to one of Japan’s 30 or so national parks is a must. One of the national parks we recommend is the Daisetsuzan (大雪山) National Park, located in the central part of Hokkaido near Asahikawa city.
The largest national park of Japan, the mountainous area of Daisetsuzan National Park is home to Japan’s wildlife such as brown bears, deer and squirrels as well as a myraid of flora and fauna. Thanks to its temperate climate, the scenery changes with each season, from the fresh green foliage to striking red and yellow leaves of the Fall season before a blanket of white snow takes over in Winter.
Part of the Daisetsuzan National Park, Mount Kurodake (黒岳) is located in the small resort town of Sounkyo. Overall, Sounyko is a great place to enjoy natural onsen (hot spring), ryokan stays and sightseeing. The more adventurous travellers can also visit the area for trekking or mountain climbing during the warmer months. In winter, skiing takes over as the entire area is blanketed with soft, powdery snow.
We recommend a day trip to Mount Kurodake from Asahikawa or a night’s stay at one of the ryokans in Sounkyo. You might even want to extend your stay in Sounkyo if you plan to do lots of hiking at the national park. However, lodging is expensive with the cheapest option at around S$300 per night at a family room at the Sounkyo Youth Hostel. Before you go, check whether your hotel in Sounkyo offers free shuttle buses to and from Asahikawa, you can save some money that way.
How to get to Mount Kurodake from Asahikawa
There are 2 options to get to Soukyo (層雲峡) by public transport.
Option 1: take the JR train to Kamikawa Station (around 40 minutes, JPY2,000 one way). Get off at Kamikawa Station then hop on the Dohoku bus headed for Sounkyo (30 minutes, JPY870). This option is good for those who have a JR Pass or JR Hokkaido Pass as your train ride will be free of charge. You’ll only have to pay for your bus ride from Kamikawa Station to Sounkyo. Note that you cannot use either of the train passes for the bus ride as the bus service is run by a different operator.
Option 2: Take the Dohoku bus headed for Sounkyo starting from Asahikawa Train Station. The journey takes around 1 hour 50 minutes one way and costs JPY2,100 one-way. There is no discount for getting a return bus ticket. This option is better for travellers who do not have the JR Pass or JR Hokkaido Pass. Also, it’s a straight bus that takes you all the way to Sounkyo, making it a smoother journey without transfers. Remember to use the toilet before you board the bus as it does not stop along the way. You can buy your ticket on board. Check Dohuku bus timetable.
For us, we opted to take the bus all the way from Asahikawa Train Station as we didn’t have the train pass. The bus ticket of JPY2,100 one-way was pretty steep in our opinion. But it was an enjoyable journey, passing many farms and villages on the way. The bus will stop you at Sounkyo town, in front of the post office. This is the same pick up point for your return trip.
Mount Kurodake Ropeway
If you plan to take the ropeway up Mount Kurodake, you can purchase your tickets from the ropeway station beside Sounkyo Visitor Centre, across from the bus drop off point. The ropeway station is located in the same building as the ticket counter. For us that day, what would have been a 3-minute walk to the visitor centre from the drop-off point turned out to be a 15-minute trek. Although it was still Autumn (early November), the roads had become very wet and slippery from the melting snow and our sneakers didn’t provide proper grip. If you’re planning to go in late Autumn or Winter, make sure you have proper footwear.
The ropeway (JPY1,850 return) will take you to the 5th station or about halfway up the summit. It consists of a large cabin the size of a mini-bus and is hoistered up some 1,000 metres above sea level via steel cables. The 15-minute ropeway ride is a rather thrilling one even for those who are not afraid of heights. Try to distract yourself with the breathtaking views, which changes by the season. It’s really quite a sight — something you’ll have to see to believe. From late autumn through to winter, you can expect a lot of snowfall in the area.
The 5th station offers an observation deck with views into the gorge below. On the second floor of the station is Kurodake restaurant, in case you’re hungry. After your meal, you can proceed to the walking trail that leads to the forest. Be sure to take some photos there as the sights are amazing. To go further up the mountain, you can either hike from there or take the chair lift (JPY600), which would take you to the 7th station (seven tenth up the mountain). Unfortunately for us, the ski lift was closed for maintenance that day. So we just spent some time taking pictures at the trail before heading back down. Check out the 5th station trail map here.
After you descend from the ropeway, you can either have some food at the restaurants in Sounkyo town or go to an onsen. Thanks to the Daisetsuzan volcano belt, there are good onsens in the area. Many of these onsens welcome non-staying guests for a fee. We recommend Mount Kurodake onsen, located near the restaurant stretch in Sounkyo town. It costs JPY500 for a full-day’s use. Mount Kurodake onsen boasts an indoor and outdoor onsen with the latter providing a view of the mountains. You may also check out one of the public baths in the area.
If you’re taking the Dohuku bus back to Asahikawa, make sure you arrive at the pick up point 15 minutes before the scheduled timing. The buses leave on the dot, so you don’t want to miss your ride.