Hokkaido is Japan's wild northern island, filled with mystique and wilderness experiences. It's an escapist destination, home to an abundance of national parks that make it feel very different from the rest of the country. Hokkaido is the Japan's second largest island and changes with the seasons, bringing a new experience dependent on when people visit. Winter is the most popular time as Hokkaido is home to Japan's ski slopes and the Sapporo Snow Festival. The landscapes change colour throughout the other months and there are wonderful opportunities to get out into the mountains and parks.
Hokkaido Prefecture incorporates all of Hokkaido Island. Sapporo is the central capital and main gateway city. This is where the famous Snow Festival is held for two weeks every February, turning the city streets into an art gallery of ice sculptures. Sapporo is ringed by Hokkaido's mountainous interior, with rugged slopes that turn white in winter to create Japan's premier skiing destinations. Niseko and Furano are the largest of the ski resorts and the quantity of fresh powder is legendary, with some slopes getting upwards of 12 metres a season. In the summer, Daisetsuzan National Park has some astounding hiking routes.
Chitose Airport is the only international gateway in Hokkaido. There are flights to a handful of Asian destinations along with dozens of daily connections with Tokyo and Osaka. Hokkaido's main link to the rest of Japan is via the world's longest rail tunnel. However, Shinkansen high-speed trains only travel to Hakodate in the far south of the island, and from here there are slower local connections to Sapporo. Renting a car is the easiest way to get around as much of the island is remote.
Much of Hokkaido's east and north is wild and remote, a land of lavender fields and peppermint farms. Wakkanai and Asahikawa are the cities here but most visitors skip through them on route to one of the national parks. Mysterious Lake Masyu is the highlight of the tranquil Akan National Park, while it's possible to see bears bathing in the hot waterfalls of World Heritage Shiretoko National Park. The south of Hokkaido is packed with hot springs and patchwork hills, making it popular with visitors making a looping trip from Sapporo to Hakodate and back.