The drive to Lake Shikotsu from Sapporo took us through the winding Route 463. The road was sandwiched between skeletons of trees standing on a thin layer of snow and waiting to spring back to life at any moment. The winding road straightened abruptly as we approached the shore of Lake Shikotsu. Driving along the shore, I admired the beauty of Mount Eniwa reflecting in the calm water of the lake. The water in the lake was very clear and I could even see the rock while cruising on the road. Soon we arrived at the Shikotsuko Hot Spring and spent a few hours enjoying a picnic by the lake side. This was my second trip to Shikotsuko and certainly not my last. The proximity of the lake from Sapporo and its natural aura makes it a popular getaway for locals and traveller alike. Find out what you can see and do in Shikotsuko, one of my favourite day trip spots from Sapporo.
Lake Shikotsu (支笏湖) is one of the two major lakes in the Shikotsu Toya National Park with Lake Toyako being the other. On quiet days, the serene lake reflects the surrounding mountains and forests creating a picture postcard scene. Being a national park, the Shikotsuko area is also full of nature and wildlife including Hokkaido Brown bears, Japanese red fox and Black woodpeckers. Access to the lake by public transport is easy, thanks to Japan`s convenient public transport system. However, to explore the other local attractions in Shikotsuko area a car or bike ride is highly recommended.
Lake Shikotsu facts
- It was formed 40,000 years ago due to a massive explosion of three volcanic mountains Mount Eniwa, Mount Tarumae and Mount Fuppushi.
- Lake Shikotsu is the second largest caldera lake after Lake Kussharo and the second deepest lake after Lake Tazawa in Japan.
- It ranks as the Eighth largest lake in Japan.
- Lake Shikotsuko is the northernmost non-freezing open lake in Japan.
Activities around Lake Shikotsuko
- Bike riding and scuba diving ( yes, you can scuba dive in this freshwater lake ) are quite popular activities here. To rent a bike or scuba diving gears head to Shikotsu Kohan on the western side of the lake.
- Every year from mid-April to early November, boat rides are also offered on underwater sightseeing boats, speedboats, swan boats, and water skaters. Click here for more information on Lake Shikotsu sightseeing boats.
- For birdwatchers, a wild bird sanctuary also known as Yacho-no-mori is on the South of Lake Shikotsu.
- Fishing is another popular activity here, and mysterious giant Sakhalin Taimen and the threatened Hucho Taimens are believed to be lurking deep inside the lake .
There are plenty of restaurants along the lake side. I love eating cheese imo-mochi (traditional Hokkaio food) and Yubikari Melon flavoured soft cream at the lake side while enjoying the view.
Popular Lake Shikotsu festivals
Shikotsu Hyoutou Festival/ Ice Festival:
Held annually from January 24th to the February 16th. The lake Shikotsu winter festival features ice sculptures made out of water from the lake; fireworks, Wadaiko drum performances and lots more. Do carry enough layers to avoid becoming a sculpture yourself.
Photo Credit matome.naver.jp
Sightseeing Spots around Lake Shikotsu:
The below spots are best explored by car or bike ride.
Koke no Domon (Moss Canyon):
Koke no Domon is a moss covered gulley. The gulley was created due to the deposition of ignimbrite during a volcanic eruption of Mt. Tarumae tens of thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, due to the danger of an avalanche entry to the gulley is not permitted. However, there is an observation platform. Open for public viewing from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm early June to late October.
Photo Credit Jpatokal
Directions to Koke no Domon: Approximately 20 minutes walk from the car park to viewing platform. Click here for directions.
Kyoboku-no-Mori (Gigantic Forest trees):
A huge forest filled with hundreds of years old sky touching Katsura and Oak trees. There are also old sayings that some of the trees in Kyoboku-no-mori have spirits in them. It is certainly a place where I would not like to get lost.
Directions to Kyoboku-no-Mori: Park at Bifue Camping ground and walk along the camp-site tracks.
Mt. Tarumae is an active volcano that last erupted in 1981. 70 percent of the mountain is accessible by car. To get to the mountain peak, you will need to park at Nango-mae and then hike. Climbing to the top will take about one hour for intermediate to expert hikers. You can also circle the crater of the active volcano however, due to poisonous gases entry to the crater is not allowed. At the summit, enjoy stunning views of the Hidaka mountain range, Mt. Yotei and Lake Shikotsu. Full day guided tours to Mt. Tarumae are also available.
Directions to Mt. Tarumae: Takes about 30 minutes to the car park at Nango-mae. Click here for directions.
A beautiful lake nestled deep within the forests near Mt. Eniwa-dake in the Shikotsuko area. Lake Okotanpe is best explored by walking. A viewing platform is also available on Highway 78.
Photo Credit Ms.ShuShu
Directions to Lake Okotanpe: Approximately 30 minutes drive from Lake Shikotsu. Click here for directions.
Popular onsens around Lake Shikotsu:
Marukoma Onsen Ryokan:
Marukoma Onsen is the oldest and one of the most popular hot springs among day visitors. The baths are located along the lake shore and offer relaxation away from the tourists in the lake area. Click here for Marukoma Onsen Ryokan`s Japanese website.
Business hours for non staying guests: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm
Admission fees: 1000 JPY
Directions: Approximately 15 minutes by drive or taxi from Lake Shikotsu. Click here for driving directions.
Lake Shikotsu Tsuruga Resort Spa Mizu no Uta :
Tsuruga is a four star rated Onsen resort located near the pleasure-boat boarding point at Shikotsuko. It is at a walk-able distance from the all the restaurants and souvenir shops in the lake area. The resort also offers lunch buffet and hot spring packages at 3000 JPY for non staying guests.
Directions and other information : Click here
Tip: If you plan to visit hot-springs on a day trip, do carry an Onsen bath towel and a face towel to avoid any embarrassment. Click for information on Japanese Onsen etiquettes.
For more information on other Onsen ryokans in Shikotsuko area, click here.
How to go to Lake Shikotsu?
Click here to for directions and other information on Lake Shikotsu.
Parking fees: 410 JPY
Hokkaido Chuo tour buses also operate between New Chitose airport and Lake Shikotsu in all seasons. Click here for information.
A trip to Lake Shikotsu is worthwhile in all seasons. In summer the mountain peaks and forests are lush and green, in autumn they display vibrant autumn colours and in winter you will be in a winter wonderland while enjoying a hot Onsen dip.
Do let me know your comments or questions by writing below.
As always, thank you for reading