I love nature. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time in cities, but I’ve definitely discovered that there’s something about being in nature that grounds me in a way the city never does. Nature is energizing in a pure, romantic way – and by romantic I mean in the Romanticisim sense: there’s just something about the sublime beauty of the outdoors that is awe inspiring. I suppose it has something to do with the city Mike and I grew up in – there was always a forest to explore or a waterfall to hike to – the wild was never too far away.
Our shared love of untouched pristine nature is a driving force in many of our travels. With so much travel inspiration out there, sometimes it’s hard to decide where to go. I mean, cities always call because food, but sometimes you just need to get away from the grays and blacks of cityscapes and escape into the lush greens of the wild. Just as I was feeling the itch to get away from city life, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Hokkaido, Japan’s most Northern island. Hokkaido is most famous for its potatoes, dairy products (hello molten cheesecake tarts!), snow, and vast pristine swaths of wilderness.
I love Hokkaido, not just because it’s the land of potatoes, but because it seems to be a place perfectly in balance with nature. We spent four days exploring the Eastern side of Hokkaido: climbing mountains, paddling down rivers, hiking in pristine forests, watching sulfur clouds puff up from an active volcano, waking up for sunrise everyday, and best of all, glamping. It was absolutely breathtaking.
I think my favorite part of our trip was the fact that it happened in fall. If you love fall – the crisp cold air of the changing seasons and the brilliant color show trees throw before settling into a winter slumber – then you should go to Hokkaido. Fall happens to be my all time favorite season even though it eventually leads to winter. I don’t particularly like being cold and there’s something about the switch between summer and fall that confuses my body (I never know what to wear when it’s both sunny and cold), but fall is just so gorgeous that it is at top of my list.
The fall leaves in Japan, and especially Hokkaido, are out of this world. The very first of the fall leaves start in Hokkaido because it’s the coldest island in the chain. Because of the unique North-South position of the islands, you can chase the fall leaves from mid-September all the way until the end of November into early December. If you think the cherry blossoms are something you’d love to see in Japan, brace yourselves because I feel like the fall leaves are just as amazing, if not more. Just like the cherry blossom guide that tells you when the blossoms will arrive, the Japanese have a handy up-to-date koyo (autumn leaves) guide that let’s you know when the leaves are green, starting to change, approaching peak, and full peak. It’s amazing and for a fall foliage lover like me, a dream come true.
Thankfully, there were plenty of fall leaves to see on our trip – I was in heaven. Our first brush with Fall with a capital F was at Mt. Asahi-dake in Daisetsuzan National Park. At the base of the mountain, there was a short hike through a little forest with bright red and orange gold leaves contrasting perfectly with deep dark evergreens. From there there was a ropeway that took us halfway up the mountain. We rode up through the rain and fog, with colorful trees here and there peeking out from the mist.
At the top of the ropeway, which was really the midway point to the top of the peak, everything was bathed in and ethereal mist of gentle rain. Wandering around, we found several little round “mirror” ponds that were mesmerizingly still, even with the sky pouring down. At times when the path was quiet, it almost felt like we were the only people in the world. It was quiet in the best way possible, with the sound of the rain falling being the only soundtrack to our little hike.
As much as I like rain, I don’t particularly like being wet, so it was nice to get out of our rain gear and get cozy at the end of the day. We stayed at a ryokan. Let me say that again with the amount of enthusiasm I felt when I was actually there: WE STAYED AT A RYOKAN! I’ve always wanted to stay at a ryokan, or traditional Japanese inn. The one we stayed at was a bit more of a modern, giant ryokan, but it was a ryokan none the less and there were yukata (Japanese robes) and slippers to change into and the overall feeling was incredibly festive. The food was intense: course after course of amazing Hokkaido produce prepared perfectly. It was so luxurious.
The view outside our window was particularly gorgeous the next day with the sun shining. It was a mountainside covered in trees, dotted every now and again with one changing colors for fall. There was a happy little river running alongside it and I felt like I was living in a dreamy anime. But if that was dreamy, I must’ve pinched myself every hour on the hour after that because everything got a whole lot dreamier because glamping.
In case you guys don’t know, Mike and I are a little bit obsessed with camping and in particular, the idea about camping in Japan. See, they camp differently in Japan. They go all out: everything is thought out and gorgeous. While camping in North America is kind of about roughing it, camping in Japan is all about being luxe while surrounded by the beauty of the outdoors.
The glamping site we went to was set up by Wondertrunk, a Japanese travel company that highlights new destinations to travel to in Japan. They really know their stuff – trust me when I say, you want to glamp in Hokkaido. To say the glamp site was beautiful would be understating it. It was set up right next to Lake Kussharo, the largest caldera lake in Japan, complete with it’s own mythical friendly lake creature, Kusshi. We didn’t spot Kusshi, but we went on many early morning hikes around the lake, and the fog and the mist and the random spurts of volcanic sulfuric vents were an incredibly romantic backdrop. I was in heaven!
Camping in Japan is all about the camp set ups and the set up at the camp was over the top in the best way possible. The tents – yurts really – had little heaters inside, as well as a sitting area, a large fluffy comfortable bed with the coziest blankets, a clothing rack, and a little toiletry bag full of everything you might need for your shower/washroom needs at camp. It was incredibly thoughtful and full of the Japanese idea of omotenashi: the unique Japanese idea of hospitality.
The entire camp was full of thoughtful touches. There was a community tent, full of cozy furry rugs, low couches, and loads of heaters for a super welcoming space for all the campers to hang out. In the mornings, there was a toast-it-yourself bread situation and I’m not ashamed to say that I almost ate a whole loaf by myself – the bread in Hokkaido is amazing. There was even a small natural outdoor hot spring onsen only five minutes from camp – perfect for relaxing in after a long day of hikes, especially at night.
My favorite part of camping anywhere are the sunrises. There’s something about sleeping outdoors that makes me wake up early. That or I was majorly jet lagged. I wasn’t complaining about it though because the sunrises in Japan are exceptional. There’s a reason why it’s called the land of the rising sun, after all. But, rivaling the sunrises was the night sky. As the sun set and the sky turned purple, then a deep brilliant navy, stars started to twinkle and spill out onto an inky black canvas. A few short minutes later and the sky is pitch black and it’s almost like you can reach out and touch the milky way itself.
Speaking of the stars, there’s a spot in Hokkaido where you almost feel like you’re on another planet. We took a short nature walk on squishy mossy green paths from Kawayu Onsen towards Mount Iozan, also aptly called Sulfur Mountain. Mount Io is an active volcano, but not the kind with lava. Nope, here there are lots of luminous sulfur clouds that puff out of the ground, white and dense. You can get up close and personal and even see bubbling water and bright florescent yellow sulfur rocks. It was mesmerizing (and also just the tiniest bit stinky heehee).
We spent most, if not all of our time in Hokkaido outside: paddling down the rivers, hiking in the forest, starring at the sky. It was incredible. All in all, Hokkaido stole my heart. We’ll be back soon I’m sure.
One last thing: Hokkaido is known for the freshest seafood around and one of the best ways to enjoy it is to have a choose it yourself katte-don. It was the last thing we did in Kushiro City before flying out to Tokyo. Kushiro is home to a cute little food market called Washo Ichiba. They have all kinds of food there but mostly everyone choses to do the katte-don, which is a seafood rice bowl. You buy rice at one of the rice stores then go around to the different fish shops and buy sashimi to go on top. It was one of the best seafood dons I had and it was so fun going around and picking out the tastiest looking sashimi.