Niseko is most renowned for its Japow (deep powder snow) in the winter, but how does a visit to the Hokkaido town change in the summer? Find out with our 48-hour guide.
The green season in Niseko, which describes the spring and summer months, is all about enjoying the outdoors, from adrenaline-packed alpine activities to spotting native wildlife. It’s also the ideal time to learn about the local art scene and indulge in Hokkaido’s sumptuous fresh produce. Two days is just enough time to breeze through the main areas of Niseko, seeing them in all their lush summer glory.
Morning: Jump into the Shiribetsu River rapids
Grab a light bite before jumping straight in with some whitewater rafting down the Shiribetsu River – this can be organised through the Niseko Adventure Centre (NAC) team. The snow melting off the area’s mountain peaks and flowing downstream introduces whitewater rapids, which are quite the adrenaline rush to navigate. Alternatively, try paddling down the river in a ducky – inflatable kayaks suitable for singles or couples. Either way, appreciate the pretty surrounds of the pristine mountain waters teeming with rainbow trout and Japanese char, and the untouched alpine forest.
Afternoon: Try some handmade organic soba, then head up Mount Annupuri
Once you’re back on dry land, it’s time to feast, so head over to Teuchi-Soba Ichimura (the NAC team will gladly drop you off there) for handmade organic buckwheat noodles served hot or cold, with crispy tempura or succulent local duck breast.
Work off your meal by heading towards Hirafu, where you can take the Summer Gondola 500m (1,640ft) up Mount Annupuri, ascending in silence over magnificent views of the forest below. You might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Hokkaido red fox darting through the vegetation. Should you need more excitement after the morning’s river run, you could consider descending via mountain bike.
Next, board a bus from the Hirafu Welcome Centre to the Takahashi Farm Niseko Milk Kobo, taking in the vast fields of vegetables, fruit and flowers along the way, before stopping for a taste of Hokkaido’s amazing dairy produce – the soft-serve ice cream, choux puffs and yoghurt here are all highly recommended.
A 20-minute walk northeast will take you to Niseko Village’s PURE, an outdoor activity centre where tree trekking is the thing to do. Traverse the treetops using a series of zip lines, ropes and hanging bridges – don’t worry, you’ll be in a safety harness at all times.
Evening: End your first day at an onsen before a traditional dinner
Enough excitement for the day? From PURE, head into the Hilton Niseko Village, where for a small fee, you can use the hotel’s magnificent indoor and outdoor onsen (hot springs), which are a must-try while in Niseko. The waters at the Hilton are piped in from natural hot springs, and their different mineral contents are believed to be therapeutic. The experience (when you gets over the absolute nudity rule) is extremely relaxing.
Finally, make your way back to Hirafu, where Ebisutei is the perfect stop for an authentic izakaya (Japanese bistro) experience. Try sashimi, freshly shucked oysters, grilled Makkari pork and Shiraoi beef – all of which are not to be missed while on Hokkaido Island.
Morning: Breakfast, bicycles and stone circles
Start your day with a leisurely breakfast at Green Farm Cafe, where all Niseko’s best produce is available to sample. From Niseko cheeses and butter to locally roasted coffee, home-made bread and fresh fruit from orchards in the vicinity, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
After the morning repast, make your way on foot to the Rhythm Base, where you can rent a bicycle, riding 7km (4mi) west through the country roads towards the Soga Hokuei Stone Circle, said to be 4,000 years old. In the winter, the stone circle is completely covered with snow, so summer offers a perfect opportunity to see it.
Ride on for lunch at Jyu, where you can sample okonomiyaki, a popular Japanese savoury pancake. Chock-full of seafood, pork, cabbage and potatoes (or your choice of ingredients) and cooked on a hotplate then topped with dried bonito (skipjack tuna) flakes, mayonnaise and tangy-sweet sauce, okonomiyaki is a delicious example of Japanese fast food.
Afternoon: Learn about Niseko’s agriculture and art
Now, cycle back eastwards on Route 343 to the Niseko Green Farm. Hokkaido is Japan’s top agricultural producer, so no summer trip here would be complete without a farm or orchard visit. Discover how the island’s rich volcanic soil plays its part at Niseko Green Farm, where over 50 varieties of organic vegetables are grown.
Across the Shiribetsu River, Ruhiel is another must-stop. Sporting a huge cone of ice cream outside, the cottage is hard to miss, and once you get in, it’s difficult to choose from all the appetising flavours of gelato on offer. Plum, blueberry, melon and strawberry are just some of the variations to taste.
Continue your cycle northeast on the 343 to the town of Kutchan where you will find the Shu Ogawara Museum of Art. Kutchan native Ogawara devoted over 60 years of his life to creating art inspired by his surroundings and offers stunning perspectives to ponder. The museum also host exhibitions of other artists, and offers a spectacular view of Mount Yotei.
Evening: Enjoy the biggest summer festival
If possible, try to time your visit to Niseko to coincide with Jaga Matsuri (Potato Festival). Hokkaido takes its potatoes seriously, and nowhere more so than the town of Kutchan, Niseko, home of the Kutchan 540 – an aged potato lauded for its flavour profile. The biggest festival of the summer, Jaga Matsuri is held annually on the first weekend in August and celebrates not just the potato, but good harvest in general, and attendees take to the streets to enjoy two days of traditional dance performances, taiko drumming, live music and fireworks, with plenty to eat and drink.
For those who aren’t lucky enough to attend the festival (or if you’re still hungry after sampling the festival food), stop at Sushi Kato to top off your trip to Niseko with a seasonal chirashi (fresh sashimi over vinegared rice) or an uni don (sea urchin rice bowl). The tiny restaurant also has a hidden bar serving Niseko sake and Nikka whisky – perfect nightcaps to celebrate the end of your 48 hours in Niseko.