This is a modified version of a route I took some friends on back in 2009, removing the Sapporo-Otaru section because that area has been covered by so many people. There's a limited time frame for one of the main sights of this trip and even then, it's hit or miss dependent on weather. The ice floes of Abashiri usually comes around the last 10 days or February until mid to late March. In 2009, we missed it by 4 days, but had a blast in the little fishing town anyways. This route takes us from Asahikawa airport over to Abashiri then down through Lake Akan to Kushiro where we visit the beautiful Japanese cranes before leaving at Kushiro airport. Since parts of this area are without railroads, I suggest a rental car as the mode of transportation.
The itinerary is just a guideline for fairly comfortable but compact vacation, feel free to change the schedule to suite your own pace, or reverse the itinerary if you want to end up at Sapporo for a few days of shopping or enjoy a big city(Sapporo Beer Garden for example).
On car rental: i highly recommend using Tocoo for car rental in Japan. Their pricing is very competitive and they have deals from all the major rental companies which means a wide selection of pick up and drop off locations, and a huge choice of Japanese cars. (also, try to get the phone numbers for as many locations as possible, because you can use the phone numbers as codes for the GPS in the car.)
*some links may not have English websites.
- arrive at Asahikawa airport
- pick up rental car
- visit Asahiyama Zoo and see the penguin walk, eat fresh potatos with butter
- drive to city and check-in to hotel
- eat Asahikawa-style ramen. the leaders are (Santouka, Baikohken, and Aoba)
- stay at any of several business hotels near the JR Akahikawa station
- drive up to Sounkyo Gorge
- enjoy skiing or just sightseeing on Daisetsuzan
- check-in to hotel
- stay at any of several hotels in the area, Choyotei being the most famous.
- drive along Highway 39 to see the twin waterfalls: Ginka and Ryusei
- drive along Highway 39 to Taisetsu Dam
- drive to Lake Saroma and see the lake, can stop by Roadside Station Saroma to look at gifts and eat grilled oysters.
- stay at Saroma Tsuruga Resort or drive to Abashiri Lake and stay at Hokuten no Oka Tsuruga Resort, both very stylish onsen resort hotels.
- enjoy morning ice fishing on Lake Abashiri if staying at Hokuten no Oka, they will batter and fry the fish(wakasagi) for you at the hotel or right there on the lake.
- check ice floe with hotel staff, if ok, make booking in advance, it's very popular and seats gets sold out quickly
- visit Abashiri Prison Museum at free time
- lunch at Sushi Dining Tsuki, one of my favourite conveyor belt sushi restaurants in all of Japan, prices are very reasonable.
- drive to Utoro
- stay at any of several seaside hotels at Utoro
- try walking on ice floe at Utoro, wearing dry suits and float alongside the mini-icebergs, it's a very strange experience
- drive to Lake Kussharo and photograph swans, the nearby volcano keeps some areas of the lake from freezing over
- at the sandy beach where you would photograph swans, you can also dig to make your own hot springs pit
- Lake Kussharo also sometimes have ice forming on trees if weather is cold enough
- head back towards Kawayu, the volcano Mount Io has a nice rest house selling sulfur cooked eggs, you can also photograph the steam coming out of yellow stained sulfur pits on the side of the mountain
- stay at Kawayu - Teshikaga Onsen area
- optional visit to Lake Masshu (maybe more beautiful during the summer), one of the clearest lakes in the world.
- on the way down to Kushiro, there are many ranches here, some have a storefront where you can buy really tasty fresh milk and ice cream
- visit one or several spots for watching Japanese cranes, the easiest access and best for beginners or advance bird watchers is Akan International Crane Center. (tip: at around 2pm everyday, some people will go out and throw down some fish, and the hawks circling above will come down and fight with the cranes, makes for some excellent photos)
- drive to Kushiro city
- visit MOO for shopping and dinner
- stay at Kushiro city
- eat a DIY sushi fish bowl called Katte Don(winner's bowl) at the Washo fish market
- drive to airport
- return car at airport
- depart via Kushiro airport
Link below is roughly the route and the major points mapped out on regular Google Map (the link won't work on the new Google Map beta)