Hokkaido Train Guide. Guide of the access route to major places in Hokkaido by train

Aoi Ike (blue pond) near Biei

Hokkaido is very very popular destination. There are lots of places to see. However this island is quite large. You must know the best way between the places to save your trip time.

In this post, I will show you the train network in Hokkaido. You will find most time efficient way.

Gateway stations

Hokkaido train route map
Hokkaido train route map (Click to view large)

Sapporo is the biggest city in Hokkaido. If you fly in Hokkaido, you will arrive in New Chitose airport. It is 40 minutes away from Sapporo by the rapid train.

If you access to Hokkaido by train, you will take Hokkaido Shinkansen to get Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. It is 20 minutes away from Hakodate by the rapid train.

There are airports in many cities, such as Hakodate, Kushiro, Memanbetsu (Abashiri/Kitami). You can fly in these cities directly from Haneda (Tokyo) by the domestic flight.

Trains among cities

The local train runs on all lines in the map above. But Hokkaido is quite large. Please try to take the limited express trains as much as you can to save your trip time. I will explain the lines by the segment.

You can find the timetable of the major trains in Hokkaido in the link below.

JPRail.com PDF timetable (valid until mid March, 2020)

Sapporo – Hakodate route

Night view form Mt.Hakodate ©Hokkaido Tourism Organization/© JNTO
Night view form Hakodate mountain (C) Hokkaido Tourism Organization / JNTO

There are two routes:

  • Sapporo – Noboribetsu – Toya – Hakodate (south route)
  • Sapporo – Otaru – Kutchan – Oshamambe – Hakodate (north route)

The primary route is the south one. The Limited Express Super Hokuto runs on this segment. In this chapter, I will explain about the south route. I will explain about north route later in this post.

It runs by way of Minami-Chitose, Tomakomai, Noboribetsu, Higashi-Muroran, Toya, Oshamambe, Onuma-Koen and Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto.

On this route, there are lots of the gateway stations to the popular tourist spots and important transfer point.

Minami-Chitose station

This is one station away from New Chitose Airport station. If you travel from Sapporo to New Chitose Airport, there are lots of the rapid train running. Minami-Chitose station is just one of the stations on the route. But if you travel to New Chitose Airport from Hakodate, Noboribetsu, Toya, Muroran, Minami-Chitose station is the transfer point to New Chitose station.

This station is also transfer point to Tomamu, Obihiro and Kushiro too.

Noboribetsu station

This is the gateway to Noboribetsu Onsen. It is 10 minutes away from Noboribetsu station by the local bus.

Toya station

Lake Toya is 20 minute away from this station by the local bus.

Noboribetsu Onsen and Lake Toya are connected by the express bus too. If you take a train, you have to change train and local bus twice. The express bus is more convenient. Please see my trip report in the post below. I took this express bus in this trip from Noboribetsu Onsen to Lake Toya.

Oshamambe station

The local train to Kutchan at Oshamambe station

This is the transfer point to Niseko and Kutchan. This is the north route between Sapporo and Hakodate. I will explain about this route later in this post.

Onuma-Koen station

Onuma-Koen station is the gateway to very popular tourist spot, Onuma Quasi National Park. This station is just located in the park and it is very very accessible. You can start walking from the station.

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto station

Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto is transfer point to the Hokkaido Shinkansen. You may find the detailed information in the post below:

New Chitose Airport – Sapporo – Otaru route

Otaru Canal (C)Y. Shimizu
Otaru Canal is the highlight of Otaru city. (C)Y. Shimizu

This is the busiest segment in Hokkaido. There are lots of the local and rapid trains running on this segment. If you travel on this segment, you may not have to check the timetable. Train runs every 10 to 15 minutes. Rapid Airport runs on this segment every 15 minutes between Sapporo and New Chitose Airport, and every 30 minutes between Otaru and New Chitose Airport. This is the fastest way to move between these cities.

Otaru – Oshamambe route

Mt. Yotei in Niseko is called “Fuji of Hokkaido”.

This segment was the part of primary line between Sapporo and Hakodate. Now only local train runs on this segment. There is no scheduled express train running. The train does not run very frequently. You must check the timetable before you visit this region. You can find the timetable on my PDF timetable:

JPRail.com PDF timetable (valid until mid March, 2020)

Niseko and Kutchan area

If you travel to Niseko, Kutchan station is the gateway.

There is no scheduled direct train from either Hakodate and Sapporo. And as I mentioned, the train does not run very frequently.

In summer peak season, the seasonal express train ran in the last few season. But the operation dates were very limited. Do not expect to take the express train on this segment.

If you travel from Sapporo or New Chitose Airport, you have to change trains at Otaru. If you travel from Hakodate or Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto, you have to change trains at Oshamambe. I traveled on this route. Please see my trip report:

Sapporo – Asahikawa

Penguin tunnel in Asahiyama zoo (C) JTA / JNTO

Sapporo and Asahikawa are two major cities in Hokkaido. The limited express trains run on this segment very very frequently. Especially the limited express Kamui and Lilac depart at the both end, Sapporo and Asahikawa every hour on the hour daytime.

Access to Furano / Biei

Farm Tomitais very popular place in Biei/Furano area. (C) Farm Tomita/ (C) JTA/ (C) JNTO

Furano is located in the middle of Hokkaido. You can access from Sapporo via Takikawa, Asahikawa and Shintoku.

Access from Sapporo

In summer season, the limited express Furano Lavender Express takes you to Furano directly.

But if you cannot take Furano Lavender Express, you have to change trains at Takikawa station. Takikawa station is located in the middle of Sapporo and Asahikawa.

You can take the limited express Kamui or Lilac between Sapporo and Takikawa. However you have to take a local train between Takikawa and Furano. The local train does not run frequently. Please use hyperdia to find the timetable:

Access from Asahikawa

Furano line connects Furano and Asahikawa. Biei, Bibaushi and Lavender Farm are located on this line.

Any express trains do not run on this line. But the local train runs much more frequently than Takikawa – Furano route. Even if you leave from Sapporo, this route is sometimes faster than Takikawa – Furano route. And in summer season, Furano Norokko train runs on this line. This is very popular and it is sometimes hard to find the seat.

Access from Shintoku

If you get Furano and/or Biei from Obihiro or Kushiro, Shintoku is the transfer point. However the train line between Shintoku and Furano is closed partially because the track was damaged by the rain storm a few years ago. Since then, the substitute bus service will take over the train service.

This segment may be closed permanently because of the low demand. JR Hokkaido and the local municipal governments have been discussing for the years to find the best solution In my opinion, the bus service will take over the train service near future.

At this point, the substitute bus is covered by the train pass, such as JR Pass, Hokkaido Rail Pass. But if the train line is closed and the local bus takes over it, the bus service will not be covered by any rail passes.

Sapporo – Kushiro route

SL Fuyu no Shitsugen Train is very popular winter seasonal train.

This is the primary route to get southern east part of Hokkaido. The Limited Express Super Tokachi and the Limited Express Super Ozora run on this segment. These trains run every one hour between Sapporo and Obihiro. And Super Ozora runs every two hours between Sapporo and Kushiro.

Tomamu station

Tomamu is located between Minami-Chitose and Shintoku. You can access from either side.

If you access to Tomamu from Furano, you have to take a substitute bus because this segment is closed as I mentioned above.

If you access to Tomamu from Asahikawa, the easiest route seems to be Asahikawa – Furano – Shintoku – Tomamu route. However in most cases, the easiest and the fastest route is Asahikawa – Sapporo – Minami-Chitose – Tomamu. The distance of this route is longer but the train runs faster and much more frequently.

Shintoku station

Shintoku is the transfer point of the train to Furano. But as I mentioned above, the train operation is suspended between Shintoku and Higashi-Shikagoe. You have to take the substitute bus service between Shintoku and Higashi-Shikagoe.

This substitute bus operation will be the scheduled bus service in next few years. Because the demand of this segment between Furano and Shintoku is very low. JR Hokkaido want to close this line and this matter is in discussion with the municipalities in this region.

Kushiro station

Kushiro is the biggest city in southeast region of Hokkaido. This station is the transfer point of train line to Abashiri and Nemuro. Kushiro is also known as the gateway to Kushiro Marsh and Lake Akan.

Kushiro is very attractive for foodies. Kushiro has the wide variety of fresh seafood and Zangi (deep fried chicken). There are lots of accommodation. You may stay in this city and make a trip to outside city.

Asahikawa – Abashiri route

This is the primary route to get eastern Hokkaido. Especially in winter time, Abashiri is very popular to see the drift ice. Abashiri is also close to Shiretoko peninsula. You will take this route on the way to Shiretoko.

The Limited Express Taisetsu connects Asahikawa and Abashiri directly. And also the Limited Express Okhotsk runs between Sapporo and Asahikawa directly. You can get Abashiri from Sapporo without changing trains at Asahikawa.

Kamikawa station

Kamikawa is about 40 minutes away from Asahikawa by the limited express trains. This station is the gateway to Daisetsu mountains and Sounkyo gorge. The local bus departs from Kamikawa station. You may also take the bus from Asahikawa. But if you use JR Pass or Hokkaido Rail Pass, you may take the bus from Kamikawa to save your travel cost.

Abashiri station

Abashiri is the transfer point to Senmo line. Senmo line connects Abashiri and Kushiro. Please see the chapter of Abashiri – Kushiro route below to find more information.

Abashiri – Kushiro route

The sea is completely covered by the drift ice.

This route is called “Senmo line”. This is one of most scenic train lines in Japan. Because it runs along the coastline near Abashiri. And this line goes through Kushiro Marsh near Kushiro.

Kushiro Shitsugen Norokko Train takes you to Kushiro Marsh from Kushiro in summer time.

In winter time, Ryuhyo Monogatari Train runs for the drift ice watching. And SL Fuyu no Shitsugen Train runs between Kushiro and Shibecha to see the winter scenery of Kushiro Marsh.

Shiretoko-Shari station

This is the gateway to Utoro in Shiretoko peninsula. The scheduled bus and sightseeing bus depart from this station for Utoro.

Kawayu-Onsen station

This is the nearest station to Lake Kussharo. The scheduled bus runs between this station and Lake Kussharo.

Mashu station

This is the gateway to Lake Mashu and Lake Kussharo. Lake Mashu is known as the second clearest lake in the world.

Toro station

This station is located near Lake toro in Kushiro Marsh.

Kushiro-Shitsugen station

This station is located in the middle of Kushiro Marsh. The train runs in Kushiro Marsh. But you cannot see the wide view of Kushiro Marsh from the train. There is the viewpoint near Kushiro-Shitsugen station. I highly recommend you to drop by this station to see Kushiro Marsh.

Asahikawa – Wakkanai route

Cape Soya is the northernmost point of Japan.

This is the train route to the northernmost of Japan. The Limited Express Sarobetsu runs between Asahikawa and Wakkanai. And the Limited Express Soya departs from Sapporo for Wakkanai. You can get Wakkanai directly from Sapporo without changing the trains at Asahikawa.

Wakkanai station

This is the northernmost station in all stations of Japan. This city is also departure port of the ferry to Rishiri island and Rebun island.

Kushiro – Nemuro route

This is the train route to the easternmost place of Japan’s mainlands. Only local train runs on this line. And the local train does not run very frequently. Please check the timetable before you go.

10 thoughts on “Hokkaido Train Guide. Guide of the access route to major places in Hokkaido by train”

  1. Hi Takeshi,

    Me and my friends will be travelling to Hokkaido from 4/29~5/6 next year, and would like to purchase JR Hokkaido Pass for 5 days.
    We want to visit several regions: Sapporo, Hakodate, Otaru, Furano and Biei.
    Would you please recommend the best route for us if we want to visit those regions by train?
    Thank you.

    Regards,
    Ivana

    1. Hi Ivana,

      You have to divide three trips from Sapporo.
      1. round trip to Hakodate
      2. round trip to Otaru
      3. round trip to Furano/Biei.

      All three places are completely different direction. So you have to go back to Sapporo after these trips anyway. You can get Otaru as a day trip from Sapporo. But I recommend you to stay in Hakodate and Furano (or Biei). These places are too far to visit as day trip from Sapporo.

      You will travel in super busy period which is called “Golden Week”. Please expect that the trains will be very busy.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  2. Hi Takeshi,

    I’ll be traveling to Japan from 9/21-10/6. Do you think I should purchase the JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass according to my itinerary?

    Arriving at New Chitose on 9/22
    Staying in Sapporo from 9/22-9/27
    Taking Train for Day Trip to Otaru 9/23
    Day Trip to Furano 9/25 (Looking into a Tour for this)
    Taking Train to Noboribetsu from Sapporo 9/27 (stay overnight)
    Taking Train to Lake Toya from Noboribetsu 9/28 (haven’t decided if we’re staying or night) If not, we plan to head to Hakodate 9/28. If we are staying over in Lake Toya…
    Taking Train to Hakodate from Lake Toya 9/29 (stay overnight)
    Taking Train from Hakodate to Shinjuku Station 9/30 (wanted to catch a 3pm train to tokyo)
    Staying in Tokyo from 9/30-10/1
    Day trip to Hitachi Seaside Park (haven’t decided which day yet)
    Day trip to Yokohama Nikko (haven’t decided which day yet)
    Take train to Narita Airport 10/6

    Do you think it’s worth it for us to buy the rail pass I mentioned?

    Please share your thoughts on the intended itinerary I’ve created.

    You helped me the first time I visited Japan in 2017 with the Kansai Pass, so your thoughts and input is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this.

    1. Hi Karen,

      Yes. You can use JR East South Hokkaido Rail Pass. You can use it for these following trips:
      Sapporo to Noboribetsu
      Toya to Hakodate
      Hakodate to Tokyo
      Tokyo to Katsuta round trip (the nearest JR station to Hitachi Seaside Park)
      Tokyo to Yokohama/Nikko
      Tokyo to Narita

      Your trip plan looks good and no problem to make it.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

  3. Thank you for your informative posts.
    “If you access to Hokkaido by train, you will take Hokkaido Shinkansen to get Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto. It is 30 minutes away from Hakodate by the rapid train.”
    Shouldn’t that be 20 minutes?

  4. Although I understand the economic reasons, I still find it sad that little by little, segments such as the last leg to Samani is discontinued.
    Hokkaido is a wonderful place, akin to another world, I love it.
    Thank you, Takeshi, this is a clear and comprehensive guide with magnificent pictures included.
    Harold Owen
    Evans, Georgia, USA

    1. Hi Harold,

      Thank you for your comment.
      Hokkaido had many more train lines before. I noticed that those lines would be closed near future but I could not take many lines. I should have visited there.

      Many other lines will be closed near future. As you mentioned, Hidaka line to Samani, to Shin-Totsugawa. And when Hokkaido Shinkansen will open to Sapporo, Oshamambe – Otaru segment will be closed too.

      Cheers,

      Takeshi / JPRail.com

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