Having visited Lake Toya 4.5 years ago on a summer trip from Shanghai to Hokkaido, we were especially excited to visit this beautiful area again. Toyako is situated just a 2 hour drive south of Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo and famous for having hosted the G8 Hokkaido Summit at the Windsor hotel on a mountain top with spectacular views not just onto the lake, but also its surrounding mountainscape and the sea.
While Lake Toya is a refreshing holiday destination in Asia in the summer with much cooler temperatures than on Japan’s other main islands and lush green paths for hiking; it looks unrecognisable in winter with its snowy mountain peaks, yet in both seasons you can expect crystal blue skies.
The best things to do around Lake Toya in winter, in my opinion, are walking around the lake, taking the ropeway up Mt Usu, relaxing in an onsen and taking photos inside the Illumination tunnel in Toya town. The best paths for walking along the lake – as much as the freezing temperatures and the partially uncleared snow paths allow – are along the west and south side of the lake. There are scenic stretches with cute sculptures which you can easily find driving around the lake. Best to start the day with a cappuccino and galette at Cafe Lake Toya in the north, before a walk in the snow!
When we first arrived by the Mt Usu ropeway station, we thought everything would be closed as it was completely deserted. Having taken the ropeway up to Mt Usu in 2017 followed by a hike taking in the volcanic crater views, we decided to go up again and caught one of the last rides of the day at 3:15 p.m. On the way up, we had clear views of the valleys, deers in the forest and the lake. Together with the four other tourists, we hurried to the observation platform to take photos of the breathtaking view, with 10 seconds spare before a snow storm! Excitedly, we hurried back to the warm, little waiting room with an educational exhibition about volcano disaster prevention. The ride down was snowy and foggy with visibility clearing up towards the end. Going up Mt Usu was definitely a highlight on our trip to Lake Toya!
As Toyako, being a volcanic lake, is famous for its hot springs, we were surprised to find that most onsen are only accessible if you stay at the hotel they belong to. After extensive research, we only found two hot springs in Toya town (south end of the lake) that accept day visitors – Toya Kohantei and Toya Kanko Hotel – which both have outdoor onsen with great views onto the lake, but can get extremely busy.
Is it better to visit Lake Toya in summer or winter? Both seasons have their perks! While summer is ideal for tourists who enjoy hiking, winter transforms Lake Toya into a magical landscape. It’s funny to think that 4.5 years ago when we first visited Lake Toya, we had no idea we would ever live in Japan and come back to Hokkaido in another season! Life can be unpredictable and you should never stop chasing your dreams.
Are you planning your next winter holiday in Japan? Then these blog articles might be of interest to you –