Any time of year is the right time to visit Sapporo's Lake Shikotsu. Located beyond the hills south of the city, it's a popular destination in its own right as well as a stopping point on the way to many other places.
Outside of Sapporo, Lake Shikotsu is best accessed by car or bus.
The Lake Shikotsu area is about an hour south of Sapporo over the hills or slightly longer if you come via Chitose. It is 30 minutes west of New Chitose Airport and 30 minutes north of Tomakomai. In recent times, it has also become a popular spot for cycling tours or extended day trips on a road bike.
Most of the Lake Shikotsu area is relatively undeveloped, but on the northern and eastern sides of the lake are a number of hot spring hotels. Relaxing in an outdoor onsen right next to the lake is a highlight. Hotels have good package deals with meals included. Be sure to check bath times for visitors if you are not staying at the hotel.
The Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival takes place each year from the end of January to the middle of February. It is based at Shikotsu Kohan on the eastern side of the lake. Sculptures and a wide range of structures are made by spraying water from the lake over frames. Once it gets dark, the event is lit up with colorful lights. Slip and slide around a rink or down an ice slide. Afterward, warm up in a nearby hotel hot spring.
On the southern and western sides of the lake are two well-appointed campsites — Morappu and Bifue. Set up your tent and enjoy the stillness of the lake and sounds of nature at night. Sunsets and sunrises are stunning at Lake Shikotsu. Cook and enjoy the water, and cast in a line if you fancy a spot of fishing.
With many towns nearby, the lake has become a destination for cycle tourists and day-trippers. For the adventurous, the hills roll back toward Sapporo and Niseko. There are also very safe and well-used cycle roads that lead from the lake to Chitose and to Tomakomai. Compared to the hills, the cycle roads are an easy option and are set safely away from traffic.
Boat tours run from the hotel side of the lake. Whether you want a guided cruise or to pedal in a swan-boat, you're sure to have fun. Kayaking and stand-up paddle boarding has become popular, but the equipment is not available to rent at the lake. Instead, visitors can find rentals at outdoor specialists in Sapporo or Niseko. The lake is deep and can be very cold, so dress warm and always be safe on the water.
There are a number of peaks surrounding the lake that you can climb. For an easy hike, consider Mt. Tarumae and its lava dome. Another option is Mt. Monbetsu. If you want to extend the Tarumae hike, you can easily head on to Mt. Fuppushi. From there, visitors can walk directly back to the lake. Mount Eniwa on the northern side of the lake is a slightly longer and steeper climb, though the views of the area are worth the effort.
The Lake Shikotsu area offers plenty of opportunities to see birds. For the best bird-watching, head to the Shikotsu Wild Bird Nature Path. It's just south of the old rail bridge on the east side of the lake near Shikotsu Kohan. The path winds near the lake and up the small Mount Kimunmorappu. On your way back to Chitose, check out the bird-watching-themed cafes.