Hakodate’s Four Seasons: Scenic Places to Visit, Events, and Food
Many travelers to Japan may be wondering when is the best time to visit Hakodate. Located in southwestern Hokkaido, with a relatively milder climate than other parts of the region, Hakodate is an excellent travel destination at any time of the year! In this article, we introduce the best places to visit in every season, including destinations that are only known to locals. We also feature seasonal events, food, and other travel tips for everyone to enjoy their Hakodate trip to the fullest.
Cherry Blossoms, Crocuses, Azaleas, and More! Hakodate in Spring
Spring lasts from around the beginning of March until the end of May in Hakodate. The snow starts to melt in March ceding the place to fresh greenery and small flowers that defy the chilly weather of early spring. With cherry blossoms gracing the parks around late April and gorgeous azaleas blooming on Mt. Esan in May, this season offers splendid scenery!
View the Cherry Blossoms in Goryokaku Park and Hakodate Park
The cherry blossoms can be enjoyed in Hakodate a little later than in Honshu and other islands of Japan; they usually bloom in late April, reaching their peak in early May. The best places to enjoy cherry blossoms are Goryokaku Park and Hakodate Park where hundreds of trees create dreamlike tunnels of pink. From the Goryokaku Tower Observatory, you can enjoy the view of the star-shaped Goryokaku Fort surrounded by flowers.
Don’t miss out on the cherry blossom festivals held around this time of the year. There are usually food stalls in the parks serving local snacks that can be enjoyed outside. Another highlight of the season are the cherry blossom flavored sweets on offer at shops and cafes throughout the city. Do try the sakura-flavored soft-serve ice cream on sale at Goryokaku Tower!
At night, the cherry blossoms are lit up in Goryokaku Park and Hakodate Park. The surreal scenery of the flowers at night is a must-see!
Delicate Crocuses in the Garden of Iai Women’s Academy
There are very few places in Japan where you can enjoy colorful crocuses spreading as far as the eye can see. A historical port city connected with the entire world, Hakodate is home to at least one place where one can enjoy these rare, delicate blooms.
The White House in the precincts of Iai Women’s Academy used to be the former residence of a missionary. Its garden is home to thousands of crocuses with white and purple blooms. They start to appear around the end of April and reach full bloom in early May. The garden can be visited between 9:00 and 15:00 on weekdays and Saturdays. You might need to fill in a form at the entrance. Please keep in mind that these are the grounds of a public educational institution.
The Azalea Park on Mt. Esan
The magnificent azaleas blooming on Mt. Esan have become synonymous with Hakodate in spring. Thousands of azalea bushes with intense red and pink blossoms can be enjoyed from around mid-May until the end of the month. The slopes of the Azalea Park can be photographed with the sea in the background, creating a breathtaking color contrast.
Please be aware that temperatures on Mt. Esan tend to be lower than in the city. During the azalea season, daytime temperatures hover around 10 degrees Celsius, so please be careful to dress appropriately. There are parking lots for cars and buses nearby the park entrance, so don’t worry as you won’t have to hike all the way up.
Festival Season! Hakodate in Summer
Just like in other regions of Japan, summer is a time of festivals and outdoor fun in Hakodate. The season lasts from June until August. Temperatures rarely exceed 30 degrees Celsius, so it’s very pleasant to be active outside. Read on to learn about the events and highlights that shouldn’t be missed.
Hakodate Port Festival
The Hakodate Port Festival is held annually from August 1 until August 5 as a celebration of Hakodate’s history as an international harbor. On the evening of first day, there is a magnificent firework display in the bay. Some of the most skillful firework artisans in the country compete in showing their creations! With the lights reflected in the water mirror, this display is a must-see!
The highlight of the second day is a parade of around 20,000 participants clad in traditional attire and performing dances. Energetic yosakoi dances, the local Hakodate Port Dances, and the Squid Dance, which is unique to Hakodate, are just a few of the performances to enjoy! At the food stalls around the event venues, you can taste some of the local delicacies.
Yunokawa Onsen Firework Festival
One of the most highly awaited summer events is the firework festival held each year around August 10 in Yunokawa Onsen, Hakodate’s main hot spring resort. This festival celebrates the 300-year history of Yunokawa Onsen and expresses the locals’ gratitude for the blessing of hot springs.
The fireworks are launched at the confluence of the river and the sea. The colorful lights are reflected widely in the water mirror filling the entire area with magic! If you can adjust your schedule to fit in this event, don’t miss it out!
Summer Visits at Yukura Shrine
Yukura Shrine is dedicated to the guardian deity of the hot springs in Yunokawa Onsen. It’s customary for Hakodate citizens to go on summer shrine visits, called natsumoude, in order to pray for health and good fortune in the latter half of the year.
The natsumoude period is usually between June 30 and late August. At Yukura Shrine and other shrines around Hakodate, there are beautiful displays of wind chimes, as well as hanachozu, purification fountains full of flowers. These features offer visitors the chance to snap wonderful photos, so do come for a summer shrine visit to Hakodate!
Hiking on Mt. Hakodate
One of the most pleasant summer activities is climbing Mt. Hakodate. At 334 meters above sea level, the mountain is not too high and the slopes are gentle making it fairly easy to climb. There are several hiking trails with various lengths, each offering insights into the flora and fauna growing on Mt. Hakodate. The most popular hike is the Tsutsujiyama Trail, which is 1,640 meters long and takes about 50 minutes to complete.
We suggest stopping by the Mt. Hakodate Information Center to pick up trail maps and tips to enjoy the hike. Wear comfortable sneakers in the summer, and proper boots and clothing if you consider hiking the mountain in the other seasons.
Splendid Fall Foliage! Hakodate in Autumn
Autumn is one of Japan’s most beloved seasons, and “momijigari”, or fall foliage viewing, is a popular cultural pastime. The sight of the fiery red autumnal landscape is truly breathtaking, and Hakodate is home to some of the best areas in Japan to see this beautiful natural phenomenon.
Fall Foliage Festival at Kosetsuen Garden
Hakodate’s Kosetsuen Garden, located in Miharashi Park, is especially beautiful in the fall months, as the fall foliage transforms the area into a sea of red and gold. The park is home to a magnificent Japanese garden, which distinctly reflects each of the four seasons.
From late October until mid-November, the garden holds Momi-G Festa, a magnificent light-up event where the autumn trees are illuminated between 16:00 and 21:00 every evening. During this period visitors can enjoy the otherworldly view of the brightly-lit fall foliage alongside the garden’s traditional Japanese buildings.
Autumn Scenery in Onuma Quasi National Park
Onuma Quasi National Park is a stunning area filled with breathtaking natural scenery, located not far from Hakodate City. The park is famed for being home to the volcanic Mt. Komagatake, and it is also one of Japan’s most popular spots for fall scenery!
A particularly memorable sight is that of the fiery red autumn foliage reflected in the park’s island-dotted lakes, Onuma and Konuma. The park also offers a plethora of exciting outdoor activities, including hiking, cycling and canoeing. It’s the perfect escape into nature for visitors!
Mt. Esan in Autumn
The magnificent Mt. Esan is an active volcano, and the 618 meter high mountain can often be seen releasing plumes of steam towards the sky. The area is home to its own remarkable, distinctive flora and fauna, and fall is an absolutely fantastic time to visit this incredible spot.
The trees at the base of the volcano turn a particularly vivid shade of crimson during the fall months, and visitors can enjoy the view from an observation deck as well as from the mountain path itself.
Magnificent Illuminations! Hakodate in Winter
Winter is a truly magical time of year in Hakodate, as snow covers the city and it transforms into a nostalgic winter wonderland. The contrast of the glittering snow and Hakodate’s countless sparkling lights is enchanting, and each year the city holds Christmas and winter illuminations. Below are some of the best spots to enjoy the area’s distinctive winter scenery.
Hakodate Christmas Fantasy in the Bay Area
From December 1 until the 25, the Bay Area hosts the popular Hakodate Christmas Fantasy event. A spectacular Christmas tree is placed on a barge in the bay, and each night the over 50,000 Christmas lights are lit up. The area’s charming, retro red-brick warehouses are also lit with sparkling lights, and fireworks are set off in the evenings. Guests can warm themselves with soup sold at the many soup bars operating during the event, while enjoying a night filled with light and color. It’s truly a Christmas to remember!
Even after Christmas Fantasy finishes, the picture-perfect sight of the Kanemori Red-Brick Warehouse blanketed in snow evokes feelings of nostalgia, and many streets and buildings in the area continue to be lit up until February. Visitors can enjoy magical views of the sparkling bay from Hachimanzaka and Nijukkenzaka hills, which are also both lit up during wintertime.
Goryokaku Fort Illuminations
The sight of Hakodate’s iconic star-shaped Goryokaku fortress is one of the city’s most spectacular views, and the fortress is particularly stunning in winter. The perimeter of the fort is lit up each night between December and February, and the star emits a haunting yellow glow. Contrasted with the sparkling white snow, this sight is truly unforgettable.
The incredible sight of the illumination can be enjoyed between 17:00 and 20:00 from the adjacent Goryokaku Tower.
See the Bathing Monkeys in Yunokawa Onsen
Another rare and famous winter sight is that of the bathing monkeys! Within Yunokawa Onsen’s Hakodate City Tropical Botanical Garden live around one hundred Japanese macaques, and these monkeys have a distinctly human-like penchant for bathing in hot springs! Delight at the sight of the macaques relaxing and relieving stress by immersing themselves in the steaming hot spring waters.
Yunokawa Onsen can be reached in about 30 minutes by tram from Hakodate Station.
Relish the Beauty of Hakodate Throughout the Year!
We hope that the seasonal highlights featured above made you curious to see Hakodate at any time of the year. The night view of the city from the Mt. Hakodate Observatory is splendid throughout the year, as well, with snowy scenery in the winter, and beautiful, clear lights during the other seasons.
Although the magnificent views may be the most attractive part of any Hakodate visit, remember to savor seasonal delights and food specialties available only during that particular time of the year. Hakodate is a vibrant city with events that attract many participants, so look out for festivals that may be held during the time of your visit. Take in the unique atmosphere of this historical port city and enjoy your time in Hakodate to the fullest!