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4 Cost-efficient JR Passes for Exploring Hokkaido
JR Hokkaido offers cost-efficient rail passes valid for several consecutive days. These passes are very convenient for exploring Hokkaido, from the capital city of Sapporo to Hakodate and Otaru, as well as remote areas like Furano and Abashiri.
Hokkaido, a vast and beautiful region, can be challenging to navigate without reliable transport. While buses may be an option, consider using a cost-efficient JR rail pass tailored to your intended destinations.
This article introduces four JR passes for traveling around Hokkaido and the areas they cover. These rail passes can be purchased in advance and picked up at the airport or a JR train station upon arrival in Japan.
Whether you're planning to witness the enchanting night view of Hakodate or indulge in the powdery snow of Niseko, obtaining a rail pass ahead of time is a smart choice.
Cost-efficient Hokkaido Rail Passes
1. JR Hokkaido Rail Pass (5, 7, or 10 days)
If you're seeking a comprehensive pass that covers the entire Hokkaido prefecture, the JR Hokkaido Rail Pass is an excellent choice. This pass provides access to all of JR's lines in Hokkaido, allowing visitors to explore the entirety of this stunning region.
The pass includes coverage for many limited express trains and allows for seat reservations on trains that require them, all without any additional fees. With options available for 5, 7, and 10 days, the JR Hokkaido Rail Pass offers a convenient and flexible way to travel around the area.
Highlight Areas of the JR Hokkaido Rail Pass
Picture from Two-Day Hokkaido Winter Tour: Drift Ice, Local Food, and Adorable Animals
The JR Hokkaido Rail Pass allows for travel to the historic city of Abashiri, known for its renowned prison and as one of the prime locations to observe the drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk. Visitors can witness the immense natural forces shaping the ice aboard a majestic icebreaker ship and also explore the fascinating Abashiri Prison, often compared to Alcatraz in the US.
The pass also includes a trip to Tomamu, where visitors can experience the UNKAI Terrace, offering panoramic views of the mesmerizing "sea of clouds" phenomenon that occurs in this part of Hokkaido. From the modern and spacious viewing deck, guests can admire the valley floor blanketed in a layer of fluffy white clouds, creating a breathtaking juxtaposition with the lush greenery of the surrounding landscape.
2. JR Sapporo-Furano Area Pass (4 days)
Photo by Pixta
If you're seeking a pass tailored to the southwestern area of Hokkaido, consider the JR Sapporo-Furano Area Pass. Offering unlimited travel within this designated region, the pass connects key locations including New Chitose Airport, Sapporo, Otaru, Furano, Biei, and Asahikawa, and is valid for four consecutive days, providing flexibility for your journey.
Please note that this pass does not cover the JR Hokkaido bus, Sapporo's streetcar, or subway services.
Highlights of the JR Sapporo-Furano Area Pass
The Shirogane Blue Pond in winter. Picture courtesy of Klook
The pass encompasses several renowned areas known for their natural beauty. When visiting Asahikawa, consider a visit to the Asahiyama Zoo to observe adorable critters in specially designed simulated habitats.
Furthermore, with this pass, you'll have access to the mesmerizing Shirogane Blue Pond, a body of water that boasts a spectacular shade of blue due to the mineral-rich waters in the vicinity. The area's eerie beauty remains captivating regardless of the season, offering a unique and unforgettable experience.
3. JR Sapporo-Noboribetsu Area Pass (4 days)
Sapporo at night. Photo by Pixta
Explore Hokkaido's Sapporo, Otaru, and Noboribetsu over four consecutive days with the JR Sapporo-Noboribetsu Pass! This pass offers convenience and flexibility, providing access to both ordinary car reserved seats and non-reserved seats on limited express, rapid, and local trains within the valid area.
Highlights of the JR Sapporo-Noboribetsu Area Pass
This pass, similar to the previously mentioned pass, includes an additional vital area – Noboribetsu Onsen. Renowned as one of the top ten hot springs in the country, the Noboribetsu hot springs offer day-use bathing hours for guests seeking to experience the mineral-rich waters for a rejuvenating day out.
Before or after a relaxing bath, consider exploring Jigokudani, where demons are rumored to churn and boil the waters. Traverse the unique primeval forest and admire the clear waters of Lake Kuttara, immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the landscape.
4. JR Tohoku - South Hokkaido Rail Pass (6 days)
Photo by Pixta
The JR Tohoku-South Hokkaido Pass provides unlimited travel access within the Tohoku and southern Hokkaido regions, all with a single pass. Holders of the pass can enjoy unlimited rides on limited express, express, rapid, and local trains, as well as all Shinkansen trains within the designated area.
This pass offers extensive coverage for six days, making it an ideal choice for visitors eager to explore the breathtaking northern scenery of Japan, including the cities of Hakodate, Sapporo, and Otaru in Hokkaido. Note, however, that the pass does not cover buses and excludes access to Goryokaku Station and Kikonai Station on the South Hokkaido Railway line.
Highlights of the JR Tohoku-South Hokkaido Rail Pass
Photo by Pixta
Among the variety of passes available, the Tohoku-South Pass offers exceptional flexibility, allowing visitors to experience the striking sights of Hokkaido and then swiftly journey down the coast of Honshu to witness the pine-dotted islands of Matsushima in Sendai. With numerous incredible places to visit, a few noteworthy options within easy reach include Oirase Gorge and the snow monsters of Mt. Zao.
In Hokkaido, you can explore the charming city of Otaru, the port city of Hakodate, and Sapporo using this rail pass.
Explore Hokkaido Cost-Efficiently with JR Passes
Hokkaido offers a wealth of year-round sights and activities, encompassing extraordinary natural landscapes, delightful culinary experiences, and thrilling outdoor adventures. These four passes allow travelers to customize their itineraries and find the most convenient way to traverse this captivating region of Northern Japan!
Main image by Pixta
Travel writer and assistant editor at MATCHA with extensive travel around the Osaka, Kyoto, and Wakayama areas. A Kansai insider who knows their Akashiyaki from their Takoyaki, Iain enjoys getting authentic stories from traditional craftspeople and interesting creators. Particularly fond of temples and shrines, Iain delves deep into the crossroads of tradition and modernity in his eight-plus years living and writing about Japan.