I had difficulty finding information on Lake Shikaribetsu in autumn. It did not mean that Lake Shikaribetsu was a stranger to the travelling world. It is a famous lake located at Hokkaido’s highest altitude that only comes to live in bitter cold winter. When temperature drops to -20C, the Lake will turn into a massive ice floor leaving no trace of water. That is the time when wanderlusters from all over the country come for winter fun and give a life to Lake Shikaribetsu. The most famous attraction of Lake Shikaribetsu in winter is its igloos built for bar and holding special event like wedding ceremony.
We went to Lake Shikaribetsu as part of our recent road trip in Hokkaido in autumn. The lake and its nature surrounding was a stunning picturesque. I wondered why many skipped Lake Shikaribetsu in autumn. It was absolutely gorgeous even before autumn foliage started showing. This is one of the must visit off the beaten paths in Hokkaido’s autumn.
It took us more than three hours to reach Lake Shikaribetsu from Sapporo Airport. The road was fortunately in good condition considering the recent typhoon that hit the island. Lake Shikaribetsu was almost like a deserted village by the time we got there. There was not any house on the sight. Two hotels, a public toilet, souvenirs shop and boats were the only things that gave life to the vicinity. There was almost no one walking on the street. What would this village be without travellers I wondered. It would be so eerie by the time we all left. It was so quiet that I could hear my own footsteps and the water flow. We spent a night at the most famous hotel within the area or what it was claimed to be. This was the time when you felt lucky to be in a group tour. I could not picture myself travelling solo to Lake Shikaribetsu. It’s not about the safety, it’s the placidity that bothers me.
The Lake looked beautiful even with its murky water. The typhoon obviously affected the colour of water in entire Hokkaido. The hill in the distance looked like upper lip. If only water was calm the hill and its reflection would resemble lip. We wished we had time to paddle along the lake a little bit but night felt too soon at Lake Shikaribetsu.
For Tokyoites it felt like winter here at the Lake. The temperature dropped to 11C before it got dark and below 10C after 7pm. It was really dark outside the hotel. We did not have any intention to stroll along the area as soon as it got dark. Who knew what we could bump into or might be we were just afraid of our own imagination.
Staying inside the room was the best option until the dawn. Our hotel room was facing the Lake and adorned with traditional Japanese furniture that did not have bed but futon (Japanese mattress). Like in many Japanese style hotel, the futon will be made in the evening after finishing dinner. This hotel is older than Ikumo and I but it is still neat and clean. It has 24 hours spacious hotspring (onsen). Some parts of the onsen were damaged by the typhoon when we were there but the inside hotspring was still well functioning.
Early morning of mid September by the Lake Shikaribetsu felt like winter in Tokyo. It was 4C, slightly foggy with chill wind breeze. We were excited to go around, oblivious to the temperature. So off we went to the forest which located right behind the hotel. Apparently, morning walk in the forest is one of the most popular thing to do at Lake Shikaribetsu other than exploring the lake. The forest is part of Daisetsu National Park.
It looked like many other forests or national parks before a deer screaming several times. It was a male deer calling its female said our tour guide. I never heard any deer voice before let alone its screaming. I was quiet excited hearing the sound of a deer for the first time in my life. Like a child I was tempted to separate from the group trying to find the deer. Then the tour guide warned “the sound seems coming from a closer place but trust me the deer is far inside the forest”. For my own sake I trusted the tour guide and continued walking with the group.
Then on to the Lake cruise. Surprisingly the boat was in good condition, obviously was well maintained. It was a little bit too early for autumn foliage although some leaves started changing colour. It took only 20 minutes to cruise the Lake. In total, we only spent 15 hours at Lake Shikaribetsu. More than enough time to come back home with plenty of good pictures.
Is Lake Shikaribetsu worth visiting in autumn? If explore off the beaten path away from the horde of tourists, yes it is worth the trip and time. After our first visit, we want to come back for winter to see the igloos. There’s no other place in Asia has igloos other than Hokkaido.