The calm caldera lake of Toya-ko (洞爺湖) is a unique tourist spot in the western part of Shikotsu-Toya National Park. The active volcano Usu-zan (737m) has erupted four times in the 20th-century, which created Showa-shinzan (398m) next to its mountain in 1944. Great eruptions caused a lot of damage in this area, however on the other hand, volcanic activity brought various benefits such as onsen and impressive views.
01 ONSEN TOWN
洞爺湖温泉 / Toyako-onsen-cho / www.laketoya.com
Toyako Onsen lies on its southern shore, take at least stay one night off your trip. A lakeside promenade is a good stroll place, with a free ashi-yu (footbath). From late April to October, the fireworks set off on the lake at 8.45pm every night. It is a base of staying and hiking, plus good transport links from Sapporo and Noboribetsu Onsen. Take at least stay one night off your trip.
02 LAKE CRUISE
Toyako Kisen Cruise
洞爺湖汽船 / 8am-4.30pm late Apr-Oct (twice hourly) via Naka-jima, 9am-4pm Nov-early Apr (hourly) / ¥1420 / www.toyakokisen.com
Toyako Kisen loop cruise is the best way to seeing this beautiful lake. From spring to autumn, boats call at Naka-jima (中島) island where you can visit the Forest Museum (森林博物館: ¥200) or hike a footpath (fill out an entry register). There is a night cruise (departing at 8.30pm; ¥1600) during the fireworks season.
03 VISITOR CENTER & LOCAL HISTORY
Toyako Visitor Center
洞爺湖ビジターセンター · 火山科学館 / 142-5 Toyako Onsen-cho / 9am-5pm / FREE / www.toyako-vc.jp/en
A 2-minute walk from the bus terminal, this wooden visitor center features bird’s-eye view of the lake and wildlife information. On-site Volcano Science Museum (¥600) displays the volcanic activities of Usu-zan in 1977 and 2000, with an experienced-based theater.
04 GEOLOGICAL SITE & HIKING
Konpira Crater Hazard Area
金比羅火口災害遺構散策路 / Konpira-kako Saigai-iko Sansaku-ro / 7am-6pm late Apr-mid Nov, to 5pm after Oct / FREE / www.toya-usu-geopark.org
Located behind the visitor center, this hazard area holds a destroyed 5-storey apartment, bathhouse and bridge by the 2000 eruption and its mudflow. Fortunately, all residents had been evacuated before the eruption.
From here, you can traverse the Konpira-yama Trail (2.3km) to the Nishiyama Craters Promenade, following an old national route, two craters (Yu-kun and Tama-chan) and some ruins overlooking the lake. Before the 1977 eruption, there was a residential area here.
05 GEOLOGICAL SITE & HIKING
Nishiyama Crater Promenade
西山火口散策路 / Nishiyama-kako Sansaku-ro / 7am-6pm late Apr-mid Nov, to 5pm after Oct / FREE
The most famous volcanic disaster remnants in the 2000 eruption of Usu-zan, a 3km-long trail follows the craters, fumaroles, destroyed buildings and roads. Take the local bus to Nishiyama-yuhodo from Toya Station (15min / ¥280) or Toyako Onsen (3min / ¥160). There is a small volcanic photo gallery (free) at the old fire station. It is closed in winter.
昭和新山 / Showa-shinzan, Sobetsu-cho
This 398m-high active volcano appeared in 1944 (Showa period) in the countryside, close to Usu-zan. Today the ground is still hot and not allowed to climb, but you can see it from the observation square. The daytime parking fee is ¥500 except December to March.
Donan Bus has four daily services between Toyako Onsen and Showa-shinzan (15min / one-way ¥340, return ¥620).
07 CABLE CAR & HIKING
有珠山ロープウェイ / Around 8am-6pm / Return ¥1600 / usuzan.hokkaido.jp/en
Hokkaido’s most active volcano of Usu-zan (737m) offers dynamic views and geological sites. From the car park of Showa-shinzan, Usu-zan Ropeway takes you to the summit with observation decks.
From here, a 3km-long outer rim trail (2hrs return; Closed Nov-Apr) leads to the Gairin-zan Viewpoint looks down the ocean and lake. Otherwise, you can climb down the trail from the Gairin-zan viewpoint to JR Usu Station. It takes roughly 100 minutes (5km).
08 SCENIC VIEWPOINT
壮瞥公園 / Sobetsu Koen / Higashi-kohan, Sobetsu-cho / 24hrs May-Oct / FREE
On the southeastern hills of Toya-ko, Sobetsu Park boasts great views over the lake, Usu-zan and Yotei-zan. Fields of plums bloom here in early May. The nearest bus stop is Takinoue close to the Sobetsu-taki falls. There is a footpath from the town center of Sobetsu.
All buses for Toyako Onsen are stopping at the bus terminal. Donan Bus runs from JR Toya Station to Toyako Onsen terminal (洞爺湖温泉ターミナル: 18min / ¥340). Some buses from JR Toya Station continue to Higashi-machi (東町) at the Toya Sun Palace Resort & Spa.
Donan Bus operates services from Sapporo Station (4 daily / 2hrs 40min), stopping at Jozankei (1hr 50min) and Rusutsu Resort (40min). Three buses continue to the Sun Palace. Compulsory reservation.
There are two highway buses Iburi-go (いぶり号) from and to Noboribetsu Onsen (1hr).