From Asahikawa the JR Sekihoku Line (石北本線) heads east to Okhotsk Region, passes through the northern part of Daisetsuzan National Park. The alternative route from Kamikawa to Rubeshibe or Kitami via Sounkyo offers great hikes and onsen experiences.
DURATION: Limited express 3 hours 50 minutes, Local 7 hours (require a change at Kamikawa or Engaru)
ORDINARY FARE: ¥5610 (Valid for 3-day)
BEST TIME: Mid June to mid October for hiking. February to mid March for winter wonderland.
Engaru & Ikutahara ›› Engaru boasts Japan’s largest cosmos garden that blooms in autumn. Enjoying the delightful museum of worldwide wooden toys and a skin-friendly onsen in Ikutahara.
Kitami ›› The reasons to stopover in Kitami itself is visiting the peppermint museum and yakiniku restaurants.
Northern Hokkaido’s major transport hub, Asahikawa is a good base for a train trip on the JR Hakodate Line, the JR Soya Line and the JR Furano Line. The city is straddles the clear rivers and laid out in a grid pattern.
0km to 48.6km
Asahikawa to Kamikawa
JR Sekihoku Line branches off from the JR Soya Line at Shin-Asahikawa. After passing through the rice fields on the Kamikawa Basin, the line skirts Hokkaido’s longest river Ishikari-gawa.
Kamikawa is a main gateway to Sounkyo Onsen at the foot of Kuro-dake, in the northeastern part of Daisetsuzan National Park. This town is also known for its tasty ramen and you will find excellent shokudo around the train station.
48.6km to 124.5km
Kamikawa to Engaru
From Kamikawa to Shirataki, the train passes through the 4329m-long Sekihoku Tunnel on the forested Kitami Pass, completed in 1932. After which, the line enters Okhotsk Region. The train runs along Yubetsu-gawa, which flows into the Sea of Okhotsk.
JR Sekihoku Line turns southwest and southeast at Hokkaido’s only reversing station Engaru near the 78m-high huge rock Ganbo-iwa. You might find yourself in the town while waiting for the bus to Monbetsu on the coastal byway Okhotsk Line. Otherwise, take a dip in the tranquil Setose Onsen or visit the flower gardens.
JR Ikuhtahara Station (in Southeastern Engaru) has Okhotsk Literary Museum. Enjoying the delightful Museum of Worldwide Wooden Toys and a skin-friendly onsen near the train station.
141.4km to 184.7km
Ikutahara to Kitami
Hallway between Ikutahara and Rubeshibe, the train passes through the legendary Jomon Tunnel (507m) completed in 1914, which killed over a hundred workers during the construction.
From Rubeshibe, at the eastern gateway to Onneyu Onsen, the line runs on the Kitami Basin, Hokkaido’s top onion producing area. Before arriving at Kitami, the train heads into the 2km-long tunnel.
Hokkaido’s widest city (1427-sq-km) of Kitami makes a convenient stopover point en route to Abashiri, and is also jumping off point to the beautiful lakes of Chimikeppu-ko, Saroma-ko and Akan-ko. The city has a few interesting sights and a large number of yakiniku restaurants.
The pleasant brackish lake Abashiri-ko is just a short walk from the train station. You can pitch a tent and relax in an onsen on the greenery shore. Memanbetsu Airport is about 5km south of the town center. The train runs along the lake as it approaches the Sea of Okhotsk.
Abashiri is the historical and cultural heart of Okhotsk Region and the JR Senmo Line runs to Kushiro via Shiretoko-Shari. This city has varied museums, lakes and places to stay, which makes it an ideal place for explore. In winter most tourists take an drift icebreaker cruises into the frozen sea.