Journey to the onsen town of Noboribetsu on Hokkaido to see the desolate, volcanic landscape of Jigokudani, better known as Hell Valley.
The island of Hokkaido may be best known as a brilliant winter destination for snow sports, but it’s also home to some fascinating natural attractions like the dramatically-named Hell Valley. Close to the lovely onsen resorts of Noboribetsu, visiting Hell Valley combines striking sights with plenty of opportunities to relax and unwind.
Here is everything you need to know about seeing Hell Valley for yourself and making the most of visiting Noboribetsu as you travel around Hokkaido with your Japan Rail Pass.
Brief Background to Noboribetsu and Hell Valley
Noboribetsu City lies on the south coast of Hokkaido, roughly halfway between Sapporo and Hakodate, but it’s the town of Noboribetsu Onsen inland to the north that will most interest international travelers. This hot spring resort lies within the borders of Shikotsu-Toya National Park and is one of the most famous in Japan. With a history dating back to the 19th century, Noboribetsu Onsen is home to many sought-after onsen and ryokan.
Of the many hot springs that supply water to Noboribetsu Onsen, several come from an area called Jigokudani. This vast area lies just above the town and is a hot bed for volcanic activity that has left it looking like a bleak, alien landscape.
Hissing vents, a lingering smell of sulfur, and a barren landscape have earned this attraction the nickname Hell Valley. This nickname not only paints a picture but helps distinguish it from the other popular Jigokudani in Honshu, home to the adorable spring-dwelling snow monkeys.
Things to Do in Hell Valley
When you visit Hell Valley in Noboribetsu you’ll soon find that there are quite a few things to do here to keep you entertained. Generally, each of the attractions around Noboribetsu Onsen involve some walking, giving you a great opportunity to spend time outside among the gorgeous nature of Hokkaido.
See Hell Valley
Having come all this way, you definitely want to start with the signature attraction - Hell Valley. After walking along a short path you’ll reach a series of observation decks that treat you to impressive views of this otherworldly place. Here you can see the pale, almost bleak, surface of the valley surrounded by lush forest that only makes its volcanic area more obvious.
It’s important to understand that Hell Valley is not the only place of thermal activity around Noboribetsu Onsen. From Hell Valley visitors can follow forest trails to several other thermal spots, one of which is Lake Oyunuma.
Rather than a barren landscape with jets of steam and water coming out of it, this is a steaming and sulfurous crater lake with an equally inhospitable look to it. Visitors can view Lake Oyunuma either from the carpark or up at a small hilltop lookout.
River Oyunuma Natural Footbath
Those who want a more hands-on experience with the region’s geothermal activity should continue on from Lake Oyunuma to a small spot on the Oyunuma River. This river flows from the lake and typically has a surface temperature of around 40-50°C.
By a small river pool a wooden platform has been constructed, allowing visitors to dangle their feet into the river to enjoy its therapeutic waters. Talk about a great way to end a day of walking, just don’t forget to bring a towel!
Onsen and Ryokan in Noboribetsu Onsen
Of course, there’s no reason why you have to leave Noboribetsu after your visit to Hell Valley. Noboribetsu Onsen is home to a wide range of ryokan, hotels, and onsen, meaning you can stay longer and fully experience the soothing waters of the local hot springs.
You may even want to sample out several different baths while you’re there, as there are said to be around 10 different types of thermal waters with different mineral content in the area. Some ryokan open their baths to non-guests, while there is also one public bath.
Information for Visiting Hell Valley
- Entry to Hell Valley is free to the public, but you will have to pay for parking if you drive to the site’s car park.
- Hell Valley is open daily from 8:00 to 18:00.
- Unlike so many destinations, Hell Valley is worth visiting year round, as it is just as interesting surrounded by snow as it is dressed up in the colours of autumn and spring.
Visiting Noboribetsu with the JR Pass
International visitors will be pleased to learn that it’s relatively easy to reach Noboribetsu Onsen and Hell Valley with the JR Pass. From Sapporo take the JR Hokuto Line to Noboribetsu station using your rail pass. You will then need to buy a bus ticket (350 yen) for the local bus ride to Noboribetsu Onsen bus terminal, a short walk from Jigokudani.