Sounkyo (w_¬, Sōunkyō) is a touristy hot spring resort town in the north of Daisetsuzan National Park. It is located in a scenic, narrow gorge that is flanked by 100 meter high, forested cliffs. Sounkyo offers a pleasant village center, onsen baths and two beautiful waterfalls nearby. It is also a good base for hiking tours into the national park with ropeway access to nearby Mount Kurodake.
Sounkyo offers several hot spring baths to soak in, including one public bath house, the Kurodake no Yu, located in the town center. This bath house has gender segregated indoor and outdoor baths with limited views of the surrounding landscape. More hot spring bathing is available at the town's many ryokan, several of which open their baths to non-staying guests during daytime for an admission fee of typically around 1000 yen.
About three kilometers east of the village center further up the valley, there are two beautiful waterfalls, Ginga no Taki (Milky Way Falls) and Ryusei no Taki (Shooting Star Falls), which cascade down the 100 meter high cliffside. Both waterfalls can be viewed from a large parking lot across the river or from a small observation deck that can be reached via a steep walking trail in about 15-20 minutes from the parking lot outside of winter.
Another five kilometers up the valley along the main road is Obako, a beautiful rock formation along the river that is said to resemble folding screens. An attractive cycling road used to connect the two waterfalls with Obako; however, it had to be closed due to its worsening condition and is unlikely to ever open again. Because public transportation along the valley is bad, a taxi or rental car is most convenient to access the waterfalls and Obako.
Sounkyo is also a popular autumn leaf viewing spot, and one of the first places in Japan to see the seasonal spectacle. The colors typically start to appear around the summit of Mount Kurodake in mid September and then gradually move down the mountain slopes until they reach the valley floor around mid October.
The Kurodake Ropeway provides visitors easy access into the higher parts of Daisetsuzan National Park. It departs from next to the Sounkyo Visitor Center in the back of the village center. At the top of the ropeway is a chair lift, which brings you to within a one hour hike of the summit of Mount Kurodake. The classic 1-2 day tour for advanced hikers continues from the summit of Kurodake through the wild interior of the national park to the summit of Asahidake, from where one can descend to Asahidake Onsen.
From late January to late March (January 23 to March 15, 2020), the town holds the Sounkyo Ice Waterfall Festival (Sounkyo Onsen Hyobaku Matsuri), featuring large, multi-story ice and snow structures with interior caverns and maze-like tunnels running through them. Although the layout of the festival changes from year to year, it usually includes large snow domes, ice sculptures, a snow tubing run (small fee required to rent tubes) and an event stage.
The festival grounds cost 300 yen to enter and are open during the day and into the evenings over the two month period. However, it is best viewed at night when everything is illuminated with colorful lights. Furthermore, a small 5-10 minute firework display is held in the evenings of selected days. Food, drinks, souvenirs and resting space are also available in a heated pavilion.
There are direct buses between Asahikawa Station and Sounkyo (2 hours, 2100 yen one way, every 1-2 hours). Alternatively, you can ride a JR train to Kamikawa Station (40 minutes, around 2000 yen by limited express train or 70 minutes, 1070 yen by local train from Asahikawa) and catch a bus from there (30 minutes, 870 yen, every 1-2 hours). See English Links below for bus timetables.