Given its location deep in a national park and a name meaning Cloudy Gorge, for many visitors the actual Sounkyo Onsen is a disappointment. The curse of development is indeed evident: the modern town with its multi-storey concrete hotels is an eyesore, and the endless procession of tour groups through the gorge itself doesn't exactly enhance the wonders of nature.
That said, with lowered expectations Sounkyo Onsen does fulfill what it promises: it's first and foremost a hot spring resort, with cool mountain air and steam rising from the vents in the streets, and it's an excellent base for starting (or, better yet, ending) treks through the national park. Much of the center of the town has also been recently landscaped with a fairly pleasant, mildly Swiss-flavored touch.
The only means of public transport into the gorge is bus or car. Departures to the nearest major city Asahikawa (taking 2 hours, Y1950) and Kamikawa train station(30 minutes, Y800) are fairly frequent.
Sounkyo Onsen and its nearby attractions are best covered on foot, although you might want to rent a bicycle for visiting the gorge itself. A cable car runs most of the way up neighboring Mount Kurodake.
Sounkyo Onsen is known and named after the nearby gorge, which runs for 24 kilometers along the Ishikari River and features some pretty waterfalls and interesting lava formations. The gorge is located to the east of town, an easy walk or bike trip of a few kilometers along a disused highway. Entry is free, so head here early in the morning to beat the tour bus brigade... or just head further down into the gorge, past the few falls frequented by everybody.
Sounkyo Onsen is a popular starting point for hikes into the Daisetsuzan National Park. Be sure to stop off at the Visitor Center, next to the cable car station, before heading up.
If hiking or skiing sounds like too much hard work, try resting your weary bones in one of the many hot springs in town.
Eat & Drink
There are a number of basic restaurants in town.
There is no shortage of fancy hot spring accommodation in towns, but fortunately there's one pretty good budget option as well.
While there are bears in the surrounding Daisetsuzan National Park, they're generally smart enough to stay far away from town.