The gondola leading to the top of Sapporo's Mt. Moiwa is sometimes thought of as an extension of the city's public transit system. Seamless as the connection is, this particular train car takes you 531 meters above sea level to a peak overlooking the city.
Phase one of the trip, from the Ropeway Mountain Base Station to the Mountainside Station in a cable car, takes roughly five minutes, plenty of time to take in the scenery all around you. A guide will point out landmarks including Sapporo's other famous peaks: Maruyama (the rounded, tree-covered peak just west of the city center) and Mt. Teine (the city's highest point at 1,023 meters).
Once you arrive at the Mountainside Station, you can take a break at the gift shop or cafe, but this is in fact a false summit. Change here to the "Morris Car," a mini cable car that came as part of a recent renovation. The unique tram (said to be the first of its kind in the world) carries passengers to the Summit Station in less than two minutes. The ground-level cars offer passengers a close-up view of the surrounding forest, home to diverse wildlife, snow in the winter, and colorful leaves in the fall.
Once at the top, the Summit Station's rooftop observatory offers a 360-degree view, including the city of Sapporo and the aforementioned nearby mountains. Signboards help you spot landmarks, like the Sapporo Dome, the Sapporo TV Tower, and the JR Tower at Sapporo Station. On a clear day, the view extends beyond the city streets and deeper into the Ishikari Plain, but a dark block of clouds was the backdrop on our visit.
The Summit Station also features a casual French restaurant. The design allows for every party to enjoy a window seat and a wonderful view. To top it off, the food was great and our lunch set was affordable considering.
Overall, our afternoon trip was a great introduction to Mt. Moiwa and its observatory. And while the daytime view was nice, we plan to return someday after dark to take in the more famous night view, with the city lights below the main attraction.