Japan Far North plus Rishiri and Rebun Islands

Posted on Oct 9, 2018
35 26

Posted on Oct 9, 2018

35 26
510km

Distance

13 days

Time

4660m

Ascent

100m

Highest point

4/10

Difficulty

100%

Paved

Rishiri and Rebun Island cycle touring has that end-of-the-world, rugged-beauty feeling that makes the effort getting to the islands more than worth it. While the daily distances are short on this two-week sojourn, the vistas are grand. Think massive coastal views and plenty of wild campgrounds. You'll also see Japan's northern-most city, Wakkanai, in all its modest grandeur.

Last updated Jun 3, 2019

Route Map

Route Overview

There isn’t anywhere further north in Japan than the area around Wakkanai City, Cape Soya, Rishiri Island and Rebun Island. The mighty Japan Rail finds its terminus in Wakkanai City, and it is a favourite spot for length-of-Japan cyclists, walkers, and motorcyclists to either start or end their epic journeys. If you’ve made it this far to the tippy-top of Japan, then it would be a shame not to jump on a ferry over to the outlying islands of Rishiri and Rebun. Rishiri is home to a Mt. Fuji lookalike conical mountain, and has a separated cycle path around most of its 60km circumference. Rebun only really has one main road from the top to the bottom. Its the stark, rough-around-the-edges, end-of-the-world, bleak-but-beautiful atmosphere of these islands that make them so appealing.

People who have grown up in Japan, of course, will tell you they’re worth going for one thing only: the seafood. And yes, it is amazing. Fresh fish, roe, sea urchin…

Once you’ve had your fill of these outlying islands, it is back to the mainland. After a quick dash to Cape Soya – Japan’s northern-most point – you’ll make your way down the Rumoi Coast back to Sapporo. The coast between Mashike and Sapporo is a like-it-or-hate-it stretch of coastal road with lots of tunnels. So an inland route from there might be more appealing, but its not far from there to Ishikari Bay, north of Sapporo City.

  • Daily distances: This route guide takes a very leisurely time of covering distance. Stronger riders would easily combine multiple days into one.
  • Ferries: Ferries run daily from Wakkanai to Rishiri and Rebun Islands. See the up to date timetable here. Fares are paid per leg. That is Wakkanai↔Rishiri (2,240yen pp | 1,360yen per bicycle), Wakkanai↔Rebun (2,470yen pp | 1,360yen per bicycle), Rishiri↔Rebun (900yen pp | 690yen per bicycle). So if you went Wakkanai→Rishiri→Rebun with a bicycle, it’d be 9,020yen in total. There are no discounted return tickets or the like (although see this 45° Hopping Pass deal for unlimited ferry rides).
    • How to save money taking bikes to Rishiri/Rebun: The fee for bicycles is only if you roll the bike onto the ferry as a ‘vehicle’. Pack your bike into a bike bag (similar to on trains in Japan) and you won’t be charged the bicycle fee. This would save you 3,410yen.

Daily Route notes

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route or parts of it? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback or queries here. Thanks!

26 thoughts on “Japan Far North plus Rishiri and Rebun Islands”

  1. Thanks for the great resource! Wondering if this route would be doable walking? Don’t have a great sense on how busy with traffic the roads are.

  2. Simon Chapman

    Hi Rob, thank you for putting together this route. I started northbound from Sapporo and the tunnels were not for me and I headed inland from Hamamasu (which has good free public camping just behind the beach). I will probably continue on this inland route to Wakkanai and then rejoin the route for Rebun and Rishiri, best wishes

  3. Hey Rob, just a quick question, how did you find the tunnels on the west coast section of this route? After a quick google maps search seems like there are some pretty long ones with little to no sidewalk. After doing some cycling around the Shakotan coastline and south of Iwanai I have grown deathly scared of the tunnels, as I have learned that once a biker enters the tunnel, all heavy vehicles in the area receive some kind of signal and come driving past you. It’s a shame because most of these long tunnels have a section of older beautiful coastal road alongside them that is closed off and have fallen into disrepair. Those would make amazing cycle paths but I suppose the cost of upkeep is just too high.

    1. Simon Chapman

      Hi Rob, thank you for putting together this route. I started northbound from Sapporo and the tunnels were not for me and I headed inland from Hamamasu (which has good free public camping just behind the beach). I will probably continue on this inland route to Wakkanai and then rejoin the route for Rebun and Rishiri, best wishes

  4. Hi Rob, I am planning to try this route or far east trans hokkaido for 12 days from 13-24 June, it would be better to cycle from Sapporo to Wakkanai or Wakanai to Sapporo,concerning the wind in June ? It’s my first time cycling in Hokkaido.
    Thank you for your help in advance.
    Viraporn

    1. Hi there, great to hear you’re planning to cycle this route! The wind in June can be all rather unpredictable, but from the Japan Meteorological Agency data, it seems that the most common wind direction along the Japan sea coast from Sapporo to Wakkanai is from the southeast (data here). Therefore, I’d recommend going from south to north (Sapporo to Wakkanai)!

  5. Hey, I’m planning on doing either this or the Shiretoko Loop late September/early October after staying at Daisetsuzan for a couple days to view peak autumn colors. Considering climate and views do you have any recommendations on where I should go? Both Rishiri/Rebun and Shiretoko look amazing to me and I can’t decide which.

    1. Hey Matthew! I feel for you – that’s a very difficult decision! It’s possible you’d get the more scenic views in October on the Shiretoko Loop – more wildlife on the Shiretoko Loop also.

      1. Thanks for the input! What do you think about doing the far east route backwards from Sapporo to Nemuro, and then doing the Shiretoko Loop from Nemuro? Alternatively I was thinking doing the far north route (Rishiri/Rebun) into Shakotan and Niseko hills and then ending my whole trip in Jozankei before flying home in CTS.

        1. For sure, the routes are just as good in either direction, and linking them up is a great idea. As for which to do…you’ll have a great time with any of them!

  6. Hey guys, first of all kiaora and thank you. This is an excellent resource. I need some advice. My friend and I are cycling in July. We won’t be doing big miles (injury but ok to bike) and are camping. We love the wilds but not the traffic. Can’t decide whether to cycle from Eniwa to Wakkanai and investigate the islands. Or do the whole of the Southern Peninsula – Lake Toya, Oshamambe, Hokodate then following the coast. We have two weeks.

    1. Hi Maree, thanks for the query! Sounds like a luxurious quandary – both options would be great. That said, if you have the time and inclination to visit Rishiri and Rebun, I’d thoroughly recommend it. They have a very distinctive and unique atmosphere. They’re otherwise very difficult to visit unless you have plenty of time up your sleeve, so committing to seeing them while you have the time would be my pick!

      1. That’s us sold. Thanks for the nudge. I’ve got an app called bikemap. A route to Mashike has us going up towards Uryu before turning left onto the hilly roads. Do you think this is a good option or should we stick to the coast road?

        1. 100% take the road through to Uryu, I say. The coastal road is OK-ish, but has quite a few tunnels. The inland route is a bit more varied and pretty (and avoids tunnels).

  7. Hi Rob
    Awesome site, been living on/off the last year in Hokkaido and I had follow a lot of the routes you guys posted.
    This time I am planning to this trial and I have a few questions
    1. Is there any pros/cons to doing Rumoi -> Wakkanai or is better the way around?
    2. I saw that coming up to Wakkanai around Teshio you decided to cross over and go towards safurutsu. Just wondering why ? better route than go from Teshio along the coast until Wakkanai?
    Thanks a lot for your contribution
    Albert

    1. Hi Albert, cheers for the query. If anything, considering the summer prevailing wind (southeast), it would be better to cycle from Rumoi to Wakkanai, cycling north. As for going towards Sarufutsu, the only reason was that we wanted to cycle via Cape Soya, the northernmost point 🙂 Hope this helps!

  8. Hello,
    I am planning to try this route and your information is more than helpful.
    One question that I have is how to return from Wakkanai to Sapporo and fly back home.
    I am hoping that there is a train, bus or ferri that runs between Wakkanai and Sapporo.
    Thank you for your help in advance.

    1. Hi Linard yes, this route is certainly possible in September. In fact, the temperatures in September may be preferable to the heat of summer! I hope this helps.

  9. Thank you for this excellent and clear bikepacking route. I am planning this for late July.
    I will most likely fly from Osaka to start so my one concern is buying fuel for my MSR stove upon arrival for the length of the trip. I am guessing it should be easy enough to find some in Sapporo at a sporting goods shop. Did you have any experience with buying fuel after leaving Sapporo.

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Japan Far North plus Rishiri and Rebun Islands Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

GRADES range from A (very difficult) to D (easy). Hazards include exposure to avalanche and fall risk. More details here. Rating rubric adapted from Hokkaido Yukiyama Guidebook 北海道雪山ガイド.