Japan Far North plus Rishiri and Rebun Islands

Posted on Oct 9, 2018
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Posted on Oct 9, 2018

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13 days





Highest point





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

Distance: 3km | Ascent: 100m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

We live in Sapporo City, so the first step in exploring Hokkaido’s northern reaches was to get ourselves there. By train. It is a 5-hour direct trip from Sapporo City, so we packed the bikes up and bustled with the holiday crowds. Once in Wakkanai we headed straight for the Wakkanai campground to settle in – a paltry 3km from the station (but up a big hill).

Onsen: Wakkanai Minato-no-Yu (港のゆ) | 750yen | 2.6km from accommodation

Wakkanai Campground during a cycle tour

Distance: 0km | ↓ GPX file

We set this day aside for some Wakkanai sightseeing (and for Haidee to work on some distance learning she was doing at the time). In reality there’s not a whole lot to see in Wakkanai, but there’s:

  • A sobering memorial (here) to the nine female Japanese telephone operators in Maoka town (Sakhalin Island) who committed suicide to avoid capture by invading Russian forces.
  • A piece of modern 1936 civil architecture – the  Wakkanai North Breakwater Dome (here).
  • Cape Noshappu (here) is apparently quite nice, although we didn’t get the chance to cycle out there.
  • The whole waterfront at the port is quite nice to wander around too (around here).

To mix things up, you might consider heading to Japan’s northern-most sento (public bath), Midori-no-Yu (みどりの湯, here), which has a Riders’ House attached (1,000yen a night).

Onsen: Midori-no-yu (みどりの湯) | 440yen | 4.5km from accommodation

Wakkanai wave dome

Distance: 30km | Ascent: 270m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

Highlights of day three included the ferry from Wakkanai to Rishiri, and stepping off onto what felt like another universe. Instantly the pace of life is slower on Rishiri. We’d not get any glimpse of Mt. Rishiri until later in the day, but we enjoyed the separated cycle path for the first 10km or so of today.

The campsite for tonight is not an official campground, but there are tables and chairs and a toilet block (and, curiously, seals in a concrete enclosure), which make it perfect for a quick overnight wildcamp.

Onsen: None

Rishiri cycle touring camping panaorama

Distance: 15km | Ascent: 100m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

Taking it as easily as is humanly possible, we only cycled 14km today, up the road to the nearest onsen, at Cape Kutsugata. We set up camp early, and spent the day relaxing.

Onsen: Rishiri Fureai Onsen (利尻ふれあい温泉) | 550yen | 0.35km from accommodation

Kutsugata-misaki Park Campground on Rishiri Island

Distance: 35km | Ascent: 150m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

Day five saw us catch a ferry from Rishiri Island to Rebun Island. Once on Rebun Island, we headed straight for the northern cape. We first set up out tent at the Lake Kushu campground, before having a soak in the only sentou (public baths) at this end of the island. UPDATE: The sento at Funadomari at the northern end of Rebun has now been demolished 🙁 If you are in need of a wash, the campground has coin showers (150yen for 10 minutes).

Accommodation: Kushukohan Campground (久種湖畔キャンプ場) | 600 yen per person

Onsen: None

Cycle touring around Rishiri Island

Distance: 35km | Ascent: 150m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

We took a quick bike ride to the northernmost tip of Rebun today. Then it was back to the port for the ferry back to Wakkanai.

Onsen: Wakkanai Minato-no-Yu (稚内港のゆ) | 700yen | 2.6km from accommodation

Swimming in Rebun Island (Hokkaido, Japan)

Distance: 65km | Ascent: 440m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

I’m not sure I’ve heard of many people who’ve experienced blazing sunshine on the northern east coast of Hokkaido. It is a wild place. Windswept and gloriously desolate. The highlight of today ought to have been seeing Hokkaido’s northern most point, Cape Soya. But as nice as that was, it wasn’t quite as nice as sinking into a nice hot bath at the Safutsu Sento Public Baths (here) at the end of the a wet and cold day.

Onsen: Sarufutsu Ikoi-no-Yu (さるふつ憩いのゆ) | 300yen | 0.2km from accommodation

Sarufutsu cycle touring near Cape Soya

Distance: 65km | Ascent: 440m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

If you want to experience off-the-beaten-track cycle touring in Japan, this area of northern Hokkaido is the place to be. Horonobe Town is perhaps the most curious town I’ve ever experienced. An air of wealth. No, of heavy interest by industry…an unusual number of high-tech technicians around…but at the same time, very rural.

It wouldn’t be until we returned home that the riddle was solved. Horonobe Town is the unlikely location for the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Underground Research Center (https://www.jaea.go.jp/english/04/horonobe/index.html). Essentially, a research center to investigate the underground storage of radioactive waste.

And just to make things even more curious, the Research Center is right next to a reindeer farm (here).

Sarufutsu to Horonobe cycle touring in northern Hokkaido

Distance: 60km | Ascent: 270m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

Day 9 finally found us back with the rest of civilization. We were now on the main road, Route 232, from Wakkanai to Sapporo City. So we wasted no time in getting off onto one of the parallel wide roads, which was much more pleasant. The highlight of the day was the planetarium right next to the Shosanbetsu Campground. We happened to be there on an open night, so we were treated to some star-gazing at great magnification.

Onsen: Shosanbetsu Misaki-no-Yu (しょさんべつ温泉 岬の湯) | 500yen | 0.5km from accommodation

Shosanbetsu planetarium in Hokkaido

Distance: 35km | Ascent: 250m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

A short day of 40km along the coast today.

Onsen: Tomamae Onsen Fuwatto (とままえ温泉ふわっと) | 500yen | 0.5km from accommodation

Shosanbetsu to Tomamae cycle touring Hokkaido

Distance: 60km | Ascent: 350m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

Rumoi as a city has never held my attention for very long. Beyond the free (excellent and quirky) Riders’ House (みつばちハウス, here), there’s few redeeming features as far as a cycling tourist is concerned. Beyond Rumoi, however, is the quaint town of Mashike. This town on the coast is home to Japan’s northernmost sake brewery, and has some rich history.

We stayed in the Mashike Riverside Auto Campground, but while they did have showers, for the 2000yen we paid for the site we’re not sure it was worth it. It would be much better to stay at the free (and reasonably well-appointed, as far as free campgrounds go) Shokan Seaside Camping Ground here.

Onsen: Auberge Mashike (オーベルジュましけ) | 550yen | 0.55km from accommodation

Mashike cycle touring in Hokkaido

Distance: 77km | Ascent: 1100m | Paved: 100% | ↓ GPX file

Use the Ishikari River and Toyohira River stop-bank cycle paths for a completely stress-free entry right into the center of Sapporo. When getting in and out of Sapporo City towards the Rumoi coast, we never take any other route. It’s about 25km of 100% separated traffic-free riding. It’s the route marked in today’s route, here.

Lots of tunnels along the coast towards Hamamasu, Hokkaido, Japan_9579016261_l

Distance: km | ↓ GPX file

Onsen: () | yen

Japan Far North plus Rishiri and Rebun Islands

↔ km | ↗ m | 🚵 % paved | ↓ GPX file

Accommodation: ()

Onsen: () | yen | km from accommodation

Japan Far North plus Rishiri and Rebun Islands

As with each ski touring, cycle touring, and hiking route guide published on hokkaidowilds.org, should you choose to follow the information on this page, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road/track closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow leave-no-trace procedures. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this information, associated GPS track (GPX, KML and maps), and all information was prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. hokkaidowilds.org, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following the information contained in this post.

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