Chitose River Urban Snowshoeing


Posted on Dec 31, 2016
23 3

Posted on Dec 31, 2016

23 3








Highest point



Best season icon (Hokkaido Wilds)

Best season

The pristine Chitose River, fed from Lake Shikotsu 25km upstream, is abundant with birdlife at this time of the year. Swans, ducks of every type, herons, and woodpeckers…all relatively nonplussed at a couple of people on snowshoes, tramping where few other humans tend to venture at this time of year. As such, urban showshoeing along the Chitose River is an un-rightfully overlooked pastime…

Last updated Apr 2, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details


This fun snowshoeing route takes in both sides of a 4km stretch of the Chitose River, including the Chitose Salmon Museum and Michi-no-Eki. The route starts at JR Chitose Station (here), which is easy walking distance from the river.

General notes

Chitose City is not usually high on people’s radars for destination to enjoy the outdoors. But those who know, know about the Chitose River. They know that it runs out of Lake Shikotsu, arguably one of the most pristine lakes in Hokkaido, if not Japan. The river’s waters are usually impossibly clear. In winter it is home to a number of species of ducks, as well as the large Hooper swan. A snowshoe wander along the banks in winter should be high on any serious birder’s list.

  • Food: Try the following places along the way for a snack or meal.
    • Chitose Michi-no-Eki: This large ‘road-stop’ was completely re-built in 2015. It has a bakery, a great pizzeria, healthy buffet, and a food court. Location >>
    • LeTao: A bit off the route, but worth a stop is the LeTao bakery and sit-down restaurant. They have amazing hotcakes. Location >>
    • Hyotan Gyoza: We’ve been to this little family-run gyouza joint a couple of times and are always amazed – just really good gyouza. Location >>
    • Iyori Ramen: Modern, new, delicious ramen. Location >>
    • Beer Works Chitose: Try some local drops at this restaurant/brewery. Location >>
Route Timing

At any point along the river, you’ll have the option to lengthen or shorten the trip depending on your fancy. There are multiple bridges along the way.


This route is not marked, but you’ll be following the stopbanks along the river.


Public transport:

The route starts and ends at Chitose JR Train Station (here).

By car: 

If you’re travelling by car, it would be better to start at the Chitose Michi-no-Eki (here), which has a very large carpark.



Physical maps
GSI Topo Map: Chitose (千歳) – map no. NK-54-14-8-1

NOTE: The GSI 1/25000 topo map(s) above can be purchased for 350yen each from Kinokuniya bookstore next to Sapporo Station or online (in Japanese).

route safety

There’s only one spot on this route that will require some safety-conscious decisions. Near the Chitose Michi-no-Eki on the opposite side of the river (the southern side), local residents dump snow over the stopbanks. This results in large banks of snow blocking the way. Either cut steps into them and carry on along the river (risking slipping into the fridgid water), or walk up to the road.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Chitose River

Onsen nearby

You’ll be very close to the cheap and cheerful Surehiro sento (public bath) next to Chitose Station (末広湯 – here). Open from 12 noon till 11pm, closed on Tuesdays.

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Guide Options

If you’d like to hike this route and/or explore other hikes in the central Hokkaido area together with a local certified guide, get in touch with Yasuko Kikuchi. Born and raised in Hokkaido, she’s a JMGA-certified guide now based in Sapporo. Her outdoor experience is broad and worldwide, having worked as a Canadian Ski Patrol member, and has sumitted a number of 6,000m+ peaks around the world. She speaks good English. In addition to Yasuko, also see a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

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Route Trip Notes

We used to live in Chitose City. When we moved there, we were giddy with excitement. We had scored an apartment in an apartment block that looked out over the Chitose River, with the river banks just outside our building entrance. “We’ll be able to snowshoe and cross-country ski from right outside our apartment,” we gushed.

Two years on, and we finally got around to exploring the riverside in winter. Sure, we had walked and cycled along the river in both directions numerous times – the well-kept cycling road long the Chitose River is really something. But this would be our first time doing it in winter, while it was covered in at least 1 meter of snow.

The riverside really has a different feel in winter. Beside the obvious covering of snow, the fact that we were walking along fresh snow with no one else about really gave it a wilderness appeal. The birds we saw along the way also seemed to be less flighty than they are in summer – I guess they figure we won’t be as keen to run after them?

In the route map I have made up above, the route starts and finishes at Chitose Station. We, however, started from our apartment a few hundred meters upstream. We started along the station-side of the river, until we reached the large bridge before the Salmon Museum. Note that many of the major roads can be ducked under using the cycle-way underpasses.

Once at the large road bridge before the Salmon Museum we crossed the river, and carried on on the southern/eastern side of the river. On this side, there are paths that drop down close to the water’s edge, which are great for getting closer to the wildlife (there are masses of ducks and swans near here).

The difficulty in winter, however, is that apartment blocks on the same side of the river push snow onto the banks (from their adjacent carparks), creating great walls of snow across the path. To combat this, you’ll either have to do a detour, or cut a trail into the slopes with a shovel. We opted for the latter.

Towards the northern end of the route, there is a thicket of woods, just outside the Chitose Beer Works (local beer and food can be had here). A couple of years back, we saw one lone sea eagle perched in one of these trees, so we went as far as the thicket before heading back upstream. Alas no sea eagle this time.

The original plan was to get lunch at the Chitose Michi-no-eki (a road-stop local produce center). Chitose’s Michi-no-eki is new, and has a fantastic food court, including a wood-fired pizza restaurant. Unfortunately it was all closed up for the new years break, however, so we pushed on, opting to stop in at our apartment for lunch instead.

In the end we arrived back to our apartment, having only completed half of the circular route indicated above. Four days later, just nearing dusk, we continued on for the southern end of the circle, via Aoba Park.

This end of the route heads into less populated areas of Chitose, namely Aoba Park and surrounds. As such, the birdlife only increases. We saw more ducks including a rare-ish Common Merganser…Quite a few skittish diving ducks including some Common Golden-eyes…And a Greater Scaup. Up in the trees, a Great Spotted Woodpecker kept us entertained. And of course a juvenile Whooper Swan was seen sitting lonely along the bank.

We went as far as the Chitose Sports Center, before climbing up to the Chitose Shrine. Here, now being the 3rd of January, people were still casting their new year wishes. Finally, before the final push on back to our apartment, we came across the beginnings of one of the 15 or so outdoor ice-skating rinks that are set up in school yards in the winter here in Chitose. The caretaker of this school was spraying water to freeze overnight. I guess they must spray multiple layers before grooming the surface for skating.

Overall, this was a rather belated but very worthwhile excursion into our winter backyard. We moved closer into Sapporo only a few weeks after this trip, so we’re glad we did this before the beautiful Chitose River is now sadly further away.

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Chitose River Urban Snowshoeing Difficulty Rating





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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.