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.