Niseko Range Tarn Loop Hike

ニセコ沼巡り

Posted on Jul 13, 2021
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Posted on Jul 13, 2021

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Reading time: 8 min

15.3km

Distance

6.5hrs

Time

935m

Ascent

1134m

Highest point

5/10

Difficulty

Best season icon (Hokkaido Wilds)
Jun-Oct

Best season

This full day hike takes in the best the eastern end of the Niseko Range ニセコ連山 has to offer. We'd go out on a limb and say if you've only got time to do one hike in the Niseko Range, let it be this. Impressive volcanic white-rock valleys, high peaks with epic views along the range, the remains of an old sulphur mine, and lovely sub-alpine wetlands and mountain tarns. In summer, there's reasonable public bus transport access from Niseko JR train station.

We visited this route on Jun 26, 2021

Route Map

Need to know details

Location

This splendid loop hike wraps through and over popular peaks in the eastern Niseko Range, near the international Niseko resort area in southern Hokkaido. The hike starts and finishes at the Goshiki Onsen Information Center 五色温泉インフォメーションセンター, here. It’s also possible to start and finish the hike from either the lonely Oyachi Trailhead, Chisenupuri Trailhead, or the Shinsennuma Rest House.

General notes

It’s easy to write off Niseko in summer. With some of the best backcountry skiing in Hokkaido in winter at this eastern end of the Niseko Range, it’s hard to imagine summer ever coming close to match what winter has to offer. Such thoughts are misplaced, however. This loop hike is a delightfully varied, ultra-efficient way to experience the gorgeous topography, geology, and flora of summer time Niseko Range. Volcanic sand trails, an old sulphur mine, cool and clear mountain tarns, and truly impressive views along the range await. Ostensibly, its the mountain tarns dotted along the route that create the backbone of this route, but the cool forests and impressive peaks are also a treat.

Difficulty: There’s nothing particularly technical about this hike, but it is a long hike – a time of 6 to 7hrs applies to fit hikers accustomed to plenty of climbing. The trail on the eastern side of Chisenupuri is particularly tough, with large boulders to clamber over. The trail is a bit overgrown in places – this is not a walk-in-the-park trip. There are, however, a couple of spots where the trail crosses a main road – escape is only a taxi call away, if required!

Direction: Naturally, this hike can be done in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. We did it counter-clockwise, but somewhat regretted this towards the end of the hike, when we’d been walking for 5 hours and still had two peaks to climb (Chisenupuri and Nitonupuri). Some hikers may find it less taxing to get the climbing out the way earlier in the day, by walking this in a clockwise direction.

Route Timing
Up | 3hrs
Down | 3.5hrs

In most local guidebooks and maps, this route is slated as a 6-7hr round trip. On a very hot late June day, however, it took us almost 8 hours with plenty of leisurely breaks.

Route

Most hikers will prefer to start this hike at Goshiki Onsen 五色温泉 because, well, onsen. Knowing there’s a hot natural hotspring soak waiting for you at the end of the trip should be a motivator for anyone. Start up the trail from the Information Center towards Iwaonupuri イワオヌプリ. Not long after the big flight of stairs, you’ll come to a junction. On this first short part of the trail, you may wonder if you’ve made a mistake walking this trail – it’ll be bustling with hikers. But most hikers are just aiming for Iwaonupuri. As soon as you’re past the Iwaonupuri turn-off, you’ll have the trail mostly to yourself until you arrive at Shinsennuma 神仙沼, about 4 hours away. The trail is well defined for the entire way, and reasonably well signposted, with Japanese and English signs. This first half of the trip (if traveling counter-clockwise) to Onuma 大沼 (literally, big pond) is characterized by compact volcanic scenery. White rocks, red scree slopes, and a crystal clear Sulphur creek. The Sulphur mine remains are more like strands of tailings rather than ruins, but interesting nonetheless.

Onuma is surrounded by tall sasa bamboo grass, and there’s only one spot to actually get to the tarn’s edge. But if the weather is hot, it would be a gorgeous spot for a swim. From Onuma to Oyachi 大谷地 the trail is mostly wooded, with plenty of shade. From Oyachi to Shisennuma it’s also nicely wooded, with old-growth white birch. A dilapidated boardwalk, with overgrown, low-lying branches slowing progress somewhat, takes you to the busy tourist-trap of Shisennuma. This is a large marsh area, with a few beautiful tarns. You’ll be sharing the boardwalks with jeans-and-sneaker types for about 10 minutes. The tarns are worth it though. Really quite gorgeous.

Past Shisennuma, you’re now on the second half of the circuit, but arguably the toughest part. There’s a lot of climbing and descending to do, but this also offers the most spectacular views of the trip. Chisenupuri チセヌプリ is the high point of the route, and you’ll have uninterrupted views west and east along the range. Yotei-zan to the east will be showing its peak too. Chisenupuri’s views are hard earned however, as the descent (or ascent) on the eastern side is less a trail than a boulder-hop. It’s steep and exciting.

After Chisenupuri is out of the way, it’s one more grunt up to another peak, this time Nitonupuri ニトヌプリ. The eastern side of Nitonupuri had come of the most inspiring landscape on the whole route though. Once again back into the white volcanic landscape nearing Iwaonupuri, there’s a tiny plateau that feels like a natural Japanese garden. Low shrubby plants, a pure white trail, quiet and calm. On the way back to Goshiki Onsen, you may be tempted for a quick summit of Iwaonupuri. It’s only another 30 minutes or so off the trail. We were nearing 8 hours on the trail, so gave it a miss. Straight to the onsen for us!

Transport

Public transport:

During the peak summer season (July-Oct), there’s a public bus service run by Niseko Bus that runs from Niseko JR Station to Goshiki Onsen and Shinsennuma Rest House, via Annupuri. The bus fare is 820yen for the full 1hr 15m trip from Niseko Station to Goshiki Onsen. Here’s the timetable. Note the bus runs every day from late July till late August, but only on weekends in the rest of July, and from late August till October. Call the Goshiki Onsen Information Center (in English is OK) for details (TEL: 0136-59-2200).

By car: 

There’s plenty of parking at Goshiki, Oyachi, Shinsennuma, and the Chisenupuri carpark.

Hut(s)

None

Physical maps
GSI Topo Map: Niseko Annupuri (ニセコアンヌプリ) – map no. NK-54-20-7-2
GSI Topo Map 2: Chisenupuri (チセヌプリ) – map no. NK-54-20-7-4

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

Despite the relatively low elevation throughout the route, the peaks in particular are very exposed to the elements. Make sure you’re carrying the appropriate gear in case of a sudden change in weather. Make sure to leave your intentions in the trailhead box, just below the large flight of stairs on the way to Iwaonupuri.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Niseko Tarn Loop

Onsen nearby

The hike starts at Goshiki Onsen 五色温泉 (location, 800yen), one of the Niseko area’s best natural hot springs. Down to earth, rustic, and unbelievably soothing after a long hike. They’re open from 9am till 8pm. Alternatively, there’s the larger but still just as natural and smoothing Yukichichibu 雪秩父 (location, 700yen), a 10 minute drive west along Route 58 from Goshiki Onsen. They’re open from 10am till 8pm, have a basic restaurant attached, and have very large outdoor bathing areas.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to hike this route and/or explore other areas of central Hokkaido with a local certified guide, then contact Jun Ishiguro. He’s a JMGA (Japan Mountain Guides Association) mountain guide on the board of directors of the Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA). As a senior figure in the Hokkaido guiding scene, and with extensive experience, he can tailor trips to your needs. See a full list of English-speaking Hokkaido Mountain Guides Association (HMGA) guides on the HMGA website here

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

It was about time we headed over to the Niseko area for the green season, so Haidee and I packed up the car and headed west from Sapporo in the early evening of a Friday. The plan was to set up the tent in Rankoshi, and paddle the Shubuto River 朱太川 on the Sunday, and use the Saturday for a nice long hike in the Niseko Range.

We called around a few campgrounds in the area, but all of them told us they were fully booked. “Everyone’s making the most of the easing of stay-at-home requests,” said one exasperated-sounding staff.

Indeed, that was us. We’d been stuck in Sapporo for the past six weekends.

In the end, we ended up at the quiet Rinrin  Campground リンリン公園キャンプ場 in Rankoshi. A green oasis among the lush farmland in the area. Amazingly, despite other campgrounds in the area being booked out, there was hardly anyone here.

We’d arrived late on the Friday night, so missed the official check in. That meant we had to wait around till 9:30am for the campground warded to arrive, and for us to pay our dues. By that time, the sun was high in the sky, and it was turning out to be a very hot day.

By the time we arrived at the Goshiki Onsen carpark, it felt like full summer. At the people. It felt like half of Hokkaido had the same idea as us. Carparks were full, as was the campground opposite Goshiki Onsen. Niseko Range on a weekend, we guessed.

It was busy on the first part of the trail too. Day hikers headed for or returning from the easily-attained Iwaonupuri were numerous. On a number of occasions, we needed to wait as large groups filed past us, all giving us subdued nods, covering their mouths with their masks. We hoped it wouldn’t be like this the whole way.

It was cool in the shade of the trees though.

It wasn’t long before the tall, lush vegetation gave way to impressive volcanic scars on the landscape. Iwaonupuri was one great ashen mount, mostly white but with impressive red streaks here and there. The path was now pure white fine volcanic gravel. Had we not had up to 7 hours of walking ahead of us, we would have climbed up to the summit, only about 20 minutes away. But we figured if we had the time and energy to do so on the way back, we’d do it then.

Mercifully, the foot traffic all but disappeared once we were past the Iwaonupuri junction. Just a few sansai gatherers, foraging off the trail for early season edible spring shoots. 

We pushed on towards Onuma Pond, passing through more curious volcanic landscape. Sulphur Stream 硫黄川, red scree slopes, and also the old Sulphur mine remains with its long tailings mounds. This would be an interesting area in its own right to spend some time exploring, but we were keen to keep moving on.

What amazed us the most was the variety of landscape thus far in the loop. Green, shady groves, interspersed with blinding white volcanic scenes.

When we did finally make it to Onuma Pond, it was somewhat of an anti-climax. It was surrounded by a thick barriers of tall sasa bamboo grass. There was only one small opening on the northern shore where we could actually get down to the water’s edge. This small opening was already crowded with a group of high school kids on an excursion with their teacher, so we didn’t get a chance to have a paddle in the water. We pushed on.

Now, we were walking in more consistently Hokkaido-esque forest. High sasa bamboo grass and thick forest on all sides. It was heads down fast hiking, with a reasonably good trail and not much climbing. Soon we entered the Oyachi wetland area, the trail here also shrouded in tall sasa bamboo grass. Here and there were sections of wetland flora to either side of the boardwalk.

By the time we got to the Oyachi trialhead, it was time for lunch. We sat on the edge of the parking lot and munched on some sandwiches. Groups of spring mountain shoot foragers were emerging from the wetlands with their hauls.

It was surprisingly hot for a late June weekend. Just sitting in the sun was hot work. So we were happy for the shaded trail as we continued west towards Shinsennuma. The trail alternated between easy-walking dirt trail, to OK boardwalk, and then badly dilapidated boardwalk with low overhanging foliage.

The dilapidated trail only made the Shinsennuma area all the more spectacular. After ducking and doging low foliage, we were spat out into a dazzlingly pristine wetland. Lightly-dressed tourists with loafers, jeans and sun parasols tiptoed along the boardwalks, making the procession to the crowning jewel of this compact marsh – the gorgeous Shinsennuma. By the shortest route, it’s only a 40 minute return walk to the tarn. Well worth it in its own right.

We spent a few minutes soaking in the alpine atmosphere next to the tarn, and then carried on. We still had the most taxing part of the hike ahead of us – climbing and descending both Chisenupuri and Nitonupuri peaks.

Along the way towards the Chisenupuri junction, we passed Naganuma Tarn. This would be our last place along the route to stock up on water, so we filtered a few liters and added it to our stash. Filtering water along the route is essential to reduce the risk of ingesting an Echinococcus egg. Echinococcus is a nasty parasite that has a very long incubation period, and can wreak havoc on the human liver – see our deep-dive here. The Katadyn BeFree 1.0L is our pick for water filters, if anyone cares. 

By the time we started the ascent up Chisenupuri in earnest, we were feeling the effects of the heat of the day. We’d been on the trail for over 6 hours by this point. We tried to take it easy on the ascent, stopping for breaks in the shade of trees where we had the chance. The views were now the best of the hike so far though. Big vistas along the range, both east and west. At the summit, we sent up the drone.

We’d read in local guidebooks that the eastern trail up Chisenupuri was deceptively tough. Not particularly much vertical gain, but basically just one big boulder scramble. We can confirm as such. Steep, and not much of a trail, but for boulders. The vistas, however, are worth the effort.

So far, since leaving Shinsennuma, we’d only passed four other parties. And this was on an otherwise busy Saturday. A great way to get away from it all.

We arrived at the Chisenupuri trailhead, crossed Route 66, and carriedd on up Nitonupuri. We couldn’t help but think that perhaps we would have had a more leisurely time of this hike had we done the route in reverse. Get the main climbing done early in the hike, and then enjoy a more leisurely rest of the hike on flatter trails.

The trail continued to offer up plenty of variation though. Just as we thought the route had given us all it could give, we found ourselves in a gorgeous area of volcanic terrain with stunted trees. It was almost like a manicured Japanese garden, complete with a lovely white path.

Soon, we were back at the Iwaonupuri junction, for the final walk back to the Goshiki Onsen carpark. The onsen was calling, so we passed on a quick up-and-back of Iwaonupuri. Shadows were getting long, and the day was quickly fading into late afternoon/early evening. 

This was our first long summer hike in the Niseko Range, but it felt like a perfect introduction to what the area has to offer.

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Niseko Range Tarn Loop Hike Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

A

40

Time ascending

C

3

Technicality

Altitude

B

6

Hazards

D

0

Navigation

D

0

Totals

49/100

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.