Shikaribetsu Gorge Wild Onsen Guide

Posted on Aug 2, 2018
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Posted on Aug 2, 2018

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Reading time: 5 min
Shikaribetsu Gorge (然別峡), nestled into the southeastern foothills of the Daisetsu National Park in central Hokkaido, is home to a number of natural, wild hot spring onsen. The surroundings are quiet, picturesque, and hopelessly relaxing. Access to the hotsprings further up the valley can be restricted at times due to forestry road work, but the Shika-no-Yu (鹿の湯) pools are always available for use, right next to the Shikaribetsu Gorge campground. The pools are all open-air, mixed-gender (only the Shika-no-Yu has any form of changing shed), and strictly no-swimwear allowed, so you'll need a good dose of courage if you're not used to this style of bathing. Access to the pools is either on bicycle or foot in the summer, and snowshoe or skiis in the winter.

Last updated Nov 4, 2018

General Notes

Many of these wild onsen – particularly those below the dam – are only a few meters away from the Shiishikaribetsu River. After heavy rain and/or storms, they may be completely filled with sand and debris. As of writing (March 2018), a few of them had been destroyed by the 2016 typhoon that ravaged central Hokkaido. No doubt they’ll be re-constructed as time goes by, as some of them already have been.

Regardless of what calamities have come before, however, very few of these pools are maintained over the winter months. Therefore, be prepared to do some maintenance yourself before you use them – for example cleaning around the edges, removing leaves, or perhaps even shoveling out sand.

Also note that many of the Japanese sources I found on the Internet about the onsen below contradict each other on some of the names of each separate pool. Apart from the Shika-no-yu at the campground, just know that if you start at the dam (here) and clamber down the side of the river from there for no more than 300m, you’ll find at least three or four decent-sized hot pools along the way.

Important

These pools are maintained 100% through volunteer passion and effort.

We encourage visitors to treat the pools with the utmost respect. If you pay them a visit, consider giving them a quick scrub and/or clean. Be sensitive to the locals’ norms and practices. Any trash should, or course, be packed out. Take one more quick look around the area before you leave to make sure you’ve got all your belongings.

Shika-no-yu Onsen (鹿の湯)

This is a large concrete-bound circular open-air hot spring, fed by two smaller hotsprings a few meters away. The large pool will comfortably fit at least 10 people.

  • Location: At the far end of the Shikaribetsu Gorge Campground (here).
  • Changing room: In summer, yes. Not in winter.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: Over the winter months, it can develop a green slimy coating to the underwater surfaces of the pool. A shovel to remove slime from the edges is recommended. Also check that the hot water is flowing from the two feeder pools. You may need to clear away leaves from the mouths of the pipes.
  • Meaning: “Shika-no-yu” means Hotspring of the Deer. An apt name considering how many deer there are in the area.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details
Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)
Trans-Hokkaido Bikepacking Route (beta) | Shika-no-yu (鹿の湯) at Shikaribetsu Gorge

Fufu-no-yu Onsen (夫婦の湯)

A one- to two-person pool carved out of the rock cliff face just above Shika-no-yu. It feeds into the Shika-no-yu. It is quite deep, and when we were there in early spring it was the perfect temperature.

  • Location: At the far end of the Shikaribetsu Gorge Campground (here).
  • Changing room: Not in winter.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: Over the winter months, it can develop a green slimy coating to the underwater surfaces of the pool, and can collect leaves and dead grass. A shovel to remove slime from the edges is recommended.
  • Meaning: “Fufu” means husband-and-wife.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details
Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Gakeshita-no-yu Onsen (崖下の湯)

A medium-sized pool fed directly from hot water trickling out of the cliff. Depending on the level of the water, it is possible to squeeze into the small cave in the cliff for a natural sauna. Hands down the most amazing outdoor wild onsen experience I’ve ever had.

  • Location: About 150m below the dam on the Shiishikaribetsu River (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: There may be a green algae growing on the rocks in the pool. When we were there, it had been scrubbed clean (scrubbing brushes are provided). If the pool is really empty, you’ll need to block the outlet. We used a piece of pipe hanging up close by to do this. After about 30 minutes the pool had enough hot water in it to spread out comfortably.
  • Meaning: “Gakeshita-no-yu” literally means The Hotsprings Below the Cliff.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details
Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)
Trans-Hokkaido Bikepacking Route (beta) | Visiting Gakeshita-no-yu (崖下の湯) at Shikaribetsu Gorge
Cave sauna at Chinika-no-yu (Shikaribetsu Gorge, Hokkaido, Japan)

Pira-no-yu Onsen (ピラの湯)

An onsen fed by a hot-water waterfall. The pool currently does not exist, but appears to have existed previously.

  • Location: About 250m below the dam on the Shiishikaribetsu River (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: While the pool no longer exists (as of March 2018), the hot-waterfall is interesting to visit. We visited the waterfall as we waited for the Gakeshita-no-yu to fill up. Of course, if you’ve got the time and the inclination, you could always spend a day try making a pool yourself with the surrounding rocks.
  • Meaning: “Pira” means precipice in Ainu language.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details
Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Chinika-no-yu Onsen (チニカの湯)

There was only a small pool to indicate that this large (20-person) pool ever existed. I imagine the sand that filled it up will be dug out soon enough by some keen hot-spring lover.

  • Location: About 10 meters upstream from the Gakeshita-no-yu (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: I’ve also seen this hot spring referred to as Penichika-no-yu (ペニチカの湯 – here).
  • Meaning: “Chinika” means ‘dream’ in Ainu language.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details
Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Menoko-no-yu Onsen (メノコの湯)

This is a one or two-person sized pool above Gakeshita-no-yu. It is the highest up of any of the pools in the area.

  • Location: Just above Gakeshita-no-yu (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Meaning: “Menoko” means ‘woman’ in Ainu language.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details
Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Damushita-no-yu Onsen (ダム下の湯)

This is a one- to two-person pool, right below the lower dam on the Shiishikaribetsu River. It was quite green and covered in algae when we were there in winter, but it was beautifully scrubbed clean and the perfect temperature in August. Highly recommended.

  • Location: Just below the lower dam (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Meaning: “Damu-shita” means ‘below the dam’ in Japanese.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details
Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)
Trans-Hokkaido Bikepacking Route (beta) | Damu-shita-no-yu (ダム下の湯) at Shikaribetsu Gorge

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