Akan-gawa Paddling (Ohata to Akangawa-bashi)

阿寒川 | Shi-pet

Posted on Jul 4, 2023

Posted on Jul 4, 2023

0 0


0.5 day(s)


6.1 mpk



Water clarity

Class III



Best season





Akan-gawa 阿寒川 is a pristine waterway in eastern Hokkaido, flowing from Lake Akan 阿寒湖 in the north. While the far upper reaches of the river are clogged with fallen trees and steep boulder gardens, this middle section of the river is a whitewater haven for intermediate to upper-intermediate paddlers. Frequent bedrock rapids and wave trains keep things interesting, as do frequent wildlife encounters. Expect the full gamut of eastern Hokkaido fauna including red-crested tancho cranes, native deer, foxes, and bears if you're lucky.

We visited this route on Aug 09, 2022

Paddlers: Haidee, Greg and Mari. Many thanks to Greg for the detailed water level notes.


Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: III
Engagement: E2
Remoteness: 3/5

River Details

This route is on Akan River (阿寒川), or Shi-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 98.4km in total length. This section of the river is between 5m and 20m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 6.1 mpk (32.21 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Akan River

Ideal water level: 7.40m
Water level paddled 7.38m
Water level notes: High Water Limit = Anything over 7.50m on the Yamahana gauge starts getting quite sporty. Low Water Limit = 7.10m-ish (boney). Best Level = 7.25~7.50m. Level we ran it in August 2022 = 7.38m and 7.44m. NHK Wild Hokkaido! level for video reference (watch it here) = 7.33m.

The Akan River flows north to south from the pristine Lake Akan (location) in eastern Hokkaido. This section of river starts just downstream of the Soushi Hycro Power Station (location), near the Yonjuishi-sen-bashi bridge 四十一線橋 to Akangawa-bashi bridge 阿寒川橋 just north of Akan-cho village 阿寒町.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

The upper put in for this section of the Akan River is a gravel parking area at the confluence of the Teshibetsu River 撤別川 (stream) and Akan River, just upstream of Yonjuichisen-bashi bridge 四十一線橋 on Route 667, here. There’s a rough gravel road down to the river on the river right. It’s a relatively easy put in, with a nice coarse-gravel beach.

If you’d prefer a shorter distance, it’s also possible to put in on river-left under Chuo-bashi bridge 中央橋, here, on Route 274. This would shorten the route to about 10km, rather than the full 15km. Chuou-bashi bridge is where rafting tours will usually put in on the Akan River. The put-in here is a moderately steep concrete stop-bank that requires some level of clambering.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

The take-out is river left under Akangawa-bashi bridge 阿寒川橋, here, just north of Akan-cho village. The take-out can be somewhat muddy, and is a bit of a scramble in lower water levels.

General notes

For most Hokkaido locals, the place name Akan conjures up visions of deep green forests, volcanoes, red-crested cranes, wildlife, pristine lakes, Ainu indigenous culture, and the great expanse of eastern Hokkaido. That image is exactly what you can expect from the wider area surrounding the mid- to upper-Akan River. At the river’s headwaters is the beautiful Lake Akan, and the forests and farmland lining Akan River – flowing south from Lake Akan – are teeming with wildlife.

Akan River itself is somewhat of a ‘lost’ river for whitewater paddling. We can’t quite figure out why more paddlers don’t paddle it – it’s got some superb whitewater, and generally has a good water flow throughout the season. One characteristic of the whitewater on the Akan is the presence of prominent bedrock rapids with distinct channels running parallel to the river. They can be difficult to read at times, and there are a few rapids that paddlers may want to scout before committing to.

Route description

Very soon (less than 400m) after setting off at the confluence of the Teshibetsu River and Akan River, there’s a messy boulder garden culminating in one of this section’s cruxes – a tricky, slotted bedrock drop the width of the river (Google Satellite here). In most normal water levels, this won’t be runnable in an open-deck canoe and will need to be lined down. In plastic river kayaks, paddlers might be keen to slide down the bedrock on river left. Packrafters will need to have a consultation with the durability of their rafts. Either way, it’s easily scoutable from river right – there’s a very small eddy above the drop on river right.

Beyond the slotty bedrock drop, there is a relatively quick succession of fun CII+ rapids over the next 1km or so leading up to Sanjunana-sen-bashi bridge 三十七線橋. For the 2.4km between Sanjunana-sen-bashi bridge and Chuo-bashi bridge 中央橋, there are plenty of bends and swifts, but nothing hugely consequential in the way of rapids. Pull up on river right just before Chuo-bashi bridge (here) for a break, and wait for the resident cows to notice you. The curious beasts will no doubt wander over to take a look at you.

After Chuo-bashi bridge, the river livens up again for the next 3km. There’s a variety of boulder gardens and small drops, all around the CII+ level of technicality. At the 3km point downstream of Chuo-bashi bridge is a 100m long bedrock rapid that we’re pegging at CIII- difficulty, at least in an open deck canoe. Enter in the center, and work your way to hard river right…or at least that worked for us. We’d recommend thoroughly scouting your line first – there’s easy access to the shoreline on river right.

For another 3km or so to Matunoe-bashi bridge 松之恵橋 and beyond, there are a variety of CII+ rapids that all reduce in complexity with more water in the river, but all create impressive wave trains. Open deck canoeists will find themselves pulling over to empty boats out relatively frequently.

By the time you’re paddling east of the International Crane Center (around here on the river), most of the whitewater action is behind you, and it’s a very pleasant warm-down paddle to the take-out at Akangawa-bashi bridge 阿寒川橋. Watch out for native deer splashing across the river, and red-crested cranes wading on the riverside.


Route Timing
Trip time: 5hrs 0min


Public transport:

The closest local bus stop to the upper put-in (here) near Yonjuichisen-bashi bridge 四十一線橋 is Ohata bus stop 大畑バス停, about 1hr 20mins on the northbound Lake Akan bus from Kushiro JR Train station. Ohata bus stop is a 600m walk to the put-in. If you’d prefer a shorter paddle, it’s also possible to catch the bus to Nakateshibetsu bus stop 中撤別バス停 – from there it’s a 750m walk west to the put-in at Chuo-bashi bridge 中央橋. Nakateshibetsu bus stop is also about 1hr 20mins from Kushiro JR Station. Google Maps has accurate timetabling information as of July 2023. See the official timetable on Akan Bus Company’s website here. The bus line is called the Akan-sen 阿寒線 – it runs between Kushiro City and Lake Akan. As of July 2023, buses run northbound from Kushiro JR Train station to Lake Akan three times per day (10:10am, 2:50pm, and 5:15pm). In summer (July, August, September, October), there’s one more bus at 12 noon.

The closest bus stop to the take-out is Jubashi-sen bus stop 十八線バス停, about 400m west of the take-out, on Route 240. There’s four buses per day returning to Kushiro JR train station as of July 2023 (8:18am, 11:08am, 1:18pm, 4:48pm) – the 1:18pm bus only runs in July, August, September, October. Google Maps has accurate timetabling information.

Kushiro JR Train Station is accessible from Sapporo City via express train – about 5hrs and 9,990yen.

By car: 

There is room for about two or three vehicles to park at all the put-ins and take-outs. Akan-cho village is easily accessible from Sapporo via the Doto Expressway 道東自動車道 (E38) – the terminus of the expressway is only 6km south of the take-out at Akangawa-bashi bridge. From central Sapporo City, it’s a 4hr drive east.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Teshibetsu (撤別) – map no. NK-55-32-13-2
Official Topo Map 2: Akan (阿寒) – map no. NK-55-32-14-1

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

route safety

The Akan River can be a wild paddle when the water is up, but can be equally challenging with lower water levels too – the slotted bedrock rapids could be dangerous for all sorts of entrapment and may be lodged with wood. We do recommend scouting any of the more substantial rapids before running them. While we haven’t encountered any significant strainers on the river, there is that possibility. It’s a seldom paddled river, so it’s unlikely that any wood across the river has been manually removed.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Akan River


Akan Tancho-no-Sato Campground (阿寒丹頂の里 自然休養村 野営場)

Akan Tancho-no-Sato Campground is a quiet campground near Akan River and the International Akan Crane Center in eastern Hokkaido. It’s walking distance to the Akan Tancho-no-sato michi-no-eki, onsen, and restaurant.

Location: 43.14246 N / 144.14098 E | 850 yen per tent | Open: April till October | Staff hours: 9:00am till 5:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Akai Valley Onsen (赤いベレー天然温泉) | 540yen | .3km from campground
Onsen nearby

Tancho-no-sato Onsen 丹頂の里温泉 (location, 540yen) is a simple onsen near the Akan michi-no-eki. It doesn’t have any rotenburo outdoor baths, but there’s a large tatami relaxation room, attached restaurant, and there’s plenty of local produce at the michi-no-eki.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

If you’d like to experience paddling the Akan River with a guide, Black River runs rafting trips down the river – see details here.

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Route Trip Notes

HokkaiCamp.com description of the route (translated)

The Akan River originates in Lake Akan. The headwaters consist of a waterfall that flows out of Lake Akan and the river mouth is known for its autumn colours. National Highway 240 runs parallel to the river and the river can be seen in places from the highway. The upper section of the river flows through a virgin forest, which makes one yearn to run the high upper Akan River at least once, but in reality, the far upper Akan is full of fallen trees and is not easy to run. Therefore, the Akan is only suitable for canoeing in the middle reaches of the river.
The lower reaches of the Akan River are not like other rivers in the Kushiro Plain, with a slower flow and the possibility of runoff waste from pastureland, making it less appealing to venture further down the river.

Haidee and I were making our slow way back to Sapporo from sea kayaking on the Shiretoko Peninsula (details here and here). Greg and Mari were keen to paddle the Akan River again (they’d paddled it a number of times previously), so we arranged to meet them there, overnighting at the lovely Tancho-no-sato Campground.

When we put on the river after the shuttling, the weather was somewhat subdued. A low mist hung over the surface of the river, coming and going as we readied the canoes.

I was feeling the normal pangs of nervous excitement that I always get when paddling a river for the first time. These nerves were heightened by Greg’s warning about a very significant rapid not long after the put in that we’d likely need to line down.

Sure enough, about 400m after setting off, dodging boulders, we pulled up above a very nasty-looking bedrock drop. Narrow, canoe-jamming slots were roaring with water. We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out if it was runnable. The general consensus was that it wasn’t runnable in our canoes. But then how would we line down it? Portaging didn’t seem to be practical on the river right. Neither did lining on the river right. 

The only practical solution, it seemed, was to run the canoes aground in the shallows on far river left, and walk the canoes from there.

Once past this very early crux in the route, we were able to enjoy some nice long rapids of varying difficulty. We actually paddled this section of river twice over two days. Hence, the following photos are somewhat of a mash-up of those two days paddling.

Between the early crux and Chuo-bashi 中央橋, there were rapids, but they were relatively mellow, with not too heavy wave trains on the exits.

Just before Chuo-bashi we stopped on the river right for a bite to eat for lunch. Haidee noticed some cows in the distance, so we went to say hello, assuming they’d be in some sort of fenced enclosure.

They weren’t.

The curious, gentle beasts were extremely interested in Haidee it seemed. They followed her all the way back to where our canoes were landed on the beach.

We bid our bovine friends goodbye, and in the process also bid the relaxing portion of the river goodbye too.

Very soon after Chuo-bashi, we found out why there are rafting tours on this river. It was all together quite rowdy in an open deck canoe, at 7.44m on the gauge.

It started out simple enough, with a few splashes and sploshes.

A dark, misty tree tunnel here…

And another CII swift there.

And then the river decided it was time to get rowdy. Even the usually stone-faced Greg appeared taken aback at how sporty things were.

Like a well-oiled machine, though, Mari and Greg ran the first rowdy rapid with finesse, coming out smiling.

The Akan is not a one-rapid wonder though. The next rapid was bigger and boilier still. We thoroughly scouted this one, as there was a huge rock in the middle of it. There was some back and forward as to which side would be the better line to avoid it, but in the end, a hard right line was the winner.

And to top it all off, there was one last big wave train before the river calmed down a bit for the final warm-down paddle before the take out.

Arguably, it’s this final 4km or so of relaxed paddling at the end of this section of the Akan that really makes this a fantastic paddle. There’s the thrill of the rapids, and then there’s the peaceful calm of wildlife, waterfalls, and relaxed paddling to finish off. While we didn’t catch it on camera, we saw a couple of small herds of native ezo-shika deer bounding across the river here.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Akan-gawa Paddling (Ohata to Akangawa-bashi) Difficulty Rating





Vertical Gain



Time ascending













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.