Posted on Jul 8, 2019
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Posted on Jul 8, 2019

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Reading time: 5 min
6.4km

Distance

0.5 day(s)

Time

0.3 mpk

Gradient

4/5

Water clarity

Class I

Difficulty

May-Oct

Best season

The Bibi River (美々川) is a beginner canoeist's dream. There's hardly any flow to speak of, and despite its proximity to a busy highway and an equally busy airport, it offers some compact wetlands that hide gorgeous snippets of nature at every turn. The Bibi River's reputation as a nice paddling river is evidenced by three purpose-made canoe ports along its length, complete with canoe-friendly plastic runners. For complete beginners, we recommend the section between the 2nd and 3rd canoe ports. For everyone else, the full route is a nice afternoon or morning adventure.

We visited this route on Jun 30, 2019

Extra photos by the Aulds (Chris, Olivia, and Will).

Last updated Mar 23, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Beginner (3/10)

Remoteness: 2/5
Number of portages: 1
Longest portage: 30m
Total portage distance: 30m
Overall portage difficulty: 2/5

River Details

This route is on Bibi River (美々川), or Pet-Pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class B (二級河川) river, 18km in total length. This section of the river is between 3m and 15m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 0.1m/s to 0.5m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 0.3 mpk (1.58 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Bibi River

Current water level: 1.96m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2021/2/28 2:50 (Source).

Location

The Bibi River wends its way south from just east of Hokkaido’s New Chitose Airport. There are three purpose-built canoe ports along the Bibi River. They all have large parking areas and public toilets. The canoe port furthest upstream is here, just before the Matsu-bibi Bridge (松美々橋), 750m along Route 10 off the main Route 36. The next canoe port is 4.3km downstream here, near the Bibi-bashi Bridge (美々橋), 500m along Route 129 off Route 36. The third and last canoe port is 2.1km downstream from the second one, here, at the Bibi Tap-koppu Water Park (美々川タップコップ親水公園).

If you’re shuttling by bicycle, we’d recommend cycling along the back roads to the east of the river, as they are infinitely more quiet and relaxing than the busy Route 36 to the west (see the route here).

General notes

The Bibi River was the first ever river Haidee and I did on canoes, about four years ago. With a group of friends, we had hired a guide and meandered for an hour between the second and third canoe ports. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out the upper portion of the river is fun too – if you don’t mind it being somewhat of a “canoe 4WDing route”, as Chris describes it. Between mid-June and late-September, the riverside grasses grow high and thick, leaving only just enough room for one canoe’s width. There’ll always be enough water in the river though, as it is spring-fed another 4km upstream.

Arguably, the best time to do this route would be late April to early June before the wetland grasses have had time to grow too thick, or in late autumn, once they’ve all died off (around late September to late October).

Route description

Put in at the upper-most canoe port (here), and start the “bush-bashing” along the upper section of the river towards the second canoe port. After about 230m, you’ll come across what appears to be a complete dead-end, but the river continues to the right – you’ll need to squeeze past some low tree branches. Just look for the sawn-off tree trunk, and squeeze past to the right of that. From there, the river snakes and winds its way in a meandering fashion, only widening every now and then for pond-like features. Most of the way, the river is only wide enough for one canoe. It’s only once you get to the fishing nets at the 2.5km point that the river starts widening out.

From June till September, impassible fishing nets across the width of the river, here, require a short 20m portage on the left-hand side of the river. Beyond the fishing nets, keep your eyes peeled in the river’s many nooks and crannies for nesting whooper swans. In early summer, you’ll also be treated to underwater flowers, and yellow lily-like flowers sticking up from the surface of the water.

From the second canoe port onwards, the river has only a very slight flow, and a headwind will make the going tough. You’ll likely be joined by curious whooper swans along this section. Beyond the third canoe port is Lake Utonai, about 4km further downstream. Lake Utonai is one of 52 Ramsar bird protection sites in Japan – watercraft are strictly prohibited. A large banner on the bridge next to the third canoe port alerts canoeists that canoes are prohibited from that point onwards.

Route Timing
Trip time: 2hrs 0min

The Bibi River is a slow-flowing river that is more akin to flatwater in places, so you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d be able to knock this route out in less than two hours. However, the upper half of the route is very narrow, requiring some degree of “grass paddling” as Deb put it; the grass is so thick on either side of the canoe-width river that fast paddling is not really possible. If you’re doing the whole route, including bird-watching stops along the way, allowing up to 2.5hrs is the safe bet.

Transport

Public transport:

There are no public transport options to the start of the route, but a taxi from Minami-chitose JR train station to the Matsu-bibi Bridge canoe port will cost about 2,500yen. From the third and last canoe port at the Water Park, paddlers with a packraft could catch a bus from the Uenae-ekidori (植苗駅通) bus stop, here, to New Chitose Airport. From there, trains go to Sapporo City. There are about 12 buses per day, about one per hour (timetable here).

By car: 

There is plenty of parking at all of the three canoe ports.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Chitose (千歳) – map no. NK-54-14-8-1
Official Topo Map 2: Utonaiko (ウトナイ湖) – map no. NK-54-14-8-2

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

Note that there are very few escape routes on this river once you’ve set off from the canoe ports. Particularly the upper section of the river is mostly wetlands with very tall grass – make sure you have water, food, rain jackets, sunhats etc stowed. The route may take longer than you expect.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Bibi River

CampSites

None
Onsen nearby

Tsuru-no-Yu Onsen (鶴の湯温泉, 500yen, here) is about 7km east along Route 10 from the upper-most canoe port. There’s no outdoor baths, but there’s a restaurant and lovely gardens and ponds out front. There’s also the cheap and cheerful Fujiya Onsen (千歳乃湯, 420yen, here) in Chitose City.

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

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

HokkaiCamp.com description of the route (translated)

With a very gentle flow, this river is perfect for beginners wanting to challenge themselves to their first river trip on a canoe. At the very upper reaches it is an ultra-clear river fed by a natural spring flowing straight out of the ground. Up till the confluence with the Bizawa River, the Bibi winds its way through the wetlands, widening as it goes, eventually giving way to a wide river perfect for canoeing. This is the Bibi River, but recently water grass is increasing [due to nearby landfill runoff] , giving us concern that the river is slowly becoming unsuitable for river running.

Chris was up here in Hokkaido with his family this time around, so we were keen to get everyone out onto the canoes, for the canoes’ maiden voyage no less! The Bibi River is perfect for this sort of family pottering, so we bundled everyone up into the cars and headed off along the busy Route 36, turning off onto the side road, and getting ourselves surrounded by quiet nature at the put in location. Olivia and Will were buzzing with excitement, and Deb seemed to be looking forward to the prospect of an easy float down a mellow river.

Despite me having done the route before (about five years ago), it became apparent very quickly, however, that I’d either a) forgotten how narrow and grassy the route was, or b) the route had become much more grassy since I’d done it.

After about an hour of very narrow winding through long grass, Deb remarked “I think I’ve paddled more grass than water so far.” Ever the optimist, Chris suggested this was “the 4WD canoe route”.

However, with Captain Will at the helm, we managed to find a way through the wilds, with not too much consternation…apart from this section taking a good hour or so longer than we’d anticipated. As we bashed our way along the slowly but surely widening waterway, the kids were busy trying to identify the airlines of the planes taking off from the airport nearby.

Chris got some good snaps on his phone of the chaos, below.

We finally emerged to the wider section of the river, just before the short portage around some fishing nets. We were cautiously hopeful that we’d be able to just paddle around them, but no luck. We had to all get out and haul the boats up out of the water.

With the short portage out of the way, and Captain Will on my boat replaced by Captain Olivia, we carried on our merry way down the river. It wasn’t far after the fishing nets that we came upon a nesting great whooper swan. Just visible through a gap in the grass, it was an amazing, rare sight to see.

Beyond the fishing nets it was quintessential Bibi River Canoeing. This is the river that most people come to canoe down. Wide, easy-going, and with just enough flow to give paddlers a boost.

Nearing the end of the route, I handed Captain Olivia my camera to take a few shots. She captured the surrounding scenes well, and I was happy to be left in charge of paddling, rather than juggling paddling and taking photos.

Bibi River Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Olivia Auld
Bibi River Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Olivia Auld
Bibi River Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Olivia Auld

All good things must come to and end, and with flights to catch and hotels to book into (as well as hungry children to feed), today’s team was happy enough to see the end of the route. It had been a good solid hour or two longer than we’d anticipated due to the exciting ‘4WD canoe grass paddling’ we’d done earlier in the route. We pulled the canoes up, strapped them to the roof of Chris’s car, and headed back into Chitose. Dinner was at the cheap and cheerful udon and tempura place in the middle of town (Marugame Seimen, here).

Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Bibi River, or other waterways nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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