Distance: 22km | Gradient: 1.2mpk (6.34 FPM) | ↓ GPX file
The headwaters of the Kushiro River (釧路川) on the edge of the Akan-Mashu National Park live up to their reputation as a gorgeous stretch of untouched river, but also as a place to test paddlers’ skills. Haidee and I were pushed in our paddling, communication, and problem-solving skills; it was ‘only’ about 16km worth of paddling on the river itself, but it took the better part of a whole day, including having to saw through two downed trees blocking the entire river. We were also joined on the river by more crested kingfishers than we’ve ever seen, and treated to some stunningly clear spring-fed tributaries.
We opted to start this 4-day trip down the Kushiro River at the Wakoto Campground, about 4km around the lake’s edge from the head of the river.
Blog post: Kushiro River Day 1 – The Headwaters
Accommodation: Teshikaga Canoe Port (wild camp) (弟子屈カヌーポート（野宿）)
Onsen: Birao-no-Yu Onsen (ビラオの湯) | 400yen | 0.2km from accommodation
Distance: 30km | Gradient: 3.0mpk (15.84 FPM) | ↓ GPX file
Rapids are not the first thing that come to mind when most people think about the Kushiro River (釧路川). Wetlands, Kussharo Lake, beautiful clear headwaters, cranes, deer? Yes. But rapids? Not so much. However, the section of the Kushiro River between Teshikaga and Shibecha is a gloriously varied section with plenty to keep experienced canoeists awake and alert. It also includes the infamous must scout Hell’s Ladder – a barely canoe’s width concrete block chute that is best portaged.
- Canoe Restrictions: Officially, according to out-of-the-blue signage at the Teshikaga Canoe Port, as of July 2019 it is prohibited to canoe the majority of today’s route (23km from Yukari Bridge 湯香里橋 in Teshikaga to Sebunbira Bridge 瀬文平橋 in Shibecha) . Reasons given for this prohibition are 1) construction work and 2) fast-flowing rapids, including one dangerous section (the above-named Hell’s Ladder). We ignored this prohibition not out of disrespect, but simply because we had no idea it existed until we arrived in Teshikaga, in our canoe, with no other mode of transport but our canoe. We opted to to carry on cautiously. In the end, there was no longer evidence of construction work being done on the route. Signs requesting canoeists ‘be careful when passing construction’ indicated that construction had ended on the 17th of August. Furthermore, the very well sign-posted dangerous chute – which we named Hell’s Ladder – was indeed very well sign-posted, and required not much more than a 200m portage. The other Class II rapids were perfectly runnable after some precautionary scouting. Our recommendation is if you attempt today’s route, please do the following.
- Download the GPS file we’ve provided, and make sure to scout those sections we’ve marked as needing scouting.
- Walk the Teshikaga Town section before canoeing it, taking note of any concerning spots.
- Under no circumstances attempt to run Hell’s Ladder without scouting first – that chute is nasty.
- Understand that running the prohibited section is 100% under your own responsibility.
Blog post: Kushiro River Day 2 – The Rapids
Accommodation: Shibecha Kawa-no-Eki (標茶町川の駅)
Onsen: Hotel Teleno Onsen (ホテル・テレーノ) | 500yen | 1.1km from accommodation
Distance: 40km | Gradient: 0.45mpk (2.38 FPM) | ↓ GPX file
The Kushiro Wetlands (釧路湿原) are the largest in Japan, home to red crested cranes, deer, and acres of untouched wetland wilderness. Today’s route on the Kushiro River (釧路川) would take us into the heart of the vast Kushiro Shitsugen National Park (釧路湿原国立公園). With numerous accessible lakes and tributaries, we wished we’d allowed more time here. But we were treated to numerous up-close wildlife and birdlife sightings, and some of the most stunning lake scenery we’ve seen.
Blog post: Kushiro River Day 3 – The Wetlands
Accommodation: Takkobu Auto Camping Ground (達古武オートキャンプ場) | 650 yen per tent | 100 yen per person
Distance: 20km | Gradient: 0.5mpk (2.64 FPM) | ↓ GPX file
We opted to end our Kushiro River (釧路川) four-day trip at the sea. Along the way, the river would actually cease to be the Kushiro River, with this gorgeous body of water being re-directed into the dead-straight and mostly characterless Shin-Kushiro River (新釧路川 – the “New” Kushiro River). This would take us through the heaving industrial city of Kushiro, expose us to solemn coastal Japanese traditions, and allow us to stand on the beach to bid farewell to this grand body of water we’d called home for the last four days.
Blog post: Kushiro River Day 4 – To the Sea
Onsen: Fumizono-yu Onsen (天然温泉 ふみぞの湯) | 440yen