Chitose River Packrafting (Usakumai to Chitose Station)

千歳川 | Si-Kot-Pet

Posted on May 28, 2019

Posted on May 28, 2019

0 0


0.5 day(s)


2.56 mpk



Water clarity

Class I



Best season

This section of the Chitose River (千歳川) is arguably the most beautiful and accessible on this pristine, crystal-clear waterway. In mid-summer, expect to be gliding over white blooming underwater flowers. In all seasons, you'll be sharing the river with impressive yamasemi crested kingfishers. As such, this section of the river has long been known as an established route for canoes and kayaks. Considering how extremely accessible the river is, it is perfect for public-transport accessed packrafting.

We visited this route on Jul 06, 2019

Last updated Mar 23, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: I
Remoteness: 2/5
Number of portages: 1
Longest portage: 20m
Total portage distance: 20m
Overall portage difficulty: 1/5

River Details

This route is on Chitose River (千歳川), or Si-Kot-Pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 107.9km in total length. This section of the river is between 10m and 25m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 2m/s to 4m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 2.56 mpk (13.52 FPM).

Weather: weather forecast for Chitose River


The put-in location is a popular gravel parking spot (here), just downstream from the Usakumai-1go-bashi Bridge (烏棚舞橋1号橋) accessed via a gravel road leading to the Salmon Hatchery. The turn-off is marked by a sign that points to the Meon Garden Cafe, just past the Birdwatching Cafe on the main Route 16 heading towards Lake Shikotsu. The take-out location for this route, if you’re in a packraft, is the bridge on Route 258 that runs through Chitose City, just before the train line bridge (here). If you’re in a canoe, it would make more sense to take out much further upstream, at the fine gravel beach (here) just after the hard right bend in the river, just after you see the Chitose City Sports Center for the first time on the right. There is a short, 20m walking track connecting the river with the sports center car park (free parking).

General notes

A quick look at the map will tell you, this is an incredibly accessible route: Chitose JR train station, bus stops, even an international airport (New Chitose Airport) are close by. Once on the river, however, you’ll feel far away from these civil conveniences. Surrounded by trees, kingfishers, and ultra-clear water, the hustle and bustle of getting here will very quickly be a distance memory.

As a typical chalk stream river, Chitose River is ultra clear and is the only river that runs out of Lake Shikotsu, some 25km upstream. Multiple hydro-electric dams upstream – the last only 2km upstream from the put-in location – mean that it is not feasible to canoe the entire way from the lake.

Route description

Broadly speaking, this route can be split into halves, separated by the Meisui-koen Park (an awkward take-out possible) about 3km from the put-in location. The first half involves more hazards, such as downed trees and the weir at the 2.2km point. The second half of the route involves fewer sharp bends, is closer to civilization, and the two 1m or so drops are perfectly manageable.

As such, Japanese guidebooks I’ve read position this river as a great place for “beginners to take the shortcut to becoming experienced” under the guidance of more experienced paddlers, and is “the perfect watery piste for practicing foundational river skills” (Tamada, 1993).

The route starts just downstream from the Usakumai No. 1 Bridge, where there is a large gravel parking area. This is a common area to start from for all river users. Pretty much straight away, the river is not mucking around, and most people who know the Chitose River as the meandering, clear, benevolent river will likely be taken aback somewhat by the speed of the flow. In less than 1km, there is the first of a couple of sharp bends with tree-trunks and branches protruding from the outer edge of the bends, waiting to pin down the unwary paddler. As a rule, keep to the inside of the bends where possible.

There are a couple of bridges along the way, which require sooner-rather-than-later decisions to be made on which pier to avoid, and there are a few small islands in the river, where decisions need to be made on which branch to follow. The first island will accept either side, but the second is best to take the right branch, as the left side leads straight into very low hanging strainer trees.

At the 2.2km point is the weir – under no circumstances should paddlers approach the water intake at the right-hand side of this weir. Sidle up to the left-hand bank of the weir just before the wide fish ladder, and assess your options. The portage is short – only 20m or so on a clear path – so that is the health-and-safety recommended option. If you choose the fish ladder descent, keep to the center of the first two drops, and pull to the left to re-center for the remainder.

The remainder of the route is relatively straight forward. There are two fun 1m drops along the way, where first-timers are advised to pull up to the left-hand bank and scout before tackling. The first of these (the Jakago drop 蛇篭 の落ち込み) used to be the largest, but has lost its steepness in recent years.

The take-out point for packrafters traveling by public transport is the bridge on R0ute 258, just before the main JR train line bridge. This is the most feasible take out point that’s only a few minutes walk from Chitose JR Train Station. This spot is not particularly scenic, but the cycleway drops down under the bridge, so this helps with clambering out of the boat and onto the bank.

Route Timing
Trip time: 3hrs 0min

At a very leisurely paddling pace, taking time to look at the scenery along the way and scouting the two or three very short white-water sections, this route will likely take up to three hours.


Public transport:

A taxi from Chitose JR Train Station (7.4km) will likely cost around 2000yen all the way to the put in point. Tell the driver you want to go to Meon Cafe in Rankoshi-chiku (蘭越地区にあるMEON農苑カフェ), which is about 850m before the put-in location on the gravel road. From the cafe, you can tell the driver to keep driving a little further. The closest paddlers will get to the put-in location by public transport is the Usakumai Bridge Bus Stop (烏棚舞橋バス停, here), serviced by a Chuo Bus from Chitose JR Train Station. From there, it’s a 1.2km (about 15min) walk to the put-in location. Buses run from Chitose JR Train Station 4-6 times a day, with the earliest leaving the station at 8:51am (see timetable here). The trip takes about 20 minutes, and costs 320yen one way. From the take out point under the bridge on Route 258, it is a 5 minute walk to Chitose JR Station.

By car: 

There is ample, free parking at the put-in location (here). If you’re traveling by car, it would make more sense to take out near the Chitose Sports Center, which has plenty of parking (here).

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Iburi-rankoshi (胆振蘭越) – map no. NK-54-14-8-3
Official Topo Map 2: Chitose (千歳) – map no. NK-54-14-8-1

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

Perhaps it is the clarity of the water, but Chitose River deftly belies its power – it is a deceptively fast-flowing river. This makes the fallen-tree littered bends, the weir part way through, and any other obstacle more dangerous than they might look from the shore. Also note that despite having a solid 25km or so to warm up, the water temperature on this section of the river isn’t much above that of Lake Shikotsu – expect nothing much more than 5°C in early spring, and not much more than 10°C in the height of summer.


Weather forecast weather forecast for Chitose River


Chitose Aoba Park Campground (千歳市青葉公園ピクニック広場)
Chitose Aoba Park Campground (referred to as a “Picnic Area” in Japanese) is a gorgeous oasis of green, with green moss tent sites. It is a very basic campground, with only toilets and covered cooking areas as far as facilities go. There is BBQ rental, however, so bring your own charcoal to cook up a feast. Location: 42.81091 N / 141.63851 E | 600 yen per person | Open: May-Oct | Staff hours: 9:00am till 5:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Fujiya Onsen (千歳乃湯えん) | 420yen | 1km from campground
Onsen nearby

The closest onsen to the Chitose City Sports Center is the Fujiya Onsen (here, 420yen per person) on the opposite side of the Chitose Aoba Park. However, there is also an old-school sento public bath close to the Chitose JR Train Station (here), which is worth a visit if you’re hankering for a warm soak.

Extra Resources
  • See the write-up (in Japanese) in Tamata (1994; pp. 88-93). ISBN4-89363-684-7.

Guide Options

Kanoa Guide House, based in Lake Shikotsu Village, often runs Canadian canoe tours of the Chitose River. For the Chitose River, however, they seem to prefer paddlers with some experience though, which is understandable given the hazards upstream of the Water Park.

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Route Trip Notes description of the route (translated)

Chitose River’s source is Lake Shikotsu – one of the highest-clarity lakes in Japan. Hence, this river’s purity is exceptional. The river doesn’t get cloudy even after rain, so paddlers are guaranteed clear water regardless of when they go. The river is home to underwater buttercups swaying gently in the current, freshwater peal mussels, Japanese river dragonflies perching on clumps of grass, and two types of kingfisher swooping across the water – the common kingfisher (kawasemi カワセミ) and the crested kingfisher (yamasemi ヤマセミ). In autumn, salmon can be seen swimming upstream. One never tires of Chitose River, no matter how many times one travels down it.

Haidee and I lived in Chitose City for a few years a while back. Our apartment was right on the Chitose River, and we’d always mused that it would be a great river to paddle down. In the autumn, from our apartment window we’d watch salmon running up the river through its ultra clear waters. Ducks of various kinds would bob on the surface. Finally, today we we’d complete our own downriver trip after all these years.

We were traveling from Sapporo, and opted to do the trip completely by public transport. Bicycle from our place to Shin-Sapporo Station, train from there to Chitose Station, then taxi to the put-in location, packraft down the river, and then walk the final 500m back to the train station at the other end.

The massive backpack contains the two-person MRS Barrauda R2 Pro packraft, two AquaBound collapsible paddles, changes of clothes, and two PFDs. If only those 115-litre Ortlieb bags had a hip-belt…

Haidee’s cafe radar was on point though, so she made sure that the taxi dropped us off at Meon Garden Cafe (here) for a special lunch before our long and (not so) arduous paddle down the Chitose River. The Meon Garden Cafe is definitely on the upper end of cafe food prices in the area, but the outlook is pretty special. And, the head chef is Belgian, so there’s that to look forward too as well.

From Meon Cafe it was a 700m walk down the gravel road to the put-in location. We opted to wander a little further up the gravel side road to here, so that we could have a bit of time practicing our ferry glides and eddy-ins and eddy-outs. This would be the first time Haidee and I would paddle the packraft together, so we wanted to be clued up on its ways.

But first, we had to get the packraft inflated and ready to go. This was my second time putting it all together, and I was starting to feel like the process was getting faster.

As much as I love the graceful finesse of a full-sized Canadian canoe, paddling this super-maneuverable two-person packraft is a blast. It is so responsive and turns on a dime. We are yet to get it out onto more exciting whitewater, and we haven’t really laden it down with gear (it all goes inside the pontoons), but so far it is proving very capable. We spent about 10 minutes getting used to it, and then started our merry way down the river.

It wasn’t long before we came across the dog-leg bend that had almost undone us the last time we were here on our second day of canoe training with Naoki from Canoa. This time we made sure to keep to the inside of the bend, keeping well out of the fast-flowing water that was running through the dense strainer trees to the left.

We also very soon came upon our first clump of water buttercup (baikamo バイカモ). These delicate flowers bloom in July in the Chitose River.

There were others on the river too. We passed people on SUPs and kayak playboats. They all seemed bemused to see two non-Japanese-looking individuals floating down the river on a packraft. On a warm day today, it was great to be paddling along the Chitose River, with its shady overhanging trees.

Here and there the river widens out and straightens to give a bigger view of the sky. This particular stretch of straight river is just before the weir with the large fish ladder, which can be perfect for some quasi-whitewater. We approached it cautiously, as it was only the second time we’d been down it, and the first time in a packraft. It is a relatively pushy bit of water, but it made short work of for most crafts.

It was nice to come across some more water buttercups, where we stopped to take a closer look. We’d heard so much about these beautiful flowers, flowering under the water’s surface. We figured these were blooming above the surface due to the lack of water this year. Usually, the Chitose River would be another 50cm or so higher.

Beyond the blooming flowers awaited the fun Class II drops. At least they can be Class II drops. Today, they were hardly scratching the upper end of Class I. Still, enough to have a bit of fun, practicing ferry glides and s-turns. Despite the mellow swift, however, I should have had my sprayskirt attached – one particularly sharp s-turn had me take on some water.

It didn’t take us very long to get to where most people take out, near the Chitose City Sports Center. Near the sandy beach there was another glorious patch of flowers blooming in the water.

We kept on paddling down the river, however, because we were keen to get off the river as close to the Chitose Station as possible. We were heading into unfamiliar terrain for us, since we’d done everything up to this point once before, but beyond this was a little unknown. We’d cycled along the river plenty of times, but this was the first for us on the water.

Despite some minor concerns about the possibility of tetra blocks and errant bits of steel sticking up out of the water waiting to puncture our packraft, we made it to our destination under the bridge on the main Chitose City thoroughfare unscathed. We picked a low section of the cycleway, and clambered over the fence, ferrying gear up and out of the river. Not the most graceful of exits from the river, but functional nonetheless. This area beyond the sports center is infinitely more built up and the river is forced along an unnatural man-made river channel, but the water itself is still ultra clear and gorgeous.

Conveniently, this take-out location is right next to the cheap and cheerful udon and tempura restaurant. This would make for a nice early 4:30pm dinner before making the trek back to Sapporo City. A nice Sunday afternoon well spent on one of our favourite rivers (and cities).

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Chitose River Packrafting (Usakumai to Chitose Station) 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.