Chitose River Long-run Canoe Route

千歳川 | Si-Kot-Pet

Posted on Aug 1, 2020
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Posted on Aug 1, 2020

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Reading time: 5 min
12km

Distance

1 day(s)

Time

2.56 mpk

Gradient

5/5

Water clarity

Class II

Difficulty

Apr-Jun

Best season

The pristine Chitose River (千歳川) is a mainstay for Sapporo-based canoeists keen to get away from it all, and to hone one's skills. This long-run route, only possible before the beginning of July each year, takes in a full, unbroken 12km of the river, including the exciting Class II+ drop just above the Indian Wheel installation at the Salmon Information Center in Chitose city center. From the second weekend of July, the Indian Wheel is installed, and river users have to make a long portage. Get in early, and enjoy a full run along one of the clearest, cleanest rivers in Hokkaido.

We visited this route on Jul 12, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (5/10)

Remoteness: 2/5

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: Windy.com weather forecast for Chitose River

Current water level: 30.31m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2020/10/26 20:0 (Source).

Ideal water level: 30.22m
Water level paddled 30.22m
Water level notes: Being spring-fed, Chitose River usually enjoys plenty of water throughout the year, even in the height of summer.
Location

Quite amazingly, Chitose River is located less than 5km north of Hokkaido’s main airport, Shin-Chitose Airport, about 30km south of Sapporo City. You’d never know it, however – we’ve never heard planes while paddling on the river.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

The put-in for this route is at the Daiichi-Usakumai Bridge (第一烏柵舞). We’ve heard of people putting in further upstream, near the salmon hatchery, but any further upstream is inaccessible. Plus, there are a number of hydro dams further upstream on the river. At the normal Daiichi-usakimai Bridge put-in, there’s a large parking area. There are public toilets about 30m downstream on the cycling road.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

For this route, we opted to take out at the Neshikoshi Bridge (根志越橋), about 2km downstream from the salmon museum. There’s a gravel road down to the riverside, and a large area to park cars. Any further downstream and you’ll be paddling on the mind-numbing straightened section of the Chitose River.

General notes

We’ve paddled the Chitose River multiple times, including in a packraft. Public transport access is stellar, it’s easily one of Hokkaido’s clearest rivers, it almost always has enough water to paddle it, and there’s a good mix of fun, easy rapids and a strong flow to keep even experts happy. To run this full 12km route, however, you’ll have to hit the river before the second weekend of July. The Indian Wheel fishing installation is set up in July, and this requires a long portage. Taking out after the fun slider/drop just before the Indian Wheel is complicated, so if you want to run this drop – the largest on the river – then pre-July is the time to visit.

Broadly speaking, this route can be split into two sections, separated by the Chitose Sports Center, about 7km 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 three Class II drops are perfectly manageable. Japanese guidebooks 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).

Route description

The route starts just downstream from the Daiichi-Usakumai Bridge, at 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.

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. 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 to the Sports Center 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.

From the Sports Center, you’ll enter the Chitose City center proper. Lush green riversides are replaced by high concrete walls. The river itself is still impossibly clear though. About 2.5km beyond the sports center you’ll approach the steep drop just before the salmon fishing/information center area and walking over-bridge. It’s a good idea to scout this drop on foot before putting in. In general, enter the drop hugging the left side of the small grassy island to the right…check the video below…and head straight down.

From this last drop, it’s about 2km of benign slow-flow padding to the takeout.

Route Timing
Trip time: 4hrs 0min

Transport

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. Google Maps has bus routing details. 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. The trip takes about 20 minutes, and costs 320yen one way. From the takeout at Neshikoshi Bridge, it’s an 850m walk to the Seiryu 3-chome Bus Stop (清流3丁目, location). From there, there are about two buses per hour running to Chitose JR train station (Google Maps has bus details).

By car: 

There is ample, free parking at the put-in location (here). There’s also plenty of parking at the takeout, just below the stopbanks or under the bridge (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
Official Topo Map 3: Osatsu (長都) – map no. NK-54-14-7-2

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

The drop near the salmon info center on this route is a must-scout. If water levels are not at around 3.20m (see above), then boats will likely hit blocks and rocks on the way down. We recommend scouting this before getting onto the river. Overall, at first glance Chitose River looks quite tame. It’s a deceptively fast-flowing river, however, and most paddlers will be taken aback at how quick the river moves. Eddies are relatively few and far between too, so this river requires at least low intermediate paddling skills to keep safe. As a rule, hug the inside corners of bends; there are hefty strainers awaiting on the outside. The fish ladder on the left side of the weir can be pushy, so keep your wits about you. Note that Chitose River is quite cold throughout the year – take care on colder days and as usual, always carry a spare set of clothes.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Chitose River

CampSites

None
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

In Japanese

Guide Options

If you’d rather do this route with an experienced open-deck canoe guide, then talk to the friendly folk at Canoa Guide House. They’re based at Lake Shikotsu Village, but they run tours on the Chitose River. They’ve got staff who can communicate in English.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

HokkaiCamp.com 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.

“If the river level is looking good,” texted Greg, “let’s hit the Chitose on Sunday.”

It was Sunday morning, and the river levels were looking good.

So Chitose River is was. 

We were a troupe of three boats this time. The same team as the Shiribetsu River a couple of weeks back: Greg and Mari in their Esquif Pocket Canyon, and Mibo and Taku in their Mad River canoe. We were, of course, in the mighty NovaCraft Prospector 16.

Just as well too, as this happened to be the last weekend of 2020 without the Indian Wheel set up at the salmon museum. Once that river-wide fishing installation is installed, it’s an awkward portage. We’ve done that portage with packrafts and it was long and disappointing enough – we had to miss out on the fun drop. We didn’t want to imagine missing out on the drop in our canoes.

The put-in was a hive of activity.

Like every time we’ve been on the Chitose River, however, as soon as we were on the river it felt like we were the only ones for miles around.

And, as usual, we took every opportunity we could to hone some of the ferrying and paddling skills along the way.

Haidee even got in some snorkel-less snorkeling in to get a closer look at the white blossoms and small fishes under the surface . “It’s not all that cold,” she insisted.

The three upper rapid-like sections of the river were running at a nice pace today. First of course was the wide fish ladder to the left of the weir. Then the decidedly tame Jakago-no-ochikomi ‘drop’, worn low over years of natural erosion. And then the narrower drop above the Chitose park footbridge. As is the tradition for any good run of the Chitose River, we made sure to spend some time on drills at the lower of the three rapids, here.

A special treat was meeting Ryo and his wife, in their new double playboat. “This is our first outing in it,” beamed Ryo. “The camo design was an expensive extra, but I love it,” he said. As canoeing veterans, they lapped up the flow.

The highlight of this trip today for Haidee and I was the otherwise stale and boring paddle through the middle of Chitose City proper. We’d previously lived right on the river for two years. We’d look at the river and vowed we’d canoe down the river some day. At that point we’d never really done any canoeing before.

Apartment on the Chitose River (Hokkaido, Japan)
Apartment on the Chitose River (2015)

Today, we were taken aback at how much the river had been ‘cleared’ lately. Previously, there were lush green islands dotted through the river. These were gone today. This was noted (and decried) by Naoki Matsuzawa from Canoa. He runs water education programs for children in and around Chitose, and was devastated to see those rich sources of ecological diversity removed.

Then came the big event for today. The man-made drop just before the footbridge near the salmon information center. Haidee and I had never run this before, because we’d never canoed the Chitose River before July before. After early July, the Indian Wheel fishing installation is set across the whole river, requiring either a long but easily taken-out portage, or a short but extremely difficult take-out portage. The latter would allow running the man-made drop, but getting a canoe up the steep concrete embankment would be a task and a half.

In any case, today we were thrilled at the chance to run a drop we’d seen many times from the shore. Today we gave it a good scouting before getting on the river in the morning. River level looked good, so we were confident of an exciting run.

We were out in front of the other two boats as we approached the drop. “Should we let someone else go first?” asked Haidee.

“Let’s just run it,” I replied.

As per our scouting, hugging the left side of the first shrubby outcrop at the entrance worked, and we slid down relatively gracefully. The first clip of the video below is this drop.

Beyond the drop, it was a leisurely 2km paddled down to the takeout. Leisurely, that is, if one enjoys paddling in the rain. The skies opened just 10 minutes before the takeout, thoroughly soaking us all.

As a reward for all our efforts, we all rendezvoused at the Chitose Michi-no-eki roadstop for an early pizza dinner. It’s the same outfit running the pizza eatery at the michi-no-eki near Rusutsu Resort

A delicious end to a great daytrip with good people on ye old faithful, the Chitose River.

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