Posted on Aug 15, 2019
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Posted on Aug 15, 2019

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Reading time: 7 min
12km

Distance

0.5 day(s)

Time

0.1 mpk

Gradient

1/5

Water clarity

Class I

Difficulty

Jul-Nov

Best season

The mouth of the Ishikari River (石狩川) is somewhat of a paradox. On the one hand, it teems with wildlife and flora, including white-tailed eagles, herons, wild flowers, and an expansive area of wild Japanese roses (with the largest rosehips you'll ever see). Paddling along the shoreline, you'll be chasing massive carp as they splash about around you. On the other hand, the Ishikari is one of Hokkaido's most polluted rivers - with the second-largest catchment area of any river in Japan, and as Hokkaido's longest river, expectations should be kept in check. That said, this wind-swept end-of-the world area is well worth exploring on the water.

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (6/10)

Remoteness: 1/5
0

River Details

This route is on Ishikari River (石狩川), or I-sikar-a-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 365km in total length. This section of the river is between 200m and 700m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 0.1 mpk (0.53 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Ishikari River

Water level: 0.42m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2019/11/14 2:10 (Source).

Location

This route is a loop of the Ishikari River mouth, about 20km north of central Sapporo City. The route starts at a well-used boat ramp at the confluence of the Makunbetsu River (真勲別川) and the Ishikari River, here. You’ll likely be sharing the boat ramp with pleasure boats and jetskis.

General notes

The mighty and powerful Ishikari River. The water in this great waterway has made its way here to the sea all the way from the pristine gorges of the Daisetsuzan mountain range, across fertile agricultural plains, and past ageing factories. As such, you don’t paddle this route for the water per se, but for the chaotic convergence of a mighty river with the mighty Japan Sea, and all the wildlife and flora that this inhospitable environment stows away from human eyes. The only way to get to the western side of the Ishikari River mouth is on foot (or fatbike in the winter at low tide), so this really feels like a barren and wind-swept, remote location.

Route description

Put in at the boat ramp and head towards the river mouth, keeping to the left bank. Along the way you’ll pass the Ishikari fishing port, which is an alternative put in location for a shorter trip. From about 2km out from the river mouth, you’ll notice some confused currents further out in the central channel. Keep to the left bank to avoid this. About 750m from the river mouth, you’ll come across a wide sandy beach. Currents and waves can get confusing and dangerous any further downstream from here, so we recommend pulling up sooner rather than later and walking the rest of the way to the coast. Do not attempt to paddle out to sea from the river mouth.

It’s possible to walk right around the point on the beach – just make sure to cross the hamanasu Japanese roses on the official track. The track entrances are fairly well defined. There is a nice shady pagoda and a surprisingly clean public port-a-loo along the way.

Assuming you’ve timed your return right, it is possible to return to the boat ramp via the opposite side of the river. If the current is strong, we recommend returning on the same side as you came – if possible, avoid crossing the river. On this opposite side of the river is a small inlet pond with plenty of birdlife.

Route Timing
Trip time: 4hrs 0min

Including time to wander around the tip of the Ishikari Spit, it’s best to allow about three hours for paddling, and an hour for walking – about four hours all up. Allow more time than you expect, as currents can be strong, slowing progress considerably.

Transport

Public transport:

It is possible to get within about 1km of the boat ramp by bus from Sapporo Station (50mins, see route here). In this case, it may make more sense to take the bus all the way to the settlement on the Ishikari Spit, and put in at the fishing port (see route here).

By car: 

There is plenty of parking at the boat ramp here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Ishikari (石狩) – map no. NK-54-14-9-4
Official Topo Map 2: Morai (望来) – map no. NK-54-14-9-1

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 most objective dangers on this route are the wind and the tidal currents. Windless days are few and far between, and there is very little shelter from the wind even when hugging the shoreline at high tide. Check the weather, and consider a different river if the forecast is for anything much more than 10km/h. Tidal currents coupled with the natural flow of the mighty Ishikari River can form high standing waves. Best to time the trip for a couple of hours either side of high or low tide (see tide times here). Do not attempt to paddle out to sea from the river mouth. When within 1km of the river mouth, keep to the left bank – the central channel can develop unpredictable standing waves. Also note that during the snow melt season (late March to late May), as well as after heavy rain, the river’s flow will be extremely strong – paddlers will be next to powerless, and will be quickly taken out to sea. Do not attempt this route in high water conditions.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Ishikari River

CampSites

None
Onsen nearby

The nearest onsen is the Banya-no-Yu Onsen (番屋の湯, 650yen, location), on the Ishikari Spit. In fact, if paddlers pull their canoes up at the fishing port, it’s only a 300m walk to the onsen (route here).

Extra Resources

Hokkaido Canoe Touring Book by Tamata (1993), p. 114-117.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

In the week preceding this trip, we’d been watching the weather forecast go from more bad to much more worse as the weekend got closer. We’d originally had sights on an overnight trip on one of the artificial lakes north of Sapporo, but had all but given up on canoeing in the weekend due to the weather forecast. Come Saturday, however, and the weather was as clear as can be. So we quickly hatched a plan to salvage what was still left of an otherwise OK weekend, weather wise. 

That plan was a morning paddle around the Ishikari River mouth. I’d seen this as a route in Tamata (1993), and thought it would be worth checking out. We knew from previous cycle trips out to Ishikari Bay that we were not to expect a pristine waterway, but we were hoping we’d experience the birdlife and nature we’d come to expect from this otherwise remote block of land along the coast.

We met Gerry and Derek at the boat ramp at 8:30am, and put in to an almost glass-smooth Ishikari River. It was as dirty as we’d expected, and we put in to the raucous revving of jetski engines, but it was nice to be out on Hokkaido’s longest river. Everything was just….big…on a different scale.

It was a fairly easy paddle for the first 30 minutes or so. There was very little wind, and the current – as small as it was – was giving us a nice nudge downstream. Soon enough, however, we were heading into the stiff headwind breeze that was forecast to get stronger as the day went by. We were all looking forward to having this at our backs on the paddle back upstream.

It wasn’t too long before Haidee spotted her first bird for the trip – this was just a common tobi black kite.

Eventually, we were past the Ishikari fishing port, and entering the more wild tip of the spit. Before long we could see the tippy top of the Ishikari lighthouse poking up above the grass on the side of the river. We started looking out for a suitable place to land, so we could go for a walk through the Japanese hamanasu roses. This area is famous for them. 

We eventually found a spot, and pulled the canoes high up onto the bank. We didn’t get very far on foot before I remembered there was a nice pagoda further along the coast. So we had a quick bite to eat where we were, and put in again to paddle all the way to the beach, closer to the pagoda.

As it happened, the beach was also a bit further past the pagoda than I had remembered, so instead of heading straight for the pagoda, we did a full loop on foot around the tip of the mouth of the river, before stopping at the pagoda for a longer stop in the shade.

The highlight of my walk along the beach was chatting to an elderly fellow, sitting in a deep hole in the sand, meticulously cutting up an old fishing net. On his bag was a sign saying “NO WAR!” He would cut an arm’s length of netting away, and put it into a trash bag. I asked him if he was cleaning the beach. “Yes, I come about two times a week to clear the trash away” he replied. “It’s an endless job.”

I told him I thought the beach was looking very good. Better than we had expected. “Well, yes, it’s looking pretty good right now,” he replied. “But come next spring, and we’ll be back to square one. Over winter, it just gets replaced with more trash, all washed up from the sea.”

I thanked him for his hard work, and carried on.

We left the beach behind us, and cut across the fields on the footpath. We weren’t in the height of the blooming of the roses, but the massive rosehips were looking red and healthy.

The day was getting on, and the wind was picking up, so after a restful few minutes in the well-kept pagoda, we got back to the boats to start the paddle back to the boat ramp. We opted to cut across the river to the other side. This was a little hair-raising, as the river’s current had created some larger than expected swells in the middle of the channel. A group of shags watched us as we bobbed our way across, no doubt unimpressed by our less than skillful or efficient mode of transport.

This side of the river was tough going. We had a strong tail/side wind, but we were getting confused seas due to reflection waves rebounding off the shore. It was less than ideal, but at least we were making headway, and at least the wind was mostly in our favor. Despite the wind, we were all smiles.

Part way back along this southern shoreline, we took a detour into a small pond. This was half to escape the wind, and half to see if there were any birds down this way. There were birds. A whole bunch flapped off as soon as we entered the pond. I can’t imagine they see many humans down this way. We did escape the wind, but unfortunately it was a dead end. A quick scout on the topomap indicated it was about 120m across a bank to get back to the main river, or we could paddle back into the headwind. We opted for the portage, or, drag-the-canoes-through-the-grass.

I can’t really recommend this option to anyone. It was much harder work than really was necessary. Good Type Two fun I guess.

If we thought our hard work was now over, we’d have been sorely mistaken. Despite the wind being a tailwind, it was now really blowing quite hard. This, coupled with a stronger downstream flow owing to the now outgoing tide, and we were canoeing with about a 50cm following swell. This was big enough to be almost surfing at times. In a Canadian canoe, this is less than ideal. Derek and Gerry tried to hasten the journey across to the other side of the river by using the spray deck’s portage hatch cover as a sail. “I reckon it helped,” claimed Gerry afterwards.

Needless to say, we were all relieved to be back at the boat ramp safe and sound. We were all feeling a little too hot to face an onsen hotspring, so we decided to drop by the ROYCE factory shop in Ai-no-Sato instead. ROYCE is Hokkaido’s answer to Cadbury’s – a premium local chocolate specializing in ‘raw’ chocolate. Raw chocoloate, or nama-choko in Japanese, is essentially a mix of about half chocolate and half cream. Very decadent. At the ROYCE factory store, they have chocolate, an amazing bakery, and free coffee. A great capping off to a fun adventure – particularly for Gerry, this being her birthday weekend!

As with each ski touring, cycle touring, hiking, and canoe touring route guide published on hokkaidowilds.org, should you choose to follow the information on this page, do so at your own risk. Paddle sports can be very dangerous and physically demanding – wear a personal flotation device, get paddlesports instruction, and do not exceed your paddling ability. Prior to setting out check current local water levels, weather, conditions, and land/road/track closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow leave-no-trace procedures. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this information, associated GPS track (GPX, KML and maps), and all information was prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. hokkaidowilds.org, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following the information contained in this post.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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