Lake Chubetsu Canoeing


Posted on Sep 14, 2019

Posted on Sep 14, 2019

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Lake Chubetsu (忠別湖) sits at the headwaters of Chubetsu River, in the foothills of Hokkaido's highest mountain, Asahidake. The lake itself is one of Hokkaido's newest, formed by the Chubetsu Dam. On a good day with plenty of water, views up to the Daisetsuzan Range can be breathtaking. The lake is popular for canoeing events such as Montbell's Sea to Summit event, and has a convenient artificial beach with easy access. If you're spending a few days in Higashikawa or the surrounding area, it is worth a paddle.

We visited this route on Aug 22, 2019

This post was sponsored by Welcome-Higashikawa.

Last updated Mar 23, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Lake Details

This route is on Chubetsu Lake (忠別湖).The lake is a dam lake, about 1.2km wide and 4km long. It has a shoreline of 9km and a maximum depth of 80m. The lake is at 407m above sea level.


Chubetsu Lake is a lake sitting on the border of Higashikawa Town and Biei Town on the northeastern side of the Daisetsuzan Range in central Hokkaido, just south of Asahikawa City. The most straight forward access to the lake for canoeing is from the Shinsui Park at the northeastern end of the lake on the Higashikawa Town side (here). There are flights of steps as well as a wheelchair accessible ramp down to the beach.

General notes

Chubetsu Dam is somewhat of an enigma. Its setting is magnificently dramatic. On a clear day – which we only got snippets of through low cloud when we were there – the Daisetsuzan Range towers over the lake in the distance, and the lake is surrounded by dense forest, particularly on the Higashikawa Town side. The dam itself serves a noble purpose – protecting the lower-lying populated areas from flood damage, generating renewable electricity, and providing irrigation and drinking water. On the other hand, as a multi-purpose dam, the lake level is often kept relatively low – this allows for storage capacity when heavy flood-prone rains come. When the lake level is lower than 100% full, the exposed lake-edge rock and shoreline, with the tangled roots of severed tree trunks clinging to the rocks, can be somewhat of a mixed-emotion reminder of what lies beneath the surface of these artificial lakes after we’ve drowned the valley. That said, as far as artificial lakes go in Hokkaido, Chubetsu Lake is a nice one. In addition to the view of the Daisetsuzan National Park mountains, shorelines are clean and free of sediment, and the braided Chubetsu River runs relatively steeply and unencumbered into the lake at the far eastern end.

Route description

We paddled around the circumference of the lake in an anti-clockwise direction, because we had a brisk westerly breeze blowing and wanted to get the headwind paddling out of the way, for a leisurely tailwind paddle back on the opposite side of the lake. We felt that the best scenery along the shoreline of the lake was on the northern side of the lake. This side drops steeply into the lake, with interesting exposed rock and plenty of trees. That said, the southern side of the lake had a few more shallow spots that ducks and other birds seemed to like.  Unlike many other dams in Hokkaido, it’s possible to paddle right up to the large earthen dam at the far western end of the lake. At the eastern end, make sure to paddle up to where the Chubetsu River flows into the lake. this impressive mass of gravel and rocks is an amazing testament to the river’s wild roots.

Route Timing
Trip time: 3hrs 0min


Public transport:

The put in location at the Shinsui Park on the Higashikawa Town side of the lake is not accessible by public transport. However, if you’ve got a packraft or similar packable canoe, it is possible to take the Asahidake Ideyugo Bus from the Higashikawa Information Center (ひがしかわ道草館, here) to the Kokuritsukoen-iriguchi Bus Stop (国立公園入口, here), which is about a 1km walk (route here) to the lake via the Bokyo Park (望郷公園, here). There’s an overgrown gravel access road to the lake, here. There may be some clambering over driftwood required. The timetable for the Ideyugo Bus is at the very bottom of this Asahidake Ropeway page. As of September 2019, buses from the Higashikawa Information Center, bound for Asahidake Ropeway, left the information center at 8:06am, 10:36am, 2:06pm, and 6:36pm. The trip to the Kokuritsukoen-iriguchi Bus Stop takes about 20 minutes. For the return, as of September 2019, buses left the Kokuritsukoen-iriguchi Bus Stop bound for the Higashikawa Information Center at 9:50am, 12:20pm, 3:50pm, and 6:20pm.

The Higashikawa Information Center also rents out electric-assist bikes for 1000yen per 6 hours, so there’s that option too, if you’d like to bike to the lake with your packraft or folding canoe on your back. Distance from information center to the Shinsui Park beach is about 16km, with a relatively hefty climb.

By car: 

There is ample parking at the Shinsui Park, here. On your way, it is worth dropping in to the Chubetsu Dam – pedestrians can walk across the dam for some good views.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Tawaramappu (俵真布) – map no. NK-54-7-7-1

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

Like all lakes, take care to check weather forecasts, and avoid the lake in high wind. Escape routes from the lake are limited in places, due to high shore-line slopes. Make sure to tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Chubetsu Lake


Onsen nearby

If heading back to Higashikawa Town, Hanakagura (森のゆ ホテル花神楽, location, 650yen) is on the western side of Chubetsu River – they have a good selection of baths, including good outdoor baths. Of course, about 20 minutes drive up the mountain will get you to the Asahidake Onsen area, with a number of good onsen to choose from. Our pick of the bunch is Yukoman Onsen (湯元 湧駒荘, location, 800yen), with their massive, cathedral-like high-ceiling wooden onsen complex.

Extra Resources
  • Some brief information on the Welcome-Higashikawa site here (in Japanese).

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Route Trip Notes

The email had come out of the blue. “I don’t suppose you could come to Higashikawa and experience some of what our area offers to outdoor lovers like you?” Haidee and I were quick to take up Higashikawa Tourism Association’s offer. We’d already been to Higashikawa multiple times on cycle trips and ski touring trips, and were always impressed by how funky the town was. Good coffee, sweets shops very highly rated by Haidee, and overall just a nice vibe to the place.

First on the list for us was to do a canoe trip on Lake Chubetsu. Even before Higashikawa’s offer to come for a trip, I’d scoped the lake out as a possible place for an overnight trip. The lake has roads on both sides of the lake though, so it’s not the best spot for an overnighter. That said, if you were really keen to wild camp, the Bokyo Park pagoda could be a possibility (here). Who knows what the helipad is for…

Joining us on this trip were my parents, who just happened to time their trip to Hokkaido this year right for this trip to Higashikawa. In our rented car, we drove the short 20 minutes to the Chubetsu Dam and did the requisite wander across. Low cloud obscured the million-dollar views across to Asahidake, but it was good to get a first glimpse at this new-ish artificial lake, completed in 2006 (Wikipedia). According to the live digital sign next to the dam, the water level was at 407m, 6m lower than the normal full level of 413m. This doesn’t sound like much, but the empty space between the trees and the lake was quite noticeable. There was very little wind.

We carried on in the car to the Shinsui Park beach to put in and get on our way around the lake in the canoe.  From the upper car park, it was about 100m down to the water’s edge via steps and then the artificial beach.

By the time we got onto the water, there was a stiff westerly breeze blowing. We opted to paddle straight into this for the first half of our way around the lake so that we’d have an easier paddle on the way back. From the outset, it was clear that at this water level, Chubetsu Lake was no match for a natural lake. Old tree stumps, exposed to the world, clung to bare rock and dirt, their spindly roots clawing for purchase on the shoreline. These poor beasts were in contrast to a gorgeous emerald green lake, put in relief against a bright orange bare clay and grey bedrock. It was both beautiful and painful at the same time – this lake serves an important purpose for the Asahikawa plains, with the ecosystems below its waters paying the price.

Overall though, as far as artificial lakes go in Hokkaido, this was, so far, a nice one. The water was relatively clear, and there was very little sediment to speak of.  A month or so back, we’d paddled Lake Eniwa, which was a bit of a muddy mess at the upper end of the lake. Chubetsu Lake in comparison felt quite pristine.

We kept paddling and soon enough we were at the Chubetsu Dam. Being a gravity dam, it is possible to paddle right up to the dam. Theoretically, from this point we could have seen Asahidake and the Daisetsu Range if it had been clear enough weather. We settled for moody national park forest and the wild remnants of the Chubetsu River.

Along the return paddle on the southern side of the lake, we were treated to some merganser ducks, and more impressive Japanese infrastructure prowess. Less impressive was some considerable section of shoreline oozing what seemed to be the accidental exposure of old buried waste. Sheets of plastic, half embedded in rocks and dirt draped down the exposed shoreline…our reports of this to officials in Higashikawa were met with concern and hasty on-reporting to those responsible for the upkeep of the dam and surrounding areas.

We’d told my parents that we’d be on the lake for about two hours. However, by the time we’d made our leisurely way around the lake, we’d been away for about three hours. I took my dad for a quick paddle, packed the canoe away, and we got on our way. Overall a great lake for a paddle – we hope to visit again in clearer skies!

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

1 thought on “Lake Chubetsu Canoeing”

  1. Pingback: Asahidake offers as much fun as people’s hobbies│CondeHouse

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Lake Chubetsu Canoeing Difficulty Rating





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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.