Lake Shikaribetsu Overnight Canoe Tour

然別湖 | Si-kari-pet

Posted on Jul 19, 2019
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Posted on Jul 19, 2019

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Reading time: 10 min
13.4km

Distance

2 day(s)

Time

2/5

Remoteness

4/5

Water clarity

5/10

Difficulty

Jun-Nov

Best season

Lake Shikaribetsu (然別湖) is Hokkaido's highest altitude lake, nestled on the edge of the Daisetuzan National Park at 810m. It's surrounded by native boreal forest. On the eastern shore, nakiusagi pikas will keep you company with their shrill squawks. Keep your eyes peeled to catch a glimpse of one. There's a basic but well-maintained campground at the northern end with a canoe landing. This makes Lake Shikaribetsu perfect for an easy overnight canoe trip.

Last updated Aug 8, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Lake Details

This route is on Lake Shikaribetsu (然別湖), or Si-kari-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The lake is a natural lake, about 1.7km wide and 3.6km long. It has a shoreline of 13.8km and a maximum depth of 108m (57.1m average). The lake is at 810m above sea level and water visibility is 19m.

Location

The start and end of this route is at the canoe port in the main Shikaribetsu Lake settlement, here. The canoe port is easily accessed via a pedestrian-only ramp from the road. There is plenty of room for temporary parking on the roadside when packing/unpacking. Free overnight parking is behind the Nature Center, here, indicated by a large ‘P’ sign. There’s also a large boat ramp at the southern end of the lake which would suffice too, here. The township canoe port is preferred, however, as it is very close to the lake-view (slightly overpriced, 1000yen) onsen, here.

General notes

In it’s heyday, Lake Shikaribetsu was obviously a bustling tourist hub. Now, there’s a mothballed hotel scarring the lake-front, and the racks upon racks of canoes and kayaks at the canoe port appear not to have been used in decades. But the area’s draw-cards remain the same: a pristine high-altitude lake (by Hokkaido standards), gorgeous boreal forest, cute pika, and a beautiful lake-view onsen. For those who enjoy tripping in a canoe, it is one of the best overnight locations in Hokkaido. There’s a road that runs alongside but above the western shoreline, but it is narrow and windy – any cars driving it are moving slow to avoid pedestrians.

Route description

Put in at the Lake Shikaribetsu settlement canoe port, and start paddling clockwise around the lake. Note that the tourist ferry leaves on the hour from 7am till 4pm. If you’re setting off around these times, then you’d be best to wait till the ferry has departed before crossing the main settlement bay. All the main bays have names. The ones on the western side of the lake are numbered starting from the southern-most one – Ichi-no-wan, or Bay One. The main settlement bay is Ni-no-wan, or Bay Two. At the northern end of Yon-no-wan (Bay Four) is a small cape from which it is a 100m paddle to Benten-jima Island. From the island, it is another 2km or so to the campground canoe port. The approach to the canoe port is shallow – we managed to get there without bottoming out….just. Beyond the campground, you’ll be following the remote eastern shore, which has no walking track or road. Carry on about 4.5km along the shore and you’ll come to Otofuke Bay. About 100m south of the small stream running into the lake is a trail from the lake to the main hiking trail. Look for the ropes tied to trees. The hike to Lake Shinonome is a 2km return trip (about 1hr). Lake Shinonome is within the Daisetsuzan National Park, and there’s no access to the lake, so don’t bother taking a canoe. From Otofuke Bay, it would be possible to cut across the lake directly back to the village, but the remainder of the shoreline is quite nice too, so it is worth completing the circuit.

Route Timing
Day 1: 2hrs 0min
Day 2: 4hrs 0min

If you’re doing this trip as an overnighter, the first day will be over before you know it – it’s just a short 5km paddle along the lake’s western shoreline, if hugging the shore the whole way. Make sure to make time for stopping in at Benten-jima Island, as it is closest to this western shore (about 100m). From the eastern shore, it is a more substantial 350m paddle to the island. The second day is more involved, with plenty of large bays and an optional hike thrown in for good measure – allow at least 4 hours on the second day to fit everything in.

Transport

Public transport:

The Lake Shikaribetsu township is accessible by public bus from Obihiro JR Station. Take the Hokkaido Takushoku Bus (北海道拓殖バス), Line 51, from the Obihiro Bus station. The trip will take about 1hr 45min and cost 1,650yen. See the route and details on Google Maps here: To the lake | From the lake. There are four buses per day going there (7:52am, 11am, 2:50pm, 4pm), and four returning (9:53pm, 1:13pm, 4:43pm, 6:18pm).

By car: 

There is plenty of parking in the free public carparking behind the Nature Center building, here. There’s also parking at the large boat ramp at the far south end of the lake, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shikaribetsuko (然別湖) – map no. NK-54-2-13-3

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 main thing to keep aware of on Lake Shikaribetsu is that shoreline escapes are limited. There’s no road on the eastern shoreline, and the road on the west is inaccessible for the most part. Also take care to keep out of the way of the tourist boat that sails on the hour from 7am till 4pm.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Lake Shikaribetsu

CampSites

Shikaribetsu Lake North Coast Campground (然別湖北岸野営場)
The Lake Shikaribetsu Campground sits at the northern end of the lake, with easy access via canoe. There’s a canoe port at the lake right next to the campground. It’s a basic campground, with the bare necessities, but it is well kept and the toilets are clean. Every campsite has a picnic table, and there are two large covered kitchen areas which are great for hanging wet get when it is raining. Location: 43.29818 N / 143.11743 E | 250 yen per person | Open: Jul-Sep
Closest Onsen: Lake Shikaribetsu Onsen (然別湖畔温泉) | 1000yen | 5km from campground
Onsen nearby

The obvious choice is Hotel Fusui (然別湖畔温泉ホテル風水) on the lake front, here (1,000yen). This onsen has great views of the lake. If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind a 25 minute drive, then I highly recommend the Shikaribetsu Gorge area for its wild, free onsen (all mixed-gender, strictly no swimsuits allowed). See our guide to the onsen options here. Note that while this gorge has the same name as the lake, it is in the valley to the west, so requires transport.

Extra Resources

See the write up on p. 36-39 in the Hokkaido Canoe Touring Book by Tamata (1993), in Japanese (see details here).

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

“How is it that we’ve never been here before,” remarked Haidee at the end of two inspiring days on Lake Shikaribetsu. I felt the same way. This was a gorgeous paradise of a place, even despite the drizzly wet weather of the first day, and low moody clouds of the second day. I’d been tantalizingly close to the lake on Day 6 of the Trans-Hokkaido Bikepacking Route Scouting Tour (story here) last year, but we’d carried on up the pass after being spat out onto Route 85 less than 1km from the northern end of the lake.

Of course, even then, we might not have been particularly impressed by the lake as seen from the northern campground. The true beauty of the lake is best enjoyed from on the water, and we got plenty of that this weekend. Ideally we’d have spent three days pottering around the lake, making full use of the three day weekend. However, I had a presentation to give at the Hokkaido FOSS4G conference on the Saturday (details | video).

So four of us set off from Sapporo early on Sunday morning in Chris’s car (thanks Chris) – Haidee, myself, Gerry, and Fabio the cyclist from Spain. Fabio was a last-minute addition to the team, after I posted a message on the Bicycle Touring, Hiking, and Friends in Japan Facebook group. Up till Fabio agreed to join, it would have been the three of us, with me in one canoe, and Haidee and Gerry in another. Not impossible, but less ideal for me if the wind picked up.

Including a grocery store stop, it was about four hours traveling from Sapporo to Lake Shikaribetsu. When we arrived, it was raining a light, wetting rain, just as the forecast had predicted. “I think we should still go,” said Haidee. We all had enough wet-weather gear (although a 500yen plastic poncho was procured for Fabio), and at least there was no wind.

It was more or less the first time canoeing for Gerry and Fabio. Over a quick lunch in the car, they did some reading up on how to paddle.

Time was getting on though, so we eventually dragged ourselves out of the car into the rain, and got our gear and canoes onto the water. Shikaribetsu Lake is obviously a popular place for canoeing – there were racks of canoes and kayaks at the put in location, and a convenient set of steps making the put in very easy. We parked the car up in the free parking in an area marked by a large ‘P’ sigh. Proceedings down at the launching area included a little bit more paddling tuition.

Lake Shikaribetsu Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Gerry

Despite the rain, it was really nice to get onto the water. The rain gave everything a gorgeous moody feel to it. This joy was interrupted somewhat as we cut across the Ni-no-wan (二の湾) bay just in front of the main village. One of the ferry dock workers yelled at us that we weren’t supposed to be canoeing in this area. This seemed strange to us, as the only way to get around the lake on the western shore was to cut across this bay. Later we double-checked with the Nature Center in the village. “The ojisan on the docks can get a bit feisty at times, but there’s no rules about not canoeing across that bay,” they told us.

Gerry and Fabio spent the first half-hour or so zig-zagging like crazy, but soon got the hang of paddling in a straight line. It was still raining. And it was still moodily beautiful.

Before long, we were approaching the only island on the lake, Benten-jima Island (弁天島). I’d been expecting something a little bit bigger, but this was a small dot on the lake, with just enough room for some trees, a torii gate, and a small shrine. We pulled up in the canoes, and took a look around. Did I say it was moody?

From the island, we were happy to have a nice tailwind all the way to the end of the lake. 

I was quite apprehensive about this end of the lake. I knew there was a campground, and the campground guidebooks I’d read – even the most recent 2019 one – mentioned that it was possible to launch canoes from the campground. However, the Google Satellite image showed an impenetrable mess of driftwood. The big typhoons of 2017/2018 had really made things challenging, it seemed. Would we be able to get to where we needed to go? Below is what Google had for the area in July 2019.

Image by Google

In the end, it was hardly an issue. Many of the logs had either sunk or had been removed. We were able to gingerly paddle our way across the shallow water direct to the campground’s dilapidated landing area, and unload.

This was our first ever overnight canoe trip. On our overnight hiking, ski touring, and cycle touring trips, we spend quite a lot of time trying to limit weight and gear. With this canoeing malarkey, however, we were surprised at how much gear we could carry. We were happy we’d decided to include a tarp – it was a wet rainy evening. The campground had large covered kitchen areas, however, which were perfect for hanging up wet clothes and PFDs. Toilets were clean and smelled great…no showers of course, but that’s standard everywhere in Hokkaido. Overall a fantastic basic campground.

When the morning came around, the rain had stopped.

Lake Shikaribetsu Overnight Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Haidee
Lake Shikaribetsu Overnight Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Haidee
Lake Shikaribetsu Overnight Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Haidee
Lake Shikaribetsu Overnight Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Haidee
Lake Shikaribetsu Overnight Canoeing (Hokkaido, Japan)
Image by Haidee

We scoffed down some breakfast and packed up, and were on the water by about 7:30am. The lake wasn’t mirror-calm, but beyond a slight headwind, it was a very nice paddle along the eastern shore of the lake. The plan for the day was to paddle along the eastern shore to the Shinonome Lake trail, and do that hike to the lake before completing the circumnavigation of the lake.

Before we got onto the lake, we did a quick paddle up the Yanbetsu River to see what we could see. We didn’t get very far before it all got too shallow, so back to the lake it was.

This northeastern end of the lake has a beautiful shoreline, with lots of low, exposed rock cliffs, dropping straight into the water. All of this enveloped in Hokkaido native forest. This side of the lake is within the Daisetsuzan National Park.

Gerry and Fabio were paddling straighter than ever, and were making great progress.

It was clearly duckling season – we saw quite a few ducks with their ducklings, all of them Merganser ducks.

“This is so much nicer without the rain,” said Gerry. She wasn’t wrong. It was chilly, maybe about 13 degrees Celsius, but there was little wind. Perfect.

After about an hour of paddling, we arrived at the large Otofuke Bay inlet (音更湾). This was where we’d park up the canoes and take a 30 minute walk to the Shinonome Lake. All along this shoreline, we’d heard the shrill squawks of pikas, and we were keen to see if we could see one of the elusive creatures.

I’d also read in one of the 1990’s canoe guidebooks that it was possible to canoe on this lake. “Hoist your canoe onto your shoulders and walk 30 minutes along a narrow track to the lake (緩い上りの細道をカヌーを担いで30分ほど歩く),” it wrote on p. 36 (玉田, 1993). I thought this was a great idea, so I hoisted one of the canoes onto my shoulders, and we proceeded to take turns to transport it 1km along a very narrow track, under and over fallen trees, to the lake.

WHICH IS NOT ALLOWED. Well, actually, there’s no rules against walking along a track with a canoe. It’s just that at present, there is no official access to the lake.

Once we got back to the Shikaribetsu Lake township, I dropped into the Nature Center to double check if canoeing on the Shinonome Lake is allowed. “Not any more,” was the answer. “There’s no official track down the lake now, and Daisetsuzan National Park rules dictate that hikers must not stray off the official tracks.

So, for the sake of documentation, I’ll post the photos of this fruitless hour of lugging a 27kg canoe to a tiny pond and back, but I don’t recommend others do it. You’re not allowed to access the lake, and really, your effort walking along the trail would be better dedicated to trying to spot pikas. We’ll be back in the future, NOT carrying a canoe.

NOTE: THERE’S NO ACCESS  DOWN TO LAKE SHINONOME
We found out so you don’t have to….orz

With the fruitless Lake Shinonome adventure behind us, it was time to carry on around the lake. By this time, any wind that we’d had previously had more or less disappeared. 

We rounded a few more small bays, and passed a canoe tour group. I asked the friendly guide about Shinonome Lake too, and he confirmed that indeed, the lake is not accessible any more. “You can’t canoe on that lake,” was his reply. We carried on to a small sandy beach further around the shore, and pulled up for some lunch. Gerry was lamenting bringing so much bread on the trip. “I’ve eaten so much bread on this trip, I think I need to go on a bread fast when I get home,” she exclaimed.

Directly opposite the beach was the small Shikaribetsu Lake settlement. If we wanted, we could have canoed straight across for a quick finish. But we wanted to make the full circumnavigation, so pushed on.

At the very southern end of the lake, we once again came across a Merganser duck with her brood of ducklings. These little balls of fluff are too cute. 

From the southern end of the lake, it was only a short distance along the rest of the shore to get back to our put in location. Once again a very light rain was starting to fall, so it was all hands on deck to get the canoes and gear up the slope to the roadside. We’d parked in the main parking area in the township, so Haidee ran ahead and got the car.

All up, this is definitely a place we’ll be coming back to for another overnight trip – an autumn overnight trip is definitely on the cards!

Image by Gerry
Image by Gerry

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

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