Lake Shikotsu Northern Shoreline Canoe Daytrip

支笏湖 | Si-Kot

Posted on Jul 14, 2020
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Posted on Jul 14, 2020

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Reading time: 4 min
16km

Distance

1 day(s)

Time

5/5

Remoteness

5/5

Water clarity

7.5/10

Difficulty

May-Oct

Best season

CAUTION: This is a long, exposed route along a very remote section of shoreline. There’s no vehicle or foot access to the lake beyond Marukoma Onsen. Anything beyond moderate wind speeds can whip the lake to whitecaps very quickly, so extreme caution should be taken.

The impossibly pristine Lake Shikotsu (支笏湖) is a dramatic caldera lake just under one hour's drive south from Sapporo City. This 16km paddling route along the northern shoreline, under the imposing bulk of the active volcano Eniwa-dake (恵庭岳, 1320m) is arguably one of the more rugged sections of shoreline on the lake. It's a very hefty day out, but you'll paddle past the Marukoma Onsen, and along the way there's a small fine-gravel beach with hot spring water flowing just beneath the sand - bring your shovel. The ultimate destination is the abandoned Okutan settlement, destroyed by a mudslide. With a good weather forecast, this is a very pleasant day out.

We visited this route on Jun 28, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Lake Details

This route is on Lake Shikotsu (支笏湖), or Si-Kot in the Ainu indigenous language. The lake is a natural lake, about 7.8km wide and 12km long. It has a shoreline of 40km and a maximum depth of 363m (265.4m average). The lake is at 246m above sea level and water visibility is 16.5m.

Location

Lake Shikotsu is a large caldera lake about 40km south of Sapporo City, the capital of Hokkaido. The put-in/take-out is at the bustling tourist trap that is Poropinai (ポロピナイ, location),  at the northeastern corner of the lake.

General notes

This lake-shore canoe route has great variety – established as well as wild onsen hotsprings along the shoreline, a curious echo-chamber rock formation, fine-gravel beaches, exceptionally clear water, and the curious abandoned lake-side resort at the end of it all. Okutan – the destination at the far end of the route – would be suitable for an overnight rough camp for keen campers. Note however that the shoreline is well within the Shikotsu-Toya National Park, so no tents are allowed. Any overnight stays would have to be bivvying under the stars. It goes without saying that paddlers should practice leave-no-trace bivvying – if you light a fire, make sure it’s out, and spread ash out well. No firepits or fire debris should remain.

Route description

Starting from the bustling Poropinai tourist beach, paddle south along the shore towards Marukoma Onsen (丸駒温泉). Just before Marukoma, at around the 2.5km point, is the old ruins/foundations of Ito Onsen. The old onsen tubs in the rocks still remain (but not the hot water). We’ve heard there’s still hotspring water flowing from the rocks just north of the tubs, but we didn’t find it. Another 200m on from the Ito Onsen ruins is Marukoma Onsen. This hotspring facility is an upmarket affair, with open-air baths facing the lake. For modesty’s sake, give this a wide berth. Another 1km on from Marukoma Onsen, and you’ll arrive at a small gravel beach, around here, where visitors can dig their own hotspring baths in the gravel, right on the lake-edge – this spot is only accessible by canoe. If no one has visited recently, there’s unlikely to be any sign of previous activity. From here, it’s another 4km of paddling, around Cape Okutan, to the old Okutan resort/campground. At the 5km point, look out for a cove-like cliff. If you’re about 50m out from the shore, this can create some great echos. Once you’re at the Okutan resort/campground, you’ve now got another 8km of paddling to get back to Poropinai. Make sure to start early in the day!

Route Timing
Trip time: 6hrs 0min

We’d recommend allowing a full day (about 6 hours) for this route. This will give time to stop in at the various curiosities along the way, and allow for any unforseen circumstances.

Transport

Public transport:

Poropinai is not accessible by public transport.

By car: 

There is plenty of parking at Poropinai, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Eniwa-dake (恵庭岳) – map no. NK-54-14-12-3

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

Do not take this route lightly. This route is extremely remote by Hokkaido standards. There are no access roads to the lake beyond Marukoma Onsen, and the shoreline is steep and rocky. The old road (Route 78) from Okotanpe Lake to Lake Shikotsu is washed out, impassible to all traffic. Like all large lakes, Lake Shikotsu can transform from a mirror-smooth pond to a white-capped ocean in a matter of minutes. No one should attempt this route without a very favourable wind forecast (check Windy.com here). If Windy.com is forecasting gusts of anything more than 12 knots (20km/h) from the east, west, or south, then we strongly recommend giving this route a miss. We had 20 knot (33km/h) winds from the south (mercifully a tailwind) on the way back to Poropinai, and this required extremely careful and strong ruddering to manage the swell. Lake Shikotsu is an extremely deep and therefore cold lake – even in the height of summer, hypothermia is a real risk for ill-equipped paddlers. This is also a long route on flat water – good paddling fitness is key.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Lake Shikotsu

CampSites

None
Onsen nearby

Bring shovels, and dig your own onsen hole in the gravel at the small beach at the 4km point – the water is warm enough to have a nice soak. If you can get back to the put-in at Poropinai before 3pm, then consider visiting Marukoma Onsen (丸駒温泉, 1,000yen per person, location), which has an amazing lake-side open-air bath that changes in depth according to the current water level in Lake Shikotsu.

Extra Resources

Hokkaido Canoe Touring Book by Tamata (1993), p. 16-19.

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, at Lake Shikotsu Village. They’ve got staff who can communicate in English.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Saoka had just completed her first day of paddling training on Lake Shikotsu on the Saturday, and Haidee and I were looking to do something on the Sunday. It seemed like a nice idea for Saoka to practice the skills she’d learned, so we settled on a three-person day-trip from Poropinai to the old abandoned (closed) campground at Okutan, along the northern shoreline of Lake Shikotsu.

On Saturday, the weather forecast was predicting very light winds – something around max 15km/h gusts. Practically no wind at all by Lake Shikotsu standards. When we arrived at the lake, there was a stiff breeze blowing, so I checked Windy.com one more time. By now, the forecast had been updated to max gusts of 35km/h in the middle of the day, coming from the south.

I was in two minds. On the one hand, we’d be on our way back to Poropinai – heading due north – by mid-day, so any stronger wind would be at our backs. On the other hand, we all knew how fast the lake could change to scarily high swells. In the end, we decided to at least paddle around to Marukoma Onsen, and see how things panned out.

In the end, we made it all the way to our original destination of Okutan by lunchtime, paddling the whole 8km more or less on a mirror-calm lake.

Along the way, I was scouring the shoreline for any indication of the shoreline hotspring that I’d seen on an old blog a couple of years back. In the end, we made it to the final destination without finding it.

Just as we had finished eating lunch at Okutan, we noticed tiny white-caps forming in the distance. It seemed that the strong midday winds were making their way to us from the south. Sure enough, in about 10 minutes, we had a hefty swell pushing onto the beach. I was soloing on this trip, so I was happy that at this point, there wasn’t much actual wind blowing where we were – just the swell of strong winds elsewhere. I loaded up the bow of my boat with a heavy chunk of driftwood to keep the bow steady, and we pushed off. 

It was a busy and sporty paddle to get around Okutan Cape, but beyond this, we now had the wind more at our backs. On the way back to Poropinai, we actually managed a slightly faster average speed. I was envious of Haidee and Saoka’s canoe, fitted out with a full spray deck – they’re great for cutting out the effects of the wind on a lake.

a few kilometres shy of Marukoma Onsen, we noticed a few canoes pulled up at a compact beach. Someone was digging furiously at the fine gravel. Could this be the shoreline onsen that I’d read about? Sure enough it was. The visitors had already carved a couple of two-person holes in the gravel. The water was probably somewhere around 39 degrees Celsius. Perfect for a make-shift soak. Their friendly dog seemed to take a liking to my canoe.

Not even 10 minutes after pulling away from the onsen beach, the wind that had been pushing swell in our direction arrived. It was a stiff, strong southerly, just as forecast. It propelled us northwards towards Poropinai. This wind confirmed to me that had we planned a trip with a southerly start-point on a day like today, we wouldn’t have even attempted to get on the water. Paddling into this would have been almost impossible. I shuffled to the bow of the boat and allowed the wind to wind-cock me around, pushing me northwards. This didn’t last long, as Poropinai was, technically, more northwest of our location than directly north. There was some traversing of the wind to be done.

As we were approaching Poropinai, we noticed a couple with a small child. They’d flipped their sit-on kayak in the swell, and were just pulling it up on to some rocks when we passed. They seemed OK, and weren’t far from the public beach, so we carried on carefully.

We’d set off at 8am that morning, and now it was just after 1pm. We’d been on the water for just over five hours. During that time, Poropinai had become a bustling madding crowd. We loaded up the canoes and high-tailed out of there as quickly as we could.

Another great day out on Lake Shikotsu in the books.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Lake Shikotsu Northern Shoreline Canoe Daytrip Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

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.