Lake Shikotsu Northwest Arc

支笏湖 | Si-Kot

Posted on Jul 11, 2019
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Posted on Jul 11, 2019

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Reading time: 8 min
12km

Distance

1 day(s)

Time

4/5

Remoteness

5/5

Water clarity

7/10

Difficulty

Apr-Nov

Best season

NOTE: Lake Shikotsu is a gorgeous place in calm weather, but it is a deep, very cold lake, known for unpredictable rough, dangerous conditions. Beginners should be accompanied by strong experienced paddlers, particularly at this remote western end of the lake.

This day trip at the western end of Lake Shikotsu (支笏湖) allows access to some of the lake's most remote shorelines. Along the way are classic Lake Shikotsu underwater ledges and cliffs, along with tree-lined pebble beaches. At the Okotanpe River mouth is a derelict lodge and campground, permanently closed due to an old mudslide. On a clear day with a good long-range forecast, this can be a great day out for upper-intermediate paddlers with good self-sufficiency skills.

Extra photos taken by Chris J. T. Auld.

Last updated Jul 16, 2019

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 17.5m.

Location

The put-in and take-out location for this route is a public parking area just south of the Bifue Campground, here. Registered fishing boats launch from the same general vicinity, so take care and give them the right of way. If you’re staying at the Bifue Campground, then you can just put in from the campground.

General notes

Lake Shikotsu is quite easy to access from Sapporo City. It’s only 35km or so south of the city center. And yet, the lake is part of the sprawling Shikotsu-Toya National Park, and boasts Japan’s cleanest water of any lake in the country. In the vicinity is great hiking (such as the prominent Tarumae-zan). The lake is easily accessed by bicycle either across the hilly Route 453 from Sapporo’s western reaches, or via the Chitose-Shikotsu Cycleway from Chitose City.

  • Motorized boats on Lake Shikotsu
    Motorized boat access on Lake Shikotsu is restricted, but is allowed upon registration (renewed annually). Motorized boats are mostly limited to vessels engaging in fishing. They’re also only allowed on the lake from June till August (more details in Japanese here).
Route description

After putting in just south of the Bifue River inlet (also marked as Chitose River on maps), head left along the western edge of the lake, past the Bifue Inlet and Bifue Campground. You’ll see plenty of people fishing from the shore around the Bifue River Inlet, so make sure to make a wide berth. Beyond Bifue Campground, it is a matter of simply making your way north along the shore. If conditions are calm, with a stable forecast, it is possible to cut across this arcing shoreline, direct to the Okotanpe River mouth. You’ll miss out of some of the most spectacular underwater ledges and cliffs though, so it’s best to hug the shore. There’s a road marked on maps all along this northwestern shore, but this is now completely destroyed; this is a very remote shoreline.

Route Timing
Trip time: 4hrs 0min

This full route, taking a short-cut across open water on the return, will take around 4 hours including time to smell the roses. If you’re travelling in a single boat, or the lake conditions do not allow an open water crossing, you’ll need to allow an extra 45 minutes or so for a return along the lake edge.

Transport

Public transport:

The put-in location is not accessible by public transport.

By car: 

There is a large gravel carpark at the put-in location, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Eniwa-dake (恵庭岳) – map no. NK-54-14-12-3
Official Topo Map 2: Fuppushi-dake (風不死岳) – map no. NK-54-14-12-4

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

Lake Shikotsu requires a great deal of humble respect. It is cold, deep, and prone to rough, strong winds. Naoki Matsuzawa, the owner of Guide House Canoa (a long-standing canoe guiding outfit on Lake Shikotsu) told us “Lake Toya has very predictable wind patterns, but here on Lake Shikotsu, it is really quite a mixed bag – we’re always kept on our toes.” Therefore, only attempt this route if a full day of settled weather is forecast (see the forecast here), and if your party includes experienced paddlers. This particular corner of Lake Shikotsu is very remote. Landing locations are limited, and access to the shore beyond Bifue Campground is by water (or air) only. The Route 78 marked on maps is closed from Bifue Campground all the way to the Okotanpe Lake lookout, high above the Okotan Campground. Any assistance required will be water or air access only (even foot access is extremely limited).

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Lake Shikotsu

CampSites

Lake Shikotsu Bifue Campground (支笏湖美笛キャンプ場)
Bifue Campground is a sheltered, well-appointed campground located at the far western end of Lake Shikotsu. They have coin showers, basic foodstuffs, BBQ rental, laundry facilities, and covered outdoor cooking areas. The staff are very friendly and helpful. On weekends and public holidays, the campground can get very crowded, despite its large area. If you arrive by canoe, bike, or on foot, you won’t be turned away, however. Location: 42.7309 N / 141.26424 E | 1000 yen per person | Open: May-Oct | Staff hours: 7:00am till 7:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Lake Shikotsu Kyuka-no-Mura (支笏湖休暇の村) | 720yen | 24km from campground
Okotan Campground (支笏湖オコタン野営場)
The Okotan Campground (支笏湖オコタン野営場) was a very basic campground, operating until 2011. It is located near the mouth of the Okotanpe River at the remote northwestern corner of Lake Shikotsu. A large mudslide decimated the campground and attached buildings in 2011. The campground is still marked on official topographical maps (updated in 2014), however, so it can be assumed camping is still allowed at this designated site (camping is not allowed in the Shikotsu-Toya National Park outside designated campsites). There are no facilities, and all waste must be packed out. Location: 42.77073 N / 141.27109 E | Free
Closest Onsen: None
Onsen nearby

There’s no onsen close to this end of Lake Shikotsu. The closest would be any of the onsen in Shikotsu Village, such as the Kyuka-no-mura (no outdoor baths, here) or Mizu-no-Uta (here). If heading to Lake Toya, our pick of onsen is the Horohoro Sanso Onsen, with its expansive onsen facility, in Kitayuzawa Onsen area (here).

Extra Resources
No extra English resources that we know of. If you know of any, please let us know in the comments.

Guide Options

If you’d like to hire a guide to show you around this area of Lake Shikotsu, then consider either the friendly team of experienced guides from Guide House Canoa (Canadian canoes) or Fumiaki Sakai from Ohtaki Outdoor Adventures (kayaks).

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

We’d been going back and forth with Saoka for a while now, trying to find a weekend to go camping where her schedule lined up with ours. Finally that weekend materialized, and we arranged to go camping somewhere. Then it transpired that Chris would be in Hokkaido on the same weekend. A clear, calm forecast for the weekend therefore dictated that we should get some canoes and do some day-tripping.

We rented two 16-foot Old Town Camper canoes from Guide House Canoa in Lake Shikotsu Village. As a rule, they don’t rent out canoes. Actually, apart from one fishing shop in Sapporo City (NorthCast), I don’t know of anywhere in Hokkaido that rents out canoes without guides. There were a couple of high-profile deaths involving inexperienced individuals in Hokkaido a few years back, where they’d rented open-top canoes and got into trouble in high winds. Since then companies have been less willing to rent out canoes.  Haidee and I had, however, done Canoa’s Beginner and Intermediate paddling school, so they knew our abilities. 

Chris’s years of experience strapping boats to car roof racks also came in handy. “Safe as houses,” he said as we drove away.

Photo by Saoka Wakasugi

We wanted to make the most of the weekend, so we left Sapporo at around 5:30pm on Friday night. The original plan was to drive all the way to Lake Toya that night, but by the time we picked up the canoes from Canoa it was past 7pm. We changed plans and headed to Morappu Campground on the eastern end of Lake Shikotsu instead. By the time we’d got set up, it was well and truly dark.

The next day broke clear and calm though. It was going to be a great day out on the water.

This weekend was getting off to a very flexible start, so we decided to make the most of the fact we were already at Lake Shikotsu, and do a solid few hours on the water here before heading to Lake Toya for the evening. I had always wanted to explore the more remote northwestern end of the lake, so we packed up and drove around the lake to a put in location near Bifue Campground.

In 2011, Haidee and I along with a Cezary, a cyclist from Poland, managed to ‘cycle’ the Route 78 around this edge of the lake. Since then there has been multiple typhoons that have completely destroyed the road. Reports from other cyclists who have done the route since then have told of 50m steep scrambles down massive washouts to the lake-edge, only to have to drag their laden touring bicycles back up to the road again. From a canoeing perspective, this just makes this section of lake-shore even more attractive. With Route 78 being closed from the Lake Okotanpe lookout, far above the lake, this 15km-ish shoreline is really only accessible by boat.

At the putin location, we set about getting the canoes off the car, and into the water. This was the first time I’d visited this particular spot on Lake Shikotsu’s western side. We were surprised to see a number of fishing boats being put in in a separate area. For some reason I’d always assumed motorized boats were prohibited on Lake Shikotsu. A quick search on the web informed me that motorized boat access on Lake Shikotsu is indeed restricted, but is allowed upon registration (renewed annually). Motorized boats are mostly limited to vessels engaging in fishing. They’re also only allowed on the lake from June till August (more details in Japanese here).

It was a beautiful morning as we pushed off from the shore. Rounding the small cape at the mouth of the Chitose River (also marked at Bifue River), we saw a number of people fishing off the shore, so gave them a wide berth. The familiar Bifue Campground came into view soon – we’d camped there so many times on cycle trips, so it was nice to see it from another angle.

Beyond the campground, the shoreline was enveloped in deep, green forest. Surely this is the Shikotsu-Toya National Park at its very best. The water level of the lake was quite low when we were there. Usually it would be a solid 1m or so higher. This made for a nice sandy beach experience about 30 minutes into the trip.

At this point in the trip, we didn’t really have much of a plan as to how far we’d go. We were still testing the waters on how fast we could comfortably paddle these big Old Town Camper canoes we’d rented. We were making good time though (in the end, our average moving speed on the water was 4.8km/h), and the weather forecast was for calm settled weather for the rest of the day, so we tentatively set our sites on the derelict Okotan Campground, near the mouth of the wild Okotanpe River.

Beyond this sandy beach, the underwater scenery started getting really spectacular. As marked on the official topomap data, there are large underwater ledges and cliffs along this shoreline. With the water level so low, this allowed us to glide over these watery precipices, in about 20cm of water one moment, about 50m the next. Lake Shikotsu is Japan’s cleanest lake – like, actually number one for the last few years running – and it shows. With underwater visibility of anywhere between 10m and 30m (source), it is a mindbendingly clear lake.

Even Chris, a man who has spent more time on wild water than most people will spend in a lifetime, said in amazement “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lake this clear.”

Haidee, Chris and I are all from New Zealand (Saoka, the other member of this weekend’s team is from Japan), and we were genuinely take aback by this phenomenal clarity. You’d be hard-pressed to find a lake in New Zealand of this scale with such beautiful water.

And remember, this lake is a 40 minute drive from a city of 2 million people.

When Haidee and I did a canoe paddling course with Naoki from Canoa Guide House a few weeks back, he explained the cause of color changes in the water in Lake Shikotsu. “The water will change from blue to green when there’s lots of water or snow-melt,” he explained. “As the water runs off the surrounding caldera into the lake, it brings with it organic matter, which makes the lake green.”

According to this report about Lake Shikotsu’s color and clarity, it is the relative presence of Chlorophyll a that determines how green the water will look – i.e., the stuff that makes plants green.

That said, the lake has many faces, and one moment it looks emerald green, another it is back to it’s famous Shikotsu Blue.

Lake Shikotsu Canoeing Daytrip from Bifue Campground (Hokkaido,
Photo by Chris Auld

We pushed on and eventually made it to just west of the Okotanpe River mouth. There was a gorgeous sandy beach with some shady trees. With the old road (Route 78) now impassible down to this section of shoreline, this may well be one of the most remote places in Hokkaido, only accessible by boat.

Lake Shikotsu Canoeing Daytrip from Bifue Campground (Hokkaido,
Photo by Chris Auld
Lake Shikotsu Canoeing Daytrip from Bifue Campground (Hokkaido,
Photo by Chris Auld

After a quick bite to eat for an early lunch, we set off on foot around the shore towards the derelict Okotan Campground. Along the way we came across three guys who had paddled across the night before, and were camped on the lake-front. We exchanged pleasantries and carried on.

There used to be quite the bustling lodge, bungalows, and campground here until around the early 2000’s. This blog post shows some photos of what it used to look like. However, in 2011 there was a massive mudslide that utterly devastated the entire lodge and campground. Just take a look at the Google Satellite images of the area. The campground was in the direct line of the destructive force of nature.

Suffice it to say that this is now a ghost-town of a location, with nature slowly but surely reclaiming its territory from the human invaders. We spent about 30 minutes wandering around the debris, soberly contemplating the demise of the place. Shirts were still hanging in wardrobes, photos hung on walls of proud fishermen holding their catches – the most recent dated 2003. Boxes of magazines – some belying the carnal proclivities of the time – were dated back to the 1980’s.

We returned to the canoes via an easy bush-bash along the other side of the Okotanpe River. 

On the return to Bifue, we opted to cut across the open water direct to the Bifue Campground, to save us about 3km of paddling (about 45 minutes). We were two boats, it was a beautiful day with the entire lake like glass, plus the weather forecast was indicating it to stay that way till the next morning, so we decided it was worth the risk. 

We made good time, and were off the water by 12:30pm. Masses of time to load the canoes back onto the van and head to Lake Toya for the night, via Horohoro Sanso for a great onsen soak.

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

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