Eastern Lake Shikotsu Overnight Canoeing (including Moss Corridor)

支笏湖 | Si-Kot

Posted on Sep 30, 2019
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Posted on Sep 30, 2019

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Reading time: 9 min
16.7km

Distance

2 day(s)

Time

3/5

Remoteness

5/5

Water clarity

4/10

Difficulty

May-Oct

Best season

This easy, short overnight canoe camping trip on Lake Shikotsu (支笏湖) is one of the best quick overnight canoe trips you can do in the Sapporo area. With super easy access from central Sapporo City, it offers crystal clear lake-side paddling, stunning underwater ledges, deep forest, and a great sandy beach campground. There's also an inspiring moss corridor (苔の回廊) just around the lake from the campground. Directly accessible from the lake, a 2-hour leisurely stroll allows access to the best of Tarumae-zan's volcanic flanks. On a warm, late summer's weekend, the Morappu Campground shoreline can be perfect for some canoe rescue practice.

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

This route is on the south-eastern edge of Lake Shikotsu in southern Hokkaido, about 40km south of Sapporo City central. The put in for the route is at the lower car park at the Lake Shikotsu Village (here). Access to this car park costs 500yen – paddlers will need to pay at the upper car park to receive a card to open the entrance gate.

General notes

We’d rate this trip as an absolute classic for canoeists wanting a quick and easy overnight canoe camping trip near Sapporo City. Morappu Campground is perfectly accessible by car, but there’s something special about paddling an hour around the lake and arriving at the campground in style – by canoe with all the camping gear you need in your boat. To make this trip a little bit more interesting, we’ve added on a short hike up to the spectacular Moss Corridor (苔の回廊). This is also accessible by car and a short walk along the main road, but since you’re in your canoe, accessing the area directly from the water adds something extra.

  • Lake Shikotsu climate: Lake Shikotsu is an enormous lake, with its own unique and often dangerous wind and climate patterns. As with all canoe travel on Lake Shikotsu, check the weather before setting out, and always make conservative decisions.
Route description

Put in at the lower car park at the Lake Shikotsu Village. From there, paddle about 100m upstream along the Chitose River to get to the lake. Turn left and start heading south along the lake shore towards Morappu Campground. This section of shoreline is well known for its great views of Tarumae-zan and Fuppushi-dake, as well as some spectacular underwater ledges. At one moment you’re paddling in about 2m of water, the next you’re floating above over 70m of water. Before long, you’ll arrive at Morappu Campground. Check-in is from 1pm. If you arrive before 1pm, carry on around the lake to the Moss Corridor entrance. For the most part, the route up to the Moss Corridor is easy to follow – from the lake, the Moss Corridor proper starts after about 1km of walking along a wide sandy gully. You’ll know you’re in the Corridor because you’ll be walking along a narrow gorge with towering moss-covered walls. At around 2km from the lake shore, the Corridor is completely blocked by rockfall. There’s a very steep, rope-assisted scramble up a side-gully to get around this. The Corridor carries on for another 1km or so beyond this. The return consists simply of retracing one’s steps and paddle strokes back to Lake Shikotu Village.

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

It’s only 3.5km from Lake Shikotsu Village to Morappu Campground, so expect this short section of paddling to take less than 1 hour. From there, expect another 20 minutes of paddling to the moss gorge entrance on the lake. To really take the moss gorge in, we’d recommend allowing a very leisurely 2 hours of walking.

Transport

Public transport:

Lake Shikotsu Village is accessible by public transport.  Buses run from Chitose JR Train Station 4-6 times a day, with the earliest leaving the station at 8:51am (see timetable here). The trip takes about 45 minutes, and costs 930yen one way. The bus stop at Lake Shikotsu Village is about 10 minutes walk from the lake edge.

By car: 

There is ample parking at the lower car park in Lake Shikotsu Village. Access to this car park costs 500yen – paddlers will need to pay at the upper car park to receive a card to open the entrance gate. If your Japanese is rusty, just gesture to your canoe to the parking attendants, say “shita no paakingu” (下のパーキング – lower parking) and they’ll probably get the idea that you want to get access to the lower parking area.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shikotsuko-onsen (支笏湖温泉) – map no. NK-54-14-12-1
Official Topo Map 2: Tarumaezan (樽前山) – map no. NK-54-14-12-2

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

As mentioned above, Lake Shikotsu is known for strong and unpredictable wind at times. For this reason, we don’t recommend paddling very far from the shore on Lake Shikotsu, particularly when paddling a Canadian canoe – the shoreline has all the more spectacular scenery anyway. Check the weather before setting off, and avoid paddling on Lake Shikotsu when the forecast is for high winds. Escape from the lake is limited for the duration of the 3.5km paddle from the village to Morappu Campground.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Lake Shikotsu

CampSites

Morappu Campground (支笏湖モラップキャンプ場)
Morappu Campground sits on the southeastern shore of Lake Shikotsu, about 40km south of Sapporo City. It is a relatively basic campground, but is popular for its accessible and safe shoreline for swimming and paddling. On weekends and public holidays it can get packed, but there is usually somewhere to put a tent. The closest shops are in Lake Shikotsu Village, about 8km away. Location: 42.7434 N / 141.40823 E | 1000 yen per person | Open: May-Sep | Staff hours: 9:00am till 4:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Lake Shikotsu Kyuka-no-Mura (支笏湖休暇の村) | 720yen | 10km from campground
Onsen nearby

For cheap-and-cheerful, try the Kyuka-no-Mura Shikotsuko (休暇の村支笏湖) here. They don’t have an outdoor bath, but they’re open later (till 5pm) than any other onsen in the area. For something more upmarket, Mizu-no-Uta (水の歌), here, can’t be beaten. The onsen on its own is about 1,000yen per person, but their 2,000yen buffet lunch and onsen set is a pretty good deal, so consider booking ahead and treating yourself (NOTE: The price indicated on the Japanese page is 2,000yen, on the English page it says 3,240yen…we’ve only ever paid 2,000yen).

Extra Resources
  • Hokkaido Canoe Touring Book by Tamata (1993), p. 16-19 (in Japanese)

Guide Options

If you’d like to paddle this route or others on Lake Shikotsu with an experienced guide, talk to the friendly folk at Guide House Canoa (ガイドハウスかのあ, location) in Shikotsu Village. They’ve got a wealth of experience with day trips as well as overnight camping trips on the lake.

Photo Gallery

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

It had been a scorching August, with more hot weather coming in the weekend. This called for drastic action. But not too much action. Action that would keep us all active but not too active. It was far too hot for too much action. So a quick canoe camping trip was devised, plus a walk in a cool, shady moss grove. If this wasn’t the most perfect antidote to the sweltering mid-summer Hokkaido blues, then nothing was.

Along for the trip was Saoka and Gerry. A solid team of four we were, ready to take on the (not so) vigors of about an hour of leisurely paddling and a walk. 

We arrived at the Shikotsu Onsen Village upper car park and drove around in circles for a few minutes trying to find the way down to the lower car park. We eventually asked a parking warden. He handed us the key card we needed and pointed us in the right direction. It was already about 9am, and it was shaping up to be a hot day. SUP tour groups and other canoe tours were also getting ready and setting off. We weren’t the only ones happy to be escaping the heat via the cool waters of Lake Shikotsu.

We pushed off and did some quick paddling instruction refreshers for Gerry and Saoka. This was Gerry’s first time in the stern, so we were getting her up to speed on forward strokes coupled with rudder moves. She caught on pretty quick, and then we paddled upstream to the lake. As usual, this area around Shikotsu Onsen Village was a hive of activity. Swan boats wafted on by, as did hordes of SUPers. It was nice to be on the water though, and this section of national park forest between the village and Morappu Campground was its usual green and lush self.

After about two kilometers of paddling, we were finally beyond where most SUP and canoe tours go on their short tours. We were also beyond the glass-bottomed tourist boats’ range too, so we finally had the lake to ourselves. We pulled up on a deserted rocky beach for a break.

When we arrived at Morappu campground, it was before noon. With the campground not open for overnight registration till 1pm, we decided to push on and do our hiking in the moss corridor before setting up camp. With all the time in the world, Haidee decided she wanted a go at stern paddling duties. Before long she had us going in a straight line, but we’d lost a bit of ground between us and the other boat.

We arrived at the entrance to the Moss Corridor (苔の回廊) on the lake shore at around 12:30pm. We sat in the shade for a quick lunch. It appeared that people had stopped here previously – there were footprints in the sand and an old fire ring. Gerry had walked this route before, so led the way up from the lakeside towards the corridor proper. “The last time I was here I wasn’t expecting anything much at all,” she explained. “But once we actually get into the gorge, you’ll realize how amazing it is. I can guarantee that none of you are actually prepared for how awesome it is,” she gushed.

To be clear, the place we were now walking was the Moss Corridor (苔の回廊), not the Moss Tunnel (苔の洞門) further up around the lake. The famous Moss Tunnel is infamously full of sand and gravel right now, due to a massive landslide during a typhoon a number of years ago. That area is officially closed and off-limits. This area, however, seems well traveled and documented, at least in Japanese (see a Google Search here).

After a 30 minute walk, we finally arrived at the corridor. And it was amazing. It grew higher and higher around us as we walked. Massive chunks of volcanic-ash pieces of wall had obviously fallen here and there, adding to the experience a certain edge of risk.

Soon we came to what appeared to be a roped off dead end. “It continues up over this way,” Gerry instructed. We proceeded to haul ourselves up a very steep cliff using ropes permanently attached to trees at the top. The very last push up at the top required a good deal of contortion and effort.

A short track through the woods led us back to the moss corridor, which was now even more spectacular.

We pushed on for another 20 minutes or so, until we came to the end of the mossy gorge. “From here, the trail keeps going up to the trail connecting Tarumae-zan and Fuppushi-dake,” Gerry told us. “When I did it last, it took us almost a whole day!”

The return along the corridor felt just as spectacular as the walk up. We were now seeing the gorge from a different angle, with different light playing in different ways on the green and curves of the gorge walls.

Coming down the steep roped section was once again a thrilling punctuation to a very interesting couple of hours wandering.

Back on the water, we high-tailed it back to Morappu Campground, where we checked in and got our tents set up. Dinner that night was quick and easy yaki-soba. It was an extraordinarily calm night – not even a breath of wind as we sat and cooked on the lakefront.

The next day was always going to be a relaxed one. I got up at around 5am and went for a quiet solo paddle on the lake. “Idyllic” hardly begins to describe this place on a calm morning. The towering Tarumae-zan volcano was dominating the skyline to the south, as I glided across glass-smooth water.

Soon enough, while I was still on the water, the campground started to come to life. The chatter of children started wafting across the water. Campfires were stoked and plumes of sweet-smelling smoke drifted skywards. Once the sun was up and shining on the campground, there was no escape from the sudden heat. When I got back to shore, everyone in our camp was up. “As soon as the sun came up, I was up!” declared Gerry.

She promptly took my place in the canoe and tried her hand at soloing. Part way through she came back to shore to try out the red canoe. I told her “you can really lean over in those canoes, you know.”

The next thing I heard from the water was a great splash. Gerry was already attributing the cause of the capsize. “Rob said I could lean right over and it would be super stable!” she asserted.

Haidee and Saoka also had goes at soloing the canoes. Haidee had her pry down pat, gliding the canoe sideways with ease.

The day was too hot, and the conditions too perfect, not to spend some time practicing self- and team-rescue techniques. We took turns capsizing the canoes, first practicing a t-rescue and then taking turns at dragging canoes back to shore. I also spent some time figuring out if I could right our capsized canoes on my own – jolly hard work.

By the time we’d caused alarm to almost everyone in the campground with our antics, it was about time to pack up and get on our way back to our car at Shikotsu Onsen Village. It was now 11am – time to check out. 

The paddle back to the village was again gorgeous. Uneventful, but hopelessly relaxing.

We dodged the swan boats again as we paddled back onto the Chitose River, under the big red bridge, under the gaze of tourists’ eyes and cameras. It was midday, and it was the height of the heat of the day. Time to get packed up and back to the big city of Sapporo, just an hour’s drive away. We were all once again counting our blessings to be living this close to such a pristine lake.

We’d just finished packing up the car, when we saw Naoki, followed by thirty dad-and-kid pairs – 60 people all up. “We’re all going canoeing,” he said, beaming. Naoki’s the lead guide and owner at Guide House Canoa at the Lake Shikotsu Onsen Village, and apparently he’d had a dream of getting a whole bunch of dad’s and their kids from Chitose City to get out onto the water, to challenge each other and experience the outdoors together. I read in a Facebook post of his later, “We’ve finally made it a reality.”

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