Mukawa River Canoeing (Tomiuchi to Toyota)

鵡川 | Muk-ap

Posted on Apr 16, 2020
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Posted on Apr 16, 2020

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Reading time: 6 min
14km

Distance

0.5 day(s)

Time

2.15 mpk

Gradient

2/5

Water clarity

Class I

Difficulty

May-Oct

Best season

This upper-middle section of the Mukawa River (鵡川) marks the start of the more benign lower half of the mighty Mukawa. When water levels are high, paddlers may encounter swifts up to Class II, but in most conditions there won't be much over Class I. One of the biggest draw cards of the Mukawa River is it's infinitely accessible sense of wilderness - despite being very close to civilization in reality. There are a number of gravel islands to camp on along the way, and this short 14km section takes in some of the more forested shoreline sections of this lower half of the river.

We visited this route on Aug 10, 2019

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Beginner (4/10)

Remoteness: 1/5

River Details

This route is on Mukawa River (鵡川), or Muk-ap in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 135km in total length. This section of the river is between 20m and 75m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 2.5m/s to 1.5m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 2.15 mpk (11.35 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Mukawa River

Current water level: 53.49m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2020/10/30 18:50 (Source).

Location

The Mukawa River is a major waterway flowing from deep in the northern Hidaka Range out to the Pacific Ocean east of Tomakomai. The put in location for this section of the Mukawa River is about 300m down a gravel road (here) on the right-hand bank downstream from Tomiuchi-bashi Bridge (富内橋, location), near the small settlement of Tomiuchi (富内). The take-out location is near the Toyota-bashi Bridge (豊田橋, location) near the even smaller settlement of Toyota (豊田), south of Hobetsu Township. Once past the Toyota-bashi Bridge, it’s possible to land anywhere along the shoreline, but a little further on is a less muddy gravel bank, here. There is parking available on the right-hand side of the river just upstream from the bridge, here. Alternatively, you can drive a car down the double-track to the riverside, here.

General notes

Beyond the Tomiuchi-bashi Bridge, the Mukawa River is generally suitable for most levels of paddlers, including relative beginners. Naturally this will depend on water level (see note below), but compared to the much steeper, boulder-strewn sections above Tomiuchi, the remaining 35km or so to the ocean is relatively benign.

  • Water level: We paddled this section of the river at just below the flood control standby level. From memory it was at about 54.2m as measured at the Hobetsu measurement station. This was a lot of water, effectively wiping out any eddies along the river. For experienced paddlers (or inexperienced paddlers like Haidee and I, along with experience paddlers), this water level was perfectly manageable. It allowed for some good wave-trains and wave features, but these were all avoidable since the river is so wide. Normal water level is around 53m.
Route description

Just below Tomiuchi-bashi Bridge is a large rock sticking out of the river. Looking downstream, to the left of this rock can be some fun wave trains in the right water level. At around 3.5km on the route, there’s a low, submerged weir, which can provide some opportunity for wave-riding if the water levels are good. Beyond this, there’s not really much of note. Paddlers will find themselves feeling mostly disconnected from the modern world, surrounded by bushy green forested riverbanks and the odd gravel-bank islands, perfect for long lunch breaks.

Route Timing
Trip time: 1hrs 30min

This section of the Mukawa River will likely take most paddlers about 1-2 hours to complete, depending on how much time is spent playing in wave features (which in turn depends on water levels).

Transport

Public transport:

Hobetsu-bashi Bridge is accessible by public transport. It’s a bit convoluted, but the steps are as follows: 1) catch a bus to Hobetsu Town bus terminal (here – directions available on Google Maps), 2) get on a pre-booked community bus to Tomiuchi-bashi Bridge Bus Stop (location) on the Hobetsu-Tomiuchi Line (穂別富内線). The community bus must be pre-booked by 4pm the day before you intend on using it – if they don’t get any requests for the bus to run, the bus won’t run. Upon getting a request, the bus will run according to the timetable here: https://www.town.mukawa.lg.jp/2025.htm. Call the Hobetsu Bus Reservation Center on 0145-45-2284 to reserve (please be prepared to speak Japanese). As of April 2020, buses could be requested at 11:30, 14:46, 16:15, 17:38 and 18:43. From Hobetsu Bus Terminal to Tomiuchi Bridge Bus Stop, it takes about 17 minutes. For the return from Toyota-bashi Bridge, one can catch the community bus (upon reservation) from the Toyota-dai-san Bus Stop (around here) bound for the Hobetsu Bus Terminal on the Hobetsu-sakae Line (穂別栄線) at 07:52, 09:28, 12:35, and 16:12 (as of April 2020).

By car: 

There’s room for about 5 cars at the end of the double-track road at the put in near Tomiuchi-bashi, here. Near the take-out at Toyota-bashi Bridge, there’s a parking area large enough for about 8 cars, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Hobetsu (穂別) – map no. NK-54-8-16-1
Official Topo Map 2: Iburi-toyota (胆振豊田) – map no. NK-54-8-16-4

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

The Mukawa River rises (and recedes) very quickly. With a watershed in the high mountains of the northern Hidaka Range, this is to be expected. Keep an eye on the weather, particularly in the summer months where Hokkaido is seeing typhoons and unseasonable rain more regularly.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Mukawa River

CampSites

None
Onsen nearby

If you’re headed back to Sapporo on Route 274, it’s likely you’ll drive past Jukai Onsen Hakua (樹海温泉はくあ, location, 520yen). This is a gorgeous onsen with nice outdoor baths. If you’ll be headed back to Tomiuchi for shuttling at the end of this section of river, then there’s also a super local onsen on the western side of the old train tracks – Tomiuchi Ikigai Center (富内生きがいセンター, location, 300yen).

Extra Resources

Guide Options

The Canadian canoe guiding outfit Guide House Canoa (支笏ガイドハウスかのあ), based at Lake Shikotsu, regularly take clients to the Mukawa River for day trips (see their Mukawa River daytrip page here). They have a number of experienced guides that will be able to work with you to organize a suitable canoe trip in the area.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

HokkaiCamp.com description of the route (translated)

In the vicinity of Tomiuchi, the continuously rough and wild Mukawa River transforms to a more placid flow, and becomes suitable even for beginners. There’s not really anywhere on this section that one might call a rapid. The river widens out, and it becomes a river suited to those paddlers seeking long touring days. That said, the river does lose its crystal clear character beyond Hobetsu Town. It’s possible to continue from here to the sea, but we’ve not yet had the chance to do so.

“I almost called everyone to cancel the trip,” mused Naoki, owner and operator of Guide House Canoa. “The water level is just below the flood control standby, but it’s holding steady. It’ll be exciting, but we’ll be OK,” he said.

We were a group of about seven canoes and one stand up paddle board, all previous ‘students’ of Guide House Canoa’s paddling school. Naoki organizes trips like this a few times a year. It just so happened that this trip coincided with heavy rain across southern Hokkaido. It would be some of the biggest water Haidee and I had ever paddled, so we were happy to be doing so under the watchful eye of two of Hokkaido’s most experienced Canadian canoe guides, as well as a troupe of much more experience paddlers that us.

We all met up at the Hobetsu-bashi Bridge in Hobetsu Town. Naoki expertly stacked the canoes on his van. One of the participants in today’s trip proudly showed off his most recent purchase – a mini e-bike he plans to use for shuttling.

After some test  rides, we headed off. We arrived at the put-in not long after.

In his usual calm, contemplative manner, Naoki gazed at the river. “Let me go take a look,” he said, and he paddled off towards a large wave-train next to a large boulder sticking up out of the river.

“I’ve never seen a wave train like that in that spot before,” said one of the other paddlers, who had paddled the Mukawa a number of times.

Naoki deftly ferried across the river and sent his 16ft canoe down the wave train, hardly taking on any water at all.

Soon it was our turn to upstream ferry across the river, plant a strong draw, and head into the wave train. The power and heft of the torrent was unnerving. The adrenaline was pumping. This was the biggest water we’d paddled since taking up canoeing five months earlier. We eddied in behind the massive block of granite, and Naoki gave us some pointers.

After a few more turns at ferrying, eddying in, and eddying out, we all started downstream. The river was wall-to-wall flow, with no eddies on the shoreline. A very light, misty rain was falling.

We’d already spent quite a lot of time doing drills on the wave train, so by the time we arrived at a nice gravel bar, it was time to fire up the gas cooker to cook up some lunch. Hearty soba noodle soup was on the menu.

After lunch, we pumped up the MRS packraft and Naoki took it out for a spin.

Playtime over, we started in earnest downriver, being pushed along quickly by the torrent. 

At around the 10km point, Naoki zoomed in on a bedrock feature around here, normally quite benign at usual water levels. Today, it was a great boiling wall of a wave, approaching 1m in depth from the bottom of the trough to the top of the wave downstream. Naoki took his canoe in sideways, and promptly disappeared for a moment, only to reappear, still upright, the inside of his canoe still dry. He had a go on a stand up paddle board too, with less resounding success.

Others joined in on the fun, with most coming out unscathed – only a few capsized, to be thrown rescue lines not too far downstream.

Haidee and I weren’t game to take on the wave together in our canoe.

Naoki motioned to me to get into his canoe. “You’ve never capsized?” he asked. “This might be your first time,” he joked.

I jumped in the front seat but he told me to get on my knees in the very center of the canoe. We paddled towards the wave. It was slightly mind-bending, seeing the drop in front of us. As we paddled upstream over the wave, I saw the bow of the canoe drop. The very top of the canoe dipped for a moment under the water. Naoki swung the canoe sideways. I had no idea what I should do, and the rest was a blur. Somehow, Naoki had kept us upright.

Later, a photo that Haidee took revealed how completely hapless I had been as a co-paddler with Naoki. While he was doing a commendable job leaning the canoe away from the current, I was sat there upright in the canoe, paddle waving helplessly in the air.

After almost an hour of playing in the wave in this particular spot, we were all starting to feel the cold. We carried on along to Toyota-bashi Bridge, took out, and the day was over.

For Haidee and I, this was a really valuable day out on the water, in conditions we’d not yet experienced. It boosted our confidence in big water. This was a good thing, because we were, in fact, on our way to the Kushiro River for a four day self-guided paddle from Lake Kussharo to the sea. We thanked Naoki and the others, and went on our way east.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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