Mukawa River (Fukuyama to Tomiuchi)

鵡川 | Muk-ap

Posted on Nov 14, 2023

Posted on Nov 14, 2023

0 0


0.5 day(s)


5.5 mpk



Water clarity

Class III



Best season





The Mukawa River 鵡川 is one of Hokkaido's premiere whitewater rivers, with a 40km+ middle section consisting of regular CIII rapids, very remote access, and numerous boulder gardens. This section from Fukuyama 福山 to Tomiuchi 富内 is the lower-most section of the rowdy part of the Mukawa, but does not let up in terms of descent. Expect house-sized boulders, a very real feeling of remoteness, and frequent long rapids. Supremely packraftable, and a great challenge for experienced open-deck canoeists.

Koharu Fujita contributed photos to this post


Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: III
Engagement: E4
Remoteness: 5/5

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 3m and 50m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 5.5 mpk (29.04 FPM).

Weather: weather forecast for Mukawa River

Ideal water level: 168.60m
Water level paddled 168.40m
Water level notes: Generally speaking, anything between 168.55 and 168.80 will allow for a fun run. Below that, and the river will be boney. Above that, 168.85 and above, things will be very sporty. We’d consider not running it even in packrafts above 169.30 on the gauge.

The Mukawa River is a major waterway flowing from deep in the northern Hidaka Range in western-central Hokkaido, southwards out to the Pacific Ocean east of Tomakomai on Hokkaido’s southern coast. This section of the river flows directly south from a remote section of National Highway 274, about 10km east of the small settlement of Hobetsu.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

The put-in for this section of the Mukawa is on river-right under Fukuyama-ohashi Bridge 福山大橋, here. There’s a rough gravel road down to the gravel riverbed with room to turn around under the bridge.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

The lower-most take-out location is about 100m downstream from Tomiuchi-bashi Bridge 富内橋, here, just south of the Tomiuchi settlement. This lower take-out does involve more slow-moving water paddling, however. If you’d prefer to only paddle the best stuff, without the last 4km or so of slower paddling, then it’s also possible to take out around here on river-right. There’s a tiny space off the side of Route 610 here where you could park one vehicle. Note that access to the riverside may be overgrown, so we suggest scouting this take-out well before committing to it.

General notes

The 40km or so stretch of the Mukawa River from Shimukappu Village (location) to Tomiuchi settlement (location) is, without a doubt, one of Hokkaido’s most captivating sections of whitewater river. Above Shimukapppu, the river is a gentle meander along a high plateau. Below Tomiuchi, the river saunters across the plains to the Pacific Ocean. In between, the river transforms into a constricted, boulder-strewn, remote whitewater playground. Riversides are untouched, and cliffs tower over the paddler below. Mercifully, it’s also largely free of concrete monstrosities that otherwise plague many other Hokkaido rivers.

This 17km stretch of whitewater between Fukuyama and Tomiuchi is essentially the last of the whitewater on the Mukawa. Beyond this section, there’s just under 50km of CI to CII river until the river hits the Pacific Ocean. Despite being the last of the whitewater, the gradient doesn’t let up much. The rapids are long and relatively steep, but still only top out at around CIII in normal water flows. Between rapids are relaxed sections of river to catch your breath.

Difficulty on this section of the Mukawa will depend greatly on water levels. In height-of-summer low water flows, you’ll be doing more rock-dodging than anything else. The river rises fast with rain however, and at elevated levels, open-deck canoeists will have their hands full. In a packraft in most levels, it’s just a matter of pointing your raft downstream and enjoying the ride. For experienced kayakers in hard-shell kayaks, the rapids will be suitably fun, with the main attraction being the overall remoteness of the paddle which is a rarity in Japan.

  • Rapids: In the interactive map on this page, and the downloadable PDF map, we’ve marked some of the more significant rapids in this section of river. These are not the only rapids, however, and it’s fair to say the river changes fairly regularly with each seasonal flood. Take our rapids markings with a grain of salt and make sure to do your own scouting.
Route description

From the Fukuyama-bashi Bridge 福山橋, you’ve got about 1.5km of swifts and relaxing moving water before the rapids start in earnest. After that, rapids randing from CII to CIII come every 500m or so. Most are relatively straightforward, but can have large rocks in the middle of them, sometimes only just concealed in the whitewater. If you’re paddling an open-deck canoe, there may be frequent scouting missions required. Scouting is easy though, as there’s usually a gravel beach to one side of the river.

The first significant rapids come at just under 7km from the put-in. A set of pushy rapids about 150m long will keep paddlers on their toes. Another 1km downstream you’ll see an old covered roadway slowly being consumed by the eroding cliffs above. Once again there’s a long (300m+) set of rapids, but these are generally suited to pointing downstream and paddling hard.

At the 8.3km mark, there’s an old weir to contend with. At lower river levels, this can be run on river-right, through the gate. At higher levels, however, a strong backwash can appear. Also note on the left of the opening is jagged steel plate. We’d generally recommend scouting the opening before running it. Another 1km downstream from the old weir is what some paddlers refer to as the Crux Rapids. The river flows left to right over a messy, rocky ledge here. This could be very tricky in an open-deck canoe at lower water levels. Just after this is a significant (but fun) boulder garden, which could be tricky in higher water levels.

At 10km is the derelict Fukuyama Hydroelectric Power Station. This old building is worth stopping at to take a look around if you have time. It’s a bit of a scramble from the river up to the building.

We haven’t marked any rapids beyond the old power station, but they certainly do exist. Pray for higher rather than lower water, as they’re most certainly easier when the water is higher, as the large rocks will be submerged. The final 3km or so to the take-out at Tomiuchi is very relaxed. The rapids are over and it’s now a gentle meander to the take-out about 100m downstream of the Tomiuchi Bridge on river right.

Route Timing
Trip time: 3hrs 30min

In a double duckie with two strong paddlers, we smashed out this section in just under three hours, including a 15-minute walk around the derelict hydro power station. With a larger group with less experienced paddlers, or if you’re paddling an open-deck canoe where more scouting is required, we’d recommend allowing around at least five hours.


Public transport:

There is no public transport to this route.

By car: 

If there’s one thing that will put most paddlers off this section of river, it’s the shuttle. For this one 17km stretch of river, the shuttle is a circuitous 35km (see it here). The Route 610 marked on the map does not connect from Fukuyama to Tomiuchi. As for parking, there is room for parking at the put-in and take-out – access the riverside at the put-in (here) via a short gravel double-track. There’s plenty of room to park under the bridge. Parking at the take-out (here) is more limited – two cars at a push could park in the turn-around area at the end of the gravel road on the raised stopbank. If more parking is required, consider parking nearby at the old train station in the Tomiuchi settlement here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Iburifukuyama (胆振福山) – map no. NK-54-8-11-4
Official Topo Map 2: Niseu (仁世宇) – map no. NK-54-8-12-3
Official Topo Map 3: Hobetsu (穂別) – map no. NK-54-8-16-1

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 concern on this section of the Mukawa is difficulty of access to the river. Route 610 along the river is more or less destroyed and is impassible by vehicle. Paddlers should be self-reliant. There is very little cellular reception on the river – take an alternative form of communications such as a satellite messenger (SPOT or Garmin inReach). Note that the Mukawa River is known for rising quickly after heavy rain.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Mukawa River


Onsen nearby

If your post-paddle driving takes you back towards Sapporo City, then we recommend dropping in to the Jukai Onsen Hakua 樹海温泉はくあ (location, 520yen) in Hobetsu Village on Route 274 (about 10km west of the take-out). They have lovely outdoor baths, and there’s a post-office attached, curiously. If you’re headed back to Shimukappu, then we’d recommend Yunosawa Mori-no-shiki Onsen 湯の沢森の四季温泉 (location, 550yen). There’s no outdoor baths, but the attached restaurant has great food at a reasonable price.

Extra Resources

Guide Options

There are a number of whitewater guiding services that run paddling tours on the Mukawa River. All offer rafting, and a few may also be able to arrange guided kayaking trips. Check out the following: Wokkys FuranoHokkaido Outdoor AdventuresRiver Trip, and Dolphins.

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Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes description of the route (translated)

Downstream from Shimukappu is the Akaiwa Gorge, which is only suited to expert paddlers, so ordinary paddlers generally start from the Niniu area. Because of the long downstream distance from Niniu to Tomiuchi, the only sections that can be descended in a day’s paddling are either upstream or downstream from the Fukuyama Bridge. Both sections have a high degree of difficulty, with a series of rapids littered with large rocks. Nevertheless, if you have the skills to control the direction of an open-deck canoe in fast currents, it’s possible to take on the challenge in conjunction with veteran paddlers. The attraction of this section of the river is not only the fun of descending the rapids, but also the dynamic scenery of the surrounding mountains. It is a large river, so you can enjoy the scenery unobstructed by foliage blocking the river. Another attraction is the high degree of naturalness. The area is thick with signs of bears. There is a narrow gravel road along the river, but it has been closed for a long time due to landslides and there is no prospect it being reopened. The only way into this remote mountainous area is now by canoe down the river. As the roads along the river are impassable, it’s impossible to access the river by vehicle.

A paddling date with Timbah is always a good time.A paddling date with Timbah on the Mukawa River…now that’s a super good time. This time, Timbah brought along his duckie raft inflatable double kayak.

The Beast.

Koharu graciously helped us with the inflation, shuttle, and some put-in photos.

Image by Koharu Fujita
Image by Koharu Fujita
Image by Koharu Fujita

This was the first time for the both of us to paddle this section of the Mukawa. I’d heard it was on a similar level of rowdiness to the section above the Fukuyama Bridge (see that section here). Timbah, on the other hand, appeared to be assuming it would be a gentle meander along a slow-moving creek.

“This is dropping much faster than I’d expected!” he yelled over the roar of the second of many rapids we hit that day.

Indeed, it started off fairly mild, with an easy CII swift around the first bend.

Image by Koharu Fujita

That first CII swift quickly felt like the last swift of the day. First up was a fun boulder garden culminating with a tight chute between two large boulders.

Following that, we were having so much fun smashing down the rapids that I didn’t even think to mark all the rapids. The water level was sublime, the inflatable was the proverbial bus through the rapids, and the autumn colors were lovely.

The derelict road shelter rapids were memorable.

Things got properly exciting when we got to the old weir. In my initial draft GPX for this section of river, I’d marked this as MUST SCOUT. I didn’t take my own advice, and we just dove head-first into it, almost capsizing.

Note the jagged plate steel on the left :-/

Timbah in the stern kept us upright however, and we got through unscathed.

A highlight of this section of river is the old derelict Fukuyama hydroelectric power station. I assume it was fed by water from the old weir, as that weir is the only one on the Mukawa this high up on the river.

“Post-apocalyptic!” yelled Timbah as we approached.

We pulled over and scrambled up to the old building for a look.

Inside, it appeared as though the place was now a luxury sleeping spot for the deer. The floors were littered with deer droppings.

Beyond the derelict power station were a few more rapids before the river calmed down for the last 2-3km before the take-out.

Paddling this section of the Mukawa means we only have one more rowdy section (between Shimukappu and Niniu) and one final slow-water paddle to the ocean to do before we’ve paddled the entire paddleable length of this fantastic river.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Mukawa River (Fukuyama to Tomiuchi) Difficulty Rating





Vertical Gain



Time ascending













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.