Mukawa River (Niniu to Fukuyama)

鵡川 | Muk-ap

Posted on Jun 9, 2023

Posted on Jun 9, 2023

0 0


1 day(s)


5.7 mpk



Water clarity

Class III



Best season





CAUTION: The Mukawa River rises fast with rain. This section becomes technical with high water, with few options for escape from the river.

The Mukawa River 鵡川 is one of Hokkaido's wildest rivers, and this remote Niniu to Fukuyama ニニウ~福山 section is one of the river's most picturesque whitewater runs. Devoid of road access for the majority of the run, there's a real sense of remoteness. Gigantic boulders dot the river, and there's a challenging 2km boulder garden part way through the route, flanked by high white cliffs. If there's ever a river in Hokkaido to get away from it all, this section of the Mukawa is it. This section of river pushes at Class III+ in high water conditions, but is a beautiful CII+ to CIII run in normal levels.

We visited this route on May 22, 2022

Paddlers: Haidee, Timbah, Ben


Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: III
Engagement: E2
Remoteness: 5/5

River Details

This route is on Mu-kawa (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 50m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 5.7 mpk (30.10 FPM).

Weather: weather forecast for Mu-kawa

Ideal water level: 168.70m
Water level paddled 168.55m
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 – still OK in a packraft though. Above that, 168.85 and above, things will be very sporty. We’d consider not running it even in packrafts above 169.20 on the guage.

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 Mukawa starts about 5km southwest of the small mountain settlement of Shimukappu Village.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

The put-in for this section is the main take-out for a 6km whitewater rafting course that starts upstream nearer to Shimukappu. On the way to the put in, along the narrow, sometimes gravel road, you’ll pass one of Hokkaido’s premiere rock-climbing crags, Akaiwa 赤岩 (location), literally, Red Rock. The name comes from the curious red-colored boulders and rock in the rea.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

The take-out is on the river right under the Fukuyama-ohashi 福山大橋 (location), about 16km downstream from the put-in. From the 7km-point along this section of the Mukawa, there’s nowhere else practical to take out, unless you’re happy with bush-bashing and a very long walk along an abandoned, closed-to-traffic road.

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 16km stretch of this whitewater section of the Mukawa is quite technical in an open-deck canoe, but an absolute blast in a packraft or ducky, even for relative beginners. For experienced hardshell kayakers, it’s a pleasant float down a relatively untouched section of river. In packrafts in low summer water levels, we didn’t scout anything on our first-ever run down this section of river.

The above applies only to summer or moderately elevated river levels, however. There’s a 2km crux section of the river consisting of a boulder garden with very large boulders. In normal river levels, this is a fun slalom course. In higher river levels, it’s best assumed to be an experts-only run. There are some sections where in higher water levels portages are not possible – paddlers will need to be willing to running problems as they encounter them. That said, even the crux section of the river is scoutable – be prepared for some boulder-clambering.

Route description

From the put-in, you’ll enjoy a number of CII+ rapids from the outset to Niniu-bashi ニニウ橋, the large expressway bridge 2km downstream. The river then relaxes for about 3km to just past the next expressway overpass. At the 7km mark, there’s the ‘Backflip Rapids’ (location; named by a local canoeist) – open-deck paddlers in particular may wish to scout these CII/CIII- rapids.

Small swifts continue, with slow water in between, until the 10km mark. Here, the crux of the route begins – a 2km sustained boulder garden which we would describe as CII+/CIII- in normal water conditions (start of crux is here). In an open-deck canoe,  there is plenty of opportunity for the inexperienced to wrap their canoe on this section – allow plenty of time for scouting. In a packraft, for upper beginners with experienced friends, or for intermediate paddlers and above, this is a fun natural slalom course. In higher water, this crux section gets gnarly very quickly. On the river left throughout the crux is a beautiful high sloping cliff that drops straight to the water. A really beautiful location.

Below the crux, the river serves up well-spaced CII to CII+ rapids here and there until just before the take out at Fukuyama-ohashi Bridge. About 500m upstream of the bridge (here) is one last CII+/CIII- drop that might catch open-deck paddlers off guard. Take out on river right, just under the bridge.

Route Timing
Trip time: 5hrs 0min

If ever there’s a section of river to take your time on, it’s this one. There are a number of beautiful gravel beaches, large rocks, and a general away-from-it-all feeling. Pack a lunch and make a day of it.


Public transport:

There is no public transport to this route.

By car: 

There is room for parking at the put-in and take-out – access the riverside via gravel double-track. At the put-in, paddlers can park to the side of the wide-ish gravel area next to the river. Park considerably, as far to the side of the gravel area as possible – rafting operations use this gravel area to turn vehicles around and load rafts. At the take out, there is plenty of room for parking multiple vehicles under the bridge on the river right.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Niniu (ニニウ) – map no. NK-54-8-11-3
Official Topo Map 2: Iburifukuyama (胆振福山) – map no. NK-54-8-11-4

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

As mentioned above, this section of river is quite remote. While there is an abandoned road running the length of this section on the river right, this road is not easily accessible by vehicle. Mobile phone reception is also very patchy beyond the 7km mark. That leaves about 10km of paddling with very little communication with the outside world. Paddlers should be self-sufficient and ideally carry an alternative means of communication – GPS messengers are a good option (see our deep-dive on PLBs in Japan here). Note also that the river difficulty goes from 0 to 100 very fast with heavy rain, with little option for escape once committed.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Mu-kawa


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

The Book of Leisurely Hokkaido Rivers by Ishimoto (2009), p. 72-73

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 Furano, Hokkaido Outdoor Adventures, River 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.

We were on a roll this weekend. Yesterday, we paddled an upper portion of the Mukawa, about 15km upstream from Shimukappu. It had been a very leisurely paddle. One small rock garden, but beyond that, just some swifts and a fun rock-bed chute. Haidee and I were in the double packraft, so it was a super relaxing, stress-free paddle.

Ben, Haidee and I stayed at Timbah’s place in Shimukappu that night, and so we had a good early morning start.

As predicted, the shuttle was a circuitous mission from Shimukappu to Fukuyama and back. About 1.5hrs return. We were all keen to get on the water once all that was taken care of.

As we were getting ready to push off at the put-in, a Nepalese guide from one of the rafting outfits arrived. He was waiting for the rafters to arrive from upstream. “Do you think we’d be OK padding the Akaiwa Gorge in the packraft and duckies?” I asked.

He looked a bit sceptical.

“Maybe in this water level it would be challenging, but OK,” he replied.

Today we were paddling the less gnarly section below the gorge. The gorge will have to wait for another day…

As soon as we set off, we were dodging boulders. Easy work in the packraft, but at this water level, we would have been scraping quite a lot in our open-deck canoe.

It didn’t take too long to leave the concrete behind, and start to feel what everyone loves so much about the Mukawa. Wild rocky shorelines. Untamed forest.

The swifts so far at this water level were more than manageable.

On one bend, as we were having a snack as we floated in an eddy, a curious fox came trotting along the edge of the river. It seemed to be completely nonplussed at our presence.

This section of the Mukawa just feels different from any other river we’ve paddled in Hokkaido. It really has those nice remote vibes.

The river continued its gentle meander around the large bend between the two towering expressway bridges.

A few hundred meters upstream of the start of the crux section, we pulled up on the shore and got stuck into the watermelon Haidee and I had been carrying. It was a nice relaxing prelude to the busily fun paddling to come.

About 300m before the crux, as marked on our map, the river became busier – more rocks to dodge and lines to pick. At this water level, however, we were more concerned with hitting the right gap in order to maximize water underneath us. For late May, the river was surprisingly low.

And then the real fun began. The river narrowed. The boulders got bigger. The lines more committing.

Ben flipped his ducky on a small drop. He got flushed downstream, the ducky was caught in an eddy. Good wholesome fun.

Overall, it would have been nice to have an extra 20cm or so of water in the river. As it was, however, we made our own fun.

And then as if the sky had heard my grumbles about the water level, it started raining. Hard. Thunder and lightning. Haidee and I had been resenting our drysuits for most of the day, but were now happy to be be dry in the downpour.

Overall, this run was more straightforward – especially in the packraft – than Haidee and I had been psyching ourselves up for. For a long time we’d viewed this section of river from the perspective of running it in the open deck canoe. After experiencing it in the packraft, I’d say the crux would be a tricky paddle in the canoe, dodging rocks. But other than that, it would be a fairly straightforward paddle.

And that sense of remoteness. Really a special feature of this section of river.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Mukawa River (Niniu to Fukuyama) 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.