Mukawa River Overnight Canoeing

鵡川 | Muk-ap

Posted on Jan 8, 2021
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Posted on Jan 8, 2021

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Reading time: 4 min
31km

Distance

2 day(s)

Time

2.15 mpk

Gradient

3/5

Water clarity

Class II

Difficulty

May-Oct

Best season

This is a leisurely beginner-friendly overnight canoe route on the Mukawa River 鵡川, only two hours drive east from Sapporo City. The route starts from Tomiuchi, where the river transforms to a gentle meander - a far cry from the steep whitewater further upstream. Paddlers will enjoy deep forested river banks, teeming with wildlife. Keep an eye out for native ezo deer wading across the river, as well as storks and other wild birds. There are a number of convenient gravel banks to camp on along the way. In this route, we recommend taking out before the first major weir on the river.

We visited this route on Aug 08, 2020

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 1.5m/s to 2.5m/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: #N/Am and receding. No river level warnings issued. Last updated #N/A (Source).

Ideal water level: 53.60m
Water level paddled 53.47m
Water level notes: The Mukawa is known to rise fast and drop fast – its catchment area is deep in the steep Hidaka Range. It suffers from low water levels in the height of summer. When we ran it at 53.47m at the Hobetsu Gauge, it was only just high enough for our heavily laden canoes. 53.6m or higher would allow for a more comfortable trip.
Location

The Mukawa River is a major waterway flowing from deep in the northern Hidaka Range out to the Pacific Ocean east of Tomakomai, at the small town of Mukawa.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

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), about 20 minutes north along the river from Hobetsu Town.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

It’s possible to paddle all the way to the sea on the Mukawa, but there are two large weirs along the way. Therefore, we opted to take out just before the first of the two weirs, here. Note, however, that the weir was raised when we did this route, making the aforementioned location the most convenient spot. That said, it did require about 100m of wading through waist high grass to where we parked our car (here). If the weir is not raised, it may be more practical to take out on the river right side of the weir, here. We recommend allowing plenty of time to scout take-out options before getting on the water.

General notes

The Mukawa is well known in the Hokkaido paddling community. It’s a true has-everything river, with steep Grade 3-4 bouldery rapids upstream, and a true beginner-friendly lower section perfect for a leisurely overnight trip. We’ve also paddled part of this lower section in near-flood conditions – see that route/report here. It can get pretty hairy in high water, but on the whole, it’s a relatively well behaved river. There’s a plethora of wild river camping options along the way with plenty of driftwood available for a relaxing summer campfire.

Route description

If water levels are low, put in just below the rapids just downstream of the Tomiuchi Bridge. If the river has a good flow to it, these Grade 2+ rapids can be fun, so consider dropping your gear downstream, and playing in the rapids unloaded for a bit before setting off in earnest. These rapids are the biggest they get on this lower section of the river.

In the height of summer, you’ll find yourself picking a line carefully through the shallows after the first bend. This only lasts for about 100m though, and past that there’s nothing to drastically shallow until Hobetsu. In any case, the river at this point is wide enough that even relative beginners can make paddling errors and get away with them for the most part. When we were there in August 2020, there weren’t any strainers to speak of in or at the sides of the river.

In about 8km, you’ll paddle through the sleepy town of Hobetsu. Access the town from the river right side just upsttream from Hobetsu-bashi Bridge. It’s a 5 minute walk to a convenience store. Below Hobetsu-bashi Bridge is a 300m section of shallow bedrock. In the height of summer, some lining may be needed.

Beyond Hobetsu, start keeping a look out for a spot to set up camp for the night. Keep in mind that the river can rise quickly with rain further upstream, so do check the weather forecast for Shimukappu before making any camp decisions. Regardless of the weather forecast, however, make sure to pick a well raised up spot, with raised access to the riverbank. We camped about 4km downriver from Hobetsu, here, but this is but one of the many options along the way.

From Hobetsu to the first weir on the river, there’s not much in the way of rapids, apart from perhaps one Class 2 set about 2.5km downstream from Toyota-bashi bridge, here. As mentioned above, the take-out near the weir can be awkward, so make sure to scout the takeout in advance.

Route Timing
Day 1: 3hrs 0min
Day 2: 2hrs 58min

The Mukawa is perfect for a very leisurely overnight trip, so we recommend taking it easy on both days. Expect about 2-3 hours paddling each day.

Transport

Public transport:

The put in at Tomiuchi-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: http://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).

There’s no public transport options from the take-out. If you’re in a packraft, we’d recommend portaging around the weirs and paddling all the way to the ocean at Mukawa Town, where there’s plenty of inter-city bus options from the michi-no-eki, here, and the Mukawa JR train station here, both about 10 minutes walk from the river.

By car: 

There’s space for about three or four cars at the put in, here. For the take-out, you’ll need to allow time to scout the best spot according to whether the weir is raised or not. Options include upstream of the bridge here, or to the river right of the weir downstream of the bridge, here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Hobetsu (穂別) – map no. NK-54-8-16-1
Official Topo Map 2: Iburitoyota (胆振豊田) – map no. NK-54-8-16-4
Official Topo Map 3: Asahioka (旭岡) – map no. NK-54-9-13-3

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). If you opt to head all the way to the ocean, then the Mukawa Onsen むかわ温泉 四季の湯 (location, 520yen) is our recommendation – they have an attached restaurant, and you can camp in the field out the front.

Extra Resources

Hokkaido Canoe Touring Book by Tamata (1993), pp. 122-135.

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.

Haidee and I had paddled part of this section of river previously with a group from Canoa. It may well have been a completely different river though. On that day, the river was at almost-flood levels, almost a meter higher than today’s mid-summer levels. While on that day the whole width of the river had been covered with water, today it was a rather sedate trickle on the river left only.

We certainly weren’t complaining too much. Saoka and Akiko were beginner paddlers, so we’d take scraping-bottom levels any day over the grand torrent we’d experienced previously.

It was a hot day today. By the time we got all the canoes down to the river and packed, it was 10am.

The weather was a model of perfection though. We were all excited by the prospect of a leisurely overnighter on the grand Mukawa.

For Haidee and I, the river was pretty straight forward. We led the way, with Saoka and Akiko following. They did pretty well. Even avoiding some wrappable rocks, and threading the needle through a must-hit gap in a ledge. Commendable.

By the time we’d made it to one of the campspots I’d scouted on Google Earth, we were all ready to relax into a leisurely camp. It was only 3pm, but this would allow plenty of time for me to bake the bread dough I’d brought with me. Haidee had chastised me for bringing a stupidly heavy Dutch oven for the purpose, and this was hardly unfounded. Our canoe appeared to be scraping the river bed much more than the other canoe.

With camp set up, we got a fire going, and enjoyed cooking over the embers.

I clearly had put too many coals on the Dutch oven lid, as the top of the loaf was well charred, despite having a couple of layers of aluminum foil on top of the loaf top to insulate it a bit. It wasn’t ruined though, and we enjoyed some freshly baked bread along with sausages and veges cooked in the Dutch oven afterwards.

As night fell, we lounged back and enjoyed the remainder of the day. Just after dark, we were amazed to see one lonely firefly zigzag its way through our camp. We’d not seen a firefly in many years, so that was a real treat.

The next morning, we packed up camp early, so that Akiko could get back to Sapporo for a 2pm appointment. The remainder of the route was even more straight forward than the first half.

But.

The horeseflies.

Oh the horseflies.

They were horrid. The worst I’ve ever experienced in Hokkaido. The merino wool long-sleeve shirt I was wearing was useless against them. I was getting eaten alive. Haidee, with her insect-proof shirt was hardly being bothered at all. By the end of the morning, my end of the canoe was a veritable horsefly graveyard. Many a horsefly died a swift death.

This final lower half of the route was also teeming with wildlife. Lots of deer crossing the river, and plenty of birdlife.

A perfect weekend antidote to the business of Sapporo City.

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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Mukawa River Overnight Canoeing Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

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.