Nubinai River Packrafting and Canoe Route

ヌビナイ川 | Nupi-nay

Posted on Oct 30, 2020

Posted on Oct 30, 2020

1 0


1 day(s)


10 mpk



Water clarity

Class II+



Best season





The Nubinai River (ヌビナイ川) is a wild, pristine waterway flowing from high up in the eastern reaches of the Hidaka mountains. With a good water level, it is easily one of Hokkaido's most picturesque rivers, with some enjoyable and sometimes technical whitewater rapids. Most of this section of the river is flanked by high cliffs, adding to a feeling of wilderness. The entire riverbed is made up of almost perfectly spherical mini-boulders, which are nothing short of spectacular when seen through the river's crystal clear water. This section suffers from a lack of water in the summer season, so it's best run in spring or after heavy rain in the autumn.

Many thanks to the Hokkaido Wilderness Canoe Club for letting us tag along.


Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: II+
Remoteness: 5/5

River Details

This route is on Nubinai River (ヌビナイ川), or Nupi-nay in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 27.7km in total length. This section of the river is between 10m and 75m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 10 mpk (52.80 FPM).

Weather: weather forecast for Nubinai River

Ideal water level: 102.85m
Water level paddled 102.82m
Water level notes: The Nubinai often suffers from low water levels, particularly in the summer months. The river is best run after a good typhoon cycle in the autumn, or in late spring.

The Nubinai River flows towards the southeast from high up in the central Hidaka mountain range in central Hokkaido.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

Put in just downstream from the large dam about 900m along the gravel section of the minor road heading up into the Hidaka range. There’s a small gravel area to park a few cars, followed by a short walk down a 4WD track to the river bed.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

Take out at the Kamui Kotan Campground lower camping area (here) about 400m past Oda-bashi Bridge.

General notes

This impossibly pristine river is usually a tough nut to crack, often suffering from low water levels. Even if the gauge is showing less than 102.40m though, it’s worth driving down to the put in just to enjoy the away-from-it-all vibe of the deep gorge. If doing the route in a packraft, paddlers will unlikely find anything too challenging – apart from the drop at the 5km mark – but do watch out for downed trees along the way. Paddlers in larger open-deck canoes will be quite busy, however. Even at higher water levels, the rapids can be bony. That said, the rocks on the riverbed tend to be almost-perfect spheres which will likely deflect a canoe rather than gouging it.

  • Difficulty: This is a very ‘busy’ route, with quite a lot of gradient as far as Hokkaido rivers go. Suited for intermediate paddlers and up, paddlers should be confident in their canoe maneuvering skills and self-rescue techniques.
Route description

Start from just below the large dam and strap in for the ride. There’s so many moderately-long rapids along this route that noting all of them would be somewhat of a task. You’ll be torn between admiring the beautiful gorge walls, the crystal clear water, and dodging rocks on the river bed. The main concern common to all sets of rapids are the bony entrances. As mentioned above, however, the rocks themselves are very smooth and round. Most about 50cm in diameter, most paddlers will find themselves deflected rather than impacted. The crux of the route is at the 5km mark with a solid Class 3 drop. The approach is one 150m long Class 2 set of rapids with boulders to dodge, so pull up to the left early and take a walk to scout your line. Beyond that Class 3 drop the river widens a little, with a few more downed trees to watch out for. At the 10km mark the Nubinai joins the Rekifune River for the last 1km paddle to the Kamui Kotan Campground.

Route Timing
Trip time: 4hrs 0min

At only 11km, this is a relatively short section of river, but there are a few rapids that would be best scouted before running. To be safe we’d recommend starting early in the day to allow for any unforseen issues.


Public transport:

There is no public transport to this route.

By car: 

There’s plenty of parking both at the put in and the take out at Kamui Kotan Campground. If not staying at the campground, you’ll need to park up at the upper carpark, here. When driving down into the campground to pick up boats, let the campground staff know that you’ll be in and out, rather than staying (although we do highly recommend staying – one of the best campgrounds in Hokkaido for paddlers).

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Kaishin (開進) – map no. NK-54-3-14-1
Official Topo Map 2: Oda (尾田) – map no. NK-54-3-13-2

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

This is a relatively remote route, with at least half of the route in a deep gorge – escape routes are limited, so paddlers need to be self-sufficient.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Nubinai River


Kamui Kotan Park Campground (カムイコタン公園キャンプ場)
Kamui Kotan Park Campground is a large, well-kept campground with very good access to the river. Billed as ‘a great place to enjoy canoeing‘, it is a perfect spot to drop by on your way down the Rekifune River. Location: 42.5248 N / 143.19192 E | 600 yen per person | Open: Jun-Sep | Staff hours: 7:30am till 6:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Taiki Town Public Baths (大樹町大樹公衆浴場) | 200yen | 9km from campground
Onsen nearby

This eastern side of the Hidaka foothills is a little scant on natural hotsprings. There’s a traditional public bath in Taiki Town, here (大樹町大樹公衆浴場, 200yen per person). Bansei Onsen (晩成温泉location, 500yen) is also a nice option if you’ve got the time and transport to get there. The closest onsen to the Kamui Kotan Campground (20km away) is the Sarabetsu Village Fukushi-no-sato Onsen (福祉の里温泉location, 420yen), with large outdoor hot pools and sauna.

Extra Resources
  • See HokkaiCamp’s write-up of the Nubinai River (in Japanese), here.

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Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes description of the route (translated)

Nubinai River is famous among hardcore canyoners, known as being one of the most beautiful creeks in Hokkaido. Seeing photos of the upstream waterfalls and pools are breathtaking in their beauty. The river only becomes suitable for canoeing far downstream from those upper gems, but the river doesn’t lose its beauty even downstream. Huge, round, gem-like boulders scatter the riverbed, so paddlers will likely struggle come high or low water, but despite the effort it’s a river worth visiting.

Haidee and I were on a planned four day packraft trip down the Rekifune River. On the second day, we found out the Hokkaido Wilderness Canoe Club were at the Kamui Kotan Campground, for their annual September gathering. I knew a few of the members, to wandered over to say hi.

“We’re hitting the Nubinai tomorrow,” said my friend Ryo. “Why don’t you come along?”

I hastily accepted the invitation, and after a quick vetting by the trip’s leader, we were officially taken into the fold as a guest.

“Since you’ll be a guest, it’s best that you stay at the tail end of the group on the river, but otherwise just enjoy,” said the leader.

So the next day, we drove in convoy with the 40 other paddlers to the put in. Efficiency would be an understatement when it comes to how well organized the club was. Haidee and I were some of the first to arrive at the put in, but the last to leave to drive our car back to the take-out. Everyone was clearly in a hurry to get on the water.

We hurried back to the campground, and there was a car waiting to take us back to the put in.

“This is our largest event in the history of the club,” the event’s leader told us. “43 people in total is a huge number to have on the river at the same time. It should be an interesting day!”

At the put in, it was polite pandemonium.

Orderly chaos.

A really nice, welcoming bunch of people.

After a quick pre-trip briefing on safety and organization on the river, as well as the obligatory group photo, the group peeled off one by one onto the river. We were immediately taken aback at the clarity of the water, despite the relatively high water level.

“I’ve never seen such perfect conditions on the Nubinai before,” Takahashi-san from mused.

More or less straight from the start, we were busy with swifts and rapids. In the packraft, they were easy and fun. If we had been in our 16ft open-deck canoe, my heart would have been racing a bit more!

With over 35 boats on the water, it was a pretty relaxed pace to say the least. In total, it would take the group over five hours to cover the 11km or so from the put in to the campground. After each set of rapids, everyone would pull up on the side of the river and wait for everyone to safely pass through before the whole group would then carry on again.

The crux of the route came about half way through the day, with a solid Class 3 drop, preceded by a long Class 2+ approach. I sent the drone up to get some footage of the carnage.

“This is the Capsize Festival time,” quipped a number of the paddlers, all leaning over my shoulder to see their mates flounder in the whitewater.

Soon enough, it was time for Haidee and I to send it over the small waterfall. Not a problem at all in the packraft. Would have been quite the different story in our open-deck canoe.

Along the way, there were at least three spots where we had to portage around river-wide strainers. They were easy to spot, but nonetheless dangerous.

Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable day out with Hokkaido’s longest-running whitewater canoe club – an absolute privilege to be welcomed into the fold for a day. Thank you very much to the Hokkaido Wilderness Canoe Club!

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Nubinai River Packrafting and Canoe Route 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.