Onuma Quasi-National Park Overnight Canoeing

大沼 | Poro-to

Posted on Apr 9, 2020

Posted on Apr 9, 2020

0 0


2 day(s)





Water clarity




Best season





Lake Onuma (大沼) is a natural lake just north of Hakodate in southern Hokkaido. It's a haven for birds, and has some of the most interesting island-dotted shoreline of any lake in Hokkaido. With easy put-in access at the western end of the lake, it's really easy to make this an overnight canoe camping trip. The campground at the eastern end of the lake is easily accessible by car too, if you'd prefer to base yourself there. The active volcano Komaga-take (駒ヶ岳, 1131m) towers in the distance, making for an impressive backdrop.

We visited this route on Nov 10, 2019


Route Map

Need to know details

Lake Details

This route is on Lake Onuma (大沼), or Poro-to in the Ainu indigenous language. The lake is a natural lake, about 1km wide and 5km long. It has a shoreline of 20km and a maximum depth of 13m (6m average). The lake is at 130m above sea level and water visibility is 1.4m.


Lake Onuma is a prominent large lake about 30km north of Hakodate City in southern Hokkaido. While it might feel natural to put in somewhere near all the duck boats and tourist boats in the Onuma Township, we struggled to find either a) a boat ramp and b) anyone to assist us in finding one. The tourist duckboat operators turned their nose up at us, and generally the area felt a little unwelcoming and rushed – this is a tourist trap for rowdy busloads of tourists from East Asia. In the end, we put in at a lovely quiet spot (here) next to some public toilet just northwest of the township, near the upmarket Table de Rivage restaurant. There’s room for parking about 5 cars next to the toilets.

General notes

This area in southern Hokkaido is one of the last to see deep winter temperatures, and one of the first to experience the spring thaw. Therefore, it’s one of the best spots for eeking out the last (or first) of the Hokkaido canoeing season. The lake itself is probably best appreciated for its small islands dotted along the southern shoreline. These provide shelter and stimulation on this flatwater trip. The towering volcano to the north – Hokkaido Koma-ga-take (駒ヶ岳, 1131m) is also an impressive sight on a clear day. Being fans of canoe camping, we recommend parking your car (or getting off the train) at the western end (Onuma Township end) of the lake, and canoeing to the Higashi Onuma Campground to make this a nice overnighter. While Lake Onuma is called a lake in English, the direct translation of Onuma is large pond – this describes the water fairly well, particularly at the campground, so don’t expect too much inspiration as far as swimming potential goes.

Route description

Launch from the small gravel put in location (here) near the Table de Rivage restaurant. Consult the weather for the wind direction, and decide if you’ll do the trip clockwise or anti-clockwise. We had stiff west-northwesterlies forecast for our first day, so we choose to approach the campground from the northern shoreline. This gave us a relatively sheltered paddle in parts, and a nice brisk tailwind in others. About half way along the northern shoreline is a nice cove, with ponds just along a short walking trail (around here). From there, it’s not much further to the campground. The campground consists of a nicely sloping grass area leading down to a sandy beach – canoes can be pulled up onto the beach and into the campground.

From the campground, it’s about 3km paddle west along the southern shoreline to get to the first bunch of islands. Paddling around and through these islands is a real treat – the vegetation looks monolithic and old. Further around you’ll come to the even more impressively island-dotted area around the main Onuma Township. Unfortunately, this area is not particularly canoe-friendly, with tourist boats (both slow-boats and speed-boats) coming in and out. For safety, we recommend sitting for a few minutes to get a feel for the boat movement patterns before crossing the channel to the safety of the islands connected by bridges.

There’s one slightly awkward spot to pull canoes up at near the walkway connecting the township with the islands, here. From there, it’s a 10 minute walk to tourist shops, public toilets, and restaurants.

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

Strong, fast paddlers could conceivably do this route in one day with an early start. We opted to take about 2 hours to paddle the 6km or so of the northern shoreline from the Onuma Township to the campground and then stay the night. The next day, we took a leisurely 3 hours to paddle the remaining 8km or so back to the township.


Public transport:

Onuma Township is accessible by JR train (Onuma Koen Train Station) from Hakodate, Sapporo, and Niseko. From the train station, it’s about 300m walk to the island-bound put in, here, or about 700m to the put in described above.

By car: 

There is room for about 5-6 cars next to the public toilets the put in here near the Table de Rivage restaurant.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: () – map no.

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

There’s a road running the perimeter of the lake, so help should be fairly close at hand on this route. That said, like all large lakes in Hokkaido, the wind can pick up pretty quick. The main point of concern on this route is crossing the tourist ferry and boat channel close to the Onuma Township. Take a few minutes to study the movement patterns of the boats, and only cross when the way is clear – commercial boats have the right of way.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Lake Onuma


Higashi Onuma Campground (東大沼キャンプ場)
The Higashi Onuma Campground is a basic but picturesque campground sitting at the eastern end of Lake Onuma in southern Hokkaido, just north of Hakodate City. It’s free to stay overnight, and is a perfect spot to stay on a cycle tour trip or canoe trip. There’s not many services – including food – nearby, so make sure to stock up before you arrive. Location: 42.01206 N / 140.71669 E | Free | Open: Apr-Oct
Closest Onsen: Higashi Onuma Onsen Tome-no-Yu (東大沼留の湯) | 400yen | 2.5km from campground
Onsen nearby

Higashi Onuma Tome-no-Yu (東大沼留の湯, location, 400yen) is an old but classic onsen sitting in the middle of nowhere, along a long gravel road, about 2.5km east of the Higashi Onuma Campground. Highly recommended, and definitely worth the 30 minute brisk walk, if walking from the campground.

Extra Resources

See the entry on pp. 6-9 in the Hokkaido Canoe Touring Book by Tamata (1993).

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Route Trip Notes

“It’s Lucky Pierrot!” exclaimed Saoka. We’d just exited the expressway after hurtling down south from Sapporo for 3 hours, and it was clear Saoka had been looking forward to this. It would be my first time to sample the famous-in-Hokkaido burger restaurant. Curiously, this branch of the chain is, really, in the middle of nowhere. No huge mass of metropolis population to support it. But there it was.

I’m always left hungry after eating a burger from a Japanese domestic brand of hamburger. Mossburger, Lotteria, Freshness Burger…their burgers are little more than bite-sized snacks for my usual appetite. So I asked at the counter what the highest-calorie burger was. “Fried chicken with double cheese,” came the answer.

Lucky Pierrot is known for its gaudy, over-the-top circus-themed decor. The fried chicken double-cheese burger lived up to the recommendation – it was heavy, juicy, and definitely not light on the calories. Perfect fuel for an afternoon’s paddle on Lake Onuma.

After the quick stop at Lucky Pierrot’s, we hastened our way to the center of the small tourist-trap that is Onuma Village. I spent a couple of minutes asking in vain about where we might put in our own canoes. An ambivalent, clearly tourist-weathered duck-boat operator muttered that there was nowhere we could put in here. His eyes were squinted. Pursed lips held an old toothpick in place. “You can’t put in at this end of the lake,” he hissed. “Go paddle your row-boat at the campground.”

I got a similarly salty response from another boat operator, clearly in a hurry to herd his boisterous busload of East Asian tourists onto his tourist boat, piercing synthesizer jingles blaring from the boat’s external speakers only just drowning out the pushy chatter.

Plan B was quickly put into action. I’d spied a potential put in just north of the village, off the main road. We hightailed it back, and immediately sighed a collective breath of relief. It was quiet here. The crunch of gravel underfoot, and the occasional quack of a duck nearby. It was worlds away from the gaudy bustle of the tourist trap.

We got the canoes loaded up, and got on our way. The weather suggested we’d have a northwester blowing, so we opted to paddle the northern shoreline to the campground, hopefully keeping in somewhat in the lee of the wind. This was a mostly successful tactic, and we found that we mostly had the wind at our backs for the whole way.

It was Saoka and Natalie’s first time paddling together, but they soon found a rhythm, and we were flying.

After about an hour of paddling, a brisk, frigid wind had picked up from the west-northwest as forecast. We hugged the shoreline, keeping mostly in the lee. Half way to the campground, we stopped in at a sheltered bay for a snack.

The wind pushed us on to the campground. While we were happy to have had a nice tailwind to the campground, we were less thrilled that the same wind was buffeting the campground straight on the nose. There was precious little shelter from the bitter wind, so we put up the tents, and propped the canoes up as makeshift wind-breaks. We’d hoped to have an onsen at the closest onsen – a 30 minute walk away – but a sign on the main road informed us they were closed for refurbishment until next spring.

“The hope of a warm onsen was kind of one of the things keeping me going,” murmured a dejected Saoka.

It was still relatively early in the day, so we went for a brisk walk around the small peninsula near the campground to warm up.

After the walk, we got a fire going and settled in to cook dinner – a warming nabe hotpot. It wasn’t too long after dark that we all headed to our tents for an early night.

The morning broke to gorgeous sunshine and an almost mirror-smooth lake. The forecast was predicting a brisk northwesterly breeze from mid-morning, however, so we were keen to get on our way to beat the headwind back to the village. This meant a nice early wake-up, some time to play with the neighbor’s gorgeous labradoodle dog, and a bit of extra time to put the drone up for some aerial photos.

We pushed off from the campground with our friendly neighbors waving us goodbye.

Just around the bend in the shoreline, I set the drone up again. The weather was just too good not to. Mt. Komagatake standing proud in the distance – we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

We soon came up on one of the more interesting shore-line features of Lake Onuma. On the southern shoreline is a jumble of small islands. Weaving one’s way through these islands on a canoe is hopelessly relaxing. 

Further on was a less relaxing jumble of islands. I’d had high hopes for the islands dotted around the Onuma Village. I’d hoped we’d be able to zig-zag our way through on our canoe, under foot-bridges, island-hopping. It wasn’t to be the case though. High-speed tourist boats powered through the main channel, making it a harrowing ordeal. The main channel cut through the middle of the islands, effectively reducing the explorable area by more than a half. Once across the channel, we ducked into the relative calm and protection of a small waterway between a few islands, protected by some low-ish foot bridges.

We parked up the canoes at a small inlet, and joined the throngs of tourists for a short while.

After a quick toilet stop, we headed back to the canoes, and made our way under the main road bridge to Lake Konuma. By this time we’d been out for about 3 hours, the wind had picked up, and we were generally done with flat-water paddling for the day. We did a quick circuit of the northeastern end of the lake, and decided to call it a day.

This would be our last canoe outing for the year. As it was, the weather was just warm enough for this final hurrah before winter hit Hokkaido for the following four months. It was a great way to see the last of the non-now weather with a fun crew.

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Onuma Quasi-National Park Overnight Canoeing Difficulty Rating





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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.