Rekifune River Multiday Packraft and Canoe Route

歴舟川 | Pe-rupne-i

Posted on Oct 14, 2020
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Posted on Oct 14, 2020

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Reading time: 8 min
34km

Distance

3 day(s)

Time

5.4 mpk

Gradient

4/5

Water clarity

Class II

Difficulty

Jun-Oct

Best season

The Rekifune River (歴船川) is a pristine, relatively untouched river flowing from high up in the eastern Hidaka Ranges to the Pacific Ocean. The upper gorge section has some challenging whitewater rapids, cloaked on both sides by beautiful cliffs. The lower braided section of the river makes for one of the best riverbed camping of any river in Hokkaido. Here, we outline a classic two-night route, starting from the only weir on the river. It's a trip that will keep experts entertained, and challenge intermediate paddlers keen to test their canoe camping (and loaded paddling) skills.

We visited this route on Sep 21, 2020

Thanks to MRS for the Barracuda R2 Pro packraft – perfect for this trip!

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (6/10)

Remoteness: 3/5

River Details

This route is on Rekifune River (歴舟川), or Pe-rupne-i in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 64.7km in total length. This section of the river is between 10m and 40m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 1m/s to 3m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 5.4 mpk (28.51 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Rekifune River

Current water level: 102.64m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2020/10/21 10:10 (Source).

Ideal water level: 102.87m
Water level paddled 102.87m
Water level notes: We met a number of local paddlers on the river who mentioned that the river level on this particular weekend was ‘the ideal best level’. We’d agree – the rapids were manageable, and there was very little scraping on the riverbed. In the summer months of July and August, the Rekifune can suffer from very low water levels. If the Rekifune-gawa Oda Gauge is showing less than 102.3m, you may be in for a boney ride.
Location

This route is on the Rekifune River at the far southeast end of the Hidaka Range in southern-central Hokkaido, on the Pacific Ocean coast south of Obihiro City.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

The upper-most put in for the Rekifune River is usually just below the Sakashita Dam (坂下砂防ダム). There’s a parking area just above the river, here, large enough for about 10-15 cars, accessed by a short gravel road. If you’d prefer to skip the more challenging gorge section of the route, then put in at the lower end of the Kamui Kotan Campground, here.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

For the takeout for this full down-river route, paddlers can take out about 500m as the crow flies from the river mouth, here. The river here is accessed via a basic double-track gravel road which turns into a large sandy area. Those with a 4WD vehicle will be able to drive right onto the gravel river bed, to about 500m from the river mouth, around here. This depends greatly on the level of the river at the time – don’t leave cars unattended on the riverbed.

General notes

The Rekifune River is a crystal clear, wild and free braided river, with a beautiful gorge in the upper section. Rare for a Hokkaido river, there’s very rarely any strainers. What really puts it on the map for paddling, however, is the perfectly located Kamui Kotan Campground, about 25km upstream from the coast, and 10km downstream from Sakashita Dam. For the dedicated paddler with a few days up their sleeves, this makes for a perfect base camp from which to explore the upper Rekifune, Nubinai, and Naka-no-kawa Rivers.

For those intending to paddle the length of the Rekifune River, it makes sense to run the upper section of the river from the Sakashita Dam to the campground unloaded. That is 1) set up camp at the Kamui Kotan Campground, 2) drop the canoes off at the Sakashita Dam, 3) drop the car off at the river mouth, and 4) shuttle yourself back to the Sakashita Dam put in. While it’s not impossible to run the upper section of the river loaded, it is a fairly technical section of river. Plus, you’ll be driving past the campground to get to the put in anyway.

Route description

This 35km downriver route flows at a consistent gradient all the way to the sea, so progress is quite fast for the entirety of the route. The lower section from Kamui Kotan Campground to the Pacific Ocean could easily be done in one day, but the gravel bars along the way are perfect for camping, so it’s worth taking one’s time. The upper gorge section may require some scouting of rapids, so may take more time than expected.

  • DAY 1 – Sakashita Dam (坂下ダム) to Kamui Kotan Campground (カムイコタンキャンプ場) | 11km, 5.9mpk
    Fairly soon after putting in below the Sakashita Dam, paddlers will have all hands on deck navigating the small but continuous rapids as this pristine river wends its way through a high-walled gorge. Rapids in this section are relatively well-behaved though, so a keen low brace will keep most paddlers on course and mostly dry. They’re certainly a no-brainer in a packraft. Beyond the short 1.5km long gorge, the river widens considerably, but there are a number of small rocky drops to keep things interesting. The typhoons of 2016 and 2017 have formed a couple of new head-scratcher rapids, one in particular around the 7km point that would be best to scout when water levels are low – it’s a narrow slot in bedrock which may be difficult to navigate in a double Canadian canoe. Beyond that there’s just one last short Class 2 rapid upstream of Oda-bashi Bridge, and then you’re at the campground.
  • DAY 2 – Kamui Kotan Campground (カムイコタンキャンプ場) to the Gravel Bar Bivvy | 15km, 5.2mpk
    The highlight of the second day on the river is the multiple sandstone cliffs along the way. The first one has spring water continuously flowing down the cliff face – a really beautiful sight. Over all, today’s paddling is relatively straight forward, with regular Class 2 rapids. Along the way you’ll pass through the small town of Taiki (大樹町). Take out on the river right just after the bridge for a 10 minute walk to a convenience store. Beyond Taiki there is one concern before arriving at the campspot. One is the Tetra-no-se Rapids (テトラの瀬), here. In normal water levels (about 102.4m at the Oda gauge), water will only be flowing on the hard left of the river. There are two large concrete tetra blocks in the middle of the channel, washed downstream to this point in the past. Take care and scout first. If the weather forecast is clear, there are a number of good gravel bar camping spots to choose from. This spot on river left 4km from Taiki is nice, as is the slightly higher spot on the river right. Where ever you choose to camp, however, do so with extreme caution. The Rekifune River rises fast with heavy rain.
  • DAY 3 – Gravel Bar Bivvy to the Pacific Ocean (太平洋) | 10km, 4.5mpk
    The Rekifune is a rarity in Hokkaido in that it flows at a decent clip right to the ocean. Even less than 500m to the coast, you’re paddling fast-moving swifts. Accordingly, this last day is over before you know it. But only if you choose the right branch in the expansive multi-branched braided section upstream of the Rekifune-bashi Bridge. The deepest-looking branch doesn’t always stay that way, and you may find yourself quickly running out of water as the river gradually fans out – you may need to walk your canoe or packraft in shallows for 500m or so. In general it may be best to keep taking left branches, despite initial shallow entries. The river is a changing thing, however, so each paddler’s mileage will vary. The safest place to park a car is about 500m upstream from the coast, here. It’s definitely worth paddling all the way to the river mouth, however. The gravel coast there is expansive and beautiful.
Route Timing
Day 1: 3hrs 0min
Day 2: 3hrs 0min
Day 3: 2hrs 0min

One of the main time-eaters on this route is low water. During July and August, paddlers should expect to have to line down some rapids, particularly if loaded with overnight gear. Otherwise, beyond scouting a few of the rapids, this is a fairly straight forward downriver route, best enjoyed over three very leisurely days.

Transport

Public transport:

To get to Taiki town (大樹町), there’s a regular bus running from Obihiro JR Station, bound for Hiroo (広尾町). Catch the bus from Terminal 11 at Obihiro Station. Buses run about one per hour, and the trip takes about 1.5 hours. See the timetable here. Get off at Taiki Cosmoru-mae (大樹コスモール前) in Taiki for easy access to taxis, a michi-no-eki and a supermarket. The bus fare is about 1,500yen one-way. A taxi from here to the put in will likely cost about 8,000yen.

By car: 

The upper-most put in for the Rekifune River is usually just below the Sakashita Dam (坂下砂防ダム). There’s a parking area just above the river, here, large enough for about 10 cars, accessed by a short gravel road. For this full down-river route, paddlers can take out about 500m as the crow flies from the river mouth, here. The river here is accessed via a basic double-track gravel road which turns into a large sandy area. Those with a 4WD vehicle will be able to drive right onto the gravel river bed. A taxi from the last farm on the road next to the coast to the put in will likely cost just over 12,000yen. Alternatively, it’s a very nice 30km bicycle ride from the coast to the put in, cycling along quiet countryside roads.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Takushin (拓進) – map no. NK-54-3-13-4
Official Topo Map 2: Oda (尾田) – map no. NK-54-3-13-2
Official Topo Map 3: Taiki (大樹) – map no. NK-54-3-10-3
Official Topo Map 4: Hamataiki (浜大樹) – map no. NK-54-3-10-1

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

Take care in the upper gorge section – access to the river is limited. With three rivers feeding into the Rekifune at the Kamui Kotan Campground, the river can rise very quickly with rain high up in the Hidaka mountains. Always check the weather before putting in. This applies to both the difficult-to-access gorge section and considerations regarding camping on gravel bars lower down on the river. When choosing a river-bed campspot, choose well raised up areas.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Rekifune River

CampSites

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
Lower Rekifune River Riverbed (歴舟川下流河川)
This wild camp area is a somewhat moving target, as this braided section of the lower Rekifune River will change after each year’s typhoon cycle. However, at about 10km from the Pacific Ocean, canoeists will likely find some large gravel banks with plenty of dry driftwood to enjoy a leisurely overnight on their way down the river. As of August 2019, there was a large gravel bank suitable for camping around here. Look for a section of the bank with fine gravel and plenty of driftwood. Location: 42.47766 N / 143.31959 E
Closest Onsen: None
Onsen nearby

This eastern side of the Hidaka foothills is a little scant on natural hotsprings. If you’re keen for a bath as soon as humanly possible after (or during) your paddle down the river, there’s a traditional public bath in Taiki Town, here (大樹町大樹公衆浴場, 200yen per person). It’s a short walk from the Taiki-hashi Bridge in Taiki Town. Bansei Onsen (晩成温泉, location, 500yen) is also a nice option if you’ve got the time and transport to get there – it’s right on the coast, about 20km north of the take-out at the river mouth. 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

Guide Options

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Route Trip Notes

DAY 1 – Sakashita Dam to Kamui Kotan Campground

We arrived at the Kamui Kotan campground at about 10am on the Saturday, with the full intention of starting the down-river trip on Sunday. We booked ourselves into the campground, and started setting up our campsite. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw some short-boat kayakers hauling their boats up out of the river. We knew the river had risen considerably the previous day, so I was interested to hear what they thought of the water level. At that point, the river was at 102.87m. I wandered over and asked them how their day had been.

“Absolutely perfect,” one of the kayakers beamed. “Not too much, and not too little,” he continued.

I explained that we were planning on running the river tomorrow.

“If you can, definitely do it today,” he replied. “This is the best I’ve ever run it.”

With that, Haidee and I decided to drop everything and run the upper section from Sakashita Dam to the campground today. We would be starting just after noon, but with only 11km to run, surely we’d have plenty of time.

To save time, we left our bicycles at the campground with the intention to go retrieve the car after we’d finished. When we arrived at the put in location, we were surprised to see the car park packed with cars. Among the cars was one I recognized as a friend’s with whom we’ve paddled with before. This suggested that the mass of cars might belong to members from the Hokkaido Wilderness Canoe Club.

This was the first time we’d paddled the Rekifune River, and we’d heard that this upper section was challenging. We were feeling fairly confident, however, since we were in the mighty two-person packraft (an MRS Barracuda R2 Pro) rather than our open-deck canoe. This packraft is so incredibly stable.

We set off just downstream from the Sakashita Dam under blue skies. We’d heard the Rekifune was known for its crystal clear water, but today was clearly different – it was a post-rain cloudy color.

The first few kilometers of the upper gorge were beautiful. We didn’t really have much time to enjoy the view, as the river was moving so fast. But looking at the photos, it was indeed a nice gorge.

Haidee and I haven’t really spent much time in the packraft. Just before the Gorge Exit Rapids, we were noting how difficult it was to ‘scout from the river’ compared with a canoe – where one can kneel or stand to get a glimpse of the rapids ahead.

“Hmmmm….that looks big,” I mentioned to Haidee just as we’d discussed the difficulty in seeing ahead of us.

In hindsight, we probably should have been more careful and pulled up to the side of the river to scout.

“The left side looks best,” Haidee said to me. 

“OK, let’s go,” I replied.

Despite our best efforts, however, before we even made two paddle strokes we were pulled into the center of a set of Class III rapids. 

This was the first time we’d paddled the packraft in big water. In a word, it was hilarious. Stable. But hilarious. The whole packraft essentially folds in half in steep holes. Stable. But folds in half.

At the first hole, Haidee’s paddle got pinned under the front of the raft, so that added to the excitement.

Soon after the big set of rapids, we entered the final slalom course at the end of the gorge. In the packraft it was a breeze, weaving our way past holes and boulders. At lower water levels in a canoe, I can see why this is a challenging section of the river.

Beyond the gorge, the river became much less busy, and it felt more like a regular gravel-bed river. The skies widened, and we powered down the river away from the mountains towards the confluence of no less than three rivers.

Just upstream of the Kamui Kotan Campground, there’s a large bridge – the Oda-bashi Bridge. Just upstream of the bridge is the Oda-bashi Rapids. Just upstream of these rapids, the Rekifune River is bolstered by inflow from the Nubinai River and the Naka-no-kawa River. At normal water levels, the Oda-bashi Bridge rapids are apparently boney, but today they were wavy and fun.

We’d made it to the campground unscathed. Thoroughly impressed by the ease and fun of the packraft on the river. For a short sections like this, it was arguably the perfect craft for the job. We were looking forward to the continuation of the trip. We carried the packraft to our tent site, left the packraft there, and made the 30 minute bike ride back to the put in to pick up the car.

DAY 2 – Kamui Kotan Campground TO GRAVEL BAR CAMPSITE

We used the previous day’s evening to set up the shuttle to get the car down to the take out on the coast, and us back up to the put in. With the bicycles attached to the rack on the back of the car we drove to the coast, left the car, and cycled 18km to Taiki Town. It was a gorgeous evening to be cycling. Our first stop in Taiki was the public baths. 200yen for a soak is about as cheap as it gets for public baths in Hokkaido, but they were good enough. Then we had dinner at the very reasonable Akebono restaurant.

We’d considered cycling the last 8km to the campground, but it was dark by the time we got finished with dinner. We locked the bikes up next to the michi-no-eki, and called a taxi (Taiki Hire, 大樹ハイヤー, location, TEL: 0155-86-2070). 20 minutes and 3,500yen later, we were at the campground, with only the packraft as our transport.

It was now the next day, we it was time to pack up and get on the water. Considering we only had less than 20km to paddle to our campspot, we took our time, and were on the water at 10am. It was our first time to pack the MRS Barracuda R2 Pro packraft with gear. I was impressed with the way everything fit into the pontoons, closed up safe with an air-tight T-ZIP.

The highlight of the day were the multiple clay cliffs along the way. The first lot had water streaming down the face of the cliffs, flowing from half way down the cliffs, from inside the cliffs. 

Like yesterday, the river was fast today. Easy. Straight forward. There were a few wavy rapids, but nothing difficult if you know what you’re doing. Just good honest fun.

Before we knew it, we were at the spot I’d marked on the map as a good possible campspot. A one meter raised up gravel bar with plenty of driftwood. An old campfire ring in the sand confirmed that this was a spot previously used. Probably by the folk from HokkaiCamp.

It was a gorgeous evening for a wild camp. Hot enough for swimming. And cool enough once the sun went down for a campfire.

DAY 3 – GRAVEL BAR CAMPSITE TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN

We’d heard great things about the Rekifune River mouth. But considering it was only about 10km away, we were in no huge hurry to get away from our idyllic river-bed campsite.

Once we did get away from the campsite, the first challenge of the day was picking our way through the labyrinth of branches of the river leading up to the large Rekifune-bashi Bridge. We’d heard that taking a wrong branch could lead to having to walk canoes along ever-increasingly shallow shoals. With the water level as it was, however, we managed to get through this section relatively unscathed, apart from a few scrapey swifts.

And then just like that, we were at the coast. We pulled up just upstream of the actual river mouth, and stood watching the surf crash on the shore. We’d made it from a rocky, narrow gorge, to the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Unlike many other river mouths we’ve experienced here in Hokkaido, this one was unadulterated. Free. A clean, beautiful river, flowing unencumbered into the ocean. No concrete to be seen anywhere. What a treat.

The Rekifune had long been on our list of to-do rivers. Now it was firmly on our list of to-do-again rivers.

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Comments | Queries | Reports

Done this route to Rekifune River, or other waterways nearby? Thinking of doing it? Please post any feedback, reports, or queries here. Thanks!

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