Shibetsu River Canoeing

標津川 | Shibe-ot

Posted on Nov 19, 2020

Posted on Nov 19, 2020

1 0


1 day(s)


1.33 mpk



Water clarity

Class II



Best season

Shibetsu River (標津川) is lined with nice thick trees, insulating the paddler from otherwise well-developed surrounding farmland. The trees along the riverside are home to a plethora of birdlife, including kingfishers and storks, and the occasional curious deer. That said, the river itself is a rather tortured shadow of its former self. Decades of straightening work has left the lower 20km or so simply one long drainage for the surrounding towns' water purification plants - we were quite often paddling with the distinct aroma of stale greywater. Three awkward portages around weirs or fishing installations are also a drawback of this river.

We visited this route on Jul 23, 2020

Last updated Nov 21, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: II
Remoteness: 2/5
Number of portages: 3
Longest portage: 140m
Total portage distance: 240m
Overall portage difficulty: 4/5

River Details

This route is on Shibetsu River (標津川), or Shibe-ot in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 77.9km in total length. This section of the river is between 20m and 80m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 1.33 mpk (7.02 FPM).

Weather: weather forecast for Shibetsu River

Ideal water level: 20.90m
Water level paddled 20.94m
Water level notes: We paddled the river during quite heavy rain, and enjoyed an overall full-feeling river at 20.94m as measured at the Shibetsu-kawa Higashi-go-jo gauge. We’d suspect the river would be enjoyable down to about 20.80m, but haven’t confirmed this.

The Shibetsu River flows from the very far-western edge of the Shiretoko mountain range in eastern Hokkaido eastwards towards the Nemuro Straight on the Okhotsk Sea. It forms somewhat of a demarcation line between the bendy wetland rivers further south towards Nemuro, and shorter, more rocky rivers to the north.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

This route starts on the river left under Ryokoho-bashi Bridge (緑豊橋) about 3km west of central Nakashibetsu Town. The riverside is accessed via a grassy, overgrown double-track gravel road, accessed from Route 833 about 140m before the traffic lights.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

It’s possible to take out right at the river mouth, here. Vehicles can be driven onto the gravel area on the north side of the river mouth. Guidebooks suggest it’s also possible to take out on the river left under Samon-bashi Bridge (サーモン橋) about 250m upstream of the urai river-wide fishing installation, here. This point should be accessible by vehicle via the gravel road leading to the fishing headquarters, here. That said, from our observations it looked easier to take out on the river right (although bollards prevent cars being drive on the river right stopbanks). We recommend scouting a few take-out points beforehand.

General notes

As we’ve written on the can, this long lower section of the Shibetsu River has a lot of birdlife on the one hand, but suffers from stinky waste water on the other. We wouldn’t completely avoid going back for another daytrip on the river, and it’s worth making the effort to tick it off if you’re keen…but still…

Route description

Starting from under Ryokuho-bashi Bridge, paddlers may be surprised at how busy the river is for the first 4-5km or so. The river has plenty of bends in it here and there were multiple strainers to dodge. Beyond Nakashibetsu Town, however, the river calms down and it’s just a matter of going with the flow. The two weirs in the middle of the route were typical Hokkaido headaches. The river banks approaching the weirs are tall and grassy, with ankle-deep, sloping mud at the water’s edge. Expect to have to scramble up, using only handfuls of grass to pull yourself up. Getting a canoe up onto the banks requires hauling it by the painter line. Descents back to the river are as equally bothersome, requiring some careful bush-bashing. Beyond the weirs it is stress-free paddling until the river-wide urai fishing installation. We opted to portage this and paddle to the ocean, but it’s also possible to take out just before the urai under the Salmon Bridge.

Route Timing
Trip time: 5hrs 20min

If it weren’t for the three portages required on the river, this would be a very nice half-day meander. The portages require some hefty scrambling however, and are quite time-consuming. Best to allow a full day for this route.


Public transport:

Nakashibetsu Town is accessible by local bus from the coast. After parking your car near the take out, walk 4 minutes to the Reitokojo-mae bus stop (冷凍工場前). From there, as of November 2020, there’s buses running to Nakashibetsu four times a day on weekdays (7:34am, 10:14am, 1:54pm, 5:44pm), and two times a day on weekends and holidays (8:04am, 1:54pm) – see the timetable here. The trip to the Nakashibetsu Bus Terminal will take about 45 minutes. From the Nakashibetsu Bus Terminal, a taxi (Nitto Hire, TEL: 0153-72-3231) to the put in at Ryokuho-bashi Bridge will cost about 2,000yen. The taxi driver will likely not know the Ryokuho-bashi Bridge (緑豊橋) by it’s name, so you’ll need to direct the taxi driver to the gravel road. When leaving the bus terminal in the taxi, ask the driver to take you towards the suburb of kawanishi hachi-chome (川西8丁目), and that will get you going in the right direction.

By car: 

There’s plenty of parking at the take-out on the coast. There’s room at the put in for one car, but beware of getting parked in if an angler drives down the gravel road behind you. Also, the gravel access road is quite overgrown, so it may not be suitable for those who are precious about their car.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Nakashibetsu (中標津) – map no. NK-55-31-3-2
Official Topo Map 2: Kawakita (川北) – map no. NK-55-25-15-3
Official Topo Map 3: Ichani (伊茶仁) – map no. NK-55-25-14-4

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

Take care in the first 5km or so of the route, where the river is still quite bendy – there are multiple downed trees along the way which require careful maneuvering to avoid. The two weirs are not runnable. Pull up on the river left in plenty of time.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Shibetsu River


Onsen nearby

At the end of the route, try Hotel Kawabata (ホテル川畑, location, 500yen) in Shibetsu Town on the Okhotsk coast.

Extra Resources

For a thorough overview of the route in Japanese, see pp. 30-31 in The Book of Leisurely Hokkaido Rivers by Ishimoto (2009).

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

Haidee and I had just spent close to a week working remotely from a small cabin on the shores of Lake Furen in far eastern Hokkaido. We now had a few days of long weekend, so made a plan to start heading north towards Shokotsu River, where we’d meet Greg and Mari for a trip down that river.

On the way, we planned to paddle the Shibetsu River and Abashiri River. Today the Shiribetsu River was on the plan.

Right from the time we left Lake Furen, it was a dingy, dark sort of a day. When arrived at the turn-off to the Shibetsu River put in in Nakashibetsu Town, we raised our eyebrows. The road was quite overgrown. We pressed forwards, and were relieved that the put in itself was relatively clear and there was room to turn the car around.

We dropped the canoe, paddles, and life-jackets off, and headed back down river to the take-out. When we arrived at the river mouth, I had a sudden realization that our bus to get us back to Nakashibetsu was due to arrive at the bus stop nearby in only 5 minutes time. We rushed to get everything together, and as a light rain was starting to fall, we made it to the bus stop. As we were catching our breath after the five minute run, I noticed the times indicated on the bus stop timetable were slightly different to what I’d seen on the Internet – we had another 15 minutes until the bus was due to arrive.

With only a few buses per day, we felt like we had a lucky save. We were well on time to catch the 7:34am bus…it was an early start to the day!

The bus was mostly empty, and the 40 minute trip to the Nakashibetsu bus terminal was pleasant and uneventful. We called a taxi and directed the driver to the turn off to the put in. Just as he was dropping us off at the side of the road, the skies opened and we were pelted with torrential rain.

“Are you sure you’re OK to be dropped off here?” asked the kind taxi driver. We said yes, and he waved goodbye.

With rain jackets on, we trudged down the access road in pouring rain. There was a certain kind of beauty to it all though. 


At the put in, Haidee sensibly started changing into her drysuit. It wasn’t terribly cold, but she was right – the seals would keep us dry better than rain jackets where water could seep through gaps.

As soon as we got on the water, it was all hands on deck. The river was flowing quite fast, and it was very bendy. Downed trees kept us on our knees as we weaved and wended out way down the river.

Despite paddling through a bustling town, however, on the river it felt like we were paddling some sort of jungle river, with deep forest on both sides. So far, the river was very picturesque. There were kingfishers and storks. It felt like the river wasn’t deserving of the bad press – we’d seen guidebooks lamenting at the state of the river.

Further down, however, we started to see why the river might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

First was treated grey water flowing into the river just beyond Nakashibetsu Town. Stale dishwater is how I’d describe it. Smelly. Not pleasant. This aroma stayed with us for most of the remainder of the route. Perhaps it was because there was extra rain today. 

The birds didn’t seem to be bothered by it, however.  There was still plenty of birdlife to keep birdwatcher-Haidee content.

We soon came up on the first of the two weirs. The guidebook suggested portaging around the left side. This wasn’t impossible. But I can see how some people might seriously struggle to get themselves plus a canoe up the bank. It felt like a wall of steep grass. Underfoot, just at the water’s edge, was ankle-deep mud covering a steep concrete riverbank underneath. I’d rate it as one of the worst portage access points I’ve experienced in Hokkaido. Not impossible. But quite the scramble.

The return to the river below the weirs was not quite as horrific, and by the time we arrived at the second weir, at least we knew what to expect.

Beyond the weirs, we just had to keep paddling. There weren’t any rapids to speak of, but the river was flowing at a good clip, so we made good time to the river-wide fishing installation. This was a bit of a head-scratcher regarding what side of the river to portage on. On the river right, the banks were tall concrete walls. On the left, there was a wall of loose fine gravel. We settled on the latter. I had to stand on my paddle to avoid sinking into the sinking-sand-like bank.

The Shibetsu River was getting us re-acquainted with Hokkaido’s tendency towards river obstructions built with no thought to whether people might want to travel said river. 

We portaged around the salmon fishing installation, and got back onto the river. It was still raining. But spirits were relatively high. It wasn’t long till we’d see the sea.

Sure enough, after only a few more kilometers, we arrived at the compact river mouth. We pulled up and basked in the accomplishment of making it to the sea.

And then hurried to get the car so we could change into dry clothes and warm up. Despite being late July, it was a chilly, damp day.

Would we ever paddle the Shibetsu River again? We were doubtful that we’d paddle the lower section with the weirs again. But further upstream, further than were we’d put in, might have potential….

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Shibetsu River Canoeing 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.