Shubuto-gawa Canoe Route

朱太川 | Shupki-puto

Posted on Jul 28, 2021

Posted on Jul 28, 2021

0 0


0.5 day(s)


2.3 mpk



Water clarity

Class II



Best season





CANOE ROUTE | Shubuto-gawa 朱太川 is a beautiful meandering waterway flowing from the famous beech forests of Kuromatsunai 黒松内 to the Japan Sea in southern Hokkaido. Suitable even for beginners, there's plenty of sights to see along the way, including high clay cliffs and beautiful bedrock. It's not far from the international resort of Niseko, and well suited to packrafters as well as open deck canoeists looking for a leisurely outing. On a hot mid-summer day, this is the antidote to the midday heat.

We visited this route on Jun 27, 2021

Last updated Nov 11, 2022


Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: II
Remoteness: 2/5
Number of portages: 1
Total portage distance: 30m
Overall portage difficulty: 2/5

River Details

This route is on Shubuto-gawa (朱太川), or Shupki-puto in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 43.5km in total length. This section of the river is between 10m and 150m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 2.3 mpk (12.14 FPM).

Weather: weather forecast for Shubuto-gawa

Ideal water level: 20.85m
Water level paddled 20.80m
Water level notes: The upper half of the route can suffer from low water levels during the height of summer, with some river-walking required in places. Late spring and autumn after rain is usually a more reliable time to do the upper section without scraping the bottom of the boat on the riverbed.

Shubuto-gawa flows through the small town of Kuromatsunai 黒松内 in southern Hokkaido, about 1hr drive west from the international resort of Niseko.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

If water levels are appropriate, paddlers will put in just downstream of the Shubuto-bashi bridge 朱太橋, on the river right, here. There’s a small area to park about three cars. If water levels are low, paddlers will put in under Midori-bashi bridge 緑橋 in Kuromatsunai Town, on river right here.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

We’re always pretty keen to paddle to river mouths on a river canoe trip, so the takeout location above is the Shubuto-gawa river mouth, at the beach. It’s a lovely beach with good access, so we’d highly recommend it if the wind isn’t too much in your face. Alternatively, there’s also a good river access spot on river left just upstream of Sakae-bashi bridge 栄橋, here, which is also closer to bus stops.

General notes

This is another classic mellow Hokkaido river, popular with canoe guides when they want to give clients a nice chill canoe experience. The fact the river flows though the nice little town of Kuromatsunai only adds to the river’s charm. There’s a couple of onsen in the area, and the Kuromatsunai Autocampground is really nice. The campground is next to the northern-most extent of beech forest in Japan. Just all round a nice natural-feeling place.

Route description

Depending on the water levels, either put in at the Shubuto-bashi bridge, or further downstream at the Midori-bashi bridge. If starting from Shubuto-bashi bridge, note that there’s one particularly nasty strainer across the entire river about 1.5km downstream. In normal water levels, this is relatively easily avoided by keeping hard river left, but you’ll still be ducking branches. After that, it’s pretty smooth sailing. Approaching Kuromatsunai Town, the river is a bit of a rock garden, which can be tricky in lower water levels. The two concrete block weirs after Kuromatsunai are curious, seemingly pointless structures. In certain conditions, they can be run on the hard river right, but definitely scout before committing. We had to line the first one, but managed a clumsy but clean line on the hard river right on the second. Towards the end of the river, the flow slows down considerably, and paddlers will likely be plagued by on-shore breezes impeding progress somewhat. Pushing through this, however, rewards with a very picturesque river mouth and beach.

Route Timing
Trip time: 4hrs 0min


Public transport:

This route is great for those traveling with a packraft on public transport. Catch the JR train to Kuromatsunai station 黒松内駅, and call the local taxi company for a lift to Shubuto-bashi bridge. Show the taxi driver your paddle and the kanji for Shubuto-bashi bridge 朱太橋 and they’ll probably get the idea. The taxi company is Kuromatsunai Hire 黒松内ハイヤー, TEL: +81136723055. If you’d prefer not to bother with the hassle of talking to them on the phone, just wander over to their office, a few minutes walk from the station. For getting away from the river mouth, you’ll have to walk 20 minutes or so to Route 229, to the Ogawa bus stop 小川バス停, here. From there, there’s three buses per day back to Kuromatsunai (6:48, 10:18, 16:32 – timetable) on the Niseko Bus Oshamambe/Kuromatsunai Line.

By car: 

There’s plenty of parking at all put ins and take-outs. Kuromatsunai is about 1hr drive from Niseko. Note that if you need to arrange a taxi to shuttle you from the takeout to the put in, it’s 20km and will cost just under 7,000yen. The taxi company was not 100% sure where the Sakae-bashi bridge was, so we just arranged to meet them at Yubetsu-no-yu Onsen. We got them to follow us down to the beach, left our car at the beach, and then got in the taxi to the put in, giving them directions along the way.

Physical maps
Print: 1:25,000 TOPOMAP+
Niseko Backcountry map: Buy on | See companion site for more purchase options
Official Topo Map: Kuromatsunai (黒松内) – map no. NK-54-21-9-3
Official Topo Map 2: Neppu (熱郛) – map no. NK-54-20-12-4
Official Topo Map 3: Utasutsu (歌棄) – map no. NK-54-20-12-3

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

Do keep vigilant about strainers, as there were a few on the outside of corners in the upper section, as well as one whole tree right in the middle of the river which we opted to line around. Take care when approaching the concrete block weirs beyond Kuromatsunai and scout before attempting to run.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Shubuto-gawa


Onsen nearby

Yubetsunoyu ゆべつのゆ (location, 500yen) onsen is about 3km from the rivermouth, and is very highly recommended. Large indoor and outdoor baths, and the restaurant serves the regular good value onsen fare. They also have cabins available for overnight stays (10,000yen per night for the hole cabin, sleeps four).

Extra Resources

See the in-depth write-up (in Japanese) in The Book of Leisurely Hokkaido Rivers by Ishimoto (2009), p. 86.

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Route Trip Notes description of the route (translated)

At the head of the Oshima Peninsula is a lowland area running from Oshamambe to Suttsu. This is the Kuromatsunai lowlands, and forms the border between southern and northern vegetation in Japan. Shubuto River flows across this lowland and flows into the Japan sea at Suttsu. Along the way is the Utasai beech forest, known as Japan’s northern-most beech forest. It’s a pristine waterway with high mineral content, as water flows into the river filtered through shell-fossil bedrock. Flowing as it does across the lowlands, there’s not much of a vertical drop across the route, so regardless of where you are on the river it’s a very gentle flow, allowing for a very relaxed downriver trip.

The previous day we’d hiked a mammoth full day loop around the eastern end of the Niseko Range, under a scorching sun, in the middle of the day. Today, we vowed to get going earlier in the day, so we could beat the heat. So we dropped the canoe off at the Shubutogawa-bashi bridge at just after 7am, and then headed into Kuromatsunai to arrange a taxi.

All our early-morning preparedness unraveled, however, when we called the taxi company. A very sleepy voice picked up the phone.

“What? You want a taxi when? We don’t open till 9am,” said a clearly perplexed elderly fellow.

So, we resigned to another leisurely start on the river. We asked the taxi to meet us at the Yubetsu-no-yu Onsen at 9:20, and we’d drive with the taxi from there to the beach, dropping our car off, and taking the taxi back to the put in.

All told it cost us 6,800yen for the 20km ride back to the put in.

It was a treat to be on the river. This would be our first paddle for the 2021 season. A late start due to us committing to a long traverse hike in August, requiring us to dedicate much of our weekends to hiking in order to get ourselves conditioned for the long hike looming!

We’d mentioned to Greg that we were doing the Shubuto, and he had only one piece of advice.

“On the upper section, there was a tree right across the river when we did it, requiring some tricky maneuvering to get around, so be careful!”

Sure enough, about 1.5km after setting off, there was a whole tree across the river. It appears floods have been wearing away at the tree though, and we were able to squeeze past on the hard left, dodging branches as we went. The river flow is very gentle, so there’s not much concern about getting pushed about too much (but it would still happily pin a canoe).

The water was beautiful. Clear. Pristine. Bedrock showing. White cliffs here and there. Besides the first-paddle-of-the-season jitters, we were feeling all very relaxed.

Like all Hokkaido rivers, there were some head-scratchers to keep us on our toes. A full uprooted tree in the middle of the river’s flow at a narrow point – we lined around that one. A very low raised weir thing. We scouted it and ended up paddling over it. The two annoying concrete block weirs. We scouted both – lined the first one and ran the second hard right (Haidee hit a low-lying branch on the way down and got a lump on her head).

For all the talk of the Shubuto being a very chill river, there were some fun little Class II swifts to get some speed up on, so overall, it’s a nicely varied river.

Once we were past Kuromatsunai, the river still had a relatively good flow to it, but it was slowing down. We now also had a headwind, which started to get mentally draining. Monotony was only just kept in check by sights of wind-power generators in the distance on the coast.

Soon enough the river made it’s final bend to the west as it made its way to the sea. Mercifully, this protected us from the worst of the on-short breeze for the final paddle to the river mouth. 

At the beach, Haidee was excited to spot a misago osprey bird, circling high above, peering into the sea searching for unsuspecting morsels.

Had there not been faint whitecaps visible out on the sea, we would have happily paddled out for a spot of sea paddling before landing on the beach. It really is an idyllic spot in good weather. From our landing spot just inside the river mouth, it was a short 50m walk to the car.

After packing up, we headed to Yubetsu-no-yu Onsen for a soak, and then settled in for the 2.5hr drive back to Sapporo.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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Shubuto-gawa Canoe Route 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.