This six- to seven-day itinerary below assumes crack-of-noon starts, relaxed campfire evenings, and a bit of paddling each day. Dedicated paddlers who prefer crack-of-dawn starts and long days at the helm could easily smash the route out in four days – as we did, with a very favourable weather window. The latter point is key. With a headwind on the last 30km, you’ll be going nowhere fast.
DAY 1 – Shibetsu City to Nayoro City | 25km, 1.2mpk, Portages: 1-2 | Starting just below the rock weir (location) near the Cycling Terminal, head downstream to the Kenbuchi River confluence. As if to make up for the dreary weir portages on this section, there’s a lovely 2km section of river in the middle of the day with gorgeous bedrock. There are deep channels in the bedrock, so find those and you might make it through without getting out of your canoe. Otherwise, enjoy the ankle-deep river walking on flat, even, grippy rock flowing with clear water. Both portages are typical awkward Hokkaido portages – steep concrete banks and tricky re-entries. Take a deep breath and get them over and done with. Camp at the far end of the park golf area just upstream of Nayoro-ohashi Bridge (名寄大橋), here. There’s concrete steps leading up from the river.
DAY 2 – Nayoro City to Bifuka Island | 35km, 0.83mpk | A warm hot-spring soak awaits paddlers at the end of Day 2. But to get there, you’ll navigate frequent naname-tesshi – angled ledges (drops) across the width of the river. The Rokkyo-tesshi (六郷テッシ) just beyond Bifuka Village stood out to us as particularly tricky – pull up on the right to scout this one. Another large tesshi is the Monponai-no-se (モンポナイの瀬) just before Bifuka Island. Scout all tesshi if necessary from the riverside. That said, we found a good reading of the river allowed us to scoot through the gaps in the ledges. There are some exciting Class II rapids along the way too, but most simply require pointing the canoe downstream and following the flow. Camp at the Bifuka Island canoe port (here) or the official campground just over the stopbanks, and enjoy and onsen only a few minutes walk away.
DAY 3 – Bifuka Island to Otoineppu Village | 24km, 1.13mpk | A bit more of the same on this section – enjoyable fast flowing river with a few easy Class II rapids to keep things interesting. We looked longingly at Teshio-gawa Onsen as we passed by – visiting later by car confirmed that it would be a gorgeous place to camp. With a stiff following wind, we decided to forgo staying in Otoineppu (at the free Nakajima Park Campground here) and pushed on to combine Day 3 and Day 4 below into one long day (about 10 hours total on the water).
DAY 4 – Otoineppu Village to Nakagawa | 33km, 0.70mpk | This deep-valley section between Otoineppu and Nakagawa offers some of the more dramatic scenery of the journey. Deeply forested hills frame a now deep and wide waterway, snaking its way through the mountains. With some aesthetic low cloud, this is a gorgeously moody section of river. Camp at the Nakagawa Napoto Park Auto Campground (here) with attached onsen hotspring. In this section, paddlers will notice the gradual transformation of the river from a fast-flowing descent to a more grandiose body of water coursing towards the sea. Indeed, by the time you arrive in Nakagawa, you’re at 9m in altitude, still with almost 60km still to paddle to the coast.
DAY 5 – Nakagawa to Penkebira Bend Gravel Bar | 20km, 0.25mpk | Where to camp and how far to travel each day from Nakagawa to the coast is 100% dependent on the wind direction and wind strength. Here, we suggest taking it easy, and enjoy one last good river camping spot before the uncertainty and mind-numbing monotony of the final 40km of flat-water paddling. On the way, you’ll also see the last of the swifts. Camp at the raised Penkebira Bend gravel bar, here.
DAY 6 – Penkebira Bend Gravel Bar to Teshio-ohashi Bridge | 22km, 0.14mpk | The clear highlight of this section – if the weather is clear – is seeing the top of Rishiri-zan (利尻山, 1721m), an off-shore island volcano. Such a view should invigorate the paddler into wanting to see an uninterrupted view of it from the coast, despite the ever-deteriorating speed of the river’s flow. If the weather gods have bestowed upon the dear paddler completely calm conditions or better yet tailwinds, we’d suggest setting off at dawn and smashing through the 40km of Day 6 and 7. Such weather windows are few and far between. Otherwise, make the day’s 22km to Teshio-ohashi Bridge (here) and consider your options. We’ve seen enough warnings in multiple guidebooks to suggest the gargantuan lower section of the Teshio River is no place to be with a strong wind, whipping up dangerous waves.
DAY 7 – Teshio-ohashi Bridge to the Japan Sea | 18km, 0.1mpk | It’s best to greet today as if you’ve got 18km of lake paddling to do. Pray for a tailwind, rather than the stiff and persistent onshore southwester. If things do go your way with the weather, and a full tide isn’t making the river flow backwards (check tides here), then this last spurt section of river can be quite stunning in its sheer expanse. With only 7km to go to the finish line, you’ll be able to clamber over the sand dunes and get a glimpse of a crystal-clear Japan Sea and with luck, Rishiri Island (利尻島). If it’s not too windy and choppy, take out at the dedicated canoe port, here. Otherwise, there’s a more sheltered boat ramp another 100m down the river, here. Both are accessible by car. Camp at the gorgeous Kagaminuma Campground (here) in Teshio Town, with the Teshio Onsen right next door. For paddlers traveling by public transport, it may be more convenient just to camp in the riverside park near the canoe port (around here), still only a 10 minute walk from the Teshio Onsen.