Teshio River Multiday Canoe Journey: A Complete Guide

天塩川 | Tesh-o-pet

Posted on Oct 8, 2020

Posted on Oct 8, 2020

1 0


6 day(s)


0.71 mpk



Water clarity

Class II



Best season

The Great Teshio River Journey (天塩川旅) is one of Japan's iconic multi-day canoe trips, located in northern Hokkaido. With 160km of dam- and weir-free paddling, it's the longest uninterrupted canoe trip in Japan. Paddlers can expect to see native Hokkaido deer, plenty of kingfishers, and white-tailed eagles along the way, as they re-trace the steps of Hokkaido's earliest Japanese settlers. With small towns along the river, camping is easy and re-stocking is a breeze. There's also hot-spring facilities en route, easily accessible on foot from canoe ports on the river. Daily distances are around 20km and the rapids are easily navigable even for beginner paddlers.

Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: II
Remoteness: 1/5
Number of portages: 2
Longest portage: 100m
Total portage distance: 200m
Overall portage difficulty: 3/5

River Details

This route is on Teshio River (天塩川), or Tesh-o-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 256km in total length. This section of the river is between 20m and 200m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 0.71 mpk (3.75 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Teshio River

Current water level: We are having trouble fetching the current water level. Take a look at the raw level data here, or the 10min trend data here.

Ideal water level: 88.3m
Water level paddled 88.1m
Water level notes: Generally speaking, paddlers will have no issues with water level beyond Nayoro City. From Shibetsu to Nayoro, however, paddlers may encounter shallow sections of bedrock when water levels are low (below around 88.3m as measured at Nayoro). If anything, the river becomes easier to navigate in higher water levels. Lower water levels require some careful reading of the river, particularly at the numerous naname-tesshi. These river-wide angled ledges will usually have a gap (or gaps) somewhere along their length, but it’s up to the canoeist to find it.

Teshio River runs from south to north, and is located at the far northern end of Hokkaido – the river mouth, flowing into the Japan Sea on the western coast, is only 60km from Wakkanai, Hokkaido’s northern-most city.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

For the longest trip down the Teshio River with reliable water levels, put in just below the rock weir in Shibetsu City (士別市), here. This will allow a full 175km down-river trip. Putting in in Shibetsu City will, however, require at least one considerable portage around a weir. That is to say, there are two weirs between Shibetsu City and Nayoro City, the first of which is sometimes open – in this case it doesn’t need to be portaged. If you’d rather not deal with portaging at all, then put in at Nayoro-ohashi Bridge (名寄大橋), here. This will allow for 150km of uninterrupted paddling to the sea.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

If paddling all the way to the coast, take out just before the river mouth proper at the sheltered boat ramp in Teshio Township (天塩町), here. Note, however, that the last 20km from Teshio-ohashi Bridge (天塩大橋) to Teshio Township on the coast is almost impossible (and quite dangerous) with strong headwinds from the coast blowing – which is often the case. Guidebooks caution of ocean-like waves on this 20km flat-water section of river. For this reason, most paddlers will take out either on river right at Teshio-ohashi Bridge (here) or further upstream at the canoe port at Nakagawa Town (here) or Toikanbetsu (問寒別, here). Regardless of where one chooses to take out, the river is never very far from the Japan Rail Soya Train Line, so access is relatively good. It’s worth noting that for the 20km beyond Teshio-ohashi to the river mouth is quite limited in convenient locations to take out.

General notes

There’s deep historical significance in the Teshio River. Along the way, canoeists will be re-tracing the steps of one of Japan’s most famous domestic explorers, Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦武四郎, Wikipedia). In 1857, guided by local Ainu, Matsuura travelled up the Teshio, making geographical and cultural observations along the way. It was from this journey that Matsuura came up with the name Hokkaido. The Teshio’s main claim to fame for canoeists, however, is its 160km of uninterrupted flow. This makes it one of the longest weir-free canoe journeys in Japan. The name ‘Teshio’ comes from the indigenous Ainu word ‘tesh’, which means ‘beam’. Used in the context of the Teshio River (tesh-o-pet), the word refers to the unique river-wide angled ledges found along the length of the river. These ledges form interesting sideways-flow rapids that take some getting used to.

  • Difficulty: At normal river flows, this river journey is suitable for anyone at or above ‘upper-level beginner’. If you’re confident in your canoe maneuvering skills, you’ll be fine. The width and sheer volume of the river on the lower half of the river should not be taken lightly, however. At some points the river is up to 200m wide. Therefore, good experience with a variety of outdoor weather conditions is also important, in order to make good decisions when inclement weather rolls in.
  • Where to start? In order to squeeze as much worthwhile paddling in as possible, we opted to start at Shibetsu City, where we’d encounter the last two weirs of the Teshio in the first 20km of paddling. Luckily, we were late in the season, so the Teshio-gawa Dai-ni Weir (天塩川第二頭首工, location) was open and we were able to paddle straight through. The last weir of the river (the Furen Nijusen Entei Weir, 風連二十線堰堤, location), however, is a must-portage affair, and was quite the hassle after already paddling 20km that day. Upon reflection, it’s a bit difficult to justify starting this high on the river. Not only does one have to portage around at least one weir, but river levels up until Nayoro are highly dependent on the outflow from the Uryu Power Station. To this end, we’d recommend most paddlers start at Nayoro, here, giving 150km of uninterrupted paddling to the coast.
  • Where to finish? Most would assume the answer would be an unequivocal ‘the sea’. However, this is highly wind-direction dependent. On-shore winds from the west or southwest are common at the coast, making the last 20km all but impossible much of the time. It’s also important to note that the last 30km of the river is essentially flat-water paddling – there’s just no flow at all. In fact, given a good spring tide, the river flows backwards at high tide on the last 15km home stretch. Therefore, for many paddlers, Teshio-ohashi Bridge just south of Horonobe Town (幌延町) may be the more realistic option. When we first did the trip in our open-deck canoe, we were graced with tailwinds the whole way, even on the day where the river turns to flow south. Had we not had this fortuitous weather window, we would likely have taken out at Teshio-ohashi Bridge, still a very worthy end point to a worthwhile river journey.
  • Resupply points: There are multiple small towns along the river, plus a few hotspring onsen. As such, there’s very little need to carry much more than a day’s worth of back-up food.
  • Accommodation: Conceivably, one could complete this entire trip whilst staying overnight in hotels and hot-spring inns along the way. Dirt-bags, however, will appreciate the myriad options for wild-camping. In addition to the campgrounds listed below, any of the canoe ports marked on the map will suffice for camping, as will any well-raised gravel bar along the river.
  • Canoe rental: There are very few canoe rental outfitters in Hokkaido – mainly due to liability issues. There are a couple of outfitters on the Teshio River, but both only rent out canoes to paddlers who can demonstrate some experience in canoeing. When contacting the outfitters, we’d recommend attaching evidence that you know what you’re doing. E.g., a short list of rivers paddled, photos of you in a canoe, a list of canoeing and/or river safety courses you’ve completed etc. These outfitters do not rent out canoes to beginners.
    • Nakagawa Tourism Association (https://nakagawatourism.com/) – A representative we spoke to said that long-term rentals (i.e., overnight or more) are considered on a case-by-case basis. You’ll need to convince them you’re not a beginner. Contact them for prices (email: info@nakagawatourism.com).
    • Teshio-gawa Canoe Center – Their website (https://mint.hokkai.net/~hccc/teshiogawa%20canoe) lists pick-up/drop-off services (2000yen per 10km), open-deck canoe rentals (10,000yen per day), and kayak rentals (5,000yen per day). Includes paddles, PFDs, and flotation bags.  Insurance is not included in the price – if you break the canoe, they’ll charge you the going price for replacement.
Route description

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.

Route Timing

If you’re determined to paddle the full 175km from Shibetsu to the sea, it’s best to allow six days. With very favourable winds on the next-to-no-flow lower 120km, however, we were able to finish the full trip in four days (with two 10-hour plus days at the end). If putting in at Nayoro and taking out at Nakagawa, paddlers could easily complete this shorter version of the trip (90km) in about three days.


Public transport:

To get to the put-in at Shibetsu City (士別市), take a train from anywhere in Hokkaido to Shibetsu Station (士別駅) on the JR Soya Line (JR宗谷線) bound for Wakkanai (稚内). From Shibetsu Station it’s about a 20 minute walk (2.5km) to the river. If you’re traveling in one car, then you’ll likely leave your car at the takeout point in Teshio Town (here) and need to get back to the put-in. Take any of the local buses from the Teshio (てしお) bus stop here (on the western side of the road), headed for either Toyotomi-eki (豊富駅) or Shinchiso (深地層). The bus stop is about 5 minutes walk from the river in Teshio Town. Get off at Horonobe JR Station, and catch the express train to Shibetsu (士別市). The JR Soya Line runs almost the entire length of the river, so if at any time you need to get off the river and catch a train further down the route, it’s usually possible to do so.

By car: 

There’s plenty of parking at the take-out in Teshio Town and put-in at Shibetsu City. All the canoe ports along the river are accessible by car. See the public transport section for advice on the public transport shuttle for those traveling in only one car.

Physical maps

See also the excellent official Teshio River Map (in Japanese), updated in January 2020. Download here (35Mb, PDF). Hokkaido Wilds backup: http://hokw.jp/offteshi. This map is produced by branches of the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau and the Non-Profit Orgainzation Down The Tesshi.

Official Topo Map: Shibetsu (士別) – map no. NL-54-12-11-2
Official Topo Map 2: Onnebetsu (温根別) – map no. NL-54-12-11-4
Official Topo Map 3: Nishifuren (西風蓮) – map no. NL-54-12-11-3
Official Topo Map 4: Teshiofuren (天塩風蓮) – map no. NL-54-12-11-1
Official Topo Map 5: Nayoro (名寄) – map no. NL-54-12-10-2
Official Topo Map 6: Chiebun (智恵文) – map no. NL-54-12-10-1
Official Topo Map 7: Bifuka (美深) – map no. NL-54-12-10-3
Official Topo Map 8: Monponai (紋穂内) – map no. NL-54-12-9-4
Official Topo Map 9: Onnenai (恩根内) – map no. NL-54-12-9-3
Official Topo Map 10: Otoineppu (音威子府) – map no. NL-54-11-12-4
Official Topo Map 11: Osashima (筬島) – map no. NL-54-11-16-2
Official Topo Map 12: Saku (佐久) – map no. NL-54-11-16-4

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

At normal water levels, the Teshio River Journey is billed in most guidebooks as suitable for beginners. We’d concur with this assessment, even with slightly elevated river levels – the extra water would make the naname-tesshi angled drops more manageable. That said, beginners should be conservative in decision making – the Teshio is a massive river with very little shelter from the wind. Be prepared to shelter at an un-serviced canoe port overnight to wait out bad weather if necessary. At the very least, be familiar with river self-rescue techniques.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Teshio River


Tsukumosuigo Park Campground (士別市つくも水郷公園キャンプ場)

176km from Teshio River mouth | Tsukumo-suigo Park Campground is a simple campground situated in the Tsukumo-suigo Park on the northeastern edge of Shibetsu City in northern Hokkaido. It’s very close to the Teshio River, so makes for a good place to stay the night before setting off on the Great Teshio River Journey in canoes.

Location: 44.18904 N / 142.40557 E | Free | Open: May-Oct | Staff hours: 9:00am till 4:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Hotel Ustsukushinoyu Onsen (ホテル美し乃湯温泉) | 660yen | 4km from campground
Nayoro-ohashi Bridge (名寄大橋上流)

151km from Teshio River mouth |This is a nice wild campspot next to the Teshio River, just upstream from the Nayoro-ohashi (名寄大橋) Bridge in Nayoro City, 150km from the Teshio River mouth. There’s room for a few tents just on the northern-most corner of the nicely mown park golf area, next to a couple of basic toilets. It’s about a 15 minute walk to get water from a nearby park (or you can filter water from the river). There’s a Seicomart convenience store about 10 minutes walk away (location). This is an unofficial campsite, but if you’ve arrived by canoe, you’ll get nothing but admiration from the locals (make sure to leave no trace). Unfortunately there’s no onsen or public baths nearby.

Location: 44.36013 N / 142.44314 E | Open: May-Oct
Closest Onsen: None
Bifuka Island Canoe Port (びふかアイランドカヌーポート)

117km from Teshio River mouth | Bifuka Island is an artificial ‘island’ created due to straightening work on the Teshio River. Essentially it’s a large piece of land on the inside of an old bend in the river. On the riverside there’s a gorgeous area of mown grass at the canoe port, perfect for camping. There’s also an official, fully-serviced campground another 5 minutes walk over the stopbanks, but we didn’t consider it worth the effort to carry gear that far from the riverside. There’s no toilets or water at the canoe port, but it’s not a far walk to use the campground facilities. In addition to the official campground, there’s also an onsen hot-spring (with attached restaurant and hotel) and a michi-no-eki local foodstuffs store up on the main road.

Location: 44.55604 N / 142.33032 E
Closest Onsen: Bifuka Onsen (びふか温泉) | 450yen | 0.5km from campground
Teshio-gawa Onsen Canoe Port (天塩川温泉カヌーポート)

100km from Teshio River mouth | Teshio-gawa Onsen hot-springs is one of the nicest areas for camping along the Teshio River. You can either rough it by camping in the less upkept grass at the riverside canoe port, or walk 230m up to the immaculate (and free) official campground behind the hot-springs. The hot-springs facility has an attached restaurant and accommodation, but there’s no stores nearby. The only drawback with this location as a campspot on the Teshio River canoe journey is its proximity to Bifuka Island – most paddlers will likely prefer to get a few more clicks under their belt before stopping for the night.

Location: 44.66222 N / 142.25456 E | Open: May-Oct
Closest Onsen: Teshio-gawa Onsen (天塩川温泉) | 400yen | 0.1km from campground
Otoineppu Nakajima Park (音威子府村中島公園)

92km from Teshio River mouth | This is a basic riverside park that allows camping. There’s a 24hr toilet nearby, and fountains with mains supply potable water. The park is a 200m walk from the Otoineppu Nakanoshima Canoe Port. A Seicomart convenience store is a 500m walk from the park. There’s no onsen or public baths nearby.

Location: 44.72334 N / 142.26371 E | Free
Closest Onsen: None
Nakagawa Napoto Park Auto Campground (中川ナポートパークキャンプ場)

60km from Teshio River mouth | Accessible from the Nakgawa Canoe port, the Naporo Park Auto Campground is a fully serviced campground with coin laundry, onsen hot-springs, BBQ house, and power outlets. Basic non-powered tent sites are 500yen per tent, whereas powered car-camping sites start at 1,500yen per night. Just next door is the Ponpira Resuing Onsen Hotel (rooms from about 5,000yen per person) with attached restaurant.

Location: 44.80098 N / 142.07373 E | 500 yen per tent | Open: Jun-Oct | Staff hours: 8:00am till 6:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Ponpira Aqua Rizuingu (ポンピラ・アクア・リズイング) | 400yen | 0.1km from campground
Penkebira Bend Wild Campspot (ペンケ平河川わん曲部野宿適地)

40km from Teshio River mouth | This is a natural raised gravel bar on the inside of a prominent bend on the Teshio River, about 3km upstream of Onoppunai-ohashi Bridge (雄信内大橋). There’s no facilities at all, but for those keen for a riverside driftwood campfire, skinny-dip, and a quiet night’s camp under un-spoilt stars, then this is the perfect location for it. There’s no road access to this spot at all, not even on foot. Make sure to camp as high up on the gravel bank as possible – the river can rise quite considerably with heavy rain upstream. Check the weather forecast in the catchment area on Windy.com here to be extra safe.

Location: 44.89814 N / 141.9541 E
Closest Onsen: None
Teshio-ohashi Bridge Canoe Port (天塩大橋カヌーポート)

19km from Teshio River mouth | This wild campspot is at the rough canoe port just downstream from the Teshio-ohashi Bridge Canoe Port. There’s nothing there in the way of facilities, and it’s relatively close to a busy main highway bridge, so this really is a last-resort sort of location to camp if you’re headed down the Teshio River in a canoe and you’re running out of daylight. Nearby is the Teshio-ohashi bus stop, and it’d be easy to call a taxi from Horonobe Town if need be (Teshio Hire 天塩ハイヤー, TEL: 01632-5-2114). Beyond Teshio-ohashi Bridge, there’s not much in the way of locations suitable to camp – there’s a possible spot at the 12km point (here), and if need be paddlers could camp around the 7km point on the spit where sandy beaches begin to appear on the river right (from here).

Location: 44.99287 N / 141.81628 E | Open: May-Sep
Closest Onsen: None
Kagaminuma Kaihin-koen Campground (鏡沼海浜公園キャンプ場)

0km from Teshio River mouth | Situated at the southern end of the Teshio Township, this well kept campground sits right next to Teshio Onsen. The campground has tent sites (500yen per tent) as well as powered auto-camp sites (3000yen per site). The tent sites, down by the pond, have the better view of Rishiri Island. This campground is well situated for paddlers (with cars) who have finished their Teshio River journey. For paddlers traveling by public transport, it may be more convenient just to camp in the riverside park near the canoe port (around here).

Location: 44.87662 N / 141.74348 E | 500 yen per tent | Open: May-Oct | Staff hours: 8:00am till 9:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Teshio Onsen (てしお温泉) | 600yen | 0.2km from campground
Onsen nearby

There’s a number of onsen along the way on this route – see the campgrounds section for links, locations, and details. Our pick of the bunch for views and atmosphere are the Teshio-gawa Onsen (天塩川温泉, location) half way thorough the route, and Teshio Onsen (てしお温泉, location) at the end of the route.

Extra Resources

In Japanese

Guide Options

There are a number of canoeing guiding outfits on the Teshio River. One guiding operation we’re always impressed with is River Trip Camel (http://camel-trip.biz/index.html). They offer some of the longest canoe trip tours in Hokkaido, including a four-day Teshio River trip (http://camel-trip.biz/canoetrip/pg279.html). They can customize tours to clients’ wishes.

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Teshio River Multiday Canoe Journey: A Complete Guide 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.