Tokachi River Overnighter Canoe Trip

十勝川 | Tokap-chi

Posted on Oct 3, 2019
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Posted on Oct 3, 2019

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Reading time: 8 min
50km

Distance

2 day(s)

Time

3 mpk

Gradient

3/5

Water clarity

Class I

Difficulty

Jun-Nov

Best season

The Tokachi River (十勝川, 156km) is an iconic river flowing through the southern central area of Hokkaido. The vast agricultural plains of the Tokachi region get their name from this river. On this 50km section of the river from the Kuttari Dam outlet (屈足ダム放水口) to Tokachigawa Onsen (十勝川温泉), paddlers can expect wide open skies, the towering Hidaka and Daisetsuzan mountain ranges in the distance, spectacular cliffs, red-crested cranes, white-tailed eagles, and river-bed camping perfection. The river flows right through the bustling city of Obihiro (帯広市), but you'd never know it - mercifully, this braided river has been left to wind and wend it's way mostly unencumbered for much of its length.

We visited this route on Sep 09, 2019

Haidee Thomson contributed photos to this post.

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (6/10)

Remoteness: 2/5
Number of portages: 0

River Details

This route is on Tokachi River (十勝川), or Tokap-chi in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 156km in total length. This section of the river is between 20m and 50m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 1m/s to 3m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 3 mpk (15.84 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Tokachi 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.

Location

The Tokachi River (十勝川) is located at the western edge of the vast Tokachi plains, just east of the Hidaka mountain range, in central Hokkaido. The put in for this 50km section of the river is right at the outflow of the Kuttari Dam (屈足ダム), about 8km downstream from the dam itself. There’s a rough double-track road leading to the put in location (a two-wheel drive car can easily drive it). The take-out for this section of the river is 50km downstream, at Tokachigawa Onsen – a large hotspring area with multiple hotsprings to choose from for a post-paddle soak.

General notes

This section of the Tokachi River is about the furthest you can canoe on the river without encountering a dam or weir. There are no portages required on this route.

  • Water levels: We ran this section of the Tokachi River at a healthy 142.46m, as measured at the Kyoei-bashi (共栄橋) water level measurement station (location, data). This was a perfect level, allowing mostly care-free paddling. The river level on this section is controlled to an extent by the outflow from the Kuttari Dam (屈足ダム, location, flow data). Indeed, on the first day of our trip, the dam was letting out 34m3/s, whereas overnight this dropped to 16m3/s. This dropped the water level by 16cm to 142.30m. By 10am the next day, the dam was letting out 45m3/s.
Route description

From the Kuttari Dam outflow canal, there’s about twice the volume of water in the Tokachi River compared to further upstream. With a good healthy flow right from the start, you’ll be flying. The route is fairly self-explanatory – follow the river along its winds and wends. The only serious obstruction on this section of the Tokachi River is the Tetra Rapids (新テトラの瀬), around here. When we were there, this inexplicable man-made drop – made of concrete tetra blocks – would have been runnable on the hard river left side. We would have done this, but there was also a drifted tree on the river right, where we’d ideally have stopped to scout the drop. As it was, both our canoes went over the decidedly low-water river right side. The concrete blocks didn’t put a hole in our canoe, but came close to it (gel coat repairs needed once we were back home). The center of this drop was a classic keeper, with about 1-2m of backwash – actually quite dangerous. Campspots along the way are everywhere – just keep a lookout for good shade, not too rocky surface, and plenty of driftwood for a campfire.

  • DAY 1: Kuttara Dam outlet to 2okm Campspot20km, 3.7mpk | There are a couple of good campspots around here, just after the Tetra Rapids. This section is, overall, the steepest section of this section of the river, but there’s no substantial rapids to speak of at normal water levels. The river does wind a lot though, so it’s not a river you can lay back and relax on – most corners involve ensuring your canoe does not end up in a sweeper.
  • DAY 2: 20km Campspot to Tokachigawa Onsen | 30km, 1.9mpk | From on the water, you’d never guess that the Tokachi River flows directly through one of Hokkaido’s largest cities. The river is well buffeted by thick forest, and in places spectacular cliffs. Along this section, expect to see red crested cranes and white-tailed eagles. The river does widen considerably, but there are large sweepers on some of the corners – keep vigilant.
Route Timing
Day 1: 4hrs 0min
Day 2: 4hrs 0min

Transport

Public transport:

Both the put-in location and take-out location are accessible by public transport. Google does a very good job at giving transport options by train and local bus. The closest local bus stop to the put in location is Kumaushi 27-go (熊牛27号, around here). Note that there are only three buses per day from the Kumaushi 27-go bus stop in either direction (Obihiro/Shimizu).  There are also regular buses to the Tokachigawa Onsen area.

By car: 

Both the put-in location and take-out location are accessible by car. If you’ve only got one car, drop the canoe(s) and gear at the start of the route, here. There’s a double-track gravel road running along the dam outlet canal from the main road (here) to the end of the ‘spit’. Drive the 40km or so (about 30 minutes) to the take out location on the river behind the Tokachigawa Onsen area (around here). Google Satellite imagery just shows a washed out shoreline, but when we were there in September 2019, there was a very nice gravel road running along the river. There were a couple of OK spots to take out along the road, as well as some widened spots to park a car without blocking access for others. From here, you’d need to walk about 1km to the Tokachigawa Onsen bus stop (here), and catch a bus to Obihiro City. From Obihiri City, catch the bus to Kumaushi 27-go bus stop (熊牛27号, around here). Google Maps does a good job at routing using public transport. Note that there’s only about three buses per day on the Kuttari Line [53] (屈足線) going in the direction of the Kumauchi 27-go bus stop. Make sure you’ve scouted out a couple of transport options before you set off.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Tokachi Shimizu (十勝清水) – map no. NK-54-8-2-2
Official Topo Map 2: Mikage (御影) – map no. NK-54-8-3-1
Official Topo Map 3: Shoei (祥栄) – map no. NK-54-2-15-3
Official Topo Map 4: Obihiro-hokubu (帯広北部) – map no. NK-54-2-15-1
Official Topo Map 5: Tokachigawa-onsen (十勝川温泉) – map no. NK-54-2-11-3

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

This section of the Tokachi River struggles to get over a Class I in terms of rapids, but it is about as close to a braided river as you’ll get in Hokkaido. Therefore, there are plenty of bends with dangerous sweepers – keep vigilant. On more than one occasion we remarked how this ‘easy’ river section was keeping us on our toes. Also note the dangerous New Tetra Rapids (新テトラの瀬), just before the 20km mark on the route. This is more a drop than a rapid, and although it’s only around 50cm, the center of the drop looked like a dangerous keeper hole when we were there. We recommend scouting this drop from the river right shore.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Tokachi River

CampSites

Tokachi River Bed (十勝河川敷)
When canoeing down the Tokachi River, there is a plethora of wild river-bed camping options along the way. This particular location is where we camped on our two-day overnight Tokachi River canoeing trip, and it was nice – lots of driftwood for a campfire, and some decent sandy spots to pitch a tent. For a good river campsite, look for a nice sandy surface, some trees or brush for shade, a nice big log to sit on, and good access to the water. Check the weather forecast before camping, including areas upstream – the catchment area is large, and the river will rise quickly after sustained rain. The Tokachi River can also rise and fall about 20cm overnight due to dam outflow adjustments, regardless of rainfall. Location: 42.945 N / 142.98513 E
Closest Onsen: None
Onsen nearby

This two-day route finishes in the Tokachi-gawa Onsen area (十勝川温泉). We recommend the Kangetsuen Hotel for a post-paddle soak (十勝川温泉 観月苑, location, 1000yen). It’s a bit on the pricey side, but it has gorgeous views of the river from the outdoor pools.

Extra Resources

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

“That water is way too low,” confirmed Greg. Greg and Mari, and Haidee and I had rendezvoused at the Rekifune River in Taiki Town on the southeastern side of the Hidaka Ranges in south-central Hokkaido. Haidee and I had already scouted the Rekifune River from a couple of bridges before meeting up with Mari and Greg, but they just confirmed what we’d been thinking – the Rekifune was in no condition right now for an overnight loaded canoe camping trip. “We’d be dragging the boats half the way,” continued Greg.

We’d been looking forward to this overnight canoe trip on the Rekifune River with Greg and Mari for a while now. We’d driven more than 3 hours from Sapporo City to get here, so we started to put on our thinking hats for an alternative.

“What about the Tokachi?” quizzed Greg. “It’s about 1.5hrs drive northeast from here, but there should be water. It felt like a bit of a gamble, but the catchment area of the Tokachi is so much larger than the Rekifune. It seemed like a decent bet to salvage the weekend. Failing that, we could always go for a paddle on Lake Shikaribetsu.

So we started the drive east to the Tokachi River. As Haidee drove, I started doing some basic mapping of a route, checked out HokkaiCamp.com for some beta, and checked the water levels. Good news – the water levels were about 30cm higher than a level that HokkaiCamp.com had reported as being “really good levels”.

When we arrived at the put in location, we were ecstatic. The Kuttara Dam hydro station outlet canal was pumping a great healthy torrent of water into the Tokachi – we were on. It was already 1pm by the time we finally got the canoes dropped off, one car shuttled to the take-out near Tokachi Onsen, and all of us back to the put in.

It was a scorcher of a day. Hot and dry. Getting on the water was sweet relief. Even more so with the great water level. Such a huge difference from the Rekifune. It was all whoops and whistles as we took off down the river.

It was immediately apparent that the Tokachi River has earned its respected prominence as the namesake of the vast Tokachi plains and extended Tokachi region. This grand old river on this section winds mostly unobstructed – a great flow moving at a decent clip towards the Pacific Ocean. It also became apparent that this would be no eyes-closed float down an easy river, either. Most bends in the river required careful reading of the water, and avoiding sweepers – downed trees ready to stop boats and paddlers in their tracks.

For any paddlers with at least an intermediate level of skill and experience, these were all easily avoided. But this is certainly not a first-timer’s beginner river.

With the Hidaka Range as a backdrop, there were some spectacular views to be had. For the most part, however, it was the wide open skies that really made things interesting.

“We’re generally at-the-crack-of-noon starters,” quipped Greg half way through the afternoon. He and Mari are veterans of Hokkaido river tripping, and Greg was preaching the virtues of paddling the afternoon into the early evening. “There’s something about the evening light,” he mused.

It was indeed getting on. We’d been making good time though – an average of about 10km/h while moving, so we’d already made almost 20km by the time we started keeping our radars out for good camping spots for the night. I’d marked a couple of possible locations while doing some Google Satellite scouting in the car, and we were coming up to one very soon.

We were also coming up to the New Tetra Rapids (新テトラの瀬) marked in a 2005 guidebook, and on HokkaiCamp.com’s GPS route of this section of the river. “A disappointing drop made of concrete tetra-blocks, that paddlers should definitely scout before committing to” read the guidebook description.

I had meant to keep a proper lookout for this obstruction in the river, but we were upon it before we could really do much scouting. We could see a definite horizon line, so Mari and Greg, up ahead, pulled as far as they could to the river right. Unfortunately, there was a huge uprooted tree on the river right, where otherwise they could have got out of the canoe to have a better look. In what appeared to be a last-minute decision, they pointed their canoe downstream, aimed for a gap between two tetra blocks, and rode the blocky, not at all smooth drop.

I would describe their passage across the drop as ‘angular’ in the way the front of the canoe dropped down, and then the back end thumped down after it.

Haidee and I were only about 20m behind, so were more or less committed too. We went for as much of a gap between a protruding concrete block as we could, and followed suit with an angular, thumping drop. Tell-tale sounds of chipping and cracking gelcoat could be heard above the roar of the water.

Sure enough, upon investigation later, we’d managed to peel off a good chunk of gelcoat. Easily fixed back home, and mostly cosmetic.

From the shore downstream, we did a quick debriefing. At the current water levels, the center would have been quite dangerous, with a 2-3m backwash keeper-like stopper happening. On the far river left, there was definitely a safe line. 

As it happened, there was a very nice looking sandy/gravel bar just downstream from the Tetra Rapids, so we figured since we were out of the boats, we may as well camp here for the night. The early evening clouds set us up for a beautiful restful night of prime Tokachi riverbed camping.

The next morning broke cool and calm. To our surprise, the water level had dropped 16cm overnight. Was yesterday’s great water level just because of some left over effect from some recent rain? A look at the water level station readings, however, suggested this wasn’t the case. At around 1am, the water levels dropped from a stable 142.46m to 142.30m over the course of about an hour, and then stayed there until late morning. Someone had turned off the taps at the Kuttara Dam for some reason.

Haidee discovered some stranded fish in an orphaned pond, and spend about an hour scooping them up and reuniting them with the river just a few meters away.

In the meantime, Greg showed off with his newest gear purchase – a camping kettle. “It has a perfect spout for drip coffee,” he said, like a true coffee snob.

We got on our way on the river at around 9am. “This is an early start for us,” Greg informed us. 

Before long, the cool of the morning was but a distant memory. It was shaping up to be another scorcher of a day. We were making good time still though, with a decently steep river propelling us downstream. We were now getting closer and closer to civilization – Memuro Town first, and then the large city of Obihiro. Greg and Mari had done this route before, and assured us that we’d never notice when we were passing through the city.

“The river feels completely detached from the city,” Greg explained.

He was right – the most we ever sensed from civilization was an increase in bridges over the river.

We stopped after about an hour of paddling for a break. It was 10:30 in the morning, and it felt like 100 degrees. A swim seemed like the only antidote.

The river was now flowing more like a stately heaving mass of water, broadsiding its way across the plains. We were starting to see more birdlife, including a few stately red-crested cranes.

The river still kept us on our toes with plenty of downed trees and sweepers to keep away from.

One of the most surprising and unexpected views came after lunch. We rounded a corner and were faced with some towering, multi-colored cliffs. Some layers in these cliffs appeared to be some sort of volcanic ash, and some had shells embedded in them. They were located around here, and were quite spectacular.

Beyond the cliffs, it wasn’t much further until our take out at Tokachigawa Onsen. With mountains fading into the distance, we were nearing the end of an awesome two days on the water. We couldn’t have imagined a better way to spend a swelteringly hot weekend than to spend it paddling down the mighty Tokachi River. A big thanks to Greg and Mari for coming along for the journey!

We finished up with a well-earned hotspring soak at the Kangetsuen Onsen Hotel, and then did the final shuttle back to the put in to pick up Greg and Mari’s car. From there, it was back to the big city Sapporo.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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Tokachi River Overnighter Canoe Trip Difficulty Rating

Category

Grade

Points

Strenuousness

Vertical Gain

D

25

Time ascending

D

0

Technicality

Altitude

D

0

Hazards

D

Navigation

D

Totals

25/100

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.