Upper Shiribetsu River Packrafting (Kimobetsu-Kyogoku)

尻別川 | Shir-pet

Posted on Sep 4, 2019
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Posted on Sep 4, 2019

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31 1
Reading time: 4 min
18.3km

Distance

0.5 day(s)

Time

2.76 mpk

Gradient

4/5

Water clarity

Class II

Difficulty

Jun-Nov

Best season

The Shiribetsu River (尻別川, 126km) is a gorgeous waterway snaking its way northwest from the foot of Nakayama Pass, around the flanks of Yotei-zan, and along the Niseko Range to the Japan Sea via Niseko. This route on a mellow upper section of the river is suitable for intermediate-level paddlers or beginners with an experienced buddy, and will give full-frontal views of Yotei-zan on the way. Further downstream is some serious whitewater, but this section is perfect for smelling the roses and enjoying a relaxing day out.

We visited this route on Aug 17, 2019

Chris Auld contributed photos to this post.

Last updated Jun 18, 2020

Route Map

Need to know details

Difficulty

Overall difficulty: Intermediate (5/10)

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

River Details

This route is on Shiribetsu River (尻別川), or Shir-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 126km in total length. This section of the river is between 15m and 25m wide , with a normal flow rate of around 0.5m/s to 2.0m/s. The gradient for this section of river is 2.76 mpk (14.57 FPM).

Weather: Windy.com weather forecast for Shiribetsu River

Current water level: 252.43m and stable. No river level warnings issued. Last updated 2021/2/28 2:40 (Source).

Location

This route wraps around the northeastern flanks of Yotei-zan in the Niseko area in southwestern Hokkaido.

  • Put-in: There are a few options for putting in. The furthest upstream that paddlers tend to put in is the Kimobetsu Sakai-bashi Bridge (喜茂別境橋, here) in the Suzukawa settlement, about 7km upstream from central Kimobetsu Town. On the northern side of the Kimobetsu Sakai-bashi bridge is a gravel parking area. Boats can be put in on the downstream side of the bridge, here, on the carpark side of the river. There’s also the Kamishiribetsu Bridge (上尻別橋, here), which is more convenient for public transport.
  • Take-out: The most convenient take-out spot is just upstream from the Kyoryu Bridge (京留橋, here), near the Kyogoku Spring.

General notes

Niseko is one of Hokkaido’s most popular spots for adventure tourism, so the Shiribetsu River – which runs through the larger Niseko region – naturally draws plenty of rafting tours. This upper section, however, is relatively laid back compared to further downstream, so you’re unlikely to meet many others on the river. It is a perfect section of river to enjoy great full-frontal views of Mt. Yotei.

  • River level: We ran this section of the Shiribetsu River just after a minor typhoon, with a river level of 253.28m at the Kimobetsu-karyu measurement station. Normal river levels are around 252.51m. At this elevated level, there was very minimal rock-dodging required – we’d very happily return in spring if the river is running at this level. At the normal level of 252.50m, there will be some more rock-dodging maneuvers required.
Route description

The full route here is just over 18km, but there are multiple points along the way to put in and take out, so can be shortened according to the day’s plans. After putting in just downstream from the Sakai-bashi Bridge, the river is well-behaved for about 2.5km, before a section of Class II rapids with exposed rocks. These will seem to come out of nowhere after letting your guard down. Around the halfway point, at about 9km into the route, you’ll paddle a relatively calm section of river flowing directly towards the towering Yotei-zan. A real sight to behold. At the 12.5km point, just after a green bridge, is a natural dam which is navigable at normal water levels, but take care and select your line carefully. The only portage on the route comes at the 16km mark, with a man-made dam. This 100m portage is not too strenuous, but there’s a large carpark nearby, so can make for a convenient early take-out. It is worth carrying on, however, as the end of the route marked here is close to the famous Kyogoku natural springs.

Route Timing
Trip time: 3hrs 0min

This route is relatively straight forward, but does have one short 100m portage section that slows things down a little. Expect to spend a solid half-day, enjoying the scenery and paddling on the calmer spots.

Transport

Public transport:

This route is accessible via public bus, using the Kutchan to Date (倶知安~伊達) bus route run by Donan Bus. If you’re traveling from Kutchan, get on the bus at Kutchan JR Station (here), and get off at the Suzukawa bus stop (鈴川バス停) in front of the Suzukawa Post Office (around here). There are only three buses per day: 7:05, 10:26, 18:30. The trip will take 50 minutes and cost 850yen. If you’re catching the bus from the end of the route (after depositing your boat at the start of the route), then you can catch the bus from the Kyogoku Bus Terminal (京極バスターミナル, here), at 7:30, 10:54, or 18:58. If arriving by bus to the Suzukawa Bus Stop, it would make sense to walk west, across the Shiribetsu River over the Kamishiribetsu-bashi Bridge (上尻別橋), and put in just downstream from the bridge on the western side of the river (here).

By car: 

If traveling by car, there is a carpark here, on the northern side of the Sakai-bashi bridge (境橋) just south of Suzukawa village. Boats can be put in on the downstream side of the bridge. For the take-out, park a car upstream from the Kyoryu-bashi Bridge (京留橋), here.

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Kimobetsu (喜茂別) – map no. NK-54-20-4-1
Official Topo Map 2: Kyogoku (京極) – map no. NK-54-20-3-2

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 on the section of Class II rapids around here. They tend to come out of nowhere after a 2.5km section of relatively calm paddling, so take care. Also take care to portage the weir at around 16km, here.

Weather forecast

Windy.com weather forecast for Shiribetsu River

CampSites

Kyogoku Three-Yuu Park Campground (京極スリーユウパークキャンプ場)
Kyogoku Campground is a large, open campground in easy access to Kyogoku Onsen, the Kyogoku Michi-no-eki and the Kyogoku natural water spring. It is located just west of Kyogoku Town, on the eastern flanks of Yotei-zan, near Niseko. Location: 42.86207 N / 140.87155 E | 500 yen per tent | Open: May-Oct | Staff hours: 7:00am till 8:00pm.
Closest Onsen: Kyogoku Onsen (京極温泉) | 600yen | 0.2km from campground
Onsen nearby

Kyogoku Onsen (京極温泉, 600yen, location) at the end of the route would be the natural choice for a post-paddle soak. There’s also a restaurant attached, open from 11:30am till 7pm. The onsen is right next to the Kyogoku Campground.

Extra Resources
  • See HokkaiCamp.com’s writeup and map (in Japanese) here.

Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes

HokkaiCamp.com description of the route (translated)

Wrapping around the base of Yotei-zan, making its way along the foot of the Niseko Range on its way to the Japan Sea is Shiribetsu River. It is a popular river with rafting tours, and with fantastic scenery one can put it in the top echelon of canoeing locations. Spring water from Yotei-zan flows into the river, so has been certified multiple times as Japan’s cleanest river. Farming is intensive in the area, however, so paddlers might not necessarily agree. Around Niseko, the river is an area suited for advanced paddlers, but this section of the river is not particularly difficult, so is a great place to experience the region’s great scenery.

Hokkaido was in the grips of a seasonal typhoon, so I’d been scouring the river water level data for a river Chris and I could do that wasn’t at or above flood levels. Curiously, while every other river seemed to be considerably higher than usual, the Yoichi River just northwest of Sapporo seemed to be at its usual trickle-level self. So we set off from Sapporo to check it out. A quick scout of the river from a bridge, however, showed that despite the raging typhoon elsewhere, the Yoichi River was still nothing more than a trickle – in the packraft, we’d be scraping along for sure. So we gave up on that idea, and continued on towards Chris’s cabin in Rankoshi. We’d check out the Shiribetsu River on the way, just in case it looked suitable for a paddle.

We hadn’t been particularly optimistic about our chances, but from a couple of bridges along the way, the Shiribetsu River looked perfectly runnable. In fact, at this level, we’d hardly need to even think – all the large boulders and drops were completely covered in water. “Let’s just point the packraft downstream and go,” Chris said cheerfully.

Of course the first order of business was to prepare the shuttling. I dropped Chris and the boat off at the start of the route in Suzukawa Town, and then drove to the end of the route with my folding bike. Another hour later, I had cycled the 18km back to the start, and we were on our way.

This would be the maiden voyage for our new Bending Branches paddles that Chris had picked up in the US before this trip over here to Hokkaido. He’d picked up a Viper double-bent paddle, a Java 11 bent-shaft, and a couple of Expedition Plus paddles. And all at a generous discount by Bending Branches in support of our Hokkaido paddling project – thank Bending Branches!

For this trip, we were on the MRS Barracuda R2 Pro packraft. True to Chris’s words, at this water level, we more or less pointed the raft downstream and went for it, only putting in serious effort when trying to catch some of the more interesting looking lines. The sky was overcast with low cloud, so we didn’t get any of the great views of Mt. Yotei that the guidebooks promised – or the crystal clear water this river is known for – but some of the sandstone cliffs along the way made up for it.

The upper Class 1 rapids that guidebooks talked about didn’t really feature much at this water level. The current was strong, however, so a capsize would have been annoying. At the old weir-like drop near the Ryusan Bridge (留産橋), we tried surfing the large wave that the flood-like levels had created, but the flexy packraft didn’t quite catch it.

The weir at the 16km mark was a roaring torrent. The uniform ‘drowning machine’ backwash extended at least 15m or so from the weir. Anyone or anything caught in that would have spent a long time pinned underwater. As we portaged around it, it gave me the hebie-gebies.

Beyond the weir, it was a quick 2km paddle to our take-out location just upstream from Kyogoku. We let the air out of the packraft, and stuffed it into the boot of Chris’ car, ready for the next section, just downstream.

Comments | Queries | Reports

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

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