Posted on Mar 10, 2023

Posted on Mar 10, 2023

0 0


2 day(s)


1.5 mpk



Water clarity

Class II+



Best season





This upper section of the Uryu River 雨竜川 in northern Hokkaido is an early spring canoeist and packrafter's dream. With a wetland-like upper-upper section and a rowdier whitewater-esque lower-upper section, it's a great river to hit early in the season to get the juices flowing for the rest of the season. Expect plenty of waterfowl and wildlife along the way too, and riverside cascades cutting their way through the last of the winter season's snow. There's a lovely onsen enroute, and the area is famous for fresh, handmade soba noodles. The river is not much more than a trickle in the summer (and autumn) months, so early spring is the time to hit this one.

We visited this route on May 3, 2022

The crew: Haidee, Mari and Greg ( Thanks to Haidee and Greg for the proofreading on this post.


Route Map

Need to know details

Grade: II+
Engagement: E1
Remoteness: 1/5
Number of portages: 1
Total portage distance: 250m
Overall portage difficulty: 2/5

River Details

This route is on Uryu River (雨竜川), or Urir-o-pet in the Ainu indigenous language. The river is a Class A (一級河川) river, 155km in total length. This section of the river is between 8m and 45m wide. The gradient for this section of river is 1.5 mpk (7.92 FPM).

Weather: weather forecast for Uryu River

Ideal water level: 215.5m
Water level paddled 215.45m
Water level notes: We ran this section on May 2nd (215.33m) and 3rd (215.52m) in 2022. The Pon-kamuikotan Rapids were just shy of a Class III at 215.52m, and would likely get smoother at anything higher than that (unless at very high levels – there are some bus-sized boulders in the river). They’d certainly get more technical at anything lower than 215.5m – many of the larger rocks were submerged at 215.5m.

The Uryu River flows south from Lake Shumarinai, about 80km north of Asahikawa City in Hokkaido. It eventually finds its way to the Ishikari River, south of Asahikawa City.

Put-in Location: Google Maps

The upper-most practical put in for the Uryu River is at the Enjin-bashi bridge えんじん橋, about 2km downstream of Uryu-daiichi Dam 雨竜第一ダム on Lake Shumarinai. It’s a bit of a scramble, but it’s possible to put in upstream on the river right side of the bridge. Access is easiest when there’s still snow on the ground. The high upper 25km or so of the Uryu River is quite benign, winding its way through almost wetland-like terrain. It’s not until the 30km point south of Lake Shumarinai that the river livens up. The put in for the lower-upper section is about 8km north of the Horokanai Michi-no-eki, here. The put in here is a bit of a scramble, and there’s no eddy, but the river is not flowing very fast.

Take-out Location: Google Maps

The final practical take out point for this upper section of the Uryu River is in Horokanai township proper, at the Seigetsu-bashi bridge 静月橋 (location). There’s a small car park on the river right side downstream of the bridge. The river changes course regularly here, so make sure to scout out a good spot to take out – it’ll likely be on the river right either upstream or downstream of the bridge.

General notes

The Uryu River is somewhat of a tortured river, drained of most of its water for most of the year – while it flows into Lake Shumarinai, most of that water drains out to the Teshio River due to hydropower requirements. Each year in spring, however, the river returns to its former glory, with thrilling rapids and a good solid flow. As such, it’s only really a river to consider in the spring melt months.

This route guide applies to the upper 50km of the river below Lake Shumarinai, on down to Horokanai township. This section can further be split into the upper-upper and lower-upper sections, each with their own flavour and character.

  • Upper-Upper Section (Lake Shumarinai to Michi-no-eki): Unlike many rivers in Hokkaido, the Upper-Upper section is very benign, more so than lower down. Expect a very meandering wetland-like experience with plenty of waterfowl, some downed trees, and a few small cascades flowing into the river from the hillside. Overall a very relaxing paddle (but watch out for some minor riverside strainers and downed trees).
  • Lower-Upper Section (Michi-no-eki to Horokanai township): About 4km upstream from the Michi-no-eki, the river gets very rowdy, particularly in the spring high water season. Expect rapids nudging at Class III at times, fast-moving water in between those rapids, and generally just more of a fast-paced paddle all around.
Route description

For a two-day paddle (or relaxing one-day paddle), put in at Enjin-bashi bridge just south of the Lake Shumarinai Daiichi Dam. Paddle with the river southwards, and enjoy a relatively relaxing pace for about 30km. The least worst location to take out for this upper-upper section is at a concrete embankment on river left just after the Gogo-bashi bridge 五号橋 (location), about 8km north of the Seiwa Onsen. The second least worst location is about 4km downstream on river right just after passing under the Seiwa-bashi Bridge 政和橋 (location), but it may be very overgrown. We highly recommend scouting all potential put-ins and take-outs before setting off on the river.

For the second day (or a slightly more rowdy second-day paddle), put in either near the Gogo-bashi 8km upstream from the onsen, or bushbash your way down to the river from the Seiwa-bashi bridge. As you approach the World Famous in Hokkaido No. 3 Uryu River Railway Bridge 第三雨竜川橋梁 (location, the railway is now disused) at around the 38km mark, you’ll be greeted by the most technical rapids of this upper section of the Uryu River – the Pon-kamuikotan Rapids. Kamuikotan is the Ainu indigenous-language name given to naturally occurring gorge-like constrictions in rivers. Pon means ‘small’.

The Pon-kamuikotan Rapids nudge at Class III during spring melt, but for most paddlers can be best described as CII+. The main issue is that it’s very difficult to scout them; access to the river is very limited so it’ll feel like you’re running them blind. We trespassed onto the old railway bridge and used binoculars to try to scout a line. Keeping generally river left of center seemed to do the trick, and there was generally time enough to correct one’s line mid-rapid in an open deck canoe. Depending on water levels there may be a couple of holes to avoid, and there will likely be some fun wave trains to enjoy.

Beyond the railway bridge relic, the gorge-like vibes continue for another 1km or so, with limited practical places to get out of the river – take care not to capsize in the rapids upstream, or you may be in for a long, cold swim. Further downstream, the river is much wider in places.

At 5km downstream from the railway bridge, there is a weir that needs to be portaged. Portage on river left. Get off the river just under the road bridge before the weir. Get back into the river about 250m downstream near a small stream.

3km downstream from the weir is a dog-leg bend in the river with surprisingly rowdy rapids – think CII+ sort of pushy waves, enough to capsize an open-deck canoe if one’s brace is not on point. From there to the take out at Seigetsu-bashi bridge 清月橋, there’s not much of note. Enjoy a relaxing remainder of the paddle. The takeout can be a bit tricky location-wise, so take care to scout well in advance.

Route Timing
Day 1: 4hrs 46min
Day 2: 5hrs 0min

The timing of two days here assumes paddlers will do the upper-upper section and the lower-upper section (see General Notes below). Either of those sections alone are great as daytrips.


Public transport:

Both the upper- and lower-upper sections of the Uryu River are accessible by public transport. For the upper-most put in at the Enjin-bashi bridge えんじん橋, take a public bus to the Shumarinai bus stop 朱鞠内バス停 (location) from the central Horokanai Town bus stop 幌加内バス停 (location). Google Maps has directions and timetable information, here. From the Shumarinai bus stop, it’s a short walk to the river. To access Horokanai Town, there is a public bus that runs from Fukagawa JR station JR深川駅 (see the details on Google Maps here). The Horokanai Onsen is also accessible by the same public bus that goes to the Shumarinai bus stop above – take the bus from central Horokanai to the Ruonto-mae bus stop ルオント前 (location). Note that access to the river is not really practical in the area around the michi-no-eki. At a push, we’ve heard of people bush-bashing their way down to the river on the river right side, just downstream of Seiwa-bashi bridge 政和橋 (location) – a 2.5km walk from the onsen (directions on Google Maps).

By car: 

There is plenty of parking at the upper put in, near the Shumarinai Bus stop and public toilets (location). There’s also plenty of parking at the michi-no-eki parking area near the Horokanai onsen Ruonto (location). At the put in we’ve marked 8km upstream of the onsen (here), there’s no parking – park well to the side of the gravel road and you should be OK. At the lower take-out in Horokanai Town, there’s room for a few cars downstream on the river right of Seigetsu-bashi bridge, on the top of the stop banks (location).

Physical maps
Official Topo Map: Shumarinai (朱鞠内) – map no. NL-54-12-15-1
Official Topo Map 2: Soeushinai (添牛内) – map no. NL-54-12-15-2
Official Topo Map 3: Seiwa (政和) – map no. NL-54-12-16-1
Official Topo Map 4: Horokanai (幌加内) – map no. NL-54-12-16-2

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

We’d peg this spring-melt run at a lower-intermediate level. Note however that the months where this route is runnable are still very cold. The river will be entirely snowmelt, so the water will be extremly cold. We’d say drysuits or thick wetsuits are mandatory for spring paddling on the Uryu River. Note also that with the water running higher than normal, there is plenty of ways a paddler could come to grief – particularly getting caught in bushes on the riverside at bends. The normal rapid cautions apply – if you happen to capsize in the rapids, keep calm and just swim them out. Rapids on this route are followed by long spells of calmer water.

Weather forecast weather forecast for Uryu River


Onsen nearby

About 30km south of Lake Shumarinai is the lovely Horokanai Seiwa Onsen Ryuonto 幌加内せいわ温泉ルオント (location, 500yen). It’s part of a larger michi-no-eki (road stop) facility that also has public toilets, a massive car park, delicious local soba restaurant, and bungalows available for rent during the non-winter months (details here).

Extra Resources

Guide Options

We don’t know of anybody who specifically offers guided canoe, rafting, or packrafting trips down the Uryu River (in spring or otherwise). However, BASIS in Bihoro Town might be a good place to start with inquiries. They’re the real deal when it comes to back-to-basics adventure in northern Hokkaido.

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Show Full Route Notes Close Route Notes

Route Trip Notes description of the route (translated)

Lake Shumarinai is the largest man-made lake in Hokkaido. The lake is created by the Uryu Daiichi Dam. The Uryu River flows out of this huge lake, but during the dry season the river becomes such a miserable river that it’s often difficult to discern if it is flowing or not. The reason for this is that the water stored in Shumarinai Lake is not returned to the Uryu River after being used to generate electricity, but is instead discharged into the Teshio River a whole mountain range away. The river is a sorry state of affairs, but in early spring, when the snow melts and the water flows into the river, the Uryu River regains its original majestic appearance.

The Uryu River had been on all of our radars for a while now. We all knew that it’s only really runnable in the chilly spring months, so we finally rustled up the courage to commit to a couple of cold days paddling.

Nearing the Mon\Tues we’d earmarked for the trip, the weather forecast looked average. Temperatures hovering around the 5°C mark, and there was even some sleet on the forecast.

We all had drysuits though, and plenty of insulation to put under them. So we pressed on with the plan.

Day 1 – Scouting and setting up base in Horokanai

It was a Sunday, so Haidee and I were able to get away from Sapporo earlier than Greg and Mari – Greg had a work engagement in the morning. Haidee and I made use of the extra time to do some scouting of put ins and of the rapids above the railway bridge. The weather was nice enough. Below 10°C, but still nice enough.

Mari had booked two bungalows at the Horokanai michi-no-eki, right next to the Seiwa Onsen. We checked in ahead of Mari and Greg and checked out the digs. Each bungalow had a grunty air pump, which warmed them up nicely. That was about the extent to the luxuries, as mattresses and bedding was all BYO.

Day 2 – The Upper-upper Uryu-gawa River

After dropping a car off near the Gogo-bashi bridge, we all headed to the put in to start on the trip down the upper section of the 50km section of river we’d paddle over the course of two days. None of us had paddled this river before, so we all had a bit of first-time-river nervous excitement.

It was a somewhat subdued start to the Uryu River. This area of Hokkaido gets an inordinate amount of snow during the winter. It’s on par with, and often exceeds that of Niseko (Niseko being known internationally as a ski resort town). Therefore, the snow takes a bit longer to melt here. It was early May, and the signs of spring were limited to some large patches of snow – the new spring green shoots were only just showing themselves up here in northern Hokkaido.

The day progressed easily and at a very relaxed pace. Here and there, we had to dodge some downed trees, which spiced things up a bit. In places, the spring melt was producing some nice riverside waterfalls and cascades. In other places, it felt like we should have brought the skis with us.

As we paddled, we would see both blazing sunshine which made us swelter in our drysuits, and then windy sleet that had us scrambling for our warmest gloves.

A highlight was lunch. Haidee and I tuckered into some of Mari and Greg’s amazing dips.

The birds were pretty cool too.

The scenery just felt like quintessential northern Hokkaido. Low hills still draped with snow. An air of the quiet life. Big skies.

By the time we got to Gogo-bashi bridge, it was mid afternoon, and we were all ready to get off the water and get to an onsen. It was the first paddle of the season for all of us, and despite it not being a huge paddling day, we were all feeling jaded.

We pulled out canoes high up onto the embankment, stashed some of our gear in them, turned them over, and headed back to the onsen.

Day 3 – The Lower-upper Uryu-gawa River

After a restful night’s sleep, we woke to moodier skies than the day before. It was raining.

The forecast: Rain all day.

But that’s the beauty of drysuits. We layered up thick underneath and just embraced the water falling from the sky. At least it wasn’t snowing.

We had 8km to paddle before the exciting crux of the day’s paddle – the Pon-kamuikotan Rapids. These had a certain air of the unknown about them. We’d been able to scout them from afar from the old railway bridge, but we’d not been able to get close to them. We’d be running them somewhat blind.

The lead up to the rapids felt like the calm before the storm.

And then before we knew it, we were upon them. Haidee and I (or perhaps it was just me) volunteered to run the rapids first. Theoretically, if we just kept slightly river left of center, we’d be totally fine.

It was all over pretty quickly, but we came out the other end unscathed. Hearts racing, but right side up. Next it was Mari and Greg’s turn, and of course, they killed it. 

It was a rowdy ride for about 2km or so, which, once we got used to it, was a welcome change from the previous day of gentle meandering along a winding river.

Now we were really moving, and the river felt big and meaningful. And cold.

The other excitement for the day was the portage around the one weir of the trip. Haidee and I opted to drag our canoe across the wet grass. It was debatable whether this was a better solution than carrying. Greg, being the more civilized Canadian opted to carry.

In theory, the weir should have been the final excitement for the day. 3km downstream of the weir, however, was an unexpectedly rowdy dogleg bend. It caught us off guard, and it felt like it took everything we had to stay upright through some very pushy waves. I certainly felt like I was earning my keep in the stern.

The rest of the paddle was on autopilot. It was raining. We had some headwinds. We weren’t cold, but were ready to get off the water after a very satisfying two days paddling.

That night, we had a good cook-up in the bungalow Haidee and I were staying in. For Haidee and me, I made some pasta sauce and pasta. Fried garlic and veges, the whole gamut, cooked on our portable gas stove.

We would later be roundly chastised for such behavior by the bungalow staff. “You know you’re not supposed to grill meat and other smelly food in the bungalows,” the Officially Sniffer (Greg’s words) said to me (and Greg and Mari later). 

I acknowledged that we’d read the sign, but had only cooked vegetables. His continued consternation indicated he was not convinced, despite my pleas that Haidee is a vegetarian.

Lesson learned – the bungalows at the Horokanai onsen are very much a stink-free food zone, with an Official Sniffer staff member who is very serious about his job 🙂

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Upper Uryu River Canoeing 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.