ROUTE GUIDE: Four-day Goose-watching Cycle Tour (Hokkaido, Japan)

In late-April and early-May, thousands upon thousands of migratory geese make a stop-off at Miyajima Pond, just 50km northeast of Sapporo City. This happens to be around the time of the Golden-Week public holidays in Japan. This makes for a perfect excuse for an uber-extended weekend cycle tour of up to four or five days. The weather can be very changeable at this time of the year – in 2013 we did a similar trip out this way (route and blog here), and had rain almost every day. During the trip this year (2017), we had scorchingly hot weather. But if you manage to catch the geese at the peak of their population, it can be a spectacular sight.

About this route guide

Below, I outline a 5-day, leisurely bicycle touring route around the Iwamizawa-plains area northeast of Sapporo City in Hokkaido, Japan. The route starts and ends in central Sapporo – there’s no need to take public transport on this trip. While the main draw of this route is the migratory geese at Miyajima Pond – only there during the end of April and start of May – the trip can be enjoyed year-round. You’ll experience some of the classic topography of the relatively developed area to the northeast of Sapporo – home to intensive agriculture, rivers, and sleepy traffic-free side roads. The route could easily be shortened to be completed in a three-day weekend, or even just an overnighter if just visiting the pond.

Cycle Touring Naganuma, Tsukigata, Akabira, and Mikasa (Hokkaido, Japan)

Essential Info

  • Distance: approx. 300km
  • Total climbing: approx. 2000m
  • Distance per day: Around 40km to 70km.
  • Road surface: 100% paved
  • Dates ridden: 3rd till 7th May 2017
  • Other resources: See our 2013 trip in a similar location here. It rained a lot.

Route Overview (highlights in bold)

  • Day 1 – Sapporo to Yuni (50km): The Shiroishi Cycling Road can’t be beaten for getting out of Sapporo City to the southeast.
  • Day 2 – Yuni to Tsukigata (55km): The quiet farming-access roads leading up to Kuriyama are traffic-free, and Shinotsu Park is great for a break.
  • Day 3 – Tsukigata to Akabira (75km): The foothills to the west of the Iwamizawa Plains are gorgeous, and make sure you find the cycling road along the Utashinai valley.
  • Day 4 – Akabira to Mikasa (60km): The quiet and lonely Route 452 towards Yubari is a great way to get away from it all. Make sure to stop off at the San-dan Falls.
  • Day 5 – Mikasa to Sapporo (70km): Make sure to cut through the center of the Nopporo Forest Park on your way back into Sapporo City – pure bliss.

Other Hokkaido Cycle Touring Resources

Route Map

Route map direct link | GPX route file download

Daily Route Summary

Day 1 – Sapporo to Yuni (由仁) (50km)

The best way to get out of Sapporo to the southeast is by and far the Shiroishi Cycling road. Day 1 takes this route via Kita-Hiroshima City, and meanders across the Naganuma Plains before ending at the well-kept Yuni Campground. The Yuni Onsen is a 2km ride away from the campsite, but is absolutely worth the effort of going. It is a tanin-soaked onsen, and they have really great-value meals there too. If you can’t be bothered cooking, then it is very well worth eating there!

Cycle Touring Naganuma, Tsukigata, Akabira, and Mikasa (Hokkaido, Japan)

Day 2 – Yuni (由仁) Tsukigata (月形) (55 km)

This is quintessential Sapporo-area rural scenery. Relatively small-scale agriculture, and hopelessly quiet roads. On a clear day you’ll be able to see the Yubari mountain range in the distance. Towards the end of the day the route crosses the mighty Ishikari River. Shinotsu Park is a great place for a rest – although bring your own shade on a sunny day – this new park has yet to grow its trees tall.

Cycle Touring Naganuma, Tsukigata, Akabira, and Mikasa (Hokkaido, Japan)

Day 3 – Tsukigata (月形) to Akabira (赤平) via Miyajima Pond (宮島沼) (75km)

Miyajima Pond at daybreak in late April is the center-piece of this route. Get there at the right time of day at the right time of the year, and you’ll be treated to the amazing natural phenomenon of thousands of migratory geese stopping over on their way north to Siberia. The rest of the route from Tukigata to Akabira skirts the plains to the west, and climbs up and over the Utashinai Pass via a great cycling road along the valley floor. The campground at Elm Kogen has a beautiful view out over the valley below.

Cycle Touring Naganuma, Tsukigata, Akabira, and Mikasa (Hokkaido, Japan)

Day 4 – Akabira (赤平) to Mikasa (三笠) (60km)

I have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with Route 452 along the back side of the mountain range to the east of the Iwamizawa Plains. I love it because it is remote. Expect no shops, convenience stores, or even vending machines for a good solid 40km. And it has the beautiful San-dan Falls too. But it can be a brutal ride – two out of three times I have ridden it it has been in torrential rain. It is potholed….but still it is a great way to avoid the busy roads on the plains to the west. It is a route you’ll grow to love.

Cycle Touring Naganuma, Tsukigata, Akabira, and Mikasa (Hokkaido, Japan)

Day 5 – Mikasa (三笠) to Sapporo (札幌) (70km)

The last day of a Sapporo-out-and-back cycle tour can be either a beautiful roll through lovely flat farmland, or a pedal-smashing endurance test depending on the weather and wind direction. On this particular trip for us, we had the latter. But don’t let that put you off – the Nopporo Forest Park is always an oasis of calm and green, just before you re-join with the Shiroishi Cycling Road back into central Sapporo City. Photo below by Adam Szabo.

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