Shikaribetsu Gorge Hot Springs Ski Camping (central Hokkaido, Japan)


Shikaribetsu Gorge (然別峡), nestled into the southeastern foothills of the Daisetsu National Park in central Hokkaido, is home to a number of natural, wild hot spring onsen. In winter, the only way to get to them is on skis or snowshoes. The furthest (and most impressive) hot spring from the trailhead is Chinika-no-yu (チニカの湯). Even still, it is only 30 minutes along a snow-bound forestry road. Good camping options abound in the area, so this makes for a unique overnight Hokkaido ski touring experience.

Route GPS File

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Essential details


3km
Distance


1 hr
Time


60m
Ascent


720m
Highest point


2/10
Difficulty


Jan-Apr
Best Season

Need-to-Know Details

  • Location: This ski tour route starts in front of the closed gate (here) about 50m before the Shikaribetsu Kanno-no-yu Onsen carpark, in the northern reaches of Shikaoi Town in central Hokkaido, about 200km east of Sapporo city.
  • General notes: This route is all about camping next to wild onsen hot springs in the winter in Hokkaido. Distances are short, so make it a good solid few days of outdoor relaxation.
  • Route markers: There are no route markers, but you’ll be following snowed-in roads mainly. There are some signs (in Japanese) pointing to Shika-no-yu at the far end of the Shikaribetsu Campground. There are no signs indicating the location of Chinika-no-yu though, so be prepared to do some searching along the river below the dam.
  • Route timing: About 30 minutes from closed gate to Chinika-no-yu, the same on the return.
  • Transport
    • Public Transport: There is no public transport to the trailhead (location).
    • By car: It is possible to park in front of the closed gate in front of the snowed-in road that leads to the campground (location). Be prepared to clear some space in the snow bank though – about 15 minutes of digging may be required. Some Japanese blog posts I’ve seen mention parking in the Shikaribetsu Kanno Onsen carpark, but when we attempted to do that a staff member asked us to move on.
  • Paper topographical maps: For topographical maps, you can either print out this map (or adjust to your liking here – Shika-no-yu Onsen at the far end of the campground is in the cross-hairs – see printing instructions here), or buy the following 1/25000 paper topo maps (for 350yen) from a bookstore in Sapporo (such as Kinokuniya next to Sapporo Station or online in Japanese).
  • Snow and route safety: Fill your police notification out online using Compass – instructions here
  • Weather forecast: Windy.com pinpoint weather for Shikaribetsu Gorge here (note that the gorge is very sheltered, so the wind forecast may not be accurate).
  • Other resources
    • There is a blogger who has a record of many visits to the Shikaribetsu Gorge area – see the posts here (in Japanese). Some winter pictures of Gakeshita-no-yu and Chinika-no-yu here.
    • This is an older record of the many hot springs below the dam. When we were there, many of them simply didn’t exist any more.
  • Date visited: 23rd and 24th March, 2018

See my Hokkaido Ski Touring Resources page for more trips and tips
Please read my disclaimer, if you haven’t already

Shikaribetsu Gorge (然別峡) Wild Onsen Guide

General notes

Many of these wild onsen – particularly those below the dam – are only a few meters away from the Shiishikaribetsu River. After heavy rain and/or storms, they may be completely filled with sand and debris. As of writing (March 2018), a few of them had been destroyed by the 2016 typhoon that ravaged central Hokkaido. No doubt they’ll be re-constructed as time goes by, as some of them already have been.

Regardless of what calamities have come before, however, very few of these pools are maintained over the winter months. Therefore, be prepared to do some maintenance yourself before you use them – for example cleaning around the edges, removing leaves, or perhaps even shoveling out sand.

Also note that many of the Japanese sources I found on the Internet about the onsen below contradict each other on some of the names of each separate pool. Apart from the Shika-no-yu at the campground, just know that if you start at the dam (here) and clamber down the side of the river from there for no more than 300m, you’ll find at least three or four decent-sized hot pools along the way.

Shika-no-yu Onsen (鹿の湯)

This is a large concrete-bound circular open-air hot spring, fed by two smaller hotsprings a few meters away. The large pool will comfortably fit at least 10 people.

  • LocationAt the far end of the Shikaribetsu Gorge Campground (here).
  • Changing room: Not in winter.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: Over the winter months, it can develop a green slimy coating to the underwater surfaces of the pool. A shovel to remove slime from the edges is recommended. Also check that the hot water is flowing from the two feeder pools. You may need to clear away leaves from the mouths of the pipes.
  • Meaning: “Shika-no-yu” means Hotspring of the Deer. An apt name considering how many deer there are in the area.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Fufu-no-yu Onsen (夫婦の湯)

A one- to two-person pool carved out of the rock cliff face just above Shika-no-yu. It feeds into the Shika-no-yu. It is quite deep, and when we were there in early spring it was the perfect temperature.

  • LocationAt the far end of the Shikaribetsu Gorge Campground (here).
  • Changing room: Not in winter.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: Over the winter months, it can develop a green slimy coating to the underwater surfaces of the pool, and can collect leaves and dead grass. A shovel to remove slime from the edges is recommended.
  • Meaning: “Fufu” means husband-and-wife.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Gakeshita-no-yu Onsen (崖下の湯)

A medium-sized pool fed directly from hot water trickling out of the cliff. Depending on the level of the water, it is possible to squeeze into the small cave in the cliff for a natural sauna. Hands down the most amazing outdoor wild onsen experience I’ve ever had.

  • LocationAbout 150m below the dam on the Shiishikaribetsu River (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: There may be a green algae growing on the rocks in the pool. When we were there, it had been scrubbed clean (scrubbing brushes are provided). If the pool is really empty, you’ll need to block the outlet. We used a piece of pipe hanging up close by to do this. After about 30 minutes the pool had enough hot water in it to spread out comfortably.
  • Meaning: “Gakeshita-no-yu” literally means The Hotsprings Below the Cliff.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Cave sauna at Chinika-no-yu (Shikaribetsu Gorge, Hokkaido, Japan)

Pira-no-yu Onsen (ピラの湯)

An onsen fed by a hot-water waterfall. The pool currently does not exist, but appears to have existed previously.

  • LocationAbout 250m below the dam on the Shiishikaribetsu River (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: While the pool no longer exists (as of March 2018), the hot-waterfall is interesting to visit. We visited the waterfall as we waited for the Gakeshita-no-yu to fill up. Of course, if you’ve got the time and the inclination, you could always spend a day try making a pool yourself with the surrounding rocks.
  • Meaning: “Pira” means precipice in Ainu language.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Chinika-no-yu Onsen (チニカの湯)

There was only a small pool to indicate that this large (20-person) pool ever existed. I imagine the sand that filled it up will be dug out soon enough by some keen hot-spring lover.

  • LocationAbout 10 meters upstream from the Gakeshita-no-yu (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Notes: I’ve also seen this hot spring referred to as Penichika-no-yu (ペニチカの湯 – here).
  • Meaning: “Chinika” means ‘dream’ in Ainu language.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Menoko-no-yu Onsen (メノコの湯)

This is a one or two-person sized pool above Gakeshita-no-yu. It is the highest up of any of the pools in the area.

  • Location: Just above Gakeshita-no-yu (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Meaning: “Menoko” means ‘woman’ in Ainu language.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Damushita-no-yu Onsen (ダム下の湯)

This is a one- to two-person pool, right below the lower dam on the Shiishikaribetsu River. It was quite green and covered in algae when we were there.

  • Location: Just below the lower dam (here).
  • Changing room: No.
  • Gender-separate pools: No.
  • Meaning: “Damu-shita” means ‘below the dam’ in Japanese.
  • Details in Japanese:  Mixed Bath Journalist Mina’s details

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Trip Report

This trip to the Shikaribetsu Gorge area was part of a four-day ski tour mission to eastern Hokkaido. The main focus was to check out the Mt. Musa hut (route guide) and Mt. Nishibetsu hut (route guide), but on the way back to Sapporo I added in one night camping next to a wild onsen at Shikaribetsu Gorge.

We arrived at the Shikaribetsu Gorge Kanno Onsen carpark at around 4pm, after driving almost 5 hours from Shibecha Town further east. We were just getting ready to leave the car when a staff member from the Kanno Onsen asked us not to park our car in their carpark. They seems somewhat fed up with people leaving their cars there overnight to visit the wild onsen beyond the campground. Fair enough.

So we moved the car to just in front of the closed gate that leads to the campground.

Despite it only being an overnight trip, and only having to ski about 15 minutes to our campspot, we were carrying plenty of gear. To be fair, much of the extra was food, and the two Swedish torches – for a nice contained campfire – added to the bulk.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

My original plan had been to ski the 30 minutes to Chinika-no-yu and set up camp there. But it was getting late, so we decided to just ski the 10 minutes or so to the Shikaribetsu Gorge Campground and camp next to the Shika-no-yu hotspring. Ah the luxury of having multiple wild hotspring options in one area!

From the closed gate it was a downhill ski along the road before turning off to the left and crossing a bridge to the campground. There was a well-trodden snowshoe track that veered to the right – that is not to the campground – so we figured the Chinika-no-yu hotspring must be the more popular one.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

I’d only pitched my new pyramid style tent (a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultamid 4) once before, so it took some time to get it nice and taut. Once it was set up and we’d fashioned some tables and fire-pit, we felt well ready for the night ahead.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Before dinner we also did some pool cleaning. The Shika-no-yu pool had bugs floating on the surface, and plenty of slimy algae around the edges. Nothing 15 minutes of work with our collapsible shovels didn’t fix though.

Remember, this was after at least five months of probably no cleaning over winter – this onsen is only officially maintained during the non-snow season.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

For cooking and heat tonight, we had bought a couple of Swedish torches from a firewood specialist factory in Ashoro Town (Marusho Tech, location). It was never the plan to end up with Swedish torches. On the way to Shikaribetsu Gorge in the car, I did a Google search for ‘firewood’ in our particular location at the time, and Marusho Tech appeared. I called them and they said they had a camping set, consisting of split wood and some firestarters. The idea was just to buy that and have a normal campfire.

At their showroom, however, they had a few Swedish torches on show, so we went for those – less mess and a better surface to cook on. They charged 2,000yen for the large one that burned for about 2.5 hours.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Had I known that I’d be cooking on a Swedish torch, I would have though up something more exciting than spaghetti. Hiro of course had a trick up his sleeve – fresh shrimp deep-fried in garlic olive oil, Spanish ahijo style.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

It was dark before we went for our hot spring soak. Star-gazing while soaking in a hotspring.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

I slept like a log that night. Hiro complained of a cold draft – we hadn’t plugged up the gaps around the inside of the tent very well.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

We agreed that a warm soak in a hotpsring before breakfast was preferable to sitting in the cold, so we donned our ski gear and set out towards the onsen area below the dam, about 20 minutes upstream. To do this, we had to go back the way we had come, out of the campground, and back along the road next to the river.

There were deer everywhere. Sign of deer. Two dead deer carcasses that were now nothing but carpets of fur.

Half way to the dam, I noticed a large open shelter next to the road. I noted this away as a great spot to camp in the future. No need for a winter tent if you pitch it in there. In fact, no need for a tent at all.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

The first hot spring we found was the one just below the dam – the Damushita-no-yu. It was green and slimy, and I was sure there were more hot springs closer to the riverside.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

A quick look further downstream and we hit gold. The larger Chinika-no-yu I’d seen on the Internet was full of sand, but the Gakeshita-no-yu and Menoka-no-yu were clean and clear of any sand and debris. They were both mostly empty – perhaps someone had scrubbed them recently? I plugged the upper Menoka-no-yu with the wooden plug, and added a length of hose to the outlet of the Gakeshita-no-yu, and they started to fill up.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

While they were filling, we walked up and over a bluff, to the hot water waterfall we spotted about 75m downstream. Later I would learn that there was once a hot pool here too. It was obviously also damaged during the 2017 typhoon.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

In the 30 minutes or so that had passed since I plugged the outlets to the two hot pools, they’d risen by about 10cm. The Gakeshita-no-yu’s outlet was already about 40cm above the bottom of the pool, so there was plenty of water in there for a soak. Once we were in the pool, we noticed that there was a cave in the side of the hill where the hot water was coming out from. Just the right size for a person to sit inside and enjoy a natural sauna.

The river was just a couple of meters away, so we both plucked up the courage to take dips there to cool off.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Cave sauna at Chinika-no-yu (Shikaribetsu Gorge, Hokkaido, Japan)

It was incredible that the pools were just the right temperature (perhaps about 39 to 41 degrees).

After an hour or so we headed back to the campsite for breakfast. Cooking was again courtesy of the smaller of the two Swedish torches we bought in Ashoro Town.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Hiro had made up some bread dough the night before, so I introduced him to an old pastime I enjoyed as a kid in New Zealand – damper (or camp bread). Bread dough wrapped around a stick and baked by the heat of the embers.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

By now it was close to lunchtime. We had just started to pack up when we decided it made more sense to take it easy and have lunch here, rather than on the road somewhere. It was, after all, glorious spring weather. Blue skies!

I had to resort to using my gas stove for the first time in four days – previously (on night 1 and night 2) we’d been able to use either a hut’s wood stove top for cooking or the Swedish torches.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

As we were having lunch, two chaps on snowshoes walked past, for a soak in the Shika-no-yu.

Shikaribetsu Gorge Onsen winter ski camping (Hokkaido, Japan)

Unfortunately, we had to wrench ourselves away from this paradise-like spot and drive back to Sapporo. Overall, this four-day fact-finding mission was a resounding success, and we’d discovered at least two spots – Nishibetsu Hut (route guide) and here at Shikaribetsu Gorge – that would be well worth visiting again in the colder, snowier winter months.

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