Explorer’s Journal: Cycling and camping in the rain

Photo by Robert Thomson
Photo by Robert Thomson

This year we celebrated Golden Weekend with a bicycle and camping trip. Last year we did an overnighter to Jozankei Shizennomura camp ground, but this year with snow still on the ground in Jozankei, we decided to try out some new campgrounds on the flatlands surrounding Sapporo. The cycle path along the Toyohira river is always a good ride and a traffic-less way to get out of the city, so we planned a route along the Toyohira river leading to the Ishikari river and then to the Yubari river, staying at campgrounds in Shinshinotsu, Tsukigata and Naganuma.  All of these spots are within a 60km radius of Sapporo, and while not famous by any stretch of the imagination, they all proved to be great cycling destinations with onsen directly beside the campgrounds. The cycle paths along the rivers turned out to be a mix of paved and graveled roads, fine for mountain bikes with fat tyres, but a bit painful for those on road/cross/city bikes.


Photo by Haidee Thomson
Photo by Haidee Thomson

After a day of powering through puddles and bouncing over gravel and mud roads, we finally arrived at the very soggy Shinshinotsu campground, situated beside a small lake and flanked by onsen on both sides. Having cycled in the rain all day we were happy to eat at the Iris onsen restaurant and avoid cooking outside in the cold. As campers we were given a ¥100 discount and a free onsen in the morning, which was a great way to start the next day. The campground was basic with toilets and a covered washing/cooking area. We were apparently their first campers for the season and in the morning the office lady was happy to confirm we had not frozen in our tents overnight!


We rode beside the Ishikari river, starting on a very pleasant paved path which soon digressed into gravel making the 30km to Tsukigata town more challenging than anticipated. Kairaku campground, also beside a small lake, was our cheapest sleep at 200 yen a person. It also had a great BBQ house where we were able to cook up a feast under cover. Unlike Shinshinotsu there were actually other campers there, many staying in the shitake bungalows on stilts which looked very attractive in the rain. Setting the alarm for 03:45, we were happy to wake to dry skies on Sunday morning and ride 4km to Miyajima numa lake to see thousands of migratory geese. There were plenty of people there with massive zoom lenses set up to take photos of the geese taking off from the lake. Just as the sun was rising several thousand geese took off from the lake, the sound of flapping wings was incredible, and combined with morning bird song and the backdrop of snow-capped mountains it was well worth the early start.


The ride to Naganuma was pleasant on back roads and through farmland.  We enjoyed seeing the mountains and surroundings on the one and only sunny morning of the trip. Naganuma campground had great facilities, including hot running water, a free shower and onsen tickets all included in the ¥1200 per person. There were plenty of families camping there and the onsen was packed. Monday morning brought the heaviest rains and we powered home along the Kita-Hiroshima cycling road back into Sapporo.

Photo by Robert Thomson
Photo by Robert Thomson

Our short trip reminded us of one of the reasons we love Sapporo: It is surrounded by natural beauty and it doesn’t take long to leave the city and find great places to relax and unwind.

Explorer’s Journal is an occasional feature highlighting a first-hand experience in the outdoors of Hokkaido. Submit your story

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Haidee Thomson

Haidee Thomson is a New Zealander who has called Sapporo home for the last 2 years. In between teaching English and researching English teaching methods, she is an all-season commuter cyclist and outdoor enthusiast. Together with her partner Rob Thomson, she enjoys cycling and camping trips, hiking mountains and exploring the many special places Hokkaido has to offer.