Lake Shikotsu, Japan

Lake Shikotsu is the second deepest lake in Japan after Lake Tazawa, and the 8th largest in the country by surface area. It is located in Chitose, on the island of Hokkaido, and it is part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.

Lake Shikotsu Stats

Lake NameLake Shikotsu
Surface area77.720
Maximum depth363.0
Average depth76.9
Lake typecrater lake
Catchment area234.10
InflowsBifue, Okotanpe, Ninaru, Furenai
Shore length40.28
Age10000 - 100000
Residence time10348.6
FrozenNever freezes
Average discharge6.684
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Geology and Formation

Lake Shikotsu was formed by collapses in the earth after volcanic activity. The caldera in which it is located was formed in the Holocene epoch, when the land between the surrounding volcanoes subsided. It consists mainly of dacite, rhyolite and andesite. The three surrounding volcanoes, Mount Eniwa (on the north), Mount Fuppushi and Mount Tarumae (both on the south), were formed on the rim of the caldera. Mount Tarumae is among Japan’s most active volcanoes, and can be climbed in a steep, short ascent in less than an hour, offering amazing views of a deserted crater landscape.

Geography and Hydrology

Lake Shikotsu is located in the second largest caldera in Japan, after Lake Kussharo. Lying in the southwestern part of the island, the lake has an average depth of 256 meters and a maximum depth of 363 meters. The lake is oligotrophic, with a visibility of up to 25 meters.

Thanks to its depth, the volume of the lake makes up ¾ of the volume of Lake Biwa, even though it his merely 1/9 of Biwa’s surface area. Because Shikotsu has a small surface area-depth ratio, the temperature of its waters stays relatively constant throughout the year, making it the northernmost ice-free lake in Japan.

The lake’s main tributaries are the Bifue, Okotanpe, Ninaru, and Furenai Rivers, whilst its main outlet is the Chitose River.


The lake’s name derives from the Ainu word “shikot”, meaning big depression or hollow. To Japanese, it seemed too similar to their word “shikotsu”, which means dead bones. They tried to rename the lake “Engi”, but it wouldn’t stick.

Getting to Lake Shikotsu

Lake Shikotsu is a 40-minute drive from the Shin-Chitose Airport, and 80-minute drive from central Sapporo and an hour’s drive from Lake Toya.

Approximately 4-6 buses travel between the lake and Shin-Chitose Airports daily. A journey lasts about 45 minutes. The National Highway 276 runs along the lake’s southern bank, connecting it to Tomakomai and Date. Highway 453 from the eastern and northern parts of the lake runs towards Sapporo.

Uses and Recreation

The red salmon was introduced to the lake from Lake Akan in 1895 and has since became a famous product of the area, making salmon (chippu) fishing a favored pastime. Chitose is noted for its Indian Fish Wheel, a device in the Chitose River, where one can collect salmon which return to spawn in the lake.

The lake area is mostly underdeveloped, except for the small town of Shikotsu Kohan, which has a visitor center and some lodgings on the western end of the lake. From there tourists can rent boats, bicycles and scuba diving gear to enjoy the adventurous side of Lake Shikotsu. Sightseeing cruises with glass bottomed boats roam the lake’s waters between April and November. There are a total of three campsites around the lake.

Marukoma Onsen is a ryokan with unique hot spring baths, which is open to non-staying visitors also, and is situated right on the lakeshore. Koke no Domon is a gulley with a rich variety of plant life lining its walls which can be admired from designated viewing platforms. The name “Koke no Domon” is Japanese for “Moss Canyon”.

The Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival is held every year in late January-early February, with a huge exhibition of lines of ice sculptures made by spraying water from the lake.

The most important activities in and around Lake Shikotsu include fishing, camping, biking, cruising, hiking, kayaking, and canoeing. The most important fish species in the lake are red salmon and trout.

Lake Shikotsu Map