Michinoku Coastal Trail (MCT) Note : How to navigate Ueto Islands sea route

Our MCT Thru-hike : from late March to mid-May, 2021

I can’t say enough why we are so glad that we decided to take the northbound on MCT.

I know every post from Day 1 started with similar line. But it is really what we kept saying at the end of each day’s hike.
So, I want to write about one of the reasons why I really try to promote taking northbound rather than southbound that the majority of MCT hikers seem to take.

6 islands only accessible by ship

MCT is not all about walking along the coastal line of Pacific ocean side of Tohoku region.
Yes, In the total over 1000km of Michinoku Coastal Trail, there are six islands you can reach only by ferry/boat.

Some other islands on the MCT route are so big and close that bridges connect them to mainland and you may not even notice they are actually islands while you are walking there.

3 days in total for average hikers to walk the six islands parts,

No matter how fast you can or want to walk, it takes at least total three days to pass through these islands, because ferry/boat schedules have a big control on your travel.

3 sea route parts the six islands are divided to

Three islands in one area together, two islands together and one (and hardest to get to) island. So, there are three sea routes hikers have to overcome to complete MCT thru-hike. And each of the three sea routes gives us different type of challenges.

Some hikers, especially those who love camping, may say the attraction of long distance hiking is freedom of walking speed. They are not controlled by check-in time of accommodations and stuff.
But even those comping hikers need to do a thorough advance planning and preparation to tackle the MCT sea route sections.

Checking ferry timetables and fares of course. Walking time estimation inside each island is very important for getting to the next port to catch the next ferry.

So, here’s the reason why we thought taking northbound on MCT is the best.

By taking the northbound route, hiking on all of three sea routes ended up to fall in the first 10 days.

So, we were able to start preparing for them before we actually left home, deal with these challenges and get done the complicated parts of MCT at an early stage of our hike.
After that, we can just relax and enjoy walking on the Tohoku mainland for the rest of 40 days .

Urato Islands guide map for visitors. MUST download item as it has all necessary information for ferries and boats
backside of the guide map. Good source for things to see on the islands

On Day 7, we were to hike the first sea route.
Three islands, from west to east, (1) Katsurashima (桂島), (2) Nonoshima (野々島) and (3) Sabusawajima (寒風沢島).
As an island chain, they are called Urato Islands (浦戸諸島).

Shiogama port (mainland)Island No.1, KatsurashimaShiogama city ferry520 yen/person
Island No.1, KatsurashimaIsland No.2, NonoshimaPublic motor boatFree
Island No.2, NonoshimaIsland No.3, SabusawajimaPublic motor boatFree
Isaldn No.3, SabusawajimaMiyatojimaMCT supporter’s boat3000 yen/person

4 ferry/boat rides required to hike through Urato Islands area.

Two of three islands are very close each other, like some meters close. So, if you are a very good swimmer you could probably swim to get to the next island. Otherwise, hikers still need one boat ride to cross there.

The one we needed a special preparation was the last boat, from Sabusawajima island to Miyatojima island (宮戸島) which is connected to the mainland area with a bridge.

Shiogama City municipal ferry
Free boat between islands
Special boat btw Sabusawajima/Miyatojima

Shiogama city municipal ferry (塩竈市営汽船) departs from the Shiogama port and stops at all the three islands but after that it returns to Shiogama city port again. It doesn’t go to Miyatojima island because this last and biggest island is not a part of Shiogama city but of Higashi-Matsushima city (東松島市).

Between the three islands, hikers can take the same ferry if the ferry schedule meets your walk speed.
But, the better option is Shiogama city-run motor boat, which is free and you can call for them by phone anytime at the port during its operation hour.

Finally, the most difficult part, the last part (for southbound hikers, the very first part), is between Sabusawajima and Miyatojima.
The only way we can directly make it to Miyatojima from Sabusawajima without going back to Shiogama port and taking public land transportation to get to Miyatojima is using the on-demand fisherman-boat operated by MCT supporters.

The most important thing is,

You must book it at least 5 days in advance via Natori MCT trail center.

Again, to really emphasize it, the request for the special boat has to be made FIVE DAYS IN ADVANCE.

Oh, and we were actually so lucky that our Urado Islands hiking day happened to be on April 1st.

April 1st – Oct 30th only, the special boats between Sabusawajima and Miyatojima are in operation.

If we had started a bit earlier, we could not use this boat and had to go back to Shiogama port to make a huge detour to get to Miyatojima side.

As soon as we started planning our MCT thru-hike, we had to estimate which date we would be coming to hike the Urado Islands part.
After making sure of the date and it was going to be after April 1, I called Natori MCT Trail Center to book this fisherman’s boat for us.

Apparently, they have a stock of supportive local fishermen who can provide hikers a ride on their boat.
A few days later, a staff of Natori Trail Center called me to let me know the name of a fisherman who was going to operate the boat and his phone number.

We were also instructed that we have to call him one day before our Urado Islands hike to ask him if the weather is fine enough for us to be on the boat safely. If not, he may have to cancel.

All of these procedures are described in Natori MCT trail center website too.