Jan 31, 2020
The Ultimate Bucket List Trip – A Visit to Nagano’s Snow Monkeys
Buried within the mountains of Nagano, there is a natural hot spring that has some very peculiar visitors. Instead of humans, you can find red-faced monkeys bathing and relaxing in the warm spring water. This behavior is what makes them so unique as it’s something that has never been seen with any other monkeys. Thanks to this, the Japanese macaques in this area have become world-famous and are commonly known as the snow monkeys of Nagano.
The monkeys can be found roaming around the Jigokudani Yaen-koen, also called Jigokudani (Snow) Monkey Park, which is about an hour away by public transport from Nagano City (more info on how to get there at the end of the blog!) and about 2 hours from Hakuba. The park is located in a hot spring area, and boiling water and hot steam are bursting through the earth’s surface every here and there. This, along with the mountains and jagged cliffs that surround the area and the severe cold during wintertime, is why it was given the name Jigokudani, which literally translates to Hell’s Valley.
Created in 1964, the monkey park has since attracted hundreds of monkeys and humans alike. There are currently about 150 monkeys living in the area, but the place where most of them gather is around the hot spring.
To get there, you have to walk for about 25 minutes along a mountain track from the park trail entrance. As this is a dirt path with no railings or fences to hold on to and it may become very slippery in wintertime due to snow and ice, it is extremely important to come well-prepared. Please make sure you wear appropriate clothing and comfortable (preferably hiking) shoes or boots with good grip. While the trail is mostly level, it is not wheelchair accessible as there are some stairs to climb.
Before heading out, you’ll spot a souvenir shop on the left side of the trail entrance that sells all kinds of monkey merchandise. On the other side is a small television that streams a live feed of the hot spring, so you can check to see if there are monkeys in the bath before you start walking.
Via Google Maps, you can even see the entire area (and trail) online!
On your way to where the monkeys are, you will come upon the Japanese inn Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan. This old inn with hot spring facilities has an outside bath as well. Apparently, it was here that the unique behavior of the monkeys was first discovered. The monkeys saw the humans soak themselves in the bath and started doing it as well.
Of course, having monkeys and humans in the same bath is very unhygienic and a plan was devised to separate them. In order to keep the monkeys and humans safe while ensuring that the monkeys could continue to enjoy hot springs, they built them their own special hot spring and thus the Snow Monkey Park was created.
Once you’ve reached the hot spring, you’ll understand why this place is so unique and is a definite must-visit if you’re in Japan. There are monkeys swimming, playing around, sleeping and simply enjoying the ultimate relaxation that Japanese hot springs are famous for offering. This is the only place in the world where the monkeys have been known to do so and to see this behavior up close is simply an unforgettable experience.
The monkeys are free to come and go as they please, and there are no barriers or fences around to keep them in the park. Because they are wild animals just living in their natural habitat, there are certain rules that you must follow when visiting:
- Don’t feed the monkeys
- Don’t touch the monkeys
- Don’t eat/drink in the park
- Do not use selfie sticks or flash photography
Also, please keep in mind that there may be times when the monkeys do not come down to the park, even though it is located within their territory.
TIP! You can watch a live camera feed of the park online here! It also displays images of the previous day, so you can get an idea of what the area looks like.
Best Time to Visit
Some people might think that the Jigokudani (Snow) Monkey Park can only be enjoyed in wintertime, but don’t let the “snow” part of the name fool you. While the image of the monkeys relaxing in a hot spring surrounded by snow is the most famous, the other seasons have their own amazing things to offer. In spring/summer, you might spot a lot of newborn monkeys hanging from their mother’s belly or riding their backs, while in autumn, the trees in the park change color and turn into beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red.
So even if you’re visiting during a season other than winter, we highly recommend you go and visit this incredibly unique place in Nagano!!
Adults 800 JPY, Children (between 6~17 years old) 400 JPY
Children below 6 years old are free of charge.
Opening Hours: 9:00~16:00 (between Nov.-Mar.). 8:30~17:00 (between April-Oct.)
Opened 7 days a week, year-round, but might close unexpectedly due to severe weather or other unforeseen circumstances.
How to Get There
To get to the Snow Monkey Park you have to either take the train or the bus from Nagano. Departing from bus stop number 23 near the east exit of Nagano Station, the Nagano Dentetsu bus takes you directly to the bus stop near the park trail entrance in about 45 minutes.
On the other hand, the train requires you to transfer at Yudanaka Station to a local bus heading to the Kanbayashi Onsen or Snow Monkey Park bus stop (depending on which bus line) and takes about an hour in total. The trains are not covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
To check the timetable of the direct buses and the buses from Yudanaka Station, please click here. There are more buses running during winter, so keep that in mind and double check the buses before you leave.
For the train timetable to Yudanaka Station, click here.
Nagano City itself is easy to reach via train or bus. Check out the bus timetable of your desired route below.
・Ikebukuro – Nagano
・Shinjuku – Nagano
・Nagoya – Nagano
・Osaka/Kyoto – Nagano
・Narita Airport/Tokyo Disney Resort® – Nagano
・Hakuba – Nagano
・Matsumoto – Nagano
Once you’ve arrived at the bus stop near the Snow Monkey Park, it will take about 30-40 minutes on foot to reach the natural hot spring where the monkeys usually bathe.
For those who are spending their winter vacation in Hakuba, there is one bus departing from Hakuba Happo Bus Terminal that goes directly to the Snow Monkey Park.
Click here for the timetable.
If you’re looking for a little more comfort, you can also take a taxi from Nagano or Hakuba. Due to the variety of car types, such as regular sedans, vans and even a mini-sized coaster bus, the taxi is perfect for couples, families and friend groups. Please click here to inquire.