For decades, nature lovers have reveled in documentaries featuring snow monkeys that warm themselves in natural hot springs. Did you know that you can view these unique creatures in person? You can at the Jigokudani Monkey Park.
The park’s monkeys are Japanese macaques, which live in large social groups. They have become accustomed to human visitors, and so their playful antics can be observed as they interact with one another. The phenomenon of the bathing monkeys occurs nowhere else in the world.
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How to get to Jigokudani Monkey Park
You may use your Japan Rail Pass to first travel to Nagano Station. From the station’s east exit, at bus stop number 3, as many as ten buses per day depart for the Monkey Park.
The bus ride takes around 40 minutes and costs ¥1400. You may depart at either the Kanbayashi Onsen stop or the Snow Monkey Park bus stop. From either stop, the park is a 30 to 40-minute walk away.
From Nagano Station, you can also take the Nagano-sen (Nagaden) train to Yudanaka Station, (not covered by the JR Pass) and then a bus or taxi to Kanyabashi Onsen anyway.
Alternatively, you may rent a vehicle and drive to the park. The parking lot requires a fee, and the road leading to it may be closed in winter due to hazardous conditions. The park is a 10 to 15-minute walk from the parking lot. Some nearby lodgings also offer free shuttles to the parking lot.
In some seasons, the Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass is also available for foreigners, including:
- Access to the Nagaden Train
- Access to the Nagaden Express Bus between Nagano Station and Kanbayashi Onsen
- Access to the local Nagaden Bus between Yudanaka Station and Kanbayashi Onsen
- Admission to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Hours and fees
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is open year round. During the summer months, from April to October, the park is open from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Hours are slightly shorter during the winter, from 9 am to 4 pm. Admission to the park is ¥600.
Where to see the snow monkey
Upon entering the park, you will find a small information center. There is a foot path – often full of curious monkeys – that leads to the park’s man-made pool, which the animals frequent. A live camera is located near the pool; its video feed can be accessed online. Natural onsen are also located throughout the park, and used by the monkeys.
Many visitors feel that the park is best experienced when there is snow on the ground. Snow may fall from December through March, but it is most certain in January and February. During the warmer months, food is placed in the pool to entice the monkeys to bathe.
Keep in mind that the snow monkeys are wild animals. Feeding or touching the monkeys is not allowed.
After viewing monkeys relaxing in beautiful hot springs, you may want to try one out for yourself. On the way to the Monkey Park is a ryokan known as Korakukan.
The Monkey Park and onsens make good side trips from nearby Nagano. This city sports attractions such as the Zenkoji Temple, former Winter Olympics facilities, shrines, and the Togakure Ninja School.
Other nearby onsen towns include Shibu and Yudanaka. Shibu Onsen is a historic town located on the slopes above the Monkey Park, with ryokan that are over 400 years old. Many guests stroll the streets in geta sandals and yukata robes, traditional clothing of onsen visitors.
The Yudanaka Onsen also enjoys a long history, but it has developed a more modern atmosphere. This town is often the first stop of travelers arriving by train, and offers the first access to the hot springs. In fact, a free footbath is located just outside the train station.
When ancient peoples first entered the valley that is the monkey’s home, they called it “Jigokudani,” meaning “hell’s valley,” because of the volcanic activity that produces the hot springs. To the monkeys, however, it is a warm oasis that allows them to survive in a harsh environment. Are you ready to embark on an onsen inspired adventure of your own? With your JR Pass in hand, you can explore all that Japan has to offer.
Credit for images copyrighted by JNTO ©JNTO