I think when the universe was creating Japan, she thought, “It is such a beautiful land, let’s put all the cutest animals there.” Because how could one country have so many places occupied by delightful creatures? I have been to the Fox Village in Miyagi, the Deer Park in Nara, and just recently, the Snow Monkey Park in Nagano. Watching monkeys take baths in natural hot springs was one unique experience. It reminded me how cool nature is and how we must do everything we can to protect it. If you are thinking about visiting Nagano Snow Monkey Park, keep on reading for all the information you need to know.
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What and Where is Nagano Snow Monkey Park?
Located in Yamanouchi city, Nagano prefecture, the Jigokudani Yaen Koen, otherwise known as Hell Valley Monkey Park, or Nagano Snow Monkey Park, is home to the coolest gang of monkeys you’ll ever meet. These wild Japanese macaques are known for their daily visit to the natural hot spring pool in the park, where they take group hot baths. In fact, they are the only monkeys known to do this in the world. It is fascinating to watch the monkeys interact with each other, which often look mind-blowing-ly human-like. Except when they pick each other’s lice and eat it. I don’t think umm…we do that.
Fun fact: the macaques in the tribe (over 100 of them) all live under a ‘dominance hierarchy’, where there is one alpha male at the top. The current Monkey King, Monkey Boss, Mr. Monkey president, or whatever you want to call him, is named Tomamu 96. You can recognize him by the large scar on the bottom half of his face. He tends to sit at a high point and look over his subordinates. (I think Disney needs to take some inspiration and make a new movie called “Monkey King”) At feeding time, Tomamu tends to be treated first by the park rangers. So look out for him!
The park is over 7 days a week with no holidays.
April – October: 8:30 to 17:00
November – March : 9:00 to 16:00
Adults (18 years & over): JPY800 per person
Children (aged 6 to 17): JPY400 per person
Infants (aged 0 to 5): free of charge
When is the best time to visit Nagano Snow Monkey Park?
While the park is open all year, the best time to visit Nagano Snow Monkey park is arguably in the winter from December to March. That’s the most photogenic time when the area is covered in snow, and the whole gang loves to jump in the hot bath. After all, they are called “snow monkeys” for a reason. If you are lucky to be there on a snowing day, you can see the monkeys with their fur beautifully coated in snowflakes. I visited during early March, and it was still quite cold with white on the ground.
But don’t worry if you can’t visit during winter. Other seasons are special in their own ways. Spring brings new baby marques and cherry blossoms, Summer means lush green scenery, and Fall turns the mountain colourful with Autumn leaves.
In terms of the time of the day, it is best to visit in the morning when the monkeys are at their most active. When the temperature gets warmer in the afternoon, the monkeys tend to go back into the forest, leaving the visitors hanging. So to avoid disappointment, it is best to stay somewhere nearby the night before and visit the park in the morning when it opens. Keep reading for suggestions on where to stay.
Pro tip: There is a live cam at the park, monitoring the activities of the monkeys. You can check the cam online to see what the park looks like on that day.
Are the monkeys treated ethically at Snow Monkey Park?
This is an important question and one that I always research before visiting an animal attraction. The Snow Monkey Park’s website states that all the monkeys are wild, that “there are no barriers forcing them to stay in the park” and they are “free to come and go as they please”. From my observations in the park, this is true. The area is wide open with no fencing. When I first arrived at the park, the monkeys were hanging around but none of them were inside the pool. The park rangers did not pressure them to perform anything to “entertain” the guests. We simply had to wait it out and see if the monkeys were in the mood that day. Luckily for us, once a little buddy hopped in, all the other friends followed suit, and we soon witnessed a pool party.
Apparently, during mating season, the monkeys can be occupied in the forest and not many will come out. Naughty naughty. Even in those cases, the park will not do anything extra to try and appease the visitors. I am glad they leave the monkeys alone and help them live as naturally as possible.
Having said that, as tourists, we must also do our part and be responsible.
Abide by the following rules while in the snow monkey park:
- Do not bother the monkeys by touching them or making any sort of contact. Observe only and keep your distance. Do not even look them directly in the eyes. Especially not the male ones. Seriously. Don’t do it.
- Do not eat food or drink while in the park. The monkey friends may not be able to stand the temptations. And obviously, do not even think about feeding the monkeys.
- Do not use selfie sticks or flash photography.
Warning: The monkeys can be aggressive. I accidentally got caught in the middle of a monkey fight even though I was quite far away. Two monkeys were going at each other kung fu fighting and one started chasing the other. Before I knew it, both of them ran towards me and crashed into my legs! Ouch…But don’t worry, I was okay. Just a bit startled. (You can watch this surprising encounter in my video below)
What to bring to Nagano Snow Monkey Park?
The park is located in the mountains and therefore requires some hiking. It’s important to dress appropriately, especially in the winter. Here are some suggestions on what to wear and bring.
- Good footwear: The trail to the monkeys goes through the forest and up the mountain. It’s a very beautiful walk. However, it can be wet and slippery when there is snow on the ground. I definitely made a mistake going in my white Fila sneakers on the day of my visit. The shoes got totally caked in mud. Wear a pair of sturdy hiking boots like this one.
- Waterproof clothing: Stay warm and dry in the winter with a solid jacket. It gets colder, the higher you go.
- Gloves: It’s hard to take photos with frozen fingers. So make sure to protect those digits with gloves.
- Kairo: This Japanese product, in my opinion, is the best-kept secret for combating winter. They are small pockets emits heat when you stick them on the inner side of your clothing. How does it work? I have no clue. It’s just magical. Pick them up from any convenient store in Japan or online.
- Zoom lens: For photographers working with DSLR cameras, make sure to bring a long zoom lens, as you need to keep some distance from the monkeys. I used a EF 75-300mm lens by Canon for my shots.
- *Avoid bringing food: Once again, do not bring snacks to tempt the mischievous friends at Jigokudani. Eat breakfast before you enter the park.
Pro tip: If you really don’t have the proper equipment for a winter hike, the Info & Giftshop has items for sale or rent (Don’t be like me):
Boots rental:JPY 800
Jacket rental: JPY 500
Gloves/socks sale: JPY 500
Hats/scarfs sale: JPY 1000 yen
Crampons sale: JPY 1350
How to get to Nagano Snow Monkeys Park?
Unless you are driving, you can choose from the following ways of getting to Nagano Snow Monkey Park.
The fastest way is by taking the train.
Step 1. Take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen line from Tokyo station to Nagano Station. If you have the Japan Rail Pass, you can travel on this line for free. Otherwise, it costs JPY 8,200. Estimated time: 1.5 hour
Step 2. From Nagano station, you have two options:
- Take the Express Bus to Snow Monkey Park. JPY 1,400 one way. Estimated time: 55 minutes. The bus drops off at Kanbayashi Onsen, from where it’s a 30 minutes walk to the park.
- Take the Nagano Dentetsu train to Yudanaka station, the closest stop near the monkey park. This local train is not covered by the JR pass. It cost JPY 1,260 one way. Estimated time 50 minutes (limited express) – 1.5 hour (local, requiring transfer)
Possible Step 3. If you take the train to Yudanaka station, from there, you can catch a local bus to Snow Monkey Park. The Kanbayashi bus line and Shiga Kogen bus line both depart from right outside Yudanaka station and drop visitor off near the entrance of Snow Monkey park. The bus departs approximately twice per hour. Price is JPY 310 one way. Estimated time: 10 minutes.
Example costs and time:
Bullet train with JR Pass + Express bus from Nagano Station: JPY 1,400 | Estimated time: 2.5 hours
Bullet train w/o JR Pass+ Express bus from Nagano Station: JPY 9,600 | Estimated time: 2.5 hours
You can find out more about fares and times here.
The Money Saving Way
If you don’t have the JR Pass and don’t want to pay 8,200 for the train to Nagano (Hey I get it my traveling-on-a-budget friends, Japan is pricey), there is a cheaper option. You just got to be willing to sacrifice a little more time. The Nagaden bus from Ikebukuro Tokyo to Nagano station only cost JPY 2,600 one way. It takes about 4 hours. Check their website for the timetable here.
Alpico is another bus company that goes to Nagano from Shinjuku in Tokyo. Their tickets cost JPY 2,900 to 4,800 one way. The ride is also for about 4 hours. Check the Alpico website for information here.
Once you get to Nagano station, you can take either the express bus or local train as mentioned previously.
Example costs and time:
Nagaden bus + Express bus from Nagano station: JPY 4,000
Where to stay near Nagano Snow Monkey Park
Yudanaka Onsen and Shibu Onsen are both great areas to stay near the Snow Monkey Park. Some hotels provide shuttle buses to the park, so it’s quite convenient. There are options for travelers of every budget. This is a great opportunity to stay in a traditional Japanese style ryokan if that’s on your bucket list. Alternatively, if both areas are fully booked, you can stay in the Shiga Highlands, which is 20 minutes away. Check Jigokudani Monkey Park on Booking.com for pricing. (Psst you can receive $16 off your first booking with this link).
- Japanese style spa hotel with outdoor hot springs. Free shuttle from Yudanaka station Rating 8.4 | Estimated price $157 USD
- Surrounded by serene Japanese gardens and ponds. Great spot for visitors interested in nature, wildlife, and hot springs. Rating 9.6 | Estimated price $176 USD
- Luxury contemporary Japan style accommodation with 11 different hot springs to sample, including private baths. Rating 9.1 | Estimated price $222 USD
- Air-conditioned Tatami rooms. Delicious Japanese meals featuring local ingredients, served by a personal attendant. Rating 9.4 | Estimated price $85 USD
- Oldest Japanese style inn in the area. Choice of Western-style beds or Japanese style futon beds. Free shuttle to Snow Monkey Park. Rating 9.1 | Estimated price $72 USD
- Only 3 minutes walk to Yudanaka station. Excellent location rating by guests. Rating 8.7 | Estimated price $85 USD
- Extremely clean hostel with Western style beds in shared tatami rooms. Very helpful staff who speak fluent English. Rating 9.3 | Estimated price $33 USD
- Beautiful Japanese garden and shared lounge. American breakfast daily. Rating 8.4 | Estimated price $27 USD
- Japanese style rooms with private bathrooms. Hot spring onsen onsite. Free shuttle to Snow Monkey Park. Rating 7.4| Estimated price $46 USD
What else is there to do near Nagano Snow Monkey Park?
I know I’ve been going on and on about monkeys, but there are actually a lot more things to do in the Yamanouchi, Nagano area. Since you’ve traveled all this way, why not stay awhile? Here are some fun things to do near Nagano Snow Monkey Park.
Soak in an onsen
Watching monkeys taking hot baths with expressions of pure bliss got you jealous? Don’t worry, there are human onsens for you too. Yudanaka town has several lovely hot springs you can enjoy. I loved Yoroduya’s onsen, which is JPY 800 for guests who are not staying at the hotel. The setting at Yoroduya is classic traditional Japanese. The outdoor section is in a pretty garden with a waterfall. Go at night time for the ultimate quiet zen experience. Biyu Onsen is is another good money for value choice. Located a block away from Yoroduya, it costs JPY 700 to enter.
Half an hour by bus from Yudanaka station is the largest ski area in all of Japan: Shiga Kogen. There are a total of 19 ski resorts here. 19! An absolute wonderland for ski enthusiast and winter sports lovers. A full day ticket to play at Shiga Kogen cost 5,000 yen. The ski season goes from mid-November to early May.
Explore Nagano city
Nagano city is the capital of Nagano prefecture and has a lot of history. Stop by either on your way to Snow Monkey Park or when you are returning to Tokyo. Some of the notable sites to see include the Zenko-ji temple, Matsushiro Castle, and Sporting venues built for the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Nagano Snow Monkey Tour
If you like guided experiences, you can find many tours on Get Your Guide that will help you save time and effort. Some of the tours even combine attractions so you can get more out of your day. This one, for example, will take you to the snow monkeys, Zenkoji temple, and a local sake brewery. Because, alcohol is the best way to warm up on a cold day? 😛 Or this one, that combines snow monkeys and the Shiga Kogen ski resorts in a day.
Nagano Snow Monkey Park in Video
Going to Japan soon? Plan your trip in 4 easy steps
- Book A Flight: Find the cheapest flights on Skyscanner, my go-to search engine.
- Find A Hotel: Score affordable accommodation on Booking.com. Receive $16 off your first booking with my link here.
- Buy insurance: You never know what may happen on the road. Protect your trip & gear with World Nomad, the best travel insurance company ever. Get a quote here.
- Read up on the best advice: Love a good old fashion guide book. Suggested reading: Lonely Planet: Japan Travel Guide
For more Japan travel inspiration, make sure to check out my Japan Instagram Story Highlights.
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