JAPANESE SNOW MONKEYS:

VISIT DATE: May 2018
APPROX PRICE PER PERSON: 3200 YEN (if you have the Japan RailPass)
WHEN TO VISIT: December – March (if you want the snow)
SNOW MONKEY TOURS: Book Snow Monkey Tours with Viator

Jigokudani Monkey Park is part of the larger Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. The name Jigokudani, meaning “Hell’s Valley”, is due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of cracks in the frozen ground.

The valley is famous for its population of wild Japanese macaques more commonly referred to as Snow Monkeys. They congregate in the valley during the colder winter months and tend to forage elsewhere in the national park during the warmer part of the year. By day the monkeys descend from the cliffs to sit in the warm waters of the Onsen (hot springs).

Is it worth it? Looking online we found lots of mixed reviews about visiting the snow monkeys. Our opinion, if you are heading to the Nagano region or the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route then it is definitely worth a stop to see these beautiful unique creatures and it’s very easy to do it yourself, you do not need to book onto an expensive tour!

If you are planning to visit as a day trip from Tokyo we would only recommended the trip if there is snow. Without the snow the surroundings are not great, looking more like derelict land than the beautiful hot springs you see in the typical photos. However, that being said, whatever the conditions you do get to see the monkeys up close and that makes for great photographs.

WHAT WE LOVED:

  • Easy to do yourself

  • Train from Tokyo is covered by the Japan RailPass

  • Up-close encounter with friendly monkeys

  • Easy to leave luggage at Nagano station lockers

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:

  • Would have been better if there was snow

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Been on this Trip or Thinking of Going?

We would love to here about your experiences and tips for visiting the Japanese Snow Monkeys. Or, if you are planning on visiting and have any questions you would like answered please use the comments section below.
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HOW TO GET THERE:

Step 1 – Take the train from Tokyo to Nagano

The fastest route to Nagano is to take the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station (final destination will be marked as Kanazawa). The journey take about 1h 30m and is fully covered by the Japan RailPass, with multiple departures each hour.

We caught an early train from Tokyo Station arriving into Nagano for about 09:30, as we had a tight schedule, we wanted to see the snow monkeys before we took off on the alpine trail the following day.

Nagano station is small and easy to navigate with only 2 main entrances/exits (see map)

We used the luggage lockers near the east exit as we didn’t fancy carrying our back packs with us to see the monkeys.

The lockers vary in size – some even big enough to fit ski’s & Snow boards. We had no problem storing both our backpacks and day packs. You can pay with cash or card at a cost of Y600. You receive a receipt with a QR code which you scan to open the locker when you return.

Buy Japan RailPass

Step 2 – Buy Tickets at Nagano Station

From Nagano Station there are several possible ways to get to the Snow Monkey Park. We decided the easiest route was to take the bus from outside Nagano Station which takes approx. 45 mins.

See this website for details of all the different route options and latest timetables.

Buying the Bus & Snow Monkey Park Ticket at Nagano Station

To get your tickets for the bus and the snow monkey park head to the ticket office which can be found by exiting Nagano Station via the Zenkoji Exit. Take the escalator down (to the left of exit) signposted as the Nagano Dentetsu line. At the bottom of the escalator you will find the ticket office. The tickets cost Y3200 p/p but this covers the cost for all transport, park entrance & a few other local attractions.

Step 3 – Get the bus to Snow Monkey Park

To find the bus stop at Nagano station, follow the tunnel from the ticket office back to the east exit and take the escalator up to the bus stops. The bus will depart from stop 23. The bus will be clearly marked as the snow monkey bus.

The destination stop is Kanbayashi Onsen and the bus driver will know you are heading to the park, and alert you when you get to the stop.

Here is a map of where the bus actually drops you off (outside a museum) and the walking route to the park entrance. When we were looking online we found a lot of confusing information regarding where the bus actually stops, so we hope this is helpful. From the bus stop it takes about 30-40 mins walking in total to reach the hot springs and the monkeys.

Also note at the bus stop there is a waiting room (shed) you can use when waiting for the bus back (as it can get cold and or wet).

Step 4 – Snow Monkey Park

From the bus stop start walking following the map to the coffee cup, should take about 10 mins. You can grab a coffee but technically you cant take it with you past the park entrance sign.

From the entrance you have a nice 1.6km walk, about 20 minutes, through woodland and along the river before heading up some stairs to the entrance/ticket office of the hot springs.

After all that walking its nice to spend some time just watching the monkeys enjoy the hot springs. They are friendly and playful and you can get pretty close, which makes for excellent photographs. The best thing about these monkeys though is that they don’t pester or attack you.

Step 5 – Bus back to Nagano Station

When returning the bus goes from the same place where you where dropped off and takes you back to Nagano Station. There are a couple of different buses leaving from this stop and the Nagano one is clearly sign posted.