Snow Monkeys

Snow Monkeys Japan

The Jigokudani monkey park (Jigokudani Yaenkōen) is home to 200+ snow monkeys that use the onsen (hot spring) pools as a base to keep themselves warm during the very harsh winters. They are famous, so chances are that you’ve already seen photos or video of the Japanese snow monkeys.

The population of wild Japanese Macaques (commonly known as snow monkeys) are fantastic to watch as they frolic in the onsen, chase each other, and generally get up to monkey business! They have human-like faces (when putting up some snow monkey photos on Facebook it keep prompting me to tag each monkey!), and some of their antics seem human-like, especially after you’ve seen the behaviour of some Japanese men in an onsen! The Jigokudani Monkey Park is a great place to get some insight into the evolution of human beings!

The Japan snow monkeys are used to the many tourists, and you’ll get very close to these absolutely fascinating monkeys because there are no fences. You’re not supposed to take selfies with the monkeys but make sure you have an empty memory card and fully charged batteries on your camera or phone, as there will be endless photo opportunities as the Japanese snow monkeys perform very cute activities such as somersaults in the water.

It seems like a rite of passage into a Nagano ski holiday to visit the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park and thankfully winter is the best time to visit when the snow is on the ground and the monkeys really need the onsen to seek refuge from the cold. And of course in order to be “snow monkeys” in Japan there needs to be snow, otherwise they’d just be …… well monkeys!

Where is the Jikokudani Monkey Park?

The Jigokudani monkey park and Jigokudani hot spring is located in the Valley of Yokoyu River aka Jigokudani (hell valley) in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. There is bus and car parking at Kanbayashi Onsen (the Shibu Onsen car park is closed during winter), and from there it’s a 20-25 minute hike up a path to get to the snow monkey park. The path can be very slippery so don’t be like some of the Japanese girls that wear stilletos – wear sensible shoes!

Kanbayashi Onsen is 3.5km from the town of Yudanaka and 1.6km from the traditional Japanese town of Shibu Onsen, where people clomp up and down the cute little streets in their wooden clogs and yukata on the way between the public onsen and ryokan. Shiga Kogen is the closest of the Nagano ski resorts to the snow monkeys, with the Sun Valley ski area of Shiga being only 9km away.

Driving distances from snow monkey parking (Kanbayashi):

Getting To The Snow Monkeys Japan

You can take a DIY tour to the Japanese snow monkeys because you don’t need a guide. If you don’t have your own wheels, there are some public transport options to get there.

Getting there from Shiga Kogen Ski Resort is easy. Catch the Nagaden bus from one of the many village bus stops down to Yudanaka, and get off at the Kanbayashi Onsen Guichi bus stop.

From the other nearby ski resorts, catch a train or bus to Nagano. At Nagano station, change for the Nagano Dentetsu line (snow monkey train) to Yudanaka (train takes 45 mins). From Yudanaka train station you can catch a taxi or there are cheap public buses (get off at Kanbayashi). Alternatively there is a bus service from the Nagano train station that goes to Shiga Kogen and you can get off at Kanbayashi.

Otherwise there are snow monkey tours from some of the Nagano ski resorts. From Nozawa Onsen there are afternoon tours (1-5pm) to the monkey onsen that are combined with a trip to Shibu Onsen on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Your accommodation provider can assist with bookings for this tour.

As Hakuba is further away, there are day tours that tend to also take in other Nagano attractions such as the Zenkoji temple.

Snow Monkey Park Accommodation

If you’re not staying at one of the Nagano ski resorts and you want to be near the monkey business, you can stay in one of the Yudanaka hotels or Shibu Onsen ryokan.

Or if you really want to be close to the action, Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan is located right at the snow monkey park, offering simple Japanese accommodation. There is an outdoor human onsen there (the original onsen that the monkeys used before other hot pools were built for them), but be warned, there’s a high chance that some monkeys will come and join you in the onsen. We even saw a monkey do a bomb into the bath, right near someone! And considering the number of tourists in the area, privacy won’t be at an all time high – you’ll need to feel comfortable about how you look in your birthday suit!

Jinpyokaku is located at the trailhead to the snow monkeys park, and offers the ultimate in luxurious ryokan accommodation. This upscale Shibu ryokan even has some rooms with their own open air onsen bath.

Also right near the snow monkeys trail head is Senjukaku, boasting outdoor onsen, a heated indoor pool, and beautiful Japanese gardens. Senjukaku offers lovely traditional Japanese-style rooms with ensuite bathroom.

Other Logistics

A small entrance fee is charged to visit the snow monkey park.

Dress warmly because at an altitude of 850 meters, the temperatures during winter can be very cold (e.g. -10 degrees Celsius).

During winter the snow monkey park is open 9am to 4pm.