Traveling to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in Japan to view the famous Japanese snow monkeys was a delightful experience. We previously wrote about our visit but have since received several reader questions asking about travel logistics. So, we put together a handy guide addressing common questions to help anyone planning a trip to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Japan.
The snow monkeys can be found at Jigokudani Yaen Kōen (aka Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park) in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan. Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is located near Yamanouchi town- a three hour train ride from Tokyo or an hour train ride from Nagano (the closest big city). Several ski resorts in the northern Japanese Alps are also nearby.
When can you see the snow monkeys? Is there a best time to visit?
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is open year round but your experience will vary depending on when you visit.
If you can tolerate cold weather and are able to walk on ice and/or snow, the best time to see the Japanese snow monkeys is during the winter (November-March). During this time, the park and the surrounding area are the most picturesque as they are covered in snow. Winter is also when the snow monkeys most enjoy bathing in the hot springs to escape the cold. Professional photographers usually choose this time to photograph the snow monkeys as true “snow” monkeys.
As previously mentioned, a factor to consider when traveling to Jigokudani in the winter is your ability to walk on snow and ice. The 1.6 km trail you walk to reach the snow monkeys can be slippery. Fortunately, it is mostly flat with just a few stairs at the beginning and the end of the path so you do not need to be particularly fit. We saw visitors of all ages on the trail.
Although winter is the most popular and picturesque time to see the snow monkeys, Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park can be visited year round. We do recommend avoiding summer though as we read the staff has to coax the monkeys into the hot springs. These pages from the official Jigokudani Yaen Kōen website and Snow Monkey Resort website have additional information about the snow monkey park during each season. Also helpful to plan a visit is checking out the monthly weather in Nagano on weatherbase.com.
Gear- What to wear in the winter
If visiting in winter, keep in mind you will be outdoors for at least a couple of hours so make sure to dress warmly. The average temperature in the winter is right around the freezing mark. Must wear items include a winter coat, scarf, hat, gloves and snow boots (ideally waterproof with good traction).
An information/gift shop right at the entrance for the trail sells and rents boots and coats and sells other gear (hats, gloves, scarfs etc) in case you did not bring your own. Some ryokans in the area lend snow boots to their guests so check beforehand if you do not want to bring your own.
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park FAQs
• Admission fee /price: 800 yen (about $7 US) for adults, 400 yen (about $3.50 US) for children.
• Park Hours: 8:30am-5:00pm in the summer season (generally April-October); 9:00am-4:00pm in winter season (generally November-March); open 365 days a year
• Rules: The park has several rules including that feeding or touching monkeys is not allowed. Flash photography is allowed and does not bother the monkeys.
• Food & Drink: There is no food for sale inside the park. The closest place to find food is Enza Café, located right before the start of the trail at Kambayashi Onsen. A small souvenir store inside the park sells hot chocolate and tea (but no food) and has a nice warmer you can sit around. This souvenir shop is just a few feet from the hot spring and also has restrooms with Western style toilets.
How to get to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Travel to Jigokudani from Tokyo using public transportation involves one or two trains. Unless it is a holiday, you do not need to reserve tickets for either train ahead of time. Most people who show up at the train station a few minutes before the train are able to purchase a seat. To search for times and prices for both trains visit www.hyperdia.com.
From Tokyo by rail:
The fastest way from Tokyo is the Shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Nagano. At Nagano you can connect to a local bus or train (see below).
Travel time between Tokyo and Nagano by bullet train is approximately 82-110 minutes one way but some trains are faster than others. Train service is frequent (approximately every 30 minutes). The bullet train from Tokyo to Nagano is the most expensive part of traveling to see the snow monkeys. Price is 8,400 yen (around $70 USD) one way for a reserved seat. The train from Tokyo to Nagano is the most expensive part of visiting the park, but if you have a Japanese rail pass, you can use it on this route.
From Nagano by bus or rail:
There are two options for public transportation from Nagano to the snow monkey park. You don’t have to decide beforehand whether to take the train or the bus from Nagano as there is frequent service for both and information on transportation is easy to find upon arrival at Nagano. We noticed a posted schedule for trains to the park. Both train and bus have a travel time of approximately 40-50 minutes.
1) Train from Nagano to Yudanaka train station (near Yamanouchi town): From Nagano there is a regional train (Nagano Dentetsu Line Limited Express) to the Yudanaka train station. There are frequent trains between Nagano and Yudanaka daily. The cost of the train is 1,260 yen (around $11 USD) one way. The Japanese rail pass cannot be used for this route.
To take the local train, upon arrival to Nagano from Tokyo on the Shinkansen, exit the Nagano JR station and walk a few feet to the Nagano Dentetsu station (subway).
Upon arrival to Yudanaka Station from Nagano, there are taxis and buses to take you to your ryokan or directly to the park. English speaking volunteers are available at Yudanaka train station to help direct tourists.
The train from Nagano is the best option for anyone staying in the nearby town of Yamanouchi. Even if not staying in Yamanouchi, taking the train from Nagano is convenient as you can take a 10 minute ride by taxi or local bus from Yudanaka train station to the park.
2) Bus from Nagano to Kambayashi Onsen – From Nagano there are buses to Kambayashi Onsen. Kambayashi Onsen is walking distance to the start of the trail to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. The bus could be a better option for someone on a day trip from Tokyo or Nagano as it drops you off at a bus stop located just a few minutes walk to the park.
This page on the Snow Monkey Resorts website lays out the transportation options really well.
Day trip options
• Tokyo –You can visit the snow monkeys as a day trip from Tokyo but it requires a very very long day with an early morning start. Although fairly easy to visit the snow monkeys independently, there are day tours from Tokyo to see the snow monkey park. Travel time is approximately 2-3 hours each way (fast bullet train to Nagano then connect to a local train or bus).
• Nagano – Nagano is the closest big city to Jigokudani. Travel time is approximately 40-50 minutes by train, bus or car each way.
• Nearby Ski Resorts– Nearby ski resorts (such as Shiga Kogen or Nozawa Onsen) are less than an hour away and make a good base for a day trip to Jigokudani.
Accommodations near Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Deciding where to stay was the most confusing thing for us when planning our visit to the snow monkey park. We knew we wanted to stay very close to the park, but it wasn’t super clear when researching the trip where exactly to stay in order to do that. Here are a few options of where to stay if you want to be as close as possible to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park:
Inside Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park – There is only one place to stay inside the park close to where the snow monkeys are:
• Korakukan – This is the only one ryokan inside the snow monkey park. While this ryokan is fairly expensive and has only shared bathrooms, the plus is a location in the park only a few minutes walk from the onsen the snow monkeys hang out in. For more information and current prices click here.
Kambayashi Onsen – This is an onsen town at the start of the trail leading to the snow monkeys. There are a few ryokans in this area but not as many as Yamanouchi. The benefit of staying at Kambayashi Onsen is that the entrance to the trail is only a short 5 minute walk. This is also the drop off point if arriving by bus from Nagano. We decided to stay at Kambayashi Onsen so we could be walking distance to the park.
The downside to staying here is that there are not many attractions or shops in the immediate vicinity of Kambayashi Onsen compared to Shibu Onsen or Yamanouchi-machi. There is one good restaurant (Enza Cafe) on the way to the park. Enza Cafe serves both Japanese and western food and has a convenient take out window.
Here are some great ryokans if you are willing to splurge:
• Jinpyokaku Ryokan – This is where we stayed and it was perfect in every way. (Here is our review). This is a traditional but luxurious ryokan with all the modern amenities. For more information and current prices click here.
• Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku – Another traditional ryokan in Kambayashi Onsen close to the park that gets good reviews. For more information and current prices click here.
Yamanouchi or Yamanouchi-machi (near Yudanaka Station) – Yamanouchi is the town many travelers base themselves when visiting the snow monkeys. It is walking distance from the Yudanaka Station. The advantage of staying in Yamanouchi is the main town location and proximity to restaurants, shops and the train station. The trail to the monkeys is about a 10 minute drive- there is a bus but many ryokans provide a free ride or have a shuttle.
Yamanouchi has a number of accommodations with a range of prices but here are some of the best options:
• Shimaya Ryokan – This midpriced ryokan is a great value. It is close to the train station and gets great reviews. For more information and current prices click here.
• Ryokan Biyunoyado – Great luxury option with a private rooftop onsen that gets great reviews. For more information and current prices click here.
Shibu Onsen – Shibu Onsen is about 2.5 km from the park on the way to Yamanouchi. This is a nice little town filled with bath houses in the vicinity of the park. Shibu Onsen has a more traditional Japanese feel than Yamanouchi. Getting to the park might require a ride or a shuttle but some people choose to walk.
Shibu Onsen has a number of accommodations with a range of prices but here are some of the best options:
• Koishiya – This midpriced ryokan is a great value. For more information and current prices click here.
• Shibu-onsen Kokuya – Luxury traditional ryokan with great reviews. For more information and current prices click here.
Hopefully this guide answered any questions you may have while planning your trip- if not, feel free to ask anything else you would like to know!
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