People say they monkey around. If monkey around means frolic in an onsen hot spring, then yes, yes they do. We wanted to witness this adorableness in person and traveled to Jigokudani Yaen Kōen (aka Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park) in Japan to do so.
The snow monkeys are Japanese Macaques native to northern Japan. They are famous for their red faces and hot spring antics. Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is home to a number of these snow monkeys. The main attraction in the park is a man made hot spring where groups of monkeys swim, play or take a relaxing onsen.
We took two trains from Tokyo to reach the area near the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park- the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano followed by a local train (Nagano Dentetsu Line Limited Express aka Snow Monkey Express).
(For more information about travel logistics here is our detailed guide on how to visit the Japanese snow monkeys including when to visit, how to get there, where to stay and more. Although we visited on our own, there are also day tours to see the snow monkeys.)
Three hours later, we found ourselves at the Yudanaka train station greeted by a cute snowman.
Our driver picked us up and whisked us away to our seriously fabulous ryokan in Kanbayashi Onsen (Click here to see the latest prices or read our full review). Conveniently, Kanbayashi Onsen is only a 5 minute walk to the start of the trail leading to the monkeys.
We left bright and early the following morning hoping to reach the snow monkeys as soon as the park opened.
The actual trail was a 1.6 km (about 30 minute) walk on a snow covered forest path.
The path was a bit slippery and the temperature a bit cold but we found the walk quite pleasant. We’re used to Chicago winters though so take our opinion with a grain of salt.
Since we kept a quick pace and never encountered anyone on the trail, we figured we would be among the first people at the hot springs. We were wrong. A large camera-wielding crowd was already there.
Camera gear and lenses were everywhere. Even the snow monkeys got in on that action.
Despite the crowd, things were pretty orderly. We managed to position ourselves upfront and spent a delightful two hours viewing snow monkey antics. Some monkeys kept jumping in, some cuddled, some chased each other, some groomed each other and some enjoyed a soak in the onsen.
The snow monkeys were not afraid of humans. They went about their day as if the crowds were part of the landscape. They brushed past us often and were not hesitant to sit and chill a few inches in front of us.
Regardless of how close snow monkeys approached people, it is against park regulations to touch them. One man attempted to and was rewarded with hisses and swipes at his camera gear.
After a few hours in the cold, we popped into the souvenir shop to warm up before heading back down the same trail we came from.
As it was lunchtime, we stopped by a cafe located between the park and our ryokan. We were amused by the restroom sign.
Overall, this was one of our most memorable travel days- the entire experience was delightful. The snow monkeys at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park were charming but so was the beautiful surrounding area.
Here are a few more photos of the snow monkeys:
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