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.
How to Visit Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Where to see snow monkeys in 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.
Best time to see snow monkeys in Japan
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 (December-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 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. There are 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.
If visiting in winter, keep in mind you will be outdoors for at least a couple of hours. Be 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). Some ryokans in the area lend snow boots to their guests. Check beforehand if you don’t want to bring your own. You can also rent and buy some gear at the park.
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. And that’s assuming they even come down from the mountains. 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.
Should You Visit Monkey Park on a Day Trip or Stay Overnight?
Some people visit Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park on a day trip from Tokyo or Nagano but other people choose to stay overnight in the immediate vicinity of the park. We chose to stay overnight near the park so that we could visit the snow monkeys as soon as the park opened in the morning. Plus we wanted to stay in a ryokan. There are many traditional Japanese onsen towns in the area so if you have time we recommend staying near the park.
Jigokudani Monkey Park 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 (via a 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. There are day tours from Nagano if you don’t want to worry about having to find your way to the park. Click here to book a day tour from Nagano that also includes a visit to Zenkoji Temple. This day tour from Nagano also takes you to a ski resort in the Shiga Kogen after visiting the snow monkey.
We’ll provide some more information later on how to visit the snow monkey park from Tokyo and Nagano if you want to travel independently.
Jigokudani Overnight Options
Here is an overview of the most popular options for where to stay when visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park:
• 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. The is a local bus that connects the ski resorts to the Monkey Park.
• Shibu Onsen – Shibu Onsen is a traditional Japanese onsen town about 2.5 km from the park on the way to Yamanouchi.
• Yamanouchi or Yamanouchi-machi (near Yudanaka Station) – Yamanouchi is the town many travelers base themselves in when visiting the snow monkeys. It’s 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 local bus but many ryokans provide a free ride or have a shuttle.
• Kambayashi Onsen – This is an onsen town right at the start of the trail leading to the snow monkeys. If you stay here, you can just walk to the park on the day of your visit. This is where we chose to stay.
How to get to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park from Tokyo and Nagano
Travel to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park 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.
Jigokudani Monkey Park from Tokyo
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 your Japan rail pass on this route.
Jigokudani Monkey Park from Nagano
If visiting on a day trip, it might be worth it to purchase a Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass at the ticket window inside Nagano Dentetsu Line station which will save you money. The pass is only available during the winter.
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.
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.
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). (During the winter, you can buy a Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass here if you are traveling back to Nagano on the same day.)
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.
2) Bus from Nagano to Kambayashi Onsen
From Nagano there are local buses to Kambayashi Onsen. Kambayashi Onsen is walking distance to the start of the trail to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. The local 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.
Ryokan and Hotels near Jigokudani 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. If you want to stay very close to Jigokudani you will need to stay in a ryokan (Japanese traditional inn). If you would like to stay in a traditional Western style hotel, you will most likely need to stay in Nagano.
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 ryokan inside the snow monkey park. While it’s fairly expensive and only has shared bathrooms, the plus is a location in the park only a few minutes walk from the onsen the snow monkeys hang out in. Click here to see the latest prices.
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. This is a traditional but luxurious ryokan with all the modern amenities. Click here to see the latest prices or read our full review.
• Kanbayashi Hotel Senjukaku – Another traditional ryokan in Kambayashi Onsen close to the park that gets good reviews. Click here to see the latest prices.
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. Click here to see the latest prices.
• Ryokan Biyunoyado – Great luxury option with a private rooftop onsen that gets great reviews. Click here to see the latest prices.
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:
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). The park is supposed to be open 365 days a year but there are occasionally unexpected closures due to weather. The best way to keep up with the current conditions of the park is to follow their facebook page.
• 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). It even 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.
• Gear: 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.
• Live Cam: The park has a live cam of the hot springs so you can monitor the action.
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!
Are you also visiting Tokyo and Kyoto? Check out our detailed guides on how to spend 3 days in Tokyo and 3 days in Kyoto.
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