Known for the iconic onsen bathing “Snow Monkeys”, Jigokudani Monkey Park is actually open for business throughout the year.
What to see
The park is home to a troupe of wild Japanese Macaques. There are no cages, and the park does not have a perimeter fence to keep the monkeys inside. However, the park does feed the monkeys, so they have a reason to visit the park. The monkeys are not trained, and they choose whether to visit the park and whether to take a dip in the onsen. If you don’t fancy visiting an empty park, take a look at the live camera before visiting.
Given the remoteness of the park, looking at the live camera at departure doesn’t mean they’ll be there when you arrive.
The iconic scenes with the monkeys in the onsen surrounded by snow can be seen from roughly late December until early April. Although there’s little or no snow for the rest of the year, and the monkeys may be less than enthusiastic about bathing in hot water in baking summer temperatures, it’s still a great opportunity to get up close and personal with some unique Japanese fauna.
Who should go there?
The park is suitable for anyone who doesn’t have a fear of wild animals. The monkeys are free to roam in the park and there are no barriers between the monkeys and visitors, so if you are nervous around wild animals, you should give this a miss.
Getting to the park requires either a longer walk from the main parking lot (25 minutes) or bus stop (35 minutes), along a relatively level track with some steep steps at the end, or a 15-minute walk from a paid parking lot (closed in winter) along a steep dirt track followed by the aforementioned steps. There is a newly added ramp at the final approach to the park along the side of the hill, but it is very steep in places and likely to be closed when there is snow on the ground. So, if you, or someone in your party has mobility issues which preclude climbing stairs, you should probably skip the monkey park. We’ve seen all-terrain wheel chairs with small teams of assistants, so it’s technically possible, but barely practical.
How to get there
Located in northern Nagano Prefecture, Jigokudani Monkey Park is a considerable distance from Tokyo. While it’s technically possible to do as a day trip, it’s highly recommended to take a little more time and visit the snow monkeys while visiting some of the other attractions in the area. Shiga Kogen Ski Area is very close to the park, while you can drive (or be driven) to the main trail head for Jigokudani Monkey Park within an hour of other well-known resort areas such as Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen, and Myōkō. Shibu Onsen with its narrow cobble-stoned streets and traditional ryokan is also located in the same valley.
Train and bus
From Tokyo, you can either take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano Station (¥7,810 one way) then take a bus from the East Exit, or change at Nagano Station to the Nagano Electric Railway bound for Yudanaka Station. There are “Snow Monkey” and “Yukemuri” services which run 6 times each day from Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station, with the journey taking about 45 minutes and costing ¥1,190. Nagano Electric Railway trains are not covered by the JR Pass, or any other regional JR passes since it’s a private, non-JR railway company. You can book seats online.
From the East Exit of Nagano Station, there are well sign-posted buses (also run by Nagano Electric Railway) leaving for the Monkey Park about once an hour and the cost is ¥1,600 each way. The journey from the station to the Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop (next to the Shigakōgen Roman Museum) takes about 45 minutes.
From Yudanaka Station, there is one bus each hour from 9am until 12 noon, then less frequent services after that. Check the timetable here. The bus takes 10 to 15 minutes depending on the service and the bus stops at a sligtly more convenient bus stop further up the hill.
Since the bus from Nagano Station direct to the Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop is quicker than the train to Yudanaka + bus combo, departing from Nagano Station is the more logical choice. However, if you have a slightly illogical train obsession, the Nagano Electric Railway services run a combination of iconic former Odakyu Railway Romance Car train sets and former Narita Express wagons.
Snow Monkey Pass
Nagano Electric Railway (or Nagaden as it is known) offers an unlimited 2-day pass that covers express buses, trains, and entry to the Monkey Park for ¥3,600. Since this is cheaper than individually purchased tickets and admission to the park, it makes sense even if you don’t plan to use the pass for anything else.
If coming all the way from Tokyo, the trip will take you 4 to 5 hours if you stop for meal/rest breaks. From central Tokyo, you need to get on to the Kanetsu Expressway that heads towards Niigata, then switch to the Jōetsu Espressway heading towards Nagano. After about 4 hours of driving and ¥5,000 to ¥6,000 of tolls, you leave the expressway at the Shinshu-Nakano Interchange. From here it’s a 30 minute drive to either of the parking lots.
There are two parking lots. One is free (Jigokudani Monkey Park Main Parking Lot) with a 25 to 30-minute walk to Jigokudani; the other costs ¥500 (Jigokudani Parking) with a shorter, 15-minute walk to the bathing area. The latter is reached via a narrow road, closed in winter, and is not suitable for large vehicles. While the walk is shorter from the paid parking lot, it also involves a climb up some stairs on a rather steep dirt track. If you or members of your group struggle with stairs or rough ground, then the longer walk from Kanbayashi Onsen Parking may actually be a better option.
For more about transport options, check our article on how to get there from Tokyo.
If the idea of all those transport considerations gives you cold sweats, you can just take a bus tour from Nagano. The other advantage is going with a knowledgeable guide who will help you to get the best shots of the snow monkeys.
Is there a cafe or restaurant in the park?
There is no food or drink available at the park and carrying any food or drink into the park is not permitted. However, meals are available at Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan on the other side of the river from the monkey park. There is also a restaurant called Enza located between the main parking lot and the trail head that serves light meals, snacks and refreshments.
Where to stay
While you can visit the snow monkeys from Tokyo, it will take your whole day — and it will be a long day indeed. Instead, we recommend staying nearby to get the most out of all that travel time. Nagano City is full of hotel options but doesn’t have much going for it besides Zenkōji Temple. Instead, the nearby Shibu Onsen area offers a quaint, convenient, and historic base for exploring the area.
- 4.3 km from Yudanaka Station