Located in northern Nagano Prefecture, Jigokudani Monkey Park is known for the iconic onsen bathing “Snow Monkeys”. However, it’s actually open for business throughout the year.

What is Jigokudani Monkey Park?

Jigokudani Monkey Park is a remote park where visitors can see wild Japanese Macaques up close. And yes, they are wild — there are no cages or fences. But the park does feed them, so they have a reason to stick around. Of course, the park is most famous as a place to see monkeys bathing in hot springs, so the relationship works both ways.

The best time to the see the onsen-bathing monkeys is the winter months, especially from January to late February. But again, they’re wild animals so there are no guarantees they’ll be there. We recommend checking the live camera before visiting to see if the monkeys are around that day.

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Mother and baby monkey | Photo by Gregory Lane

How to buy tickets

Tickets can be bought in person at the park. They cost ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children aged 6-17 years old. Children under 6 are free. If you really like monkeys you can also get an annual pass for ¥5,000 for adults, or half that price for children.

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.

If you have animal rights concerns, we can assure you that the monkeys are indeed wild. Like we said earlier, there are no fences or cages here and the monkeys are free to leave whenever they please — and they often do. It’s also worth noting that the park has been involved in projects to allow scientists to research these animals. However, if you’re uncomfortable with animals as attractions in general, this may not be the place for you.

No onsen today. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Unfortunately, the park is also not well-suited to people with limited mobility and families with strollers. Getting there requires 15 to 35 minutes of walking — depending on your mode of transport — and there are steep steps at the entrance of the park. While there is a ramp, it’s also quite steep and might be closed if there is snow. We’ve seen all-terrain wheel chairs with small teams of assistants at the park, so it’s technically possible, but barely practical.

Steps to the main entrance of the monkey park. | Photo by Gregory Lane

How to get there

Jigokudani Monkey Park is a considerable distance from Tokyo. While it’s technically possible to do as a day trip, we highly recommend making your visit part of larger itinerary.

Shiga Kōgen Ski Area is very close to the park. You can also drive (or be driven) to the main trail head for Jigokudani Monkey Park within an hour of other well-known resort areas too, 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.

Snow Monkey sans snow. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Organized tours

If you really want to make a day trip from Tokyo, we highly recommend joining an organized tour. It will take a lot of the stress out of navigation. For example, you can easily book this tour online and it includes a round-trip bus from Shinjuku, entry to the monkey park, and an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch for ¥16,000. Considering, a round trip from Tokyo using public transport will cost you around ¥20,000, this is an excellent deal.

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Alternatively, you can take a bus tour from Nagano Station if you’re already in the area.

Train and bus

There are two possible routes to get you from Tokyo to Jigokudani Monkey Park. In both cases, you start by taking the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station. The journey takes 1.5 hours and costs ¥8,340 one way. From Nagano Station, you have two choices:

  1. Take a bus directly to the monkey park (45 minutes, ¥1,800).
  2. Take the Nagano Electric Railway to Yudanaka Station, then take a bus the rest of the way (about 1 hour, ¥1,900).

We recommend taking the direct bus — it’s cheaper, faster, and more direct, so it’s a clear winner. But if you’re a particularly big fan of trains, you might enjoy the Nagano Electric Railway because some of its services use old Odakyu Railway Romance Cars and Narita Express.

Rail passes

We recommend the Hokuriku Arch Pass or JR East Nagano and Niigata Area Pass for this trip, as long as you tie it in with more travel. The Hokuriku Arch Pass would suit someone who wants to make a round-trip between Tokyo and Osaka or Kyoto, and stop in and see the monkeys on the way. Meanwhile, the JR East Nagano Niigata Area Pass, is better suited for someone interested in exploring the Nagano and Niigata regions more in depth.

Just note that, because the Nagano Electric Railway private, neither pass will cover the full journey to the monkey park.

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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.

Car

Many families or groups opt to drive from Tokyo. The journey should take between 3.5 to 4 hours and cost roughly ¥5,500 in tolls. There are two parking lots. One is free (Jigokudani Monkey Park Main Parking) with a 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 big cars.

Jigokudani Free Parking (main parking lot). | Photo by Gregory Lane

For more, check out our full guide to the Jigokudani Monkey Park.