Admire the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan
While there are many bucket-list-worthy experiences in Japan, from climbing Mount Fuji to scuba diving in Okinawa, we can’t forget Jigokudani Monkey Park. Located in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan, Jigokudani Park is where we can observe wild Japanese macaques (otherwise known as snow monkeys) bathe in the natural hot springs!
Why are the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani so special?
Jigokudani Monkey Park was first established in 1964 by Sogo Hara, who discovered the troop of snow monkeys while hiking around Jigokudani (i.e., “Hell Valley”). Jigokudani is a common name for areas in Japan with volcanic activity; the volcanic activity around the town of Yamanouchi resulted in natural hot springs that the monkeys used to cope with the cold weather.
Since I’ve first heard of Jigokudani Monkey Park, it has been on my bucket list. What sounds more enchanting than some wild snow monkeys escaping from the chilly weather in some relaxing hot springs? Surrounded by the picturesque winter scenery, I knew I had to visit this park. This is why, as I embarked on my year-long trip to Japan, I was adamant that I would see these snow monkeys before I returned home.
How to see the Snow Monkeys
As I planned my trip to Jigokudani Monkey Park, I did tons of research, determined that I would not miss my chance to admire the snow monkeys. I visited the park in January; the middle of winter when the weather is at its coldest (meaning the snow monkeys would love to jump into the hot springs to escape the cold). I also booked my hotel for an extra night, giving me the chance to visit again if my first excursion resulted in failure.
As I departed for Jigokudani Monkey Park, I was filled with excitement. While I was also a tad anxious that the snow monkeys would not be there, I had checked the live cam before departing, which showed the pools filled with monkeys; I was fairly positive they wouldn’t leave by the time I got there!
Now, the path to Jigokudani Monkey Park starts with a small and easy hike, and this is when my bucket-list-worthy experience truly began. To put it briefly, the scenery was breathtaking. With very few people on the trail with me, I was surrounded by mounds of untouched snow, covering every inch of the path and surrounding trees. It was literally a winter wonderland. And while I couldn’t detect any wildlife, I knew I was getting closer to the snow monkeys!
As I neared the entrance booth for Jigokudani Monkey Park, I finally spotted my first few monkeys; at a small valley near a frozen bridge and an onsen (a Japanese hot spring), some adorable monkeys scrambled down to the river below. It was truly the most picturesque setting for my first monkey sighting!
After taking a moment to admire the view, I headed into Jigokudani Monkey Park, finally reaching the hot springs. And luckily, they were filled with Japanese macaques!
It was so much fun observing the monkeys’ interactions with each other; while visitors can’t touch or feed these monkeys (as they are wild animals), it was so rewarding to simply watch them groom each other, relax in the warm water, and play with each other. However, it was a bit disconcerting when they got into play fights (especially when they were running around my legs!).
Needless to say, I took tons of photos, but I also simply took the time to walk around the hot springs and observe the surrounding scenery. Even with the occasional holler from a monkey play-fight, I felt totally serene. And after my visit, I knew my year in Japan was a success, as I completed the number one item on my Japan bucket list.
Useful information to experience at Jigokudani Monkey Park
Now that I’ve shared my experience at Jigokudani Monkey Park, here’s some useful information for the trip.
There are many ways to get to Jigokudani Monkey Park, but the most convenient way is by train and bus. If you’re visiting from Tokyo, you can take a shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano Station, then take another train to Yudanaka Station in Yamanouchi. From there, you will have to take the bus to Kanbayashi Onsen, where the small trek to Jigokudani Monkey Park begins.
All in all, this commute from Tokyo takes around 4.5 to 5 hours, so I recommend staying in the town of Yamanouchi for at least one night.
Luckily, visiting Jigokudani can be done independently or with a tour, so you’ll have total freedom in deciding when to go! But for the beginner hikers worried about the small trek to Jigokudani, read my beginner hiking guide.
While Jigokudani Park is open all year round, the monkeys use the hot springs to escape from the cold, so they only tend to visit in the winter (from December to March). I recommend checking the live camera here before departing, to see if the monkeys are visiting or not!
And here’s my last tip for visiting the snow monkeys in Nagano: either bring some boots suitable for the snow or rent some boots at the Snow Monkey Resorts Info & Gift Shop. Renting the boots cost around 800 JPY (approx $7 USD), and the ticket into Jigokudani Monkey Park costs another 800 JPY.
Overall, visiting the Japanese macaques at Jigokudani Monkey Park is truly a unique experience, and an absolute wildlife bucket list essential (especially for those visiting Japan in the winter!).
About the Author
Mia is a Canadian travel blogger based in Vancouver with a passion for hiking and traveling the world by foot. She is the creator of the blog Walk a While with Me. Check out her blog for the best self-guided walking tours, hiking tips, and guides for traveling around the globe!
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