Jigokudani Yaenkoen, or the Snow Monkey Park, was established in 1964 in the forests of the Jigokudani valley in Yamanouchi, Japan and offers its visitors a wonderful and unique experience of seeing and photographing wild Japanese Macaques (Snow Monkeys).
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When to visit the Snow Monkey Park in Japan
The Snow Monkey Park is open all year round, however, the Japanese Macaques look at their best when the area is covered in snow. That's when they are most likely to enter the hot man-made pool where the monkeys bathe and relax. This is also the best photographic opportunity for tourists and travellers. During the summer times, the monkeys are a little more reluctant to enter the hot onsen, and that's when park wardens throw food into the pool as a little encouragement. We visited the Snow Monkey Park in December, during a very rainy day, which turned out to be a lot of fun, despite the bad weather. We really wanted to include it in our 2 weeks in Japan itinerary.
Visiting the Snow Monkey Park was something we really wanted to check during our trip to Japan. Finding the right information about how to get to the park from Tokyo proved a little difficult. We almost missed our bus back to the train station and hiked through the rain for the whole day. Was it worth it? Absolutely! No real adventure starts without something going wrong.
Where to stay close to the Snow Monkey Park
Most tourists who visit the Snow Monkey Park, tend to spend a few nights either in Nagano or around Yamanouchi. During the snowy season, you can enjoy winter sports, as Shiga Highlands is a ski resort and hiking spot, located in the mountains of Yamanouchi. If skiing is not your thing, visit the 700 years old streets of Shibu Onsen instead. This is a wonderful spot full of hot springs, ryokans and full of traditional Japanese atmosphere. You will find a lot of locals dressed in Kimonos and guests wearing Yukatas.
Wafu no Yado Masuya is a great 3-star hotel, just a 5-minute drive from Yudanaka Station, Wafu no Yado Masuya features beautiful Japanese-style rooms, hot spring baths and free Wi-Fi. Some rooms boast a private outdoor hot spring bath. Click to check prices.
Alternatively, you can book Jinpyokaku, a luxurious Japanese-style hot springs experience. A variety of baths, exquisite Japanese cuisine and serene Japanese-style rooms are featured. Click to check prices.
We only had time for a day visit to the Snow Monkey Park, so we had to carefully time our journey. We took the shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano, a local train to Yudanaka Station and finally a bus to Kanbayashi Onsen. From there, there is a 30 - 40-minute hike through the forest to the monkey park.
Snow Monkey Park from Tokyo
Here is a step by step guide on how you can visit the Snow Monkey Pass from Tokyo in one day. If you don't want the hassle of changing trains and dealing with timetables, we recommend booking your guide in advance which is convenient and worry-free. Click to book your Snow Monkey Park experience for one day.
Tokyo to Nagano by Hokuriku Shinkansen
If you have a Japan Rail Pass then go the JR counters and make a seat reservation for your chosen day and time from Tokyo to Nagano. The earlier you go, the better.
If you don't have a Japan Rail Pass, buy a return train ticket to Nagano (8000 yen one way).
The journey takes roughly an hour and a half.
Nagano to Yudanaka Train Station
At Nagano, you need to change lines. You need the Nagano Dentetsu Line to Yudanaka Station. The journey lasts 50min, and it costs 1.230 yen one way. Your Japan Rail Pass is not valid on this line.
When you arrive at the Nagano, best to visit the Tourist information counter located at the train station. You will be guided towards the entrance to the NaganoDentetsu Line and be handed a train timetable. Keep it safe as you will be needing it again on your way back. If you have time, walk around the Nagano station as it is the largest train station in Japan. We stopped there for lunch and bought some food to have with us for the rest of the journey. We checked out Midori, a massive department spread over several stories. Here, you can find ready to eat food, fashion, restaurants and gifts. You could easily spend a few days walking around the Nagano station and its impressive shops, so make sure you don't lose track of time.
I'm attaching a map of the Nagano station floor which you will be needing to find your way towards the Tourist Information and the Dentetsu Line.
Once at the Dentetsu Line, show your Snow Monkey Pass at the counter so you can be allowed through the barriers. Board the train and relax for the next hour.
Yudanaka Station to Kanbayashi Onsen
When you are off the train, make your way to the bus stop which is located right in front of the Yudanaka Station. Please bare in mind that you only have 1-2 buses per hour. The bus journey lasts 10-15 minutes, it costs 310 yen (or free if you have your Snow Monkey Pass).
Kanbayashi Onsen to the Snow Monkey Park
You made it this far. The last thing you need to do is to walk for about 30-40 minutes through the peaceful forest. The hike is very pleasant, relaxing and picturesque. There are several boards which tell you what sort of animals you may encounter deep in the Japanese forest. We hiked through torrential rain which slowed us down quite a bit. If it happens to rain on your visiting day, make sure to bring good waterproofs and very comfortable walking shoes. The path is well defined so you won't be having any difficulties finding your way.
The Snow Money Park
Show your Snow Monkey Pass to be allowed into the park, or buy your tickets at the counter. It costs 500 yen per adult if you're buying them on the day. Walk around and allow yourself some time to observe the Japanese Macaques in their natural habitat. Their interactions are fascinating and captivating. You will have plenty of photo opportunities and see the monkeys bathing in the onsen. Because of the torrential rain and serious winds, we found it a little difficult to capture the best of the Park, but the experience, the travel and the adventure were well worth it.
Snow Monkey Park to Tokyo
Going back to Tokyo should be pretty straightforward now that you're a pro at finding your way around Japan. There's just one thing I need you to be aware of. On your bus timetable, you need to pay attention to where the bus actually leaves from. We almost missed our last bus this way.
However, if you are planning on taking a bus which has an asterisk next to its departing time, you'll realise you need to catch it from a different bus stop, located on the main road. We realised this only 3 minutes before our bus was due, so we had to seriously gallop all the way from the Kanbayashi Hot Spring to road 292. We got there 15 seconds before the last bus! Oh, the joy.
When you are back at the Yudanaka train station, wait patiently for your train back to Nagano and then take the Tokyo-bound shinkansen. You will probably be quite tired by the end of the day, but I'm sure you will feel it was well worth the trouble. Finally, rewards yourself with some hot ramen and a cup of sake. You deserve it as you travelled over 500 km in one day!