Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, Nagano
Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, located in Yamanouchi, Nagano, allows visitors to see Japanese Macaques (snow monkeys) bathing in natural hot springs (onsen). The park is situated in the monkeys' natural habitat, in the valley of the Yokoyu River. "Jigokudani" means "Hell's Valley," referring to the boiling water that spouts out of the ground, despite it being frozen, and it being surrounded by steep cliffs and extremely cold forests.
This park is easily in our top three places we've visited during our trip. Seeing red-faced monkeys just chillin' in onsens was so cool. Not to mention, the scenery was amazing. The combination of the dark, steep cliffs, the greenery of the forest, the freshly fallen white snow, and a river running through it was absolutely beautiful. And the baby monkeys were so adorable!
It's quite a trek to get there, though. From the entrance, it's a 1.6 km walk through the forest, on the side of the valley, to the park. And another 10-15 minute walk from the bus stop to the entrance. The trail is also pretty narrow, I'd say it's about 2 meters wide, and with people walking in both directions, no rails to stop you from falling off the side of the cliff, and icy ground, it can be quite dangerous. Winter boots are recommended! We didn't have appropriate footwear so we were slipping all over the place (I fell once!) and it took us probably about 40 minutes to get from the entrance to the park. They do sell spike things that you can attach to your shoes at the gift shop, though. We didn't see those until our way out, we were too excited to see the monkeys. I also recommend going early! We were walking out of the park when the sun went down and the trail is pretty dangerous to walk in the dark. Thank goodness for phone flashlights!
From Nagano Station: 40 minutes, ¥1400, 4-10 buses per day (ask the information desk), Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop
From Yudanaka Station: 10-15 minutes, ¥310, 1-2 buses per hour, Kanbayashi Onsen Bus Stop
From Shibu Onsen: 5-10 minutes, ¥190, 1-2 buses per hour, Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop
We took a bus from Nagano Station and the bus time that we wanted to take was actually canceled that day, so we had to wait almost an hour for the next bus. :( I definitely recommend checking the bus times at least the day before and getting there early, just in case there are any changes.
April to October: 8:30 - 17:00
November to March: 9:00 - 16:00
Admission Fee: ¥800
There is a special One-Day Pass for ¥3200, which covers the bus ride (round trip) and the admission fee. You end up saving ¥400 if you take the bus from Nagano Station. It also includes the Nagano Dentetsu Line, which we used that day, so it saved us even more money. It can be purchased at the counter of the Dentetsu Line in Nagano Station. More info here: http://www.snowmonkeyresorts.com/access/snow-monkey-1-day-pass/
Other Helpful Links:Official Website (English): http://en.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/
Snow Monkey Resorts: http://www.snowmonkeyresorts.com/smr/snowmonkeypark/
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