Have you ever seen photos of the iconic red-faced monkeys sitting in a “hot tub” in Japan?
The Jigokudani Yaen-koen is where you can spot exactly that!
The snow monkey park in Yamanouchi is quite easy to reach by Shinkansen from Tokyo and makes for a great day or weekend trip. It’s a popular destination not only because of the Snow Monkeys but also because there are many Onsen (hot springs) in the area.
We decided to go and I am so glad we did because it turned out to be one of my favourite experiences during our holiday!
How to get to the Snow Monkey Park from Tokyo
The Jigokudani Yaen-koen Snow Monkey park is located in Yamanouchi city. The city has several different stations which can be reached from Nagano main station.
If you travel from Tokyo, you will first have to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano central station. Luckily the JR Rail Pass is valid for this trip. Otherwise, it’s a bit pricey (8000 yen roughly 65£ for one way).
The closest train station to the Snow Monkey park is Yudanko, which is the last stop on the JR line train bound for Yudanako. The trip there will cost you an additional 1200 yen per person for one way.
There are several spots in Yamanouchi where you can buy tickets and a few different public transport options.
The most convenient way to get to the park is with bus on the Kanbayashi Line. For more information about the bus schedules, check out this page.
The bus drops you off a bit further from the park though so another option is a minibus shuttle which can be booked through local Ryokans.
We bought our ticket at a small shop in Shibu Onsen. The shuttle is only available during certain months (22nd December to end of February).
If you’re planning on also staying in the Yamanouchi area, check with your Ryokan (Japanese Inn) as many places offer free rides to the park in the mornings.
We paid 1800 yen (approx. 15£) for the ride and entry to the park which was quite reasonable.
My Snow Monkey experience
Our bus took us and a few other people through a narrow forest road up a high mountain. After we were dropped of at the parking lot we had to make our way to the park ourselves.
After a 20 minute walk through some beautiful scenery, we finally arrived at the Snow Monkey Park.
It should be noted that the Snow Monkeys are not always around. If it’s too warm or during their mating season, they might be hard to spot or not around at all- that’s at least what a few people in town told us.
We were lucky though and it didn’t take us very long to discover the first monkeys. In fact, the whole area was full of snow monkeys, strolling through the park or chilling in the hot springs.
It was quite amazing seeing them up close (it does say to keep a 1-metre distance though) and having them walk around you without a care in the world.
We travelled to Yamanouchi in December so we got to see quite a lot adorable Snow Monkey babies as well. They were playing on branches and clinging to their parent’s backs.
We had around one and a half hours in the park which was a good amount to take photos and watch the Snow Monkeys bathe, as well as check out the whole area- which isn’t that big actually.
The most popular spot is around the monkey Onsen. In a way, I can’t help but think that it must be so weird being a Snow Monkey and having dozens of people stare at you bathe every day.
If you like to see the Snow Monkeys and/or nature then I really recommend this trip. It’s possible to this as a day trip from Tokyo or enjoy it together with an Onsen and Spa experience in Yamanouchi. Either way, it’s an amazing experience.