Japan was one of the first spots we visited in the winter. If you’ve been following our blog, most places we’ve been are sunny and hot. So as soon as we decided to add Japan onto our trip, we started googling what to do in Japan in the winter. The experience that stood out most to us was seeing fluffy snow monkeys chilling at Jigokudani Monkey Park in an outdoor hot spring surrounded by snow! We definitely had to see them!
After navigating the train and bus system (see more info on how to get there below!) we arrived and started out on the 40 minute walk down a beautiful snow covered forest path to get to the park. We saw a few monkeys here and there as we got closer, but the real treat was in the park. We wanted to see these guys soaking in their natural spring tubs!
Although it was crowded in the park, seeing the monkeys relaxing in the springs was surreal. They barely seemed to notice the tourists taking pictures, they just soaked and groomed to their heart’s content. Lots of the monkeys were running around the paths too, playing and looking for things to eat. Baby monkeys cuddled with momma monkeys to stay warm. It was a very cool scene, and worth the time and yen to get out there to see it in person.
Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in Nagano Prefecture. It’s located a little out of the way, and you’ll need to take a bus to get there. Most people will travel from Iiyama Shinkansen or Nagano Shinkansen station, although it’s much easier to get there from the Nagano station. Note that it takes 40 minutes to walk from the bus stop to the springs where the monkeys chill out, and that the park closes at 4:00 pm.
Getting to Jigokudani Monkey Park from Nagano Shinkansen Station
The Hakutaka Shinkansen on the Hokuriku line will get you to Nagano from Tokyo in 91 minutes. From there you take the bus at stop 23/24 from the Nagano East bus terminal to the Jigokudani Monkey Park. The bus leaves at 9:00am, 10:30am, 11:15am, and 1:15pm and takes 50 minutes to get there. It costs 1400 yen each way. You can also buy a Snow Monkey Park pass at Nagano Station (not the Nagano JR station) for 3500 yen, which will save you 100 yen over your whole trip (includes bus each way, the 800 yen park entry fee and a free sticker!). You buy the pass in the underground at the ticket office beside the automated ticket machines. If you’re waiting near stop 23/24, go down the stairs that come up at the platform, and follow the long underground hallway until you find the ticket desk. You can also ask any information desk and they’ll usually have a map handy to show you the way.
Buses back to Nagano station take leave at 11:39am, 12:21pm, 2:15pm, 3:47pm, and 4:50pm. 30-45 minutes watching the monkeys at the park is plenty, and account for 1 hour, 20 minutes of walking time. Basically plan for 3 hours from when your bus leaves Nagano station until you can catch a bus back. For example, if you take the 10:30am bus, you’ll probably end up taking the 2:15pm bus back. With some fast walking, we took the 1:15pm bus there, and managed to catch the 3:47pm bus back.
Getting to Jigokudani Monkey Park from Iiyama Shinkansen Station
Iiyama station is actually closer to the park than Nagano, but the bus schedule is just not organized enough (gasp! Something unorganized in Japan!) to properly to allow you to get to and from the park easily. The only real option is the 10:15am bus there, and the 3:00pm bus back. If you miss the 10:15am bus, you’ll have to head over to Nagano station to catch the bus from there instead. You can take the JR train, or Shinkansen between the two stations.
You can get to Iiyama station with the Hakutaka Shinkansen on the Hokuriku line from Tokyo in 111 minutes. The Iiyama station is small and well organized, look for the 10:15am bus that heads to Jigokudani Monkey Park on the electronic boards to find the bus stop you need to wait at. The bus takes 35 minutes to get to the park, and costs 1000 yen one way. The walk from the bus stop to the park is 40 minutes. Taking into account all of the travel time, you’ll have 2 hours and 45 minutes at the park, which is more than enough (we got our fill after about 45 minutes). All around this is a better option, cheaper and less travel time, but the fact that you’re limited by the bus schedule is frustrating. You also don’t need to spend that long at the park. We were heading to Nozawa Onsen, and planned to see the Monkey Park on our way over from Kanazawa, but didn’t realize that we needed to catch the 10:15am bus, and ended up taking about 3 hours more to see the park after waiting around and travelling back and forth from Nagano station.
Where to Stay
- Peanuts Guesthouse Kumakuma – If you’re enjoying the winter wonderland that is the Nagano Prefecture, why not delve in further and hit the slopes? Nozawa Onsen is a 20 min bus ride from Iiyama station, and Peanuts Guesthouse is a great option for a simple room on the cheaper side (for Nozawa Onsen) with a semi-private onsen, and it’s a short 5 min walk to the hill! Even if you’re not skiing, embrace the aprés ski vibe by having a drink at one of the slopeside restaurants, where you can find lots of cool eats and craft beer! You can book a room online here.
Things to Know
- The Snow Monkeys are definitely better to see in the winter, when there is, you know, snow. We were there on an especially snowy day and it was awesome.
- The trek in is all along snow packed paths, and it can be very icy and slippery. If you’re not used to walking in the snow, we’d recommend wearing good shoes with grip and going slow. The walk in is pretty spectacular in itself.
- The park does get crowded. We took a real life vs. Instagram type picture to show you what to expect. Even though it’s crowded, you still get to chill out with some Snow Monkeys hanging out in a hot spring, how cool is that?
- They are wild monkeys, and there’s nothing between you and them. We really shouldn’t have to say this, but stay a respective distance away and don’t do anything stupid. Also don’t bring any food with you, they’re not crazy like monkeys in Bali, but they still may get curious if you have something yummy with you.
- Unless you can make the 10:15am bus from Iiyama Station, Nagano Station is your best bet to get to the park.
- You can store your big bags in Iiyama or Nagano station for 600 yen, and you can use an IC Card to pay for the lockers.