If you have ever seen a picture of a monkey bathing in an outdoor hot spring surrounded by snow in Japan, it was probably taken at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan. This park is located in Yamanouchi city, in Nagano prefecture.
Jigokudani means, “hell valley,” because of the many streams of steam that comes from the springs. If you can make it to Nagano, I recommend you check this place out.
What Is There to See at Jigokudani?
While the surrounding nature at Jigokudani is awesome, the main attraction is the snow monkeys that roam free in their natural habitat. That’s right, there’s no cages or fences here. So the monkeys roam wherever they please, and are not afraid of humans. So they might come up right next to you. However, please remember that these are wild monkeys. If they are provoked or feel threatened, they might attack. So just don’t be dumb and treat the animals with respect, and they’ll do the same.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Jigokudani?
The best time to visit Jigokudani is in the winter, particularly in January and February. It is said that this is when the snow monkeys are the most photogenic, and are likely to bathe in the hot springs. The area will also be covered in snow, so it really sets the background for some wonderful pictures to be taken. The summer is hot and muggy, so hiking to the park is very uncomfortable and the monkeys have to be coaxed into entering the hot springs.
Warning! You need to do a small hike to get to the monkey park area. In the summer, it will be hot and humid, so be sure to keep hydrated. In the winter, everywhere will be covered in snow, including the hiking trail. So be sure to take caution on the trail. Also, there are no handicap accessible areas, so those who might have trouble hiking might not be able to make it to the park.
Hours of Operation
While the park is open all year round, the hours of operation changes with the season.
Summer season (generally between April – October): 8:30-17:00
Winter season (generally between November – March): 9:00-16:00
How to Get There
Nagano station is accessible by the shinkansen (bullet train) as well as the JR train lines. From Nagano station, you’ll have to catch the Nagano Dentesu (electric railway) Line. This line is located outside of the JR Nagano station.
From JR Nagano station, take the west (Zenkoji) exit. When you are outside of the station, you’ll see a small convenience store (SunKus) and the entrance to a shopping mall (Midori) to your right. Head towards that direction. Close to the SunKus convenience store you’ll see a flight a stairs going down. These stairs will take you right to the entrance of the Nagano Dentetsu Line.
Take the Nagano Dentetsu train line to the very last stop, Yudanaka station. It costs 910 yen for the normal train (takes around 45 minutes), or 1,010 yen for the express (around 30 minutes). If you ride the express, you might have to buy a 100 yen express train ticket in addition to a normal fare ticket. You can do this at the ticket machines at the station.
From Yudanaka station, it is possible to walk to the monkey park, but it will probably take you an hour to 90 minutes, and is mostly uphill. You’ll also have to walk on a somewhat narrow road to get to the top. There usually aren’t many cars but you still need to be careful.
Or you could take a taxi to the Jigokudani parking area. From there, it is about a 15 minute to get to the actual monkey park area. For more information, you can check out the Jigokudani homepage.
Jigokudani monkey park is a famous attraction in Japan, is almost never crowded with people. So it is a pretty relaxing place to go to. It does take a while to get there (around 90-120minutes from JR Nagano station) so I highly recommend you stay in Yamanouchi overnight.
The area below the monkey park is home to some of the best onsen in Japan. The two onsen towns, Shibu onsen, and Yudanaka are some of my favorite places in Japan. So be sure to stay in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) for a night. Some of these ryokan has a free shuttle bus that will take you to the parking area of Jigokudani.
I don’t think that the monkey park is a place you need to visit multiple times, but it is a place that you should go to at least once. Being in the wild with the free-roaming snow monkeys in beautiful Nagano makes for a very nice experience.