Last week, we had the amazing opportunity to visit the Jigokudani snow monkeys in Nagano, Japan. Seeing the snow monkeys was something that we really wanted to do while Kiele was visiting us from the US. Due to some time constraints, we had to drive there and back in one day, which ended up being quite the undertaking (about 11 hours total). The snow monkey park was very busy due to the first week in January being one of Japan's biggest holiday and vacation periods. With all that said, the experience was beyond magical and I really can't wait to get back. I plan to visit again in the Spring although this time, I'll be renting a cabin for a few days, to thoroughly enjoy the Nagano area -- and the snow monkeys.
The monkeys seem to be very comfortable with humans, even with the onsen area being as crowded as it was during our visit. The monkeys would come and go as they wanted and they kind of just ignored everyone. There were a couple areas of the onsen that humans couldn't get to so that if a monkey wanted his peace (away from humans), he could venture over there. And of course, the monkeys could leave the onsen if they had had enough. At one point, when we were walking around the river area, a monkey came and sat right on my boots -- quite surreal.
If you're planning to visit the Nagano area, I've posted a few thoughts and tips (below) regarding a trip to see the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park.
Thoughts and tips for visiting the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park -- You can get to the area either by car or train. If going by train, your final destination is the Yudanaka Station, where there are taxis waiting. From there, it's about a 10-15 minute taxi ride (2000 yen). As shared above, we chose to drive. Going there wasn't bad but we were in tons of traffic driving home, which resulted in a 6-hour trip versus a 4-1/2-hour drive. Chains are a must, to at least have on hand. The road that google maps was taking us was closed. We saw that there was a parking lot with a big monkey sign; however, a reservation was required and the next available shuttle was not until 1500 (from what we could gather, with no real understandable communication). So we decided to drive around some more and try to find the Park ourselves -- that was until we couldn't get up a slight hill and ended up sliding our way back down. By this time, we were frustrated and done, so we drove to the train station, with the hope that we could catch a taxi, which we do with no trouble at all.
Once at the Park parking lot, where the taxi drops you off, it's a 1.7 KM trek to get to the Park ticket booth. The path is rather narrow and icy. We were lucky that it had significantly snowed the night before so the path was partially covered with snow, which provided some traction and was much easier to walk on. With that said, two of my kids fell and we saw a number of other people fall along the way. It was obvious that an older woman had broken her arm. So two things to prepare for -- the cold and a 1.7 KM one-way trek on a slippery ice path.
The monkeys are everywhere, but the most amazing part is seeing them in the onsen. It was very steamy when we were there, which made it a bit difficult to photograph the monkeys. Also, as you can see in the last photo, it was VERY busy when we were there, which I think is mostly because it was the first week in January and holiday for most.
If driving, ENZA Cafe is very close to the parking lot. It also gets great reviews and the staff are lovely. Hopefully that will help you get to the parking lot.
ENZA Cafe address: 〒381-0401 Nagano Prefecture, Shimotakai District, 山ノ内町平穏上林1421-1
If you have any questions, please ask. I'm more than happy to help.