When you mention the name Nagano, many people are immediately reminded of the Winter Olympics held in the Japanese prefecture in 1998. To this day, Nagano remains one of the most popular winter sports destinations in Japan.
Now, you might be asking yourself, “But why should I choose Nagano or Japan when I can also ski in the Alps or in Vail?” Well, we’re here to offer one very compelling argument for heading to Japan. In Japan, you can witness something you’d be hard to find in any other ski destination on the planet – a group of snow monkeys relaxing in balmy natural hot springs, or onsens as they’re known in Japan. Join us for a visit with the famous snow monkeys in Japan!
What Are Japanese Snow Monkeys?
The Japanese snow monkey is officially called the Japanese Macaque. Obviously, these monkeys owe their nickname to their frosty habitat in Japan. Out of all the primates (excluding us humans, of course), the Japanese Macaque lives the furthest up north.
The Japanese snow monkeys are found on three of Japan’s main islands: Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. The furry monkeys live in regions where the ground is covered in snow for significant periods each year. The monkeys’ facial expressions and behaviour are incredibly human like – the main difference seems to be their light brown hair and short tails!
Visiting Jigokudani Yaenkoen Snow Monkey Park
So where can you see the snow monkeys in Japan? By visiting the snow monkey park in Nagano of course! The park is officially called Jigokudani Yaenkoen but it’s often simply referred to as the Snow Monkey Park. The park prides itself for being “the only place in the world where monkeys bathe in hot springs.”
Visiting the park feels more like a walk in the woods. A 25-minute stroll brings you from the entrance to the sough-after onsen where you’ll find the monkeys bathing and relaxing in the warm waters. Just like humans, the monkeys relish a hot soak in the healing onsen amidst the freezing cold snow. The monkeys are free to come and go as they please, so you’ll also find them playing around the hot springs and running through the park.
The monkeys in the park are “wild” but very accustomed to visitors and you can get up close and personal with them to snap those epic holiday photos. The park is mostly left to its natural state, but it’s attended to by wardens who keep the park clean and offer food to the monkeys.
The entrance fee is JPY 800 (USD 7) for adults and JPY 400 (USD 3) for children aged 6-17. Children below six can visit the park free of charge.
When Can I Visit the Snow Monkey Park?
Jigokudani monkey park is open all year round. This means you can also visit the snow monkey park during the summer, but most people prefer to witness the snow monkeys in Japan during winter. If you’re visiting the park in the winter, don’t forget to bundle up, as the weather is quite literally freezing!
- Winter season: November – March, opening hours 9am – 4pm
- Summer season: April – October, opening hours 8:30am – 5pm
Curious about what it’s actually like visiting the park? Get a sneak peek with the snow monkey park’s live camera stream.
Jigokudani snow monkey park is located in Nagano and easily accessed from the area’s ski resorts. The city of Nagano is 35 kilometres away. You can travel by public transport by catching a bus or train from your ski resort to Nagano and then connecting towards Jigokudani snow monkey park with the Nagano Dentetsu train line. Many ski resorts in Nagano, including Hakuba, also offer day tours to the snow monkey park.