Monkeys soaking their troubles away in a hot bath? Sounds like a scene from a cartoon but in the municipality of Yamanouchi, it is a pretty common sight to see.
Overview of the Jigokudani Monkey Park
Yamanouchi houses several tourist attractions that invite more and more tourists into the Prefecture of Nagano. Among its many interesting places to visit, the Jigokudani Monkey Park draws in the most visitors, for the unique experience it has to offer.
Visitors of the park can witness groups of wild Japanese Macaques, or Snow Monkeys, bathing in a man-made hot spring located right within the animal’s natural habitat.
Facts about the Jigokudani Monkey Park – Wild Japanese Macaques, Hell Valley, Etc.
According to records, more than 160 Snow Monkeys reside in or near the Jigokudani Monkey Park, regardless of the relatively harsh climate and conditions of the area. The place is usually covered in snow four months of the year, while hot springs unexpectedly burst from the grounds – the reason behind its name, Jigokudani, which means “Hell Valley”
The presence of these hot springs actually serves as the main reason why the Japanese Macaques continue to live within the area. Over the years, the monkeys have gotten into the habit of bathing in the natural hot springs and have learned to find the activity enjoyable and relaxing, just as humans do.
Monkeys that choose to bathe in the hot spring of the Jigokudani Monkey Park have also grown accustomed to the presence of humans and do not mind being in close proximity to them. As such, visitors are offered with a unique and safe encounter with the supposedly wild animals.
Things to Expect at the Jigokudani Monkey Park
The man-made hot spring bath of the Jigokudani Monkey Park is located a short walk away from the main entrance. As visitors make their way into the park, it can be expected that several encounters with Japanese Macaques already be experienced prior to actually reaching the bathing area.
Given that these monkeys live in different social groups, seeing them interact with each other can be quite interesting and entertaining. It should be noted that although the monkeys will rarely pay the humans any attention, visitors are not allowed to touch or feed them with anything.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park has various signs and information boards that explain the lifestyle of Snow Monkeys but are, unfortunately, mostly written in Japanese. Luckily, there are some short explanations available in English and illustrations that depict the alpha male system of the Japanese Macaques.
For those who do not have the time to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park but still want to see the monkeys taking a bath, a camera has been installed beside the man-made pool to allow people from all over the world to see them online.
Visiting the Jigokudani Monkey Park during Summer and Winter
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is open every day through the year. It is particularly beautiful during the winter season when the entire area is covered in a blanket of snow, which usually starts to fall during the last week of November. As such, the best months to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park are January and February.
Regardless of the presence of a cold climate or not, the Japanese Macaques tend to not need any encouragement to enter the hot spring bath. However, on very hot days of the summer, the park wardens sometimes throw in some food into the pool to entice the Snow Monkeys into entering the pool.
Map & Access to the Jigokudani Monkey Park from Tokyo
The easiest way to access the Jigokudani Monkey Park is to first head on to Nagano. Fortunately, Tokyo is connected to Nagano through the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It usually takes about ninety minutes to get from one point to the other and costs about 8,000 yen per person.
Alternatively, tourists can choose to take a highway bus from Tokyo to the Nagano Station. This route takes up more travel time (about 3.5 hours) but is significantly cheaper, with a one-way ride only costing about 4,000 yen per person.
Once tourists have set foot on Nagano, a train on the Nagano Electric Railway can be taken to the Yudanaka Station of Yamanouchi. Local one-way trains usually take seventy minutes and cost 1,160 yen per person, while limited express trains take about fifty minutes and cost 1,260 yen per person.
There are also express buses available at the Nagano Station which stop at the Snow Monkey Bus Stop. These one-way buses take about forty minutes and cost 1,400 yen per person.
From Yamanouchi, tourists can then choose from two options to get to the Jigokudani Monkey Park – to walk through the forest for about 35 minutes or to walk from a nearby parking lot for about 12 minutes.
The longer route requires tourists to initially board a bus heading to Kanbayashi Onsen at the Yudanaka Station. The bus ride takes about fifteen minutes and costs 310 yen per person.
From Kanbayashi Onsen, the Jigokudani Monkey Park can be reached by taking a 30 to 40-minute walk through an existing walking trail. Tourists are advised to wear sturdy footwear during the winter season as to avoid unnecessary accidents.
As for the shorter route, tourists need to rent out a car or taxi to be able to reach the paid parking lot located a short walk away from the Jigokudani Monkey Park.
Accommodation Options near the Jigokudani Monkey Park
Given the relatively long travel time tourists need to take from Tokyo to reach the Jigokudani Monkey Park, it is highly recommended that an overnight stay at one of the area’s outstanding accommodation options be considered.
Most of these places feature their own sets of hot spring baths and are guaranteed to provide tourists with a relaxing and memorable experience all throughout their stay. Some of the best ones according to numerous reviews include:
Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan
Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan dates back to the year 1864. It is located right in front of the Jigokudani Monkey Park, making it one of the best places to stay at within the area.
The property has its own outdoor hot spring baths which guests may use and possibly share with the same snow monkeys that can be seen at the park. For those who are not comfortable being that close to the wild animals, Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan also houses indoor hot spring baths.
All of the rooms of the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) are fitted with tatami floors, futon bedding, and adequate heating facilities. Toilets and bathrooms are shared at the property.
Guests are also provided with breakfast and dinner options at the main dining area. The ryokan accepts request for Western dishes during the morning but requires an advanced notice.
Other facilities or services offered at the Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan include vending machines, table tennis, and luggage storage space rentals.
Rating: 8.3 out of 10
Access: 30-minute hike away from the Kanbayashi Bus Stop
Address: 6818-1 Heion, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan 381-0401
Kotobuki is a ryokan that is pleasantly surrounded by lush trees, wildflowers, and Japanese gardens. The place is known for its relatively spacious rooms, which are equipped with flat-screen TVs, seating areas, and wide windows that overlook the gardens.
Some of its most popular facilities include a public bathing area, a common lounge that features several sofas and a fireplace, ski storage space rentals, and luggage storage space rentals.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park can be reached from Kotobuki in a span of 25 minutes by foot.
Rating: 8.7 out of 10
Access: 20-minute bus ride away from the Yudanaka Train Station; 20-minute car ride away from the Shiga Highlands and Maruike Ski Resort
Address: 1415-1 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan 381-0401
Senjukaku boasts of its indoor pool, outdoor hot spring baths, stunning Japanese gardens, and traditional Japanese-style rooms that make the stay of guests incredibly comfortable from start to finish.
Each room at the ryokan comes complete with traditional tatami floors, a seating area that features a low table, a flat-screen TV, a refrigerator, and a private bathroom. Furthermore, Senjukaku also houses its very own art gallery which showcases various drawings done by local artists. This gallery can be located in the lobby, where a gift shop is also available.
As for the meals, guests of the ryokan are provided with Japanese dishes made only from the freshest ingredients.
For the convenience of their guests, free shuttle services to and from the Yudanaka Train Station are also offered by Senjukaku. The Jigokudani Monkey Park is about fifteen minutes away from the property, by car.
Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Access: 8-minute car ride away from the Yudanaka Train Station
Address: 1410 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan 381-0401
Jinpyokaku is located two kilometers away from the Jigokudani Monkey Park. It has been providing visitors of the area with luxurious services for more than a hundred years. During ancient times, the emperor and various Japanese writers have spent some time relaxing at Jinpyokaku.
The ryokan houses several hot spring baths, which includes gender-separated and mixed-sex arrangements. Traditional Japanese multi-course meals, or kaiseki, are served in the main dining room of Jinpyokaku during dinner. Guests are also provided with Japanese breakfast dishes every morning, throughout their stay
Rating: 9.6 out of 10
Access: 10-minute car ride away from the Yudanaka Train Station; 30-minute car ride away from the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort; 2 kilometers away from the Jigokudani Monkey Park
Address: 1409 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan 381-0401
Minshuku Miyama offers guests with Japanese-style rooms that are equipped with free WiFi connection. There are several outdoor hot spring baths scattered across the property, which guests have access to.
To complete the onsen experience, yukata robes are also provided by Minshuku Miyama. Breakfast and dinner set meals are served in the main dining area.
Other popular facilities of Minshuku Miyama include free parking, free shuttle service to and from the Yudanaka Train Station, and vending machines.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park can be accessed from the ryokan in less than twenty minutes by car.
Rating: 9.0 out of 10
Access: 10-minute car ride away from the Yudanaka Train Station and Heiwa Kannon; 20-minute car ride away from the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Address: 821 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan 381-0401
Suminoyu is situated in the district of Shibu. Aside from air-conditioned, traditional Japanese rooms, the ryokan also houses several indoor and outdoor hot spring baths for guests to enjoy. Suminoyu also offers massages and footbath services to make the stay of guests all the more relaxing.
Guests can access the property’s free WiFi connection in the lobby, where a gift shop that sells local products can also be located. As Suminoyu is a ryokan, guests can expect to be served with Japanese dishes during breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is accessible from the ryokan through a 10-minute car ride.
Rating: 9.4 out of 10
Access: 10-minute car ride away from the Yudanaka Train Station and Jigokudani Monkey Park; 15-minute walk away from the Heiwa Kannon; 25-minute car ride away from the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Address: Shibu Onsen, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan 381-0401
Nozaru is a guesthouse located seven minutes away from the Yudanaka Station by car. It houses a variety of Japanese-style rooms that come complete with tatami floors, futon bedding, leg-warming tables, and small refrigerators.
Guests can choose to rent our dormitory rooms or private rooms, depending on their preferences or budget, while toilets, bathrooms, and the kitchen of the property are shared.
The guesthouse also features its own spacious hot spring bath that is equipped with a proper division to provide either gender with their own privacy.
Rating: 7.7 out of 10
Access: 7-minute car ride away from the Yudanaka Station; 8-minute car ride away from the Jigokudani Monkey Park; 35-minute car ride away from the Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
Address: 2034 Hirao, Yamanouchi, Nagano Prefecture, Japan 381-0401