How to See Japan's Snow Monkey Park - Jigokudani Park
Jigokudani Park, or better known as Japan's Snow Monkey Park, is a must go for anyone traveling to Japan. Although, a day trip to Nagano from Tokyo is possible, an overnight trip would be more enjoyable. Seeing the Snow Monkeys is a once in a lifetime experience and you don't want to be rushing back to catch the Shinkansen back to Tokyo. In this blog post, I'm going to be sharing information on how to get to Jigokudani Park in Nagano from Tokyo, the 40min trek to the actually Snow Monkey Park, and where to stay in Nagano.
How to get from Tokyo to Nagano to see the Snow Monkey Park
To get from Tokyo to Nagano, take the Shinkansen from Tokyo or Ueno station to Nagano station. You can use your JR rail pass for this. From Nagano, you'll want to make your way to the local train. Look for sign for shinshu-Nagago station. You'll want to end up at Yudanaka station. Try to take the limited express if you can. It'll cost around ¥1100 per person.
Jigokudani Monkey Park
The snow monkey park is open from 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM daily excluding major holidays and costs ¥500. The actual entrance is about 1.6 km from where you can park/get dropped off, so it takes about 35-40 minutes to get to the park. It's a narrow path to the entrance and you're sharing the road with people coming and going to the park, so take caution. We definitely recommend snow shoes and thick layers for the hike.
The park itself is smaller than we imagined with one hot spring that we could see and a few open areas for the monkeys to run around and poop (by the way if you are sensitive to the smell of monkey poop, bring a mask). The monkeys are very used to people and cameras so they won't be bothered if you snap away (a great way to start wild animal photography). Once you're inside the actual park, you'll only need 1-2 hours. Food is not permitted inside the park so grab a bite to eat ahead of time (also note there are restrooms inside but not along the hike, so take care of that as well). There's a small cafe by the drop off area that serves hot chocolate, ice cream, ramen, or fried chicken and fries.
If you do plan on taking a day trip or have luggage, I would plan on packing extremely light or bring a backpack instead or try to find somewhere to store your luggage. You don't want to be carrying your belongings with you on the 40 minute snowy hike.
Where To Stay in Nagono
I stayed at the Shimaya Hotel in Nagano for 1 night, which is plenty to see the snow monkeys. This is a very traditional Japanese style place, removing shoes at the entrance, tatami mat, Kotasu table (a heated table). It's a mom and pop type place, providing rides to and from the Snow Monkey Park and the train station with no additional charge. They also loan out snow shoes for free if you don't have any. They have a outdoor private onsen which you can reserve for 50 minutes for ¥600 per person. They also have a public one separate for men and women for free. At the end of your stay, you'll be provided with a free souvenir which is a lucky coin for your luggage.
We got a room with a private toilet and bath otherwise it's shared. The bath kind of smells, and the toilet is not heated. Other than that it was an enjoyable experience. They have a heater in the actually room, but not where the toilet is. We also had a an incredible view of the mountains. There are restaurants near by closing around 9pm. We ate the the D line pizza and pasta place. If it's full, you have the option of take out or go to the Lawson store.
Overall, this is a great spot for photographers. During the trek there you get awesome photos of the trees covered in snow and mountains in the backdrop. You may want to invest some time burst shooting, and shooting through the steam beforehand so you can get your shoots.
© Copyright All photos were taken by Eric Bravo Photography