Snow Monkeys Park - Jigokudani
Jigokudani (means Hell Valley in Japanese) Monkey Park is open all year round, but they are particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow. The snow also hides a lot of the man-made pipes and other structures.
The Park is open daily from 8:30 to 17:00 (April to October) and in Winter 9:00 to 16:00 (November to March). Entrance fee is 800 yen ( 6 €) for adults and 400 yen for children in 2017. You can purchase an annual pass or if you are in a large group (more than 20) a group ticket.
You can expect crowds all year around, and it can become very busy. Most people gather at the upper man-made pool where you can find the monkeys (Japanese Macaque) playing in hot water. To make the upper pool more attractive to the monkeys, the park wardens sometimes throw food into it. There are fewer people at the lower pool but also fewer monkeys. You pass it anyway; therefore, you should spend some time there as well.
Tips for Photographers
You can photograph the most natural looking pictures from the staircase at the upper pool, but it is challenging to take pictures without any other visitor on it. At the lower pool, the angle is different, but there is no higher position for an excellent shot.
The park is located in the Yokoyu River valley, but the landscape is not as dramatic compared to other Jigokudani valleys in Japan. It was opened in 1964, and since then many thousands of people (tourists and local) have visited the park each year to observe the very special lifestyle of the Japanese Macaque. You can find a small information center and gift shop with information at the park entrance.
The Japanese Macaque (Macaca fuscata) is native to northern Japan, and is known as the most northern-living non-human primate, surviving cold winter temperatures down to -15 °C (5° F). They have brown to gray fur, a red face and hands and as many other monkeys; they often behave remarkably human-like. The monkeys live in larger social groups. Watching the monkeys play, take a leisurely onsen (Japanese for hot spring) - or even swim in the onsen - is a lot of fun.
How to Get There
Buses along the Yudanaka-Kanbayashi Line stop at "Kanbayashi Onsen" bus stop, while other buses stop at the "Snow Monkey Park" bus stop, a short walk away. We went there by car and parked at the closest parking space to the entrance. From Kanbayashi Onsen, it is a 25-45 minute walk to the monkey park. The walking trail is easy to walk around the year. If it's very icy, you can buy some shoe spikes at the entrance. There is an alternative approach which is a 10-15 minute walk from a paid parking lot just to the west of the monkey park. We didn't use this way, but we heard that the narrow road from Shibu Onsen to the parking lot is not served by public transportation and gets closed in winter.
Bus lines to Kanbayashi Onsen from
- Yudanaka Station (10-15 minutes, 310 yen, 1-2 buses per hour)
- Shibu Onsen (5-10 minutes, 190 yen, 1-2 buses per hour)
- Nagano Station (40 minutes, 1400 yen, 4-10 buses per day)