Visit Jigokudani

I was recently asking myself why nobody told me to visit Jigokudani monkey park before living in Japan, but when I came as a tourist? This place is such a wonder and for monkey lovers like myself, should be on the top list of things to do while in Japan. On the other side, the waiting paid off as I did visit the park in its best season, during the winter.


The official name of the wild snow monkey park is Jigokudani Yaen-Koen and it has been established in 1964. Jigokudani literally means the Hell’s Valley and it is located in the Yokoyu River valley, which originated in Shiga Kogen National Park, in the Northern part of the Nagano prefecture. Here, the Japanese macaques monkeys can be observed all year round. However, the most famous time to go and see them is during the winter, while they are bathing into the onsen (hot spring). It’s such a beautiful imagine you get, that you can’t feel any closer to the nature.

Snow Monkey Pass

If you’re not coming by private car to the park, then you need to know a few things before. Exists a 2 days pass which offers you free admision to the snow monkey park (one time use only), 2 days of unlimited use of the Nagano Dentetsu line, 2 days of unlimitd use of the Nagaden Express bus (from Nagano station to the park) and 2 days unlimited use of the local Nagaden bus (from Yudanaka station to the park) for 3,600¥ (approximately 30€). I did bought it as it is a good deal if you’re coming from Nagano, you save 400¥ only for a round trip to the park. What I recommend you is to take full advantage of the pass, and use the 2nd day to discover the surroundings. I personally went to Yudanaka and Shibu onsen, but you can also discover other places like Obuse town. You can buy the pass from Nagano Dentetsu ticketing counter (inside the station).

Opening Hours

The best part is that the park is open every single day of the year. So you can plan to visit Jigokudani even on 31st of December, as I did! The opening hours varies from summer to winter but not much. For summer months it is open from 8:30am till 5pm, while during winter it is open from 9am till 4pm. One thing that you need to keep in mind is that the monkeys are wild animals, so nobody can guarantee you will see them. Probably this is one of the reasons of the 2 days pass validity. This way you increase your chances to actually see them. A big advantage is that the park has some live cameras you can check online here so you can always check “the situation” in advance.


I know I did said the best season to see the snow monkeys is during winter. However, this comes with a big compromise: it’s cold, baby! Excepting the fact I hate the cold, it was a big challange to enjoy my moments while there. I really struggled to remove my gloves and take pictures. Actually, I had to go inside the shop nearby like 4 times to warm myself and then come back out to enjoy the view. My advice is to come very well prepared, and not like many people I saw in snickers or running clothes. Be prepared for the worst, like this you guarantee yourself a good moment. There is a store at the entrance that provides some rental equipment – ask there for more details!


There is no toilet on the way up, from the entrance till you actually reach the park, so keep this in mind!

On the way up

You can consider your visit to Jigokudani park an adventure from the begining till the end, especially during winter. So, once you arrive at the end of the bus line from Nagano, get prepared. First, you need to walk about 10-15 minutes through the village, until actually start your ascending. Keep in mind from this entrance point till the park there is nothing on the way, so ensure you have everything you need (water, a snack).

From the entrance to the park

The journey of 1.6km through the park it is very beautiful. You will get many chances to take pictures, explore the surroundings and the pace around. You can also educate yourself while reading more about the park and the monkeys.

Onsen for humans

The first sign of humanity after a 30 minutes walk will be the onsen for humans. Even if I personally didn’t tried it, I actually saw a lady inside one, outside, surrounded by monkeys passing by. That was really impressive, even if she wasn’t actually enjoying the bath together with the monkeys.


When you will finally reach the entrance, you will see these signs above you. So, remember to behave accordingly during your visit to Jigokudani park. Do not touch or scare the monkeys and keep a good distance between you and them to ensure your protection. Remember they are wild animals. Do not feed them and do no show them food. Don’t create a panic around by taking a banana out and expect nothing to happen. You are not allowed to brings pets inside, so keep your cats and dogs home!

Onsen for Monkeys

After all the effort you put in to reach this place, the time to enjoy your moment has finally come. The monkeys are the closest animals to humans, so you will be able to identify many interesting moments while there. Take the time to observe each monkey and the relations she has with the others, the way they behave and how much they do resamble with us.

Deep Cleaning

One of the most common scenes you will see is with monekys staying in pairs and grooming each other. This rithual helps monkeys to keep themselves healthy and to reinforce the social structures and bonds.


Check their faces and try to identify their emotions. Even if is not recommended, but on the opposite, suggested to avoid the eye contact with the monkeys, try to look them closely. You can really feel them without any words. And by the way, the reason you should avoid the eye contact is that they feel threaten when you do so, therefor they can even bite you.


Probably, here is where you’ll get your best pictures, or better said, the pictures with many monkeys around. They all come down to take a bath and relax in the warm water and nobody can argue with this. Winter is so cruel there, that I would had definatelly joined them if that would had been possible.

Mums & babies

There are many mothers with their babies around, doing different activities. Take the time and enjoy this touchfull moment, seeing how similar we are. Mothers will always be mothers no mather what we are, humans or animals. You will see how protective they are and how much care they do show to the children. I was so lucky that I could even see very intimate moments, like children sucking breast milk. An image says more than a million words, so check it by yourself.


Apart from warming themselved in the onsen, the monkeys do know how to relax and fully enjoy the moment. You can see them with the eyes closed, trully feeling the moment on the inside, or laying on the stones while receiving a massage from a faithfull friend. In the end, it’s not such a bad thing to be a monkey as long as you know how to enjoy the moments.


I love babies and I love monkeys. And I don’t know what it is worst, cause every time I see these little ones I start to tear up. They send me such a huge amount of emotions even through pictures, that I always feel overwhelmed. Their look, their eyes, their faces, how couldn’t you fall in love at the first sight?

Eating snow

As it is winter and they need water to drink, you will often see them “eating” snow. The food is also rare in this period, so these monkeys are relying on the park’s administration to provide them supplies during this hard months. The money we pay for the tickets are contributing and ensuring them the survival, so keep this in mind while paying the 800¥ entry ticket.


A sign that I spent too much time into the park (approximatelly 4 hours ) was when I saw these two lovers getting too intimate one with each other. But I can’t stop laughting even now, cause the situation it was so much fun! They were sitting one near the other, grooming themselves and “checking the zone” in the same time. When it was “clear” they were starting the action. And this was repeating every single minute, so I could even predict the moment and record it! I still feel ashamed being a witness of such an intimate moment, but it was also really funny. I felt they were having an affair, and who knows, maybe I am right!


Before finishing your visit to Jigokudani park, stop by the shop and buy yourself a nice souvenir. Even if I chose nothing for me, I did bought 3 postal cards for my family, which I shipped them after from the town – as they have no stamps out there. The funniest part is that I visited the park on 31st of December and I sent the cards on the 6th of January, with a Happy New Year message inside. But, as we are living the corona virus time, the post doesn’t operate between Japan and Romania. So, I had to ship them – by boat! – which means my New Year’s cards will arrive around April-May, almost in time for Easter. I can’t wait to see my familiy’s faces while receiving my cards!

Shiga Kogen Roman Museum

If you are wondering if there are any other things to see around the park, well yes there are. The most convenient place you can see is the Shiga Kogen Roman museum, which is located exactly near the bus station. I am not sure what is inside, but when I asked they told me it is a photography exhibitions and you should allocate maximum 1 hour to see the place.

Also, there are two onsen villages nearby, Yudanaka and Shibu onsen, which definatelly worth the time. I will write a separate article on this, so you can read it later.

Food & Drink

There are not so many places along the way to enjoy some food or drinks, so don’t look too much around or you’ll end up hungry and thirsty. I saw a nice cafeteria near the bus station which offers also food, so that can be a good option. If you only want something to drink and get warm, there is a drink machine in the station – best decision ever!


I did mentioned you before about the pass, but now I would like to tell you how to reach the place from Tokyo or from Nagano. From Tokyo you have two choises when we speak about public transporttion, train or bus. You can opt in for the Shinkansen which is fast, about 1.5 hours, but costly, about 8500¥. There are trains almost every hour, so you won’t have a problem taking the convenient one for you. Personally, I went by bus from Shinjuku station, as it was far way cheaper, 4700¥, even if I spent 3.5 hours on the road. I was able to sleep comfortably, charge my phone, enjoy the free internet, enjoy the journey and the view.

If you’re planning to move around, you can buy the JR East Pass or the JR Tokyo Wide Pass for 10,000 – 12,000 ¥. You can further explore the Nagano area with a visit to Matsumoto castle, or get further to the Niigata prefecture.

From Nagano stationto the Snow Monkey Park, you also have two options, bus or train. The bus is faster, about 50 minutes, and it comes every single hour starting with 8-9 am until 1-2 pm. For coming back, you can take the same bus starting with 11 until almost 7 pm. Check the latest hours in the station, with the driver or at the bus stop.

By train, it takes 45 minutes and you may need to change trains – depends on the hours. The good part is that trains are more frequent, running from 6 am until 8 pm to come back. The more inconvenient part is that you need to take a bus from Yudanaka station (last station) till the park, which will take you about 15 minutes more. I tried both, the bus and the train, and were both very good, so it’s up to you.

The End!

Well, that’s it from my side! I hope you enjoyed the article and you will visit Jigokudani park. I totally recommend the place and I will definatelly go back during summer, to spend a full day out there with the little ones. Monkey lovers, this is one of those places you cannot miss, so be sure to add it on your list!

If you’re looking for more travel inspiration around Japan but not only, check more articles here.

3 thoughts on “Visit Jigokudani

  1. Wonderfully entertaining article Alexandra! Lots of lovely pics too. Snow looks beautiful.

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