Japanese Snow Monkeys: A Unique Wildlife Encounter

Walking to see snow monkeys in the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan was like a dream come true.  After being inspired by the iconic image of the Japanese snow monkeys, we finally achieved our goal of seeing them with our own eyes, and they did not disappoint. 

The aim of this article is to help you learn more about the experience of visiting the snow monkeys in Jigokudani Monkey Park near Nagano in Japan.

About Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Jigokudani Monkey Park was established in 1964 in the Nagano prefecture as a place to watch the wild Japanese Macaque monkeys bathe in the hot springs.  Jigokudani means ‘Hell Valley’ in Japanese and was named due to the steep cliffs and the steam from the hot springs.  The valley sits at an altitude of 850m (2790 ft). In winter, over one meter (3.3 ft) of snow is on the ground, and temperatures can be as low as -10C (14 F).

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Our son loving watching the baby monkeys play at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

The snow monkeys are wild and therefore may not appear every day, however the local park rangers do feed the monkeys which encourages them to come to the hot springs area each day.  The monkeys live in the area so you can see them all year round, not just in winter. However their presence each day is not guaranteed. 

If the weather is hot they are less likely to bathe in the hot springs, but will still congregate and play around the hot spring area!  Jigokudani Monkey Park has a Facebook Page that includes the latest information about how frequently the monkeys visit the site and also when they typically arrive.  If you are planning to visit the snow monkeys, I recommend that you Like their page to get the latest information.

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Monkeys bathing in the hot springs at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

For more information, check out our detailed article on how to get to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. The article includes options to DIY using public transport, day tour options to visit and also the experience of staying at nearby Shibu Onsen township. There are lots of things to see and do around Nagano, so you may also like to read about our experience visiting Matsumoto Castle – it was amazing!

Our Experience Visiting Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

When visiting Jigokudani Monkey Park, from the car park you first have to walk up the hill on a pathway to the entrance of the park, a gentle walk of approximately 5-10 minutes.  You then pay your entrance fee (800 Yen for adults and 340 Yen for children).  From there you then continue to walk up the valley beside the stream for approximately 15-20 minutes before arriving at the hot spring area.

The walking route to the snow monkey viewing area at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
The walking route up the hill to the snow monkey viewing area at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

If you visit in winter ensure that you are wearing suitable footwear and clothing, as the path is usually frozen. There are options to rent both winter jackets and snow shoes or shoe grips at the park entry.

The group of 30 to 40 monkeys around the hot spring area were fascinating to observe – like seeing a real-life documentary.  We loved watching the behaviours of the dominant male, the cheeky and playful baby monkeys and the nurturing mother monkeys. Our children were delighted to watch the snow monkeys, it was such an amazing experience to see them up close and not through a fence.

Snow Monkeys Grooming Each Other
Snow Monkeys Grooming Each Other

After you arrive at the hot springs area, you can take your time to walk around the area and view the snow monkey’s behaviours. Allow around one hour to explore the area. Overall, plan to take around 3-4 hours for your visit.

Rules to Stay Safe When Visiting the Snow Monkeys

It is important to remember that the Japanese Macaque monkeys are wild animals, and there are no fences between them and visitors to the park.  The park rules for visitors to stay safe are as follows:

  • Do not show or give food to the monkeys
  • Do not touch the monkeys (even if they are close to you) – if they are that close, carefully step away from them
  • Do not stare into the monkey’s eyes – that indicates hostility
  • No dogs, cats or other animals are allowed in the park
  • Photos (including flash photography) and videos are allowed but do not place your equipment (or yourself) too close to the monkeys
  • Do not use selfie sticks
Baby Snow Monkeys Playing at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park
Baby Snow Monkeys Playing at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Where is Jigokudani Monkey Park?

Jigokudani Monkey Park is located in the Nagano Prefecture and is approximately 260km north west from Tokyo, a journey of 2.5 to 3 hours one way.  See the map below for further details. 

For more information, check out our detailed article on how to get to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park. The article includes options to DIY using public transport, day tour options to visit and also the experience of staying at nearby Shibu Onsen township. There are lots of things to see and do around Nagano, so you may also like to read about our experience visiting Matsumoto Castle – it was amazing!

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Japan Snow Monkeys