The Nagano Jigokudani Monkey Park makes one of the best sights to see in winter. It offers visitors the unique experience of watching the wild Japanese macaque monkeys bathe in the roasting hot spring.
The world-famous Snow Monkey Park sits right in the valley of Yokoyu River in northern Nagano, a place where the combination of steep cliffs and steaming hot springs gives a strong, hell-like resemblance, hence the name Jigokudani (Hell Valley).
It's freezingly cold in winter out here, and the beautiful wild monkeys find it wise to warm up by bathing in the natural hot springs. So if you desire a trip for some outstanding nature photography in Japan, the bathing monkeys of the Nagano Jigokudani Monkey Park will never disappoint.
A Unique Photography Experience in the Jigokudani Monkey Park
The Nagano Jigokudani Monkey Park always flows with tourists during winter, holding their cameras to photograph the monkeys. On approaching the Park, you'd most likely see some monkeys on the way.
They're very accustomed to human presence and are undisturbed when you snap them from up close. How photogenic the monkeys are when partially submerged in the steaming hot spring is probably one of the reasons this spot has been listed as one of the most iconic cultural experiences in Japan and the world at large. They are just so cute to watch.
There are over 160 snow monkeys in the Nagano Jigokudani Monkey Park. And yes, you can get up close to take photographs, but make sure you do not touch or feed them. It's prohibited in the Park to do so.
Best Time to Visit the Nagano Jigokudani Monkey Park
The Park is open all year round, but interestingly, you only have a chance to see the monkeys in winter. Hence, winter is the best time to go to the Jigokudani Monkey Park if you want to see and take pictures of the monkeys keeping warm up in the hot waters.
During summer and spring, it's pretty much boring to go there.
Getting around the Jigokudani Monkey Park
On approaching Jigokudani, you'll drive through a bendy and narrow mountainous forest. But once you arrive, you'll immediately notice how different the landscape becomes. All of a sudden, what you see are cliffs, rivers, and steam emerging from natural hot springs.
You'll need to trek for about 15 minutes to reach the Park itself. You'll see monkeys either running around exuberantly or watching you calmly as you approach. Although the Park is small, the landscape, serenity, and atmosphere make for an otherworldly experience.
Some Tips to Note:
The monkeys are the only ones allowed to bathe in the hot spring. But if you feel envious, you can take a dip in the ryokan on your way to the park entrance.
The entrance fee for adults is ¥800 and ¥400 for children.
The Park is open from 9 am to 4 pm.
Selfie sticks are not allowed to take photographs. However, you can use a tripod but stay a bit far from the monkeys as it can frighten them.
How to Get There
You can take a train to Nagano or Yudanaka station where you must then take an express bus. Finally, get off at the Snow Monkey Park station.
If you have a car, there are two parking lots near the Park. The Kanbayashi Onsen parking lot is free but a 30-minute walk from the Park. The second one is paid but only a 15-minute walk from it.