The Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑, Jigokudani Yaen Kōen) offers visitors the unique experience of seeing wild monkeys bathing in a natural hot spring. The park is inhabited by Japanese Macaques, which are also known as Snow Monkeys. It is located in the monkey's natural habitat, in the forests of the Jigokudani valley in Yamanouchi, not far from the onsen towns of Shibu and Yudanaka.
The park has one man-made pool around which the monkeys gather, located a few minutes' walk from the park entrance. Visitors will likely already encounter monkeys along the path to the pool. The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, the monkeys can be observed from very close and almost completely ignore their human guests. Naturally, it is prohibited to touch or feed the monkeys.
The park has a small information center with information mostly in Japanese. However, there is a small explanation of the alpha male system of the monkey troop in English, as well as portraits of the park's present and former alpha males, dating back dozens of years. There is a live camera beside the monkey pool that is accessible online.
Although the park is open all year round, the bathing monkeys are particularly photogenic when the area is covered in snow. There is usually snow in the region from December to March, and the best timing for a visit is January and February. Monkeys enter the bath around the year, but they sometimes need some encouragement to do so by park wardens throwing food into the pool, especially during the warmer seasons of the year.
Jigokudani, in which the park is located, means "hell valley" and is a common name for Japanese valleys with volcanic activity. Although its landscape is not as dramatic as some of Japan's other jigokudani valleys, Yamanouchi's Jigokudani does produce a few steaming hot springs. There is a ryokan called Korakukan in the valley, which visitors will pass along the way to the monkey park.
There are two approaches to the Monkey Park: one requires a 25-40 minute walk through the forest, while the other requires a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest parking lot.
The first approach involves taking a bus 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) or Nagano Station (40 minutes, 1400 yen, 4-10 buses per day). 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. From Kanbayashi Onsen, it is a 30-40 minute walk to the monkey park. The walking trail is passable around the year, but sturdy footwear is recommended especially in winter.
The alternative approach involves a 10-15 minute walk from a paid parking lot just to the west of the monkey park. However the narrow road from Shibu Onsen to the parking lot is not served by public transportation and gets closed in winter. Although rather time consuming, it would be possible to walk to the parking lot from Shibu Onsen in about 45-60 minutes when there is no snow.
9:00 to 16:00 (November to March)