“Are the snow monkeys worth going to see even when there is no snow?”
I get asked that question often. And my answer is, “Of course!” One reason is that the macaque babies that are born in the spring time are just the cutest little furballs that you’ll ever see. They run all over the place, chasing each other around and jumping into the onsen bath.
Hagiwara-san at the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park confirmed that the mother monkeys have started giving birth this spring. So for visitors to Nagano during the green season, make sure to include a stop at Jigokudani to see cute little baby monkeys.
The world-famous “Snow Monkeys” of the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park are cute any time of the year soaking in their onsen bath. But it’s when it snows is when they are truly in their most photogenic element. And that area has started to get their winter snow fall, so now is your chance!
Winter bus schedules are now in effect, so I updated the train and bus matrix to get you from Nagano Station (and by extension, onsen town Togura-Kamiyamada) to the monkey park trailhead, Kanbayashi, and back for an easy day trip. (Note: This is just a partial schedule. Check at the Information Center at Nagano Station for full train and bus schedules.)
We just had a visitor from Sydney, Australia make the trip. He said he ‘only’ took about 200 pictures of the monkeys. The snow made for a dramatic backdrop, especially on the walk from Kanbayashi through the beautiful evergreen forest.
Snow Monkeys in pairs–
“Mother and Baby”
“Friends always together”
Snow Monkeys grooming–
“Well-Cared-For Child Monkey”
Bathing in a hot spring, onsen–
” So many Monkeys bathing together!”
” Deep in thoughts “
People happy watching the Snow Monkeys
” Worth visiting!”
Since 1964, the Snow Monkey Park, the official name of which is Jigokudani yaen-koen, has been visited and loved by millions of people from all over the world. As a place where the interesting life of the Japanese Macaques can be observed nearby, and as a place of unique snow monkeys bathing in natural hot spring (Onsen) , Jigokudani Yaenkoen is just so popular both home and abroad even after the March 11th.
Going to see the world famous snow monkeys soak in their onsen bath at Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park is an enjoyable day trip from Togura Kamiyamada Onsen and/or Nagano City.
By car, it is an easy 1 hour drive to the trailhead. But by public transportation, it gets a bit trickier.
From Nagano Station, do you take the train or bus? And if train, how do you get from the end of the line (Yudanaka Station) to the monkey park? And which trailhead is best — Kanbayashi or from the Jigokudani parking lot?
Fortunately for all of you snow monkey fans, I sorted through all of the options and came up with the main connections. I compiled this train / bus schedule from our local Togura Station changing at Nagano Station to go to the monkey onsen. It is now updated it for this winter’s bus schedules.
Most of the public transportation options take you to Kanbayashi, from which it is a 30 minute walk to the monkey park. The trail is relatively flat and goes through a beautiful cedar forest. The patterns and color of the bark on the trees makes for a very photogenic walk. And keep your eyes out for serrow and other wildlife (including a stray monkey or two).
During the winter, Shibu Onsen offers the “Snow Monkey Holiday Minibus” from Yudanaka Station, stopping at Shibu Onsen on the way directly to the otherwise inaccessible Jigokudani Parking Lot. (Info provided by my main man, Yamada-san from Shibu Hotel. The Shibu Onsen website hadn’t been updated as of this writing.) From there, it is only about a 15 minute walk to the Park entrance. Although shorter in distance than from Kanbayashi, the trail is considerable steeper.
Regardless of which way you go, proper footwear is highly recommended.
I always suggest to our guests that they take the bus from Nagano to Kanbayashi, enjoy the walk through the cedar trees to the monkey onsen. Then on the way back, cross the river and walk down past the parking lot down the road to Shibu Onsen and on down to Yudanaka Station from where you can catch a train back to Nagano Station. Shibu Onsen is a classic onsen resort with narrow, cobblestone streets lined by historical inns. There’s also a footbath you can soak your frozen (?) feet in, as well as a public bath for day trippers.
Monkeys shouldn’t be the only ones to enjoy an onsen!
Watch the worlds’ most interesting animal scenes when you come to see the Snow Monkeys.
First showing SEPTEMBER 1st.
Local picture theatres give a special rate of 1000JPY
You can watch in from Ueda Station (one stop before Nagano on Shinkansen) at TOHO Cinema
or Nagano Station at Grand Cinema, on your way to Yudanaka Station to see the real Snow Monkeys.
You know something has reached the big time when they add a THE to the front of it; THE BEATLES, THE BODY SHOP, THE DAISO (OK, so maybe this￥100 shop is not THAT famous but anyway…) .
And (unbelievably after having been coming to Nagano for as long as I have and never once visited), the other day I finally got a chance to pay a trip to see THE Snow Monkeys!!!
After hiking up though a snowbound cedar forest, the first bit of wildlife we saw was not a monkey after all but a Kamoshika (Japanese Serow) struggling uphill through thick powder. But a steady trail of Macaque poop told us we were on the right trail and after 30 minutes or so, we arrived at the valley directly beneath the monkey park where a bridge crosses over the river to the best (and only!) Soba noodles in the area. We climbed the final flight of stairs to the ticket gate and proceeded on to the main monkey bathing area.
The park itself is a curious cross between a national park, safari park and disneyland – without the trimmings. Don’t expect fancy explanations or commentary; facilities are simple, but the monkeys are very, very cute and you can get right up close to take all the pictures you want. In the main bath were around 25 of the little furry fellas, posing for the tourists’ portraits, crapping, scrapping and wallowing in the hot spring. Apparently, there are 160+ of them altogether in the troop – they spend the night in the surrounding forest and head down to the Onsen during the day. Anyway, if you’re in the Nagano area this winter they are definitely worth a trip which can be combined with a trip to one of the amazing Onsens nearby at Yudanaka or Shibu where you can get great food, check out a traditional Onsen Town and of course relax in a hot bath WITHOUT any monkeys
As the famed “Snow Monkeys” of the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park are starting to get their namesake snow this winter, it’s time to take a look at how to actually make the trek to go see them.
Nagano Dentetsu, the main source of public transportation up to the Jigokudani snow monkeys, annonced their new winter schedule, with the changes effective 04-December 2010.
Getting to the monkey park from Nagano Station can be confusing — do you take a bus or train? And if you go by train, how do you get to the park from the end of the line, Yudanaka Station? As many of our guests here at Kamesei Ryokan make day trips to see the snow monkeys, I made a graph that matches up the trains from our local Togura Station to the busses and trains from Nagano Station. Here’s the graph. Just ignore the Togura parts if you’re originating from Nagano Station. And please note that these are just sample times based around going up in the morning and coming back down in the afternoon. There are other busses and trains at earlier and later times.
From Nagano Station
Basically there are three options to get from Nagano Station to the snow monkey park:
1. Express Bus to Kanbayashi (1300 yen)
NagaDen Bus operates 8+ busses a day during the winter from Nagano Station’s East Exit up to the ski fields at Shiga Kogen. They stop at Kanbayashi Onsen (“Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi” stop) which is in the vicinity of the Kanbayashi trailhead. From there it is a 30 minute, mostly flat ‘promenade’ through a beautiful cedar forest.
2. Train to Yudanaka (1,130~1,230 yen)
Nagano Dentetsu provides train service to Yudanaka and Shibu, a pair of classic onsen towns. Service is more frequent than the above-mentioned express busses, and you can choose between local trains (1,130 yen, approx. 1 hour 15 min.) and express trains (add’l 100 yen, as fast as 45 minutes).
NOTE: From Yudanaka Station to the monkey park, you can choose from the following:
A. Local Bus (210 yen)
Roughly matching up with the train arrivals, local busses connect Yudanaka Station to the Kanbayashi trailhead in a quick 7 minutes.
B. “Holiday Shuttle” (800 yen)
Shibu Onsen provides a “Holiday Shuttle” bus from Yudanaka Station directly to the Jigokudani Parking Lot. It is closer to the monkey park entrance than Kanbayashi (15 minutes walk vs. 30 minutes), but is a lot steeper of a walk. Reservations Recommended (tel# 0269-33-3600). The Shuttle runs on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays from December to March, with 6 runs each direction per day.
3. Chuo Taxi (from 2,722 yen per person round trip)
Chuo Taxi is offering a new, hassle-free taxi trip to the snow monkey park from Nagano Station. The cost is 17,000 yen for a regular taxi (4~5 people) or 24,500 yen for a jumbo taxi (~9 people) including transportation to Kanbayashi and back, and stand-by time so you can enjoy the monkeys for an hour. Call 026-282-7777 for reservations.
Finally, two last pieces of advice: Make sure you have proper footwear (the trail can be slippery and slidey in the winter), and make sure to charge you