How to Get to the Snow Monkeys
Trying to find the best way to get to the snow monkeys? We break down the trains, buses and passes you can use to get there!
Seeing the blissful faces of monkeys soaking in a hot spring is a highlight of many a visit to Japan. These Japanese macaques, known colloquially as “snow monkeys,” roam freely around the valley of Jigokudani, soaking in the hot springs here when the weather gets cold.
You can see the snow monkeys for yourself at the Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park. So pack your bags, get out your winter gear and your favorite camera, and follow these helpful tips on how to get to there.
Where are the Snow Monkeys?
Many people are familiar with the snow monkeys that bathe in hot springs but may not know where to find them. While you may think they’re hidden away in an inaccessible part of the wilderness, they’re actually quite easy to reach.
The snow monkeys are a troupe of Japanese macaques that live in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture, smack dab in the middle of Japan’s main island of Honshu. The area is not far from major cities—you can even visit the monkeys as a day-trip from Tokyo!
How to Get to the Snow Monkeys
To get to the snow monkeys, you’ll first want to head to Nagano Station. From here, there are three main ways to get to the snow monkeys. You can:
Save Money with the Snow Monkey Pass
Most visitors will take one of the first two options, both of which are run by the same company. Thankfully, they offer an economical pass that covers your access and entrance fees to the Snow Monkey Park, regardless of which route you take. See details about the 2-Day Snow Monkey Pass here.
Taking the Shigakogen Express Bus
1,400 yen/ 45 minutes (+ a 40-minute walk)
The Shigakogen express bus will take you directly from the east exit of Nagano Station to the Snow Monkey Park bus stop in just 45 minutes. From there, you can walk to the park in about 35 to 40 minutes.
Taking the Nagano Dentetsu train
1,470 to 1,570 yen/ 50 to 85 minutes (+ a 40-minute walk)
The Nagano Dentetsu train takes you from Nagano Station to its final stop at Yudanaka Station. The local train takes 70 minutes while the express train takes 45 and only costs 100 yen more (also covered by the pass). After arriving at Yudanaka, take the Kobayashi line bus from the station to the Snow Monkey Park stop and walk 35 to 40 minutes to the park.
While less convenient than the bus, the train passes by another sightseeing spot that is well worth a visit. Getting off at Obuse, you can visit this small town, famous for its many cafes, restaurants, and the Hokusai Museum, dedicated to one of Japan’s most famous artists. With the snow monkey pass, you have unlimited rides for the day, so why not?
Traveling by Car
Time varies (+15- to 30-minute walk)
Free parking is available year-round near the snow monkey park trailhead. A second, paid parking area is available during spring, summer and autumn. See parking details below.
If you’re traveling during winter, be sure to use snow tires and/or chains!
Kanbayashi Onsen Parking Lot
Free parking next to Café Enza and the main trailhead to the snow monkey park. Open year-round. Put Café Enza’s phone number (0269-33-1736) into your GPS for directions.
Jigokudani Parking Lot
Paid parking (500 yen), about 15 minutes from the park on foot. Closed from December 1st to March 31st. Plug 0269-33-5733 into your GPS for directions.
Getting to the Snow Monkeys from Major Ski Resorts
If you’re planning to stay in Nagano for skiing and want to visit the snow monkeys, you’re in luck. Local tour operators offer frequent tours to the snow monkeys from major ski areas such as Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and Myoko Kogen.
Guided Tours to the Snow Monkey Park
There are an increasing number of tours to the snow monkey park and more of Nagano’s sightseeing areas. It’s easier than ever to take a day off skiing and enjoy Nagano’s pristine nature and cultural heritage.
- Nozawa Onsen to the Snow Monkeys
- Hakuba to the Snow Monkeys, Zenkoji Temple and Obuse
- Myoko Kogen (Akakura) to the Snow Monkeys
- Private tours from all Major Ski Areas
Public Transportation from Ski Resorts to the Snow Monkeys
If you'd rather not join a tour to the snow monkeys and you don't want to pay for a charter, taking public transportation is the way to go. From most ski resort areas, including Myoko Kogen, Nozawa Onsen and Madarao Kogen, that means heading south to Nagano and taking the bus or train from there.
Shiga Kogen is located in the highlands above the Snow Monkey Park, and the same Shiga Kogen bus that takes you to the ski resort also services the Snow Monkey Park bus stop. All you have to do is take the bus back down the mountain and walk to the park from there.
Hakuba has a bus that takes you directly to the Snow Monkey Park bus stop. From the bus stop, it’s a 35- to 40-minute walk to the park. Bus timetables are subject to change.
Things to Remember when Visiting the Snow Monkey Park
The park is in a remote area and populated by wild animals, so there are a few things to keep in mind when you visit.
Prepare for Monkey Business
One of the most important things to remember is that the monkeys aren’t zoo animals. There are no fences at the park, which means they can come and go as they please. Sometimes, especially during fall, the monkeys are busy and don’t come down to the park at all.
If the monkeys don’t show up, the park will make an announcement on their website and Facebook page and close for the day. The ticket window at Nagano Dentetsu Nagano Station may stop selling the Snow Monkey Pass until the park reopens.
Bring the Right Clothing
During the cold days of winter, the monkeys are huddled in a steamy hot bath while you’re trying to steady your camera as your bones shiver and shake. That’s no fun. Be sure to bring warm clothing with you, as you won’t want to realize that you’re too cold after trekking 40 minutes through the woods.
That also includes footwear. The path to the park is covered in snow and ice during winter, so good boots are a must. For safety, we recommend bringing crampons or purchasing some from the shop outside of the trailhead.
However you make the trek, we hope you enjoy seeing the adorable snow monkeys!
Adventures in Nagano: Snow Monkey Park and Obuse Town Day Trip with an Overnight Stay at Zenkoji Temple