Expedition to the Snow Monkeys (The ‘How-To’)
Getting to the snow monkeys can be confusing – train vs. bus, which trailhead, etc. We break it down for you!
Seeing the blissful faces of monkeys soaking in a hot spring is often a highlight of many a visit to Japan. If you go to Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park for the world-famous snow monkeys, make sure your camera batteries are recharged as the furry cuties are very photogenic, and follow these helpful tips for how to get to there.
First of all, please note the park is only accessible on foot, and there are two trailheads:
Trailhead #1: Jigokudani Parking Lot. Access is primarily by car (parking fee 500 yen for regular cars) but the road to it is closed from December 1st to March 31st, so you can’t drive there in the winter. Tel# 0269-33-5733 for GPS purposes. From the parking lot, the trek to the monkey park is a short 15 minutes, but is considerably steep.
Trailhead #2: Kanbayashi Onsen. The parking lot here is accessible year-round (tel# for the adjacent Enza Café 0269-33-1736 for GPS purposes -- and for good ramen). This is also the main gateway for people coming by public transport (more on that shortly). The trail from Kanbayashi is longer (approx. 30 minutes) but is relatively flat and the scenery of the cedar tree forest it passes through is mesmerizing.
NOTE: If you drive in there in the winter, be sure to have snow tires or chains.
Public Transport from Nagano Station:
There are 2 basic ways to get to the Kanbayashi Onsen trailhead from Nagano. The most direct is to catch the Nagaden express bus bound for the Shiga Kogen ski resort area from the station’s East Exit, and get off at the “Snow Monkey Park” bus stop. From there it’s a 300-meter walk up the hill to the trailhead. There are only a few busses per day, so your best option might be to take the train instead as it has more frequent service. The Nagano Dentetsu train actually starts out as a subway line beneath the station’s Zenkoji Exit. From the end of the line, Yudanaka Station, you can hop on a local bus, either the Shiga Kogen line to the afore-mentioned “Snow Monkey Park” stop or the Kanbayashi line to the “Kanbayashi Onsen” bus stop. Either way you still got the 30-minute walk from the trailhead. No convenient bus connection from Yudanaka Station? Consider taking a taxi.
Useful Tip: The 2-Day Snow Monkey Pass can be purchased at the Nagano Dentetsu train ticket counter at Nagano Station. It covers the above-mentioned trains and busses as well as entrance to the monkey park. The pass saves you a bit of money, but moreover it eliminates the hassle of “How/when/where do I pay?”
Nagaden Bus also operates an express bus from Iiyama Station to Shiga Kogen, stopping at the “Snow Monkey Park” bus stop but again, service is infrequent.
During the peak ski season, several tour operators run busses directly from Hakuba, Nozawa Onsen and other ski resorts to the Kanbayashi Onsen trailhead. Alternatively, Alpico and Nagaden Bus also operate the Hakuba-Shiga Kogen direct express bus with service to the “Snow Monkey Park” bus stop.
Finally, two last pieces of advice: The monkeys are wild, not captive, and a few days of the year (especially during fall mating season) they don’t come down from the hills to the monkey park. (If the ticket counter at Nagano Station refuses to sell you the 2-day Snow Monkey Pass, that may be why.) If nothing else, you can still enjoy the walk through the cedar forest and the onsen geyser near the entrance to the park. The other piece of advice is to make sure to have proper footwear as the trail can be slippery especially in the winter and after it rains. The Snow Monkey Resort gift shop at the Kanbayashi Onsen trailhead entrance rents rubber boots.
However you make the trek, I hope you enjoy seeing the adorable snow monkeys.
Jigokudani Wild Monkey Park http://jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/ (entrance ¥800/adult, ¥400/child 6-17 y.o.; open 8:30am-5pm April to October, 9am-4pm November to March)
Nagaden Bus http://www.nagadenbus.co.jp/express/ (Nagano Station East Exit platform #23, 45 minutes, ¥1400 one way)
Nagano Dentetsu train schedule available at http://www.hyperdia.com/. (Nagano Station -- entrance below the Zenkoji Exit -- to Yudanaka ¥1160; transfer may be required. Express train, as fast as 45 minutes, +¥100. Local bus onward to Kanbayashi Onsen / Snow Monkey Park stop ¥310.)
Alpico / Nagaden Hakuba-Shiga Kogen direct bus https://www.alpico.co.jp/traffic/en/express/hakuba/shigakogen/ (¥3900/adult, ¥1950/child 6-11y.o.)