Planning to visit the snow monkeys from Tokyo? It’s definitely a bucket-list item. Japanese macaques have been patronizing the hot-spring baths at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park for decades (since 1964, officially), and they have become one of Japan’s most iconic sights.

Even in the era of “overtourism”, a visit to the Japanese snow monkey park — tucked away high in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture — is a worthy, relatively uncrowded endeavor.

It’s possible to see the snow monkeys as a day trip from Tokyo, but it’s more fun as part of a longer itinerary. Here’s an overview of how to make your way from Tokyo to the snow monkey park, and what to expect when you get there.

Suggested Activity
Go Karting with Cosplay through Asakusa & Akihabara (See Skytree)
Don your favourite video game or superhero outfit and drive go-karts through Asakusa and Akihabara — passing Tokyo Skytree! International driving license required.

Pro tip: Jigokudani Monkey Park is a great addition to the itinerary if you have a Hokuriku Arch Pass or a JR East Nagano and Niigata Area Pass. These regional rail passes are an economical way to travel around on the Shinkansen.

What is the Jigokudani Monkey Park?

The famous Snow Monkeys (Japanese Macaques) bathe in the onsen hot springs of Nagano, Japan.
Having a bath is the most normal thing in the world … even if you’re a monkey. | Photo by iStock.com/undercrimson

Jigokudani Monkey Park is a remote park in Nagano, where you can see the famous Japanese snow monkeys having a bath. The park is home to a whole troupe of wild Japanese Macaques. There are no cages, and the park does not have a perimeter fence to keep the monkeys inside.

The park does feed the monkeys, so they have a reason to pop round for a visit. The monkeys are not trained, though, and they choose whether to visit the park and whether to take a dip in the hot spring (onsen). That’s part of the beauty of the place, and something that sets it apart from many of Japan’s other animal experiences.

The iconic scenes with monkeys in the onsen surrounded by snow can be seen from roughly late December until early April. There’s little to no snow for the rest of the year, but even then, it’s still a great opportunity to get up close and personal with some unique Japanese fauna.

Pro tip: Take a look at the live snow monkey camera to get an idea of the vibe.

Where is Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park?

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is in Yamanouchi in the Shimotakai district of Nagano. It’s within the vast Shiga Kōgen National Park, a prime place for hiking, as well as skiing and snowboarding.

The word “Jigokudani” means “Hell Valley” — and is a name given to this, and several other volcanic areas of Japan, because of the steam and boiling water that escapes from the harsh terrain.

How far away is it? It takes a minimum of 4 hours to get to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park from Tokyo, depending on your mode of transport and traffic/weather conditions.

When should I visit the snow monkeys?

January and February are prime “snow monkey” spotting months.

The Yamanouchi region receives heavy snowfall in winter, and it’s generally white from December through March. However, January and February are said to be the best time of year to visit the monkey park. It’s definitely the most scenic, with snow-capped trees backgrounding groups of bathing Japanese macaques.

Suggested Activity
Tokyo & Edo Hidden Gem Bike Tour with Lunch
Cycle around Tokyo's historical places with a local guide — Asakusa, Ryogoku and more! Offered by MagicalTrip, a top tour operator in Japan with 5000 TripAdvisor reviews.

You can actually visit in any month, though — park employees feed the monkeys year round. Because of that, they can be found near the man-made rock bath (the center of attention) fairly reliably, even in summer.

Monkey next to a hot spring in summer
Do YOU only bathe in winter? Well, then. | Photo by iStock.com/Bim

Snow monkey park: Opening times and entrance fees

¥800 for adults
9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Nov. to March)

The monkey park is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the warmer months, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. between November and March.

The park entrance fee is ¥800 for adults, and half that for kids.

Getting to the snow monkey park from Tokyo

It is possible to make a day trip to see the snow monkeys from Tokyo. But you’ll need to leave bright and early, and be prepared for a long day. If possible, we recommend extending your trip and spending at least one night in the area.

There are three main ways to get to Jigokudani Monkey Park from Tokyo, so let’s break them down.

Pro tip: If you’re committed to making a snow monkey day trip from Tokyo, we recommend this bus tour. It includes a round-trip coach from Shinjuku, and entry to the monkey park. Plus, you also get an all-you-can-eat buffet lunch. It costs ¥16,000, which is less than the approximately ¥20,000 you’d otherwise spend on transport alone.

Shinkansen and bus: The best route

¥10,140 one way
2 hours and 15 minutes, plus transfer time
Only one transfer, and partly covered by regional rail passes

This route is by far the easiest and most convenient way to get from Tokyo to the snow monkey park. You’ll take the Hokuriku Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagano Station.

Then, from the East Exit of Nagano Station, there are well sign-posted buses, run by Nagano Electric Railway, leaving for the snow monkey park about once an hour. They cost ¥1,800 each way, and the journey to the Snow Monkey Park Bus Stop (next to the Shigakōgen Roman Museum) takes about 45 minutes.

Using a JR Pass or a regional rail pass to get to Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

The Hokuriku Shinkansen part of the journey is covered by regional rail passes, so it makes sense to use one if the snow monkey expedition is part of a longer itinerary.

Our top picks for rail passes to use for this trip are the Hokuriku Arch Pass and the JR East Nagano and Niigata Area Pass.

The Hokuriku Arch Pass is great value if you’re planning a round trip between Tokyo and Osaka or Kyoto, and want to take a more scenic route. Along the way, you can stop at Jigokudani Monkey Park, as well as other destinations like Karuizawa and Kanazawa.

Meanwhile, the Nagano and Niigata Area Pass is great for exploring the region in-depth — for example, you can hit up ski slopes at Gala Yuzawa, and the hot springs at Kusatsu Onsen.

Shinkansen, train, and bus: For train fans

¥10,240 one way
2 hours and 30 minutes, plus transfer time
Cool old trains, partly covered by regional rail passes and the Snow Monkey Pass

If you’re a train buff, you might like this route: it makes use of the Nagano Electric Railway. This line runs a combination of iconic former Odakyu Railway Romance Car train sets and former Narita Express wagons.

Note: Nagano Electric Railway trains are not covered by the JR Pass, or any other regional JR passes, since it’s a private, non-JR railway company. You can book seats online.

The Yamanouchi region
Jigokudani is within the Yamanouchi municipality. | Photo by iStock.com/DavidCallan

To get to the snow monkey park, you take the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Nagano Station. Then take the Nagano Electric Railway to Yudanaka Station. There are “Snow Monkey” and “Yukemuri” services, which run six times each day, with the journey taking about 45 minutes and costing ¥1,590.

From Yudanaka Station, there is one bus each hour from 9 a.m. until 12 noon, then less frequent services after that. Check the timetable here. The bus takes 10 to 15 minutes (¥310) depending on the service, and the bus stops at a sligtly more convenient bus stop further up the hill.

The Snow Monkey Pass

If you opt for this route, consider getting a Snow Monkey Pass. It costs ¥3,400 and covers the Nagano Electric Railway, the bus from Yudanaka, and entry to the monkey park. Just the round trip from Nagano Station to the monkey park would usually cost ¥3,800, so you’ll definitely see savings. Plus, the pass is actually valid for two days, so it’s great value if you’re staying overnight in the area.

By car: Convenient for groups and families

¥5,000 to ¥6,000 in tolls one way
4 to 5 hours, with breaks

The entrance to Jigokudani Monkey Park. | Photo by iStock.com/fazon1

If coming from Tokyo, the trip will take you 4 to 5 hours, including rest stops. From central Tokyo, you need to get on to the Kanetsu Expressway that heads towards Niigata, then switch to the Jōetsu Espressway heading towards Nagano. After about 4 hours of driving and ¥5,000 to ¥6,000 of tolls, you leave the expressway at the Shinshu-Nakano Interchange. From here, it’s a 30-minute drive to either of the parking lots.

There are two parking lots. One is free (Jigokudani Monkey Park Main Parking Lot), with a 25 to 30-minute walk to Jigokudani. The other costs ¥500 (Jigokudani Parking), but means a shorter, 15-minute walk to the bathing area.

The paid parking is reached via a narrow road, is closed in winter, and is not suitable for large vehicles. While the walk is shorter, it also involves a climb up some stairs on a rather steep dirt track. If you or members of your group struggle with stairs or rough ground, then the longer walk from Kanbayashi Onsen Parking may actually be a better option!

One-day tour packages for Jigukodani Snow Monkey Park

Japanese Macaques relaxes in a hot spring on a snowy day.
Tour packages are the more relaxing option. | Photo by iStock.com/Lea Scaddan

If you want to pack the snow monkeys into a day trip, we recommend joining a tour. It will save you a lot of stress, and can actually be great value.

Best snow monkey tour from Tokyo

¥16,000
Book here
Great value. Includes round-trip transport, park entry, and a buffet lunch.

For those who want to make a snow monkey day trip from Tokyo, we recommend this bus tour. You’ll also visit the Shiga Roman Museum while you’re in the area, as a bonus.

Best snow monkey tour from Nagano

¥22,000
Book here
Snow monkeys, sake tasting, and Zenkōji Temple

If you are already in Nagano City, you can join this tour. Not only will you visit Jigokudani Monkey Park, but you’ll also go sake tasting and visit Zenkōji Temple. Lunch and transport are included, and you’ll be accompanied by an English-speaking guide.

Overnighting: Accommodation options near Jigukodani Monkey Park

While you can visit the snow monkeys from Tokyo, it will take your whole day — and it will be a long day indeed. Instead, we recommend staying nearby to get the most out of all that travel time.

The closest hotel to the snow monkeys is Korakukan Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn that is in the valley itself. It’s not cheap, but it does offer an up-close-and-personal view of the primates and a rare chance to bathe with them in the facility’s own outdoor hot spring bath. There are indoor and private baths too, if you aren’t so keen on sharing with Curious George and his crew.

Your other options are staying in the nearby towns of Yudanaka or Shibu, where you’ll be able to find cheaper hotels and inns, most of which feature their own hot spring baths, too. Try the intimate and onsen-equipped Yudanaka Yasuragi in Yudanaka. You can also walk around and visit the numerous public baths in the area — many of the onsen use an honesty-box system for payment.

Nearby Nagano City is also full of hotel options, but doesn’t have much going for it besides Zenkōji Temple. Instead, the nearby Shibu Onsen area offers a quaint, convenient, and historic base for exploring the area.

No monkeying about: Rules and reminders

Monkeys fighting
The snow monkeys aren’t domesticated. | Photo by iStock.com/DavidCallan

The monkeys may like bathing, but they’re far from domesticated. Like any wild animals, it’s important that you don’t try to touch or feed them. Leave doggo at home, keep a safe distance, and avoid looking in their uncannily human eyes (they’ll take it as a sign of aggression and may come at you). Oh, and don’t try to bathe with them (unless you’re doing so at Korakukan Ryokan). Just enjoy the sight of them taking advantage of a 100% free outdoor bath.

Frequently asked questions

Is there somewhere to eat at the snow monkey park?

There is no food or drink available at Jigokudani, and carrying any food or drink into the park is not permitted. However, meals are available at Jigokudani Onsen Korakukan on the other side of the river from the monkey park. There is also a cafe called Enza, between the main parking lot and the start of the park trail.

How much time do you need for Jigokudani Monkey Park?

Allow yourself an hour or two to explore the park — that’s about enough time to see all there is to see.

Special thanks to fellow Cheapos Selena Hoy and Kaori Nagy for their help with this Tokyo to Jigokudani article. While we do our best to ensure that everything is correct, information is subject to change. Originally published in October 2017. Last updated: November 2023.

Ask our local experts about Tokyo

Get our Tokyo Cheapo Hacks direct to your inbox

Watch this next