We Japanese love hot springs, and it looks like the Japanese wild macaques in the Japanese Alps share this passion. Nagano Prefecture's Jigokudani Park, meaning "Hell Valley Park" is, in fact, heaven for wild monkeys. The park is home to over 200 species, that are often affectionately nicknamed "snow monkeys". Its main attraction is a natural hot spring water pool, where monkeys bathe just like humans.
The park was established to create a space where the social structure of Japanese macaques could be studied and also to keep them away from neighboring farmlands. The park became famous by the international press when Nagano Winter Olympic Games were held in 1998. It is a unique place where you can see the wild monkeys going about their daily lives, which include their singular habit of soaking in hot springs.
The park is open throughout the year; however, if you want to see more spectacular and photogenic scenery, the winter is the best time to visit. Cold temperatures and heavy snowfall encourage the monkeys to spend a lot of time in the onsen. Make sure you wrap up warm and enjoy a spectacle you can only find here!
The trail from Kanbayashi Onsen bus stop to the Snow Monkey Park has some slopes but is flat in most parts of the way. It is about 2km and takes approximately 35 minutes to walk. The path is really icy and slippery in winter, so make sure to wear hiking boots or ski boots. On the way to the park, you might meet Japanese serows or squirrels. Enjoy your hiking in the clean air with listening to the birds singing ♪
The monkeys looked so human, enjoying the hot springs, cuddling the babies, grooming each other, carrying the babies on their back. So cute! They actually do not bother if humans come close to them, but please be aware that visitors are not allowed to feed or touch them.
☆ The view from the express bus window in the early evening was so mystical ☆
If you are visiting the Jigokudani Monkey Park from outside of Nagano, be sure to plan ahead, check bus and train timetables, and leave earlier. The monkeys will want to head back up the mountain later in the afternoon, and the park closes at 16:00 in winter, so you may miss the best moment if you arrive there late. Staying overnight in Nagano or Shibu onsen near the park would probably be the best choice.
Come to Jigokudani park and enjoy the splendid scenery that can only be admired here!