The snow monkeys are just outside Nagano, in the Central Chūbu region of Japan.
It is an easy day trip for those looking for a break from the ski slopes of nearby Hakuba.
On arrival you walk down an icy trail for about half an hour to reach the hot springs that these monkeys have made their home.
It is an easy walk and not too slippery. But remember that there are monkeys around. If they hear or see something resembling food then expect to be confronted.
Snow Monkey Habitat
The Snow Monkey Park (or Jigokudani Yaen Koen) is a special conservation area that was built around the natural habitat of the snow monkeys ((Japanese macaques).
Food is offered to the monkeys each day. This keeps them coming back to the area that tourists frequent.
But it is important to remember that they are wild animals and they are not in any kind of enclosure here. Although it does feel like a zoo at times.
They come and go as they please, and they roam freely around the tourists exploring the area.
This sanctuary has been in place for over 65 years and they have grown accustomed to being in close proximity to humans.
There is a lot of snow in the region from November to March and through this period the macaques hang around a series of hot springs in the park.
What are the Snow Monkeys Like?
It is a scene that reminds me of artistic parodies of animals imitating regular human activities…
Think dogs playing poker around a table.
Except in this case it is monkeys chilling out in a spa. The fact that the monkeys resemble old men in some strange way adds to the comparison.
Where they differ from old men is how playful and agile the monkeys are.
Frequently the calm atmosphere explodes into a chaotic mess of monkeys chasing each other.
It is hard to tell if they are playing or fighting. Or if one has just stolen something from another and is making a quick getaway!
It is fascinating to see how they interact and you can really get up amongst it with all of these things happening all around you, rather than from a viewing deck.
At one point one of the monkeys being chased decided to use my leg as a pole to facilitate a swift change of direction.
He leapt, grabbed my leg, and proceeded to do a 270 degree spin before taking off in another direction. All before I knew what had happened.
The monkeys are remarkably comfortable with the humans that surround them each day.
At times when I thought I was pushing the boundaries and getting a little too close for a photo they would often just tilt their head and look straight at you with a very laid back look that was almost he was just saying “sup bro….”
Best Time to Visit
You will get a different experience in the park depending on the season. We have listed each season in order of our recommendation:
If you want to visit the snow monkey while there is snow around this is the obvious time to visit.
But remember that this is more of a nickname for these creatures and there is a lot to experience the rest of the year also.
This is the mating season and you are likely to see some newborn macaques at this time of year.
You also have the added bonus of it being Cherry Blossom season!
You will see some amazing green colors in the surrounding forests at this time of year.
A very different spectacle to the snow covered winter, and the blooming spring.
This is the least recommended because there is an abundance of natural alternative food sources on offer for the monkeys.
As a result they are less inclined to visit the park and the numbers visible to you may be lower.
So if you are anxious about being surrounded by wild animals this may be the ideal time!
Entry and Opening Hours
Note that the opening hours differ due to weather and the shorter daylight hours in winter. So plan accordingly:
- April to October – 8.30am – 5pm
- November to March – 9am – 4pm
Check for updated entry prices on the Snow Monkey Resorts website. The below is correct at the time of writing:
- Adults – 800Y
- Children – 400Y
- Infants – Free
How to Get There
The area can only be accessed by road and is a one hour drive from Nagano. If traveling from Hakuba you can add another hour to your trip.
Once you arrive at the car park you then need to navigate a walking trail that is about 1 mile (1.6kms) long which will take you to the entrance of the park.
It is an easy flat walk on a sealed pathway, but it can be covered in snow and ice in the winter time.
So wear shoes with good grip!
If taking a tour you have the opportunity to combine this activity with a range of others that are included in a day trip.
- Sledding & Snowbiking
- Temple visits
- Cherry blossoms (in spring)
This is a perfect rest day on a ski or snowboarding trip. The half hour of light walking is great to get a sore and tired body moving!
It is also an amusing and unique experience. The behavioural traits that we share with these creatures are an eye opener and I could have simply watched them do their thing all day.