Jigokudani Monkey Park (地獄谷野猿公苑 Jigokudani Yaen Kōen)
If you are planning for a trip to Japan for skiing, perhaps you can consider this amazing Jigokudani Monkey Park. This is part of the Joshinetsu Kogen National Park (locally known as Shigakogen), and is located in the valley of the Yokoyu-River.
This park is name Jigokudani - means "Hell's Valley", the reputation is due to the steam and boiling water that bubbles out of small crevices in the frozen ground, surrounded by steep cliffs and formidably cold and hostile forests.
Many tourists visit this park for its wild Japanese Macaques (Macaca fuscata), also known as Snow Monkeys. There are a lot of them swinging around from trees to trees, in the creeks, on the snow or those that with a higher ranking are seen soaking in the hot spring. They go to the valley during the winter, foraging elsewhere in the national park when the seasons get warmer.
I heard so much about the snow monkeys enjoy hot spring in Japan hence decided to pay a visit in Feb 2015. It was time to check out one of the item from my bucket list - Seeing the snow monkeys in the wild.
I stayed in a resort that provided free shuttle bus to Snow Monkey park at Yudanaka so travelling there was not much of a problem. The problem came after you arrive at the entrance - we had very good trekking shoes that usually worked well in mountain and snow condition but I still slipped and fell down twice.
There was a path to walk for a while to higher ground where the hot spring located. The path was muddy and slippery, some tourists even brought along with some spikes chain to the shoes. There was indeed one part of it that was steep and difficult to walk up/ down the stairs.
One lady who stayed in the same hotel ended up with wheelchair at the end of the trip, she broke some part of the bone on her toes when she fell down. We saw some senior, kids, men and women fell down for the day.
Please be extra careful and prepared before going.
Let's talk about the monkeys! Oh my god - they were everywhere! From the top of the snow mountain to the hot spring. Only perhaps max 10 monkeys constantly soaked and played around in the hot spring, looking comfy and relax.
Tourists were allowed to get close but only up to certain numbers because the hot spring area couldn't contain too many people. There were groups and groups of tourists come and go so we just waited for our queue and took photos and video. The monkeys were not afraid of human, they looked rather enjoy being watched or watching human taking photos of them. Well, they might have used to be the center of attention. Sometimes they even jumped and walked along the edge where we took photos, very natural.
Initially the plan was just to spend maximum two hours but I ended up staying there for four hours (it was freezing cold!) while another guest from the hotel said he ended up spending the whole day and he still wanted to go back on the day after.
Duration: approx. 6 hours.
Hours and Fees
Hours: 8:30 to 17:00 (April to October) 9:00 to 16:00 (November to March)
Closed: No Closing Days
Admission: 500 yen
* Information above based on 2015 Feb, please check with the official website/ authority for any update.
Japan is easily at the top of my travel list despite I have been there multiple times. I will update some travel information and tips from time to time.