Seeing snow monkeys at Jigokudani in Japan

Updated: 07/03/23

It is my long held belief that the snow monkeys at Jigokudani must help to sell a lot of holidays to Japan. If you’ve ever seen any promotional materials for the country, chances are you’ve seen one of these cute creatures staring back at you. They’re usually photographed enjoying the hot springs in the snow, looking ridiculously close to humans relaxing in a hot tub.

And just in case you have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s what you’re missing out on. I mean, just look at that face!

A snow monkey at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

Although we spent our honeymoon in Japan during the spring cherry blossom season, rather than in snowy weather, we decided to add Jigokudani Monkey Park to our itinerary. Especially as we already had plans to see deers in Nara and visit Rabbit Island near Hiroshima. (I may have done some we-must-see-as-many-animals-as-possible persuasion on Mr A.)

What is Jigokudani Monkey Park famous for?

Jigokudani Monkey Park is famous for the Japanese macaque monkeys which live in the surrounding mountains. The park was established in 1964 to allow researchers to observe the monkeys’ behaviour. It has also now become a popular spot for tourists to Japan. Visitors can observe and photograph the monkeys enjoying the hot springs. 
Jigokudani actually means “Hell valley” which is what the area was called in ancient times, due to the steam rising from the springs. 

How many monkeys are in Jigokudani Monkey Park?

An estimated 150 Japanese macaque monkeys are known to live in the vicinity of Jigokudani Monkey Park. They live up in the mountains and come down to the hot springs to bathe every day. If you don’t have time to visit them during your trip to Japan, you can also experience their bathing via a webcam the park has set up. 
There is a small information centre at the park which contains boards about behavioural traits to look out for. These include behaviours like the males vying for dominance. Then there’s the teenage females who are left as ‘babysitters’ for the younger monkeys. Plus, of course, the playful youngsters who like to chase each other. We really enjoyed looking out for these behaviours. Our favourite moments were the cheeky babies who were driving their babysitter crazy by pulling her hair and then running away! 

Why do monkeys bathe in hot springs?

Monkeys bathe in hot springs for the same reason that we do – to relax! The monkeys actually live in the surrounding mountains. However it is quite a harsh environment to live in. Covered with snow for almost a third of the year, it is very cold. Therefore the daily ritual of bathing is something the monkeys do naturally to warm up.
We found it fascinating to watch their behaviour, as they sought out the best spots to sit and groomed each other post-bathe.

When is the best time to see the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park?

The best time to see the monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park is when the park opens. Try to be there as close to 9am if possible to have the best chance of seeing the monkeys alone. Once the tour buses arrive the site can get busy.
However, having said that we arrived mid-afternoon and while there was a few people around it wasn’t too busy. Although this may have been because we visited in March, rather than in the winter months. 

Getting to Jigokudani Monkey Park

Getting to Jigokudani Monkey Park is pretty straightforward. It is located within Joshin’etsukogen National Park in the Nagano prefecture. To reach Jigokudani Monkey Park take the train from Tokyo to Nagano. From there you can either take a direct bus to the park or the Snow Monkey Express train (yep, it’s a thing) to Shibu Onsen town.

We took the train and were approached at Shibu station by a lovely old man. We were a bit confused at first, but it turned out he was a volunteer from the town’s English class. After explaining the bus system to us and arming us with maps for the area he waved us on our way.

This became a common occurrence in Japan and made us realise just how suspicious we had become during our travels in other countries. We were so used to people offering to help in return for money, that we were surprised by the number of people who simply wanted to help us. Letting down our guard was something we definitely had to get used to in Japan.

We were staying in a Japanese ryokan in Shibu Onsen. So after dropping off our bags we set off for Jigokudani Monkey Park. It can be reached from Shibu Onsen by a pleasant 45 minute walk through a forested area. In spring this path is pretty easy to walk. However in winter it can get very slippery in the snow. So make sure you have decent footwear and adequate warm clothes.

It is also possible to drive closer to the park and walk the last 10 minutes or so.

If you’re short on time and you would like someone else to take care of the planning and transport, it’s easy to book a tour to see the snow monkeys at Jigokudani from Nagano or even Tokyo. These three tours all have fantastic reviews and take the stress out of planning:



Is Jigokudani Monkey Park worth visiting?

Deciding whether Jigokudani Monkey Park is worth visiting comes down to your own personal views on the subject of wild animals and their interactions with humans. We really enjoyed our visit and did not feel like the monkeys were in any way being forced to be there. In fact, they seemed to ignore the park’s visitors completely! However I have since read reviews where visitors have described the monkeys being fed later in the afternoon in order to make them stay, instead of returning to the mountains. 

The other complaint I’ve seen is that the site is small. This is true and it is definitely a place to go and sit and watch the monkeys, rather than having a large area to walk around.

When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised by the low entrance fee of 800 yen for adults and 400 yen for children. This is something you don’t often find at tourist attractions in other countries. However, reasonable entrance prices was again something we found a lot of in Japan.

As soon as we entered the park and looked across the valley we noticed monkeys moving on the mountain opposite.

At first they were difficult to spot. This was because their grey bodies camouflaged into the rocks. But gradually we saw more and more of them moving easily across the steep slopes.

Jigokudani Monkey Park 

Our personal experience of Jigokudani Monkey Park

The park straddles a river, which runs from a hot spring and is the monkeys’ favourite place to be in winter. There were lots of monkeys on both sides of the river and while they weren’t scared of humans, they weren’t overly-friendly either. They didn’t approach people, probably because of the strict no food policy implemented on the site.

A snow monkey drinking at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

A snow monkey at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

They mainly seemed to be uninterested in people. Their principal concerns were basking in the sunshine and grooming.

Grooming time at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

There were also a few mothers feeding their babies. Plus plenty of youngsters who were playing rough and tumble, much to the annoyance of their young female ‘babysitters’.

A mother and baby at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

A young snow monkey at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

We spent ages sitting watching the monkeys. It never fails to amaze me how human-like their expressions and mannerisms are.

A snow monkey grooming itself at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

Although the park is small we were definitely glad we made the visit. After all, you don’t see many faces cuter than this…

A snow monkey at Jigokudani Monkey Park 

For more information about the snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park visit

If you’d like to read more about visiting Japan, find out how to use a Japanese onsen here. Or what it’s like staying in a Japanese ryokan here.

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