Seeing the Snow Monkeys in Nagano (Jigokudani Yaen-Koen)


Find what you love, and never stop doing it!
Yesterday I did something that I've wanted to do for a REALLY long time! I've seen photos and lusted over this adventure. Why it took me so long I have no idea, but I'm so glad that I cashed in on life'ing with this one!
Seeing the snow monkeys in Nagano at the natural hot spring was something that I'll never forget. I highly recommend it for anyone who is in Japan (fun fact you don't have to go in the winter, they're open year round, the monkeys are always there (free range, not caged or contained). I would even venture to say that it may be better to visit during the "off" season because as you can imagine this place is riddled with tourists, which becomes annoying. My annoyance increased because some people literally have zero respect for animals, their habitat, and personal space. More often than not tourists would get uncomfortably close to the monkeys, babies, mamas with babies, in an attempt to score a good pic. Surely in this day and age we all have good enough technology to enable the zoom feature? Heck if you just sat on a rock for more than a minute the chances were pretty high that a youthful little monkey would come running around you, playing with it's little monkey friend. This happened to me a few times. I actually thought at one point that I was going to end up with wrestling monkeys on my lap!

It's about a mile from the parking lot to the top where the monkeys are. The trail is packed snow and ice. I wore trail running shoes and was slipping. Until I bought crampons at the info booth before you really start to climb/hike. It's about 1300 yen to purchase them and in my opinion worth every penny!

Cost to get into monkey park is 800 yen for adults and 400 yen for kids. Like all things (except the Shinkansen) Japan, affordable.

The park opens at 9. I imagine it would be MUCH better to arrive right when it opens before the tour buses get there.

Sign me up for the grooming train!

This little guy was about a foot from my leg!
Getting there:

  • Train. The Shinkansen has trains that get you to Nagano (Liyama is actually the closest station to monkey park). But there is no train stop at monkey park so you would have to do a combo of Train/Uber/Lyft to get the rest of the way. The Shin is very expensive one way is approx. $80 from Tokyo.
    Travel time from Yokota: approx. 4.5 hours
  • Driving. This to me is the best option if you have this choice (and don't mind driving, I like napping, so I didn't go this route but if I had it to do again I would drive myself) Cost (tolls) $35 each way. The park opens at 9am I highly suggest getting there then if you drive!
    Travel time from Yokota: 2 hours 55 mins
  • Sponsored trip. I did this from Yokota AFB and it was the most affordable/convenient option, but it had it's cons. Cost was $60 (this included admission ticket)
    Travel time from Yokota: freaking forever. JK I think it took 4.5 hours each way, only because the bus stopped 2-3 times each way, on the way back we got stuck in a traffic jam. The bus can only travel for so long before they have to give the driver a break. Driving on your own would be WAY quicker, and you can stop less/more if you want.
    The other con is that we got to the park after 1pm, well into the day, and the tourist rush. SO many people were already there.
Tips/Tricks/Fun Info:
  • The park has a live cam so you can watch the park/main pool whenever you want, check it out HERE
  • Don't bring food, loose items, or plastic into the park, anything that might interest the monkeys. I saw so many monkeys chewing on plastic it was horrible.
  • Use your damn zoom, give the monkeys some space! 
  • Buy the crampons (or bring your own Yaktracks etc)
  • Enjoy the walk through the woods getting to monkey park. This was so peaceful I loved it, on the way back it was almost empty and I found this really peaceful and enjoyable
  • When you come back down from the park, at the first set of restrooms there is a shoe washing station (with a brush) to scrub the monkey shit out of your shoes. You'll be thankful it's there. Monkey shit stinks, and cakes into your shoes/crampons!
  • If you've been to Bali, these monkeys are less "aggressive" (for lack of a better word) than the ones there. I didn't see a single monkey jump on a person or try to take something from them. Just stupid humans trying to touch monkeys
  • Bring a pack, and layers. The temp changed drastically when I was there. Hiking up I moved at a good pace so I was warm (I was also wearing a wool hat, 2 jackets (my shell and then my down mid layer...I sound so outdoorsy, I actually made that shit up I don't know if it's really a mid layer, it's warm, I wear it under my shell and over other things, so mid.), and that's about it. I carried with me a wrap scarf and gloves (which I should have worn later on because I'm pretty sure I got frost bite (being dramatic but still...) but I wanted all of the pictures and no matter what companies say about their gloves, you can't take good pics with gloves on, even when they have that little technology finger thing.
    I used my trusty @AndersonSupplyCo bag, I take it everywhere :) You can get one too, HERE tell Trisha I sent you :) She makes them!
  • Nagano is very famous for their fruits. If you go to monkey park early and have time, go to a fruit/fruit picking place on the way home. Seasonal of course. Right now it's apples.
  • If you're coming in from other military bases in Japan/Asia to do this trip you might want to go through Yokota/Yokosuka ITT as the easiest way to do it. I know if you go through Yokota,  you can stay at the Kanto Lodge on base, you can make reservations HERE. Yokota ITT posts their trip schedule for 2 months online and they are very responsive to emails sent. Check them out HERE. Another option is staying at the New Sanno, you can make reservations HERE and either driving to Nagano or doing the Shin/car route. If you stay at the New Sanno and want to use ITT from Yokota or Yokosuka you should note that it's not very close, and will take some time to get to the base.
I hope this helps anyone wanting to go see the snow monkeys. It truly was an amazing trip that I'm so thankful I was able to experience!

Here is my Quik video that I made with all of my pics and videos, enjoy! It surely made me smile watching it and reliving the day!

Follow me on my travels on my Instagram, most things get posted to my story @Fairytalewishesunicorndreams HERE


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