Watch monkeys in the wild bathing in a hot spring
One of the most unique attractions in the world can be found in the quiet ravine of Jigokudani in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. Since 1964, a troop of Japanese macaque monkeys has been observed soaking in the hot springs of Jigokudani Yaen Koen, also known as Snow Monkey Park. Visitors have the opportunity to view these elusive creatures up close and even witness them soaking in the area’s hot springs during the winter months to keep warm.
The journey to see these wild monkeys may take some time as they live deep in the mountains. However, buses run to Kanbayashi Onsen near the trail leading into the park from popular destinations such as Nagano, Nozawa Onsen, Shiga Kogen, and Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen. From Kanbayashi Onsen, it’s a 25 to 40-minute walk on a trail through the forest to reach the Snow Monkey Park. The trail is passable all year round.
Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys, have the northernmost range of the world’s non-human primates. The park, also known as the Jigokudani Monkey Park, was established in 1964 as a facility where wild Japanese macaques can be observed in their natural environment without fences or cages. This provides a unique opportunity for visitors to learn about primate behavior and observe the monkeys’ social interactions. The park also aims to keep the monkeys in the area and away from neighboring farmland, which they have a tendency to pillage. Since its opening, the park staff has been feeding the monkeys daily, attracting them to the park year-round.
The Snow Monkey Park is located in the Shiga Kogen foothills along the Yokoyu River. The area is under deep snow for a third of the year, giving it a rugged and picturesque appearance reminiscent of Hades. The surrounding forests and mountains are home to multiple troops of monkeys, numbering in the hundreds. The park provides a sanctuary for these monkeys, allowing them to live and thrive in their natural habitat.
To reach the park, visitors must follow a two-kilometer path from Kanbayashi Onsen through a quiet forest. The trail is particularly beautiful during the winter months when it is covered in snow. Along the path, signage provides information about macaque social hierarchy, behavior, and child rearing. These laid-back tree swingers are used to human presence and often go about their daily activities without paying much attention to visitors. This provides a unique opportunity for visitors to take photos and observe the monkeys up close.
However, it is important to observe proper park etiquette when visiting the Snow Monkey Park. Visitors are advised not to feed, touch, or threaten the monkeys. Staring or looking into their eyes can be seen as a sign of aggression, so it is best to avoid prolonged eye contact. It is also important to maintain a safe distance and not to get too close to the monkeys. And of course, joining them in the hot springs is strictly forbidden.
After a day of monkeying around, visitors can head to nearby Yudanaka or Shibu Onsen for a relaxing soak in the hot springs. These traditional onsen towns offer a unique and authentic experience, allowing visitors to unwind and rejuvenate after a day of adventure. For those interested in winter sports, Shiga Kogen and Nozawa Onsen are both just a short bus ride away, offering excellent skiing and snowboarding opportunities.
In conclusion, a visit to the Snow Monkey Park in Jigokudani is a truly unique and unforgettable experience. Watching these wild monkeys bathe in the hot springs is a fascinating sight and provides a rare glimpse into their natural behavior. The park’s efforts to protect and preserve these monkeys in their natural habitat are commendable, and visitors have the opportunity to learn about and appreciate these incredible creatures. So, if you find yourself in Nagano Prefecture, don’t miss the chance to witness the monkeys of Jigokudani Yaen Koen and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature.
Address And Maps Location:
6845 Hirao, Yamanouchi-machi, Shimotakai-gun, Nagano-ken