Forget Tokyo Disneyland, the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is Disneyland for Snow Monkeys and I assure you that choosing to spend a day in Jigokudani instead will leave you 100% more satisfied and love-heart eyed. Despite attracting herds of researchers, photographers and tourists from across the globe, I found it practically impossible to find up-to-date information on how to reach the site without forking out $200+ for a guided tour from Nagano. Luckily with a whole day to spare and my brother and friend by my side to turn any misadventures into adventures along the way, I decided to catch an early morning train to Nagano and wing it from there with the help of the friendly tourist office. From the luxurious experience of a bullet train to the perfectly-timed connecting bus to the unexpected snow fall (my first ever snow fall might I add!), I could not have dreamed up a more perfect Japanese adventure.
A Step-by-Step Journey
Step 1: Catch the Shinkansen (Kagayaki or Hakutaka) from Tokyo or Shinagawa Station to Nagano station. If you are not already staying near one of these stations, you'll just need to catch a local train line to either of them. The journey lasts approximately 90 minutes. For timetables visit Hyperdia.
Step 2: After alighting at Nagano station, you'll want to turn right after the gates and follow the signs towards the Nagano Dentetsu line ticketing area. Here, you'll find a plethora of signs directing you to a ticket counter where you can buy a '1-day Snow Monkey Pass'. This pass will save you at least 500 yen; entitling you to unlimited use of the Nagano Express bus to the Snow Monkey park, free admission to the Snow Monkey park as well as unlimited use of the Nagano Dentetsu line and the local Nagaden bus.
Step 3: With your ticket in hand, follow the signs out of the station's east exit to bus stop #3. From here you'll want to board the Nagano Dentetsu Bus (Nagaden) towards Shiga Kogen. The bus stop that you want to alight at is literally called the 'Snow Monkey park' and will be announced on board the bus in both Japanese and English. See image below for bus times and further information.
Step 4: Once you have alighted the bus signs along the way will point you in the right direction. The trailhead begins approximately 5 minutes walk from the bus stop and from the trailhead it is a 1.6 kilometer hike through the forest to reach the snow monkeys.
Step 6: When it is time to head home, just follow the above steps in reverse. As the trains from Nagano station leave fairly regularly (at least every half an hour) as long as you ensure that you make it in time for the express bus to Nagano station you will have a stress-free trip home.
Tips & Tricks
- The park is open from 08:30 - 17:00 (Apr - Oct) and 09:00 - 16:00 (Nov - Mar)
- If you have time before your bus, be sure to grab some delicious baked goods from the shop just inside the entrance (I recommend the matcha sweet buns!).
- Don't forget those gloves! Even in the middle of April we encountered 0 degree C temperatures and snow.
- Aim to allow 2 hours at the park (including the walk from the bus stop).
- Do not touch, startle or stare into the eyes of the monkeys (no matter how cute they are) as this is not a zoo and these animals are WILD and will behave as such.
- As well as having more leg room then you could dream of, the Shinkansen trains also have power points so if you think you might need to charge your phone/camera/portable WIFI be sure to bring the charger and your 2-prong Japanese adapter.
- Be sure to pre-buy a JR Rail Pass before you leave your home country as it will cover the bullet train and save you a 16,000 yen return ticket just for the 90 minute trip to Nagano.