The journey to the Jigokudani Park to see the monkeys is half the fun and do involve some planning. It is a full day excursion and be sure to allow sufficient time. A snowy day is ideal because the chances of seeing many monkeys in the water are good – afer all, they want to get warm! On a nice day, they will most likely be out and about, not in the water.
If you start from Tokyo then go to the JR Tokyo Station and take the JR Shinkansen to Nagano. Once you reach Nagano then the easiest way for tourists to get to the Jigokudani Monkey Park is taking the Nagaden company bus from the Nagano train station: Take the East Exit, walk downstairs to the bus terminal. The bus leaves from quay 3 or 4. It runs once an hour (10 past the hour), may costs around 1300 Yen one way and takes 40 minutes. Be sure to get a flyer with the return times from the driver.
Once the bus drop you at the nearest bus stop to the park (tell the bus driver that you want to go to the Jigokudani Park and he will know where to drop you), the journey to the park will involve walking the last 1.6 kilometers (about 40 minutes) to Hell’s Valley at 850 meters above sea level.
The Jigokudani Monkey Park is open throughout the year. From April to October the hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., from November to March 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Allow for sufficient time:
Altogether you will be gone a good 5 hours departing from Nagano (40 minute drive, 40-60 minute walk, about 60 minutes with the monkeys, about 40 minutes walk back, 40 minutes drive back to Nagano).
If you need/want to have a snack or something to drink – and haven’t brought anything along – go to the gas station next to the Kanbayashi Onsen Guchi bus stop upon arrival to get yourself something to take up. Chances are the kiosk at the monkey spa is closed.
Be sure to wear good walking boots with a non-skid sole.
At the entrance to the park – you still have those 1.6 km to go – there are some heavy-duty straw rope pieces that can be tied around your shoes to help you not to skid. These are free of charge and hang on a branch just before the steps start.
The path is not secured by rails and, while not necessarily narrow, it is not wide, either. As it was carved out of the mountain side, it drops off steeply most of the way. On the map it is euphamistically called a “promenade”
If you want to eat or drink something, bring your own. No tea or coffee is sold. There is only one vending machine, which may or may not be working.
The Jigokudani Park with its snow monkeys is definitely a nice place for seniors to enjoy a good walk and be rewarded with some amazing sights of the snow monkeys soaking themselves in the warm thermal pool!
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