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Snow Monkeys daytrip from Tokyo

Seeing the Japanese snow monkeys in Nagano is a fabulous experience, especially if you can time your visit for a snowy winters day when you will see their natural area at its best. It’s reasonably easy to do this as an independent day trip from Tokyo. Let us show you how.

I tried everything to shuffle our schedule to allow an overnight in Nagano to see the Snow Monkeys.  No matter how much I reshuffled the plan I couldn’t fit that extra night into the timetable.  To make it work I planned a day trip from Tokyo, a long day but perfectly possible and it allowed us plenty of time with the monkeys without feeling rushed.  This was probably one of my best days in Japan and I would recommend it to anyone.  We enjoy hiking and nature so being able to incorporate that into the cultural aspect and experiencing powder snow for the first time was fantastic.

The day trip is ideal if you’re travelling with a JR Pass.  The cost of using single tickets is quite high for a day trip but I would have done it to make it work, it was an experience I really wanted to have.  The JR Pass doesn’t fully cover the transport but the additional portion is relatively low. 

We find the Shinkansen a relaxing way to travel so although you’re out of bed early you can chill out or even catch up on your sleep if you aren’t bothered about missing the scenery outside your window. 

You can buy food on the train or my preferred option is to stop at the bakery (breakfast) or grab a Bento box for eating on the train in the evening.  While you shouldn’t really eat on commuter buses and trains it’s perfectly acceptable to take food and hot drinks onto long-distance trains in Japan.  If you can’t face the coffee in a can from the vending machine there is usually a Starbucks around the station somewhere.

The Snow Monkeys of Jigokudani

These photos were taken at Jigokudani in the north of Nagano prefecture.  Located on the edge of the national park this large group of monkeys are regularly found along the trail and particularly in winter enjoying a soak in the onsen (hot pool).  In the mid-1960s two groups of monkeys were regularly in the area and were seen squeezing into a small pool in a rock crevice where hot water bubbled through.

Locals made the monkeys their own onsen and they’ve been visiting ever since.  The monkeys are indifferent to the people watching them bathe, they continue to go about their business; soaking, eating and even fighting without interacting with those snapping a few photos of them mid-soak.  Every time I look at these photos I want to go back.

Japanese snow monkey
Baby snow monkey in Japan
snow monkey
snow monkey
snow monkey

Getting to the Snow Monkeys in Japan

From Tokyo

This will depend on where you are staying.  Unless you’re within walking distance of JR station you’ll probably need to take the subway first.  We were staying at the Hotel New Otani in Akasaka where we have based ourselves a few times.  It’s an 8-minute ride on the Marunouchi line to Tokyo station.  Tokyo station is well sign-posted in English but it’s a very large station so it’s worth adding a few extra minutes to navigate your way around it if you haven’t got your bearings yet.  We saved a bit of time on the day by having our Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets pre-booked which is a free service to JR Pass holders.

Having a map of JR station if you’re not familiar with it is helpful.  You will also probably pick up a Tokyo subway map when you arrive but here is the electronic version.

From Tokyo Station take the  Shinkansen ASAMA or Kagayaki service to Nagano city.  If you are day tripping like we did it is worth making an early start, we took the 6.24am Asama 501 and it gets in at 8.04am.  It’ll take around 90 minutes and Y8000 for the 222km journey.  If you have the JR Pass this part of the trip is covered by that.

A great tool for planning your trip is the Hypedia website, it’s in English and when you plug in your starting and ending stations and any other constraints like transport type, times etc it will give you all the route options and costs.  If you are using the JR Pass and are on JR trains such as the bullet train (shinkansen) the price is covered by your existing ticket.

From Nagano Station

There are a variety of options from here but there are two I recommend:

  1. Local transport – the Nagaden train and a 5-minute bus trip.
  2. The express bus (tourist coach).

There are advantages and disadvantages to each and your choice will depend on your travel preferences and the experience you’re after.  

The express bus is almost exclusively used by foreign tourists and is a slightly faster option to get out there.  On the downside, it offers less flexibility in your schedule and it can feel a little being on a tour when it’s busy and a big group pile off the bus at the same time headed to the exact same place.

The Snow Monkey 1-day-pass

With either of these two options, if you are departing from and returning to the Nagano station area on the same day this pass can offer good value, convenience and simplicity.  It costs Y2900 for the full day and includes all your transport for either option plus entry to the snow monkey park which is a good saving, about 12% discount for the basic trip and park entry.   You will need to purchase your pass with cash, credit cards weren’t accepted.

Where to buy your pass or tickets

The company providing both bus and train transport to the area is Nagaden and their station and ticket office is located adjacent to the JR Nagano station.  

Head out of the Zenkoji exit and turn right, walk along the front of the station, don’t cross the road and the entrance will be down some stairs directly in front of you.  It’s very close and only takes a couple of minutes from arriving at the shinkansen platform.  There are lockers in Nagano station if you need them.

Nagano Station Map
Nagano Station Map

Making the trip by local transport

Take the Nagano Dentetsu limited express train to Yudanaka station.  Yamanouchi town is 45 minutes away and if you prefer to buy individual tickets they will cost Y1260 for the 33km journey and as it is a different company they aren’t covered by the JR pass. 

Look for the Nagaden line at the station and if possible take the limited express which means you stop at only 3 not 23 stops.  The train doesn’t go that often so this map should help find quickly your way from the Shinkansen to the Nagaden line to make the connection.

From Yudanaka station take the local bus.   Finding the right bus at the station was easy, they line up with the times to the train arrival but knowing when to get off can be more difficult if you don’t speak Japanese.  It will take around 15 minutes and costs Y250 to Kanbayashi Onsen and then a walk through the village to the trailhead.  

Even in light snow, the walk wasn’t a problem, probably partly because of the novelty value.  If you don’t speak Japanese watch the time on the bus and the scenery closely out the left-hand window, we got distracted and went past our stop the first time and had to backtrack.  Alternatively, show the picture of the snow monkey on your pass to the driver when you get on at the station and sit near the front, he will stop and indicate for you to get off at the right stop.

Making the trip by the express bus

The bus is a comfortable coach similar to the airport service where luggage can be stored underneath and the seats are more spacious and comfortable for a longer trip than a local bus.  If you buy individual tickets rather than the pass it will cost Y1400 each way.  The bus you want has Shiga Kogen for its final destination but you will get off at Kanbayashi Onsen and walk up to the trailhead from there.  The bus takes about 45 minutes.

A Japanese snow monkey tour

If you’re looking for a guided tour this is a great option with Snow Monkey Resorts.  They will pick you up from Nagano station and deliver you back for your train back to Tokyo or on to your next destination. 

It includes transport within Nagano and a knowledgable English speaking guide. You’ll visit the snow monkeys, eat lunch at a local restaurant, visit the dramatic Zenkoji Temple and enjoy a sake tasting while learning about this uniquely Japanese drink.

The walk in to see the Snow Monkeys

Once you are at Kanbayashi Onsen you walk up the snow-covered road for about 1.5 kilometres.  You’ll pass a small shrine to your left and continue until a trail breaks off through the trees, there’s a huge signpost there so you won’t miss it.  For the next 1.6 kilometres, the path winds through red pine and Japanese Larch forest to Jigokudani (Hell Valley).  All up it is only about a 3km walk.  Entry is Y500 and there are lockers so you can put your bag and any food you have with you there to avoid upsetting the monkeys.

Shrine in Kanbayashi Onsen on the walk up to the snow monkeys
Shrine in Kanbayashi Onsen on the walk up to the snow monkeys
Entrance to the trail at Jigokudani monkey park
Entrance to the trail at Jigokudani monkey park
Trail from the enty hut to the snow monkeys in Nagano
So beautiful I barely noticed the cold
The trail in to Jigokudani monkey park
Hiking in to see the snow monkeys
Walkway down to the monkey hotspring
The approach down to the monkey hot sprint
Monkeys in onsen at Jigokudani monkey park
A bit of a (monkey) crowd at the onsen on a snowy day
Baby monkey in Nagano
That feeling when it’s cold and you don’t want to get out of the tub

How to behave around the wild Snow Monkeys

The snow monkeys of Jigakudani are wild, when food is scarce the staff hide supplemental feed in the snow for the monkeys to forage in a natural way.  To ensure they remain safe and allow them to retain their natural behaviour you are asked to follow a few simple rules.

  1. Don’t make eye contact, for monkeys a direct stare can be taken as hostile behaviour.
  2. Don’t feed the monkeys or take food down to the area where the monkeys are, leave it at the lockers.  You’ll pass monkeys on the trail in, they won’t bother you for food.
  3. Don’t touch the snow monkeys or interact in any way
  4. Don’t talk loudly, run or act in a way likely to scare or threaten the monkeys.
Photos and travel tips to see the snow monkeys of Jigokudani in Nagano, Japan
Snow monkeys Nagano Japan

We love to include wildlife experiences when we travel and seeing the snow monkeys in Japan was completely different from encountering monkeys in many other parts of Asia.  What’s the most memorable animal encounter you’ve had in your travels?


  • So excited to read that this trip is possible in a day from Tokyo – we had written it off thinking it was too far away!
    We are heading to Japan in Autumn so probably won’t have the beautiful snowy backdrop, but I think it will still be worth the trip to see these amazing monkeys.
    Thanks so much for your in-depth Japan posts, can’t wait to see all these places for ourselves later in the year.

  • Loving all this information! We are wanting to tie in the Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo next year – late March – as well as seeing snow monkeys in the snow – Im guessing this isnt really possible from Tokyo as much of the snow will have gone by the time late March rolls around, but happy to travel north to experience the snow monkeys in the actual snow – any suggestions on where would be easy to get too – Im thinking an overnight train up north somewhere, a day with the snow monkeys then back to Tokyo the next day??! Thanks!

    • The only place we’ve found to see the Japanese Macaque in the wild like this has been in Nagano, either staying up there or doing the day trip from Tokyo. For this destination the cherry blossom and snow don’t align, you really want February for the snow but late March/early April for the blossom in most of Japan.

  • Hi,

    Just wanted to say THANKS for this really informative post! In planning for my trip for my family later this year, this is definitely the most helpful blog I’ve come across so far 🙂

  • hi, we are going in April to see the snow monkeys with two children. how long did it take to walk from the bus up to the monkeys? we are planning to catch the express train just before 9am to get there by 10am, and then were planning on leaving by 12:30. Just not sure if we are cutting our time short.

    • Hi Rob, it was 20-30 minutes from memory but we were looking for monkeys the whole way and stopped for photos a few times. It was also the day after heavy snow when we were there, the path had been cleared but we were watching our step not being used to the conditions.

  • Hello
    We would love to see the snow monkeys. Would it be worth going in June we are in Tokyo from 12th-17th June? Do you thinks we will be able to see many monkeys?


    • As with any wild animals, there are no guarantees but the snow monkeys live in the forest all year round. The landscape and experience in summer would be very different from seeing them in the snow but many people do make the trip in other seasons.

  • So excited, going on Wednesday! Any other tips recommended for the area or Nagano? Love your blog, so informative!

    • Thanks Miia! Have a fabulous time, I hope you get some fabulous weather for it and maybe a few babies too, we were really surprised even in the midst of winter to still see a few very young ones with their mum. We spent too much time with the monkeys to do much else but a local lunch in the village is nice and if you have an interest in temples Zenkoji is about a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bus from Nagano station, it has a 1400 year history so might be an interesting short addition. Matsumoto Castle in Nagano prefecture is one of the best original castles still in Japan but that’s over an hour further on the train from Nagano station so more than we’d be able to fit into the one day unless we were staying in Nagano. Have fun!

  • Hi. Thanks for this very informative post. We have just returned tonight from a day trip to the Snow Monkeys from Tokyo. Your instructions are pretty much perfect and made the day an easy return trip. Thanks again and keep up the great writing. Paul.

    • Thanks Paul. I really appreciate the feedback and so pleased you enjoyed the trip out to see them. I love your photography and hope you got some wonderful memories and photos from your day.

  • Hi 🙂
    I wanted to take some photos of the monkeys. Are you relatively close to them or would you need a zoom lense to capture them?

    Thanks so much.

    • The monkeys pretty much ignore people so you can be reasonably close. Perhaps not a phone camera but you don’t need a big zoom, we actually had the opposite issue and had to head back to the hut to change out our big zoom lenses for smaller ones.

  • Hi,
    strange question… what shoes did you wear?
    I’m thinking of changing my itinerary to see the snow monkeys with my 3 kids. We are going in Jan and not skiing, so will not have skiboots.

    • Sally I wore my gortex hiking shoes which are waterproof and ideal for that but we were spending a bit of time that trip in the snow making them worth carrying. Otherwise I’d probably just wear leather topped sneakers and take fresh warm socks to change into on the way home, mesh topped runners would probably be a bit wet and cold but the snow was quite powdery and not as wet as I expected.

  • Big thbanks guys, we used this guide to see the snow monkeys at the end of Summer, we did it in a day trip from Tokyo with JR Passes and the Snow Monkey one day pass. Set off at 8 this morning, we lost 30min nearly going to Nagoya because we had booked seats but not checked what we were getting the day before so it was 8:30 before we were on the right train. (When we realised the mistake we just went and rebooked with someone who spoke English better at the JR booking desk). I would suggest you don’t need to spend more than half an hour with the monkeys when they are in abundance as they were on our visit today. Lots of happy monkey snaps and we had time for a leasurely lunch at one of the restaurants on the way back. Hotel home soon after 6pm.

  • I love your blog, it is extremely helpful for planning my first trip to Japan 🙂
    We will be in Japan from 13.10 until 3.11, I was planning to see the snow monkey at the beginning of our trip but not sure how likely is to see them around middle of Oct vs. beginning of November, what would you recommend?
    Thank you very much

    • Hi Marie, the monkeys are in the forest there all year around. They do congregate in and around the onsen more in the winter so there is possibly a bigger group but you should see them on your dates, a couple of weeks won’t make a big difference. As an example it is now the heat of summer and very hot and humid in Japan, the time I would expect to see the least monkeys out in the open area as they like to stay more in the forest and the monkey webcam is still showing a couple around the pool area. Do watch in the trees along the path as you walk in too. Have fun.

  • Hi, thank you so much for writing this blog, the photos are fantastic and have convinced me to go there, there is so much useful information i have bookmarked every page/link for our trip late march-early april 2018!

    We would really like to see the snow monkeys but are wondering just how much snow there will be during this time, my mum is 86 so wouldnt want her to do the walk up the hill even in good weather though she might insist!

    Out base is Kyoto and were planning on taking the bullet train early one morning to visit Tokyo for one night- for the ‘experience’ but not sure whether to then travel on and stay in a Ryokan in Hakone so we can take an Onsen in or near and then visit the monkeys on the following day, sounds like a lot but im hoping you think its do-able using trains (JR pass). Do you think there will be snow/monkeys at this time?

    • Hi Jan, while snow isn’t unheard of in March and April it is unlikely, it’s starting to warm up by then and the obstacle is more likely the track being a little muddy rather than snow. The monkeys themselves are there all year round and seem to enjoy their onsen in all weather.

      Going from Tokyo to Hakone then Nagano would involve some back-tracking so unless there is some other reason I would suggest the route Kyoto – Hakone (Odawara is the bullet train station) – Tokyo – Nagano to keep the flow going (or swap Tokyo and Nagano aroumd), It is a lot of time in the train but I do find them so much more comfortable and relaxing than the same time in a plane. In December we got back to Hakone and spent some time at the Hakone Yuryo onsen resort, such a relaxing experience and if your accommodation didn’t have it’s own onsen (or you are on a day trip) I would recommend it, you can have a private onsen room for the two of you if you aren’t wanting the communal baths, they are lovely with open air views of nature. I must get the photos from that trip sorted and put a post up. Have a wonderful trip, the 7 day JR pass would be the most cost effective way to do that route.

    • Thankyou so much for All this info, it’s really helpful to discuss things with someone so knowledgeable about the country! I think we will go for a private Onsen – it sounds like a unique experience!

  • This post has helped me so much. I’m heading to Japan this coming Feb and am currently planning all my day trips. The Snow Monkeys is top of my list as I didn’t get to see them last trip! What time of year did you visit them?

    Thank you so much, thanks for all the wonderful Japan info!

        • Hi Kerrie, I have an autoimmune condition that causes some joint issues that impact my sacrum and knees and found it relatively easy even in the light snow. It is a track so a little uneven underfoot, there is a gradient but not steep up or down hill, if you take it easy I think you would be fine.

  • Wonderful blog!
    My daughter and I will be going to Japan the end of December and beginning of January. We are busy planning and researching. Your blog provided us with so much great info! Thank you!

    We are going to New Zealand in March. Life is good!

    I am a novice blogger myself and I appreciate your hard work.

    • Hi Jane, it’s really a matter of personal choice. The monkeys are in the area all year around although congregate in and around the onsen more in winter time. We love it as a winter destination as it’s so magical and beautiful covered in heavy snow.

  • We have been to Tokyo and Kyoto and Okinawa and my whole family fell in-love to JAPAN, we wish to come back this dec to see the Snow Monkeys. Your blog have helped me plan our trip to Nagano Japan.

  • Thanks for the information, we are travelling there in January next year and the snow monkeys are on top of the list. One question though, with the 1 day pass can we travel there by the express bus and then take our time on the way back by using the bus and train to Nagano or does it have to be the same mode of transport both ways?

  • We’ll be traveling from Kyoto. Do you think it is a better idea to take a day trip to Nagano once we get to Tokyo or would you recommend Kyoto-Nagano-Tokyo itinerary? And JR pass would be worth it? Thankssss!

    • It is 3.5 – 4 hours to Nagano from Kyoto station vs around 1.5 from Tokyo. If doing it as a day trip it will depend on how long you want to spend with the monkeys, what else you want to do in Nagano and on the time of year. If you allow for also taking care of your luggage at Nagano station if you are in transit from Kyoto to Tokyo (locker?) it will be a little longer again. If you are planning to use the direct bus not the train/bus combo your departure times for that will be quite limited. For me, this wouldn’t allow me the time I’d want to see the monkeys and have a look around the city, especially in winter as the days are short. If I had the time I would do the Tokyo option but then we do like to spend much longer with the monkeys than most people and we are self-confessed slow travellers. Perhaps use the Hyperdia website with a realistic departure time for you from Kyoto station and through to Yudanaka to see how you feel about the timeframe, just be aware it allows sufficient time for efficient transfers between platforms and stations, at Nagano particularly that is usually not enough if you want to do other things. An advantage of the Kyoto option is that you take a different newer route via Kanazawa through to Nagano.

  • Hi,

    This is very helpful! I will be travelling alone to Japan by 2nd week of February and I will take a side trip to Nagano. Just to confirm, from Nagano station- after I buy the one day pass, I’d need to take Nagano Dentetsu limited express train to Yudanaka station? Then take the bus from there to Kanbayashi Onsen? All covered by the pass to and from Kanbayashi Onsen?

    Thank you

  • Hi Guys, thanks for the story the snow monkeys look great , we are ltravelling in August this year, will the monkeys still be around ?, we are also then planning on travelling to Hokkaido, using our JR pass, you mentioned you had been to Sapporo, what about anywhere else to see whilst we are up there ?We would like to see a lot of the area in 3 weeks

    • Hi Martin, the monkeys are in that area all year around although I understand you do see more of them in and around the onsen during the winter time than summer. Our only visit to Hokkaido so far has been for 3 days during the snow festivals so we didn’t get beyond Sapporo and Otaru. During August will be fabulous for exploring up there, we’d love to see more of the area.

  • I have a question and hopefully no one asked you before.

    I check on the internet, there is an express bus from Nagano Station to Snow Monkey Park which will take about 41 minutes and the bus fare is Y1400 for one way. I think this will be simpler for travellers who don’t speak English because he/she does not need to worry about missing a stop and has to backtrack. Am I correct?

    I would like to hear your opinion on this because I want to make sure that I find the easiest way to get there.

    Here is the website where I got my information from:

    Thank you very much for sharing such a valuable information with us. Your article is an excellent article.

    • Hi Ananda, we’ve recently updated the article to include the express bus option again and also a tourist pass that can save some cost. An earlier version of the direct bus only operated at some times of year and some days which could be confusing. Either the bus or train option can be done with the 1-day-pass at the exact same price. Which you use will depend on your priorities and travel style. We don’t speak Japanese but personally would find either option as easy as the other despite that. The bus option is slightly quicker and it’s a tourist coach so reasonably comfortable however the timetable is a little less flexible and can feel a bit like being on an organised tour which some will prefer. We personally choose the local transport experience, travelling independently and more flexibility, we equally found the train was very comfortable and scenic. For others the express bus may be the better option, if you have young children for example or have concerns with the connection to the local bus it takes out a step. Which ever way you choose to go have a fabulous time.

    • Hi, we caught the bus today from Nagano to Snow Monkey Park. Beware as some people couldn’t get on as it was full. Many were going on to snow fields. It is also very cosy when full! The plus side is that it goes direct to the park. Just get in line early – bus stop 23.

      Thanks 2 Aussie Travellers for the great information which we have used during our first visit to Japan. The snow monkeys are absolutely amazing to watch.

        • There was a huge amount during the previous week which closed the park for a few days so we were very lucky to have lots of snow still on the trees and the trip from Nagano was totally white with most roofs and all but the roads still heavily covered. Great sight for us Aussies!

  • Hi thanks for all the great information. I have 2 days in Tokyo at the beginning of April. I was planning a day trip to Hakone but am thinking of changing it to go here. What are you thoughts on which place would be best to see. I’ll have a JR pass. Will there still be snow to see the monkeys that time of year? Thanks!

  • Is it at all possible to get closer than a 3 km walk to see the Snow Monkeys, My hubby and I are in our 80’s and don’t get around too well but would love to see them in their bath. We will have a personal car and driver so would he be able to get us to a spot closer than you explained. Thanks for any help you can give me.

    • Hi Heather, there was a Ryokan (local style hotel) across the river almost opposite the monkey park and there was a bridge across for their guests so there must be a road to access that. If you have a local driver perhaps he could make arrangement to access from there. Also of course in the winter snow it is a little less stable underfoot so be very careful if you go at that time. I can very close to a bad fall on the ice in Sapporo not being used to winter conditions.

  • I am planning a trip for my mom’s 60th birthday and found your blog incredibly informative, thank you!
    A couple of questions if I may 🙂
    – Why did you want an overnight in Nagano? Something I should look into?
    – Did you go/see anything else on this day except the snow monkeys? The town itself perhaps?
    – You write that Kyoto is your favorite city, for a limited first time visit how many days seem like a reasonable time to dedicate to the city itself excluding any day trips?

    Thank you for reading and hopefully having a chance to reply 🙂

    • Thanks Anna. I would have liked to overnight in Nagano for a couple of reasons, I could have spent even longer with the monkeys, although we spent way longer than most people do. Also Zenkoji temple had a light up festival at the time of year that I would have stayed for and Matsumoto Castle is a very beautiful original castle that we haven’t made it to yet and would like to see. We spent a bit of time wandering around Nagano itself and the Yudanaka Shiba Onsen area near the snow monkeys – plus our unintentional trip out to the Shiga Kogen ski resort 🙂 We do love Kyoto but for a first time visitor it would depend what you want to see and the season. Do you have any particular places or categories of things you’d like to include?

      • Thank you!
        Well, we have made a decision to have them divide the time between Tokyo and Kyoto in (approximately) half and do day trips because it allows for more flexibility in terms of weather, tiredness and special events/circumstances as well as minimizes packing/unpacking/moving.
        I think they would want a bit of everything, some nature, some shopping, some museums/temples/castles, lots of walking 🙂


  • Thanks for all the wonderful info. I think I will do the Hakone trip, as snow is an important part of the monkey trip, although I do love the animals also. What I save on the extended JR pass I can spend on the expensive ryokan (with private onsen) and take my time on the sights. Just have to hope it’s great weather and Fuji is on full display. Thanks again. Barb

    • Hello. Thank you for such wonderful information. We are going to Japan on our Honeymoon at the beginning of January. We’d love to go to the snow monkeys for the day – and stay the night in a traditional Onsen / Ryokan for the night. Which town would you recommend staying in nearby? Many thanks Laura

      • Hi Laura, all the best for your wedding, what a great choice for the honeymoon too. We’ve not stayed out there yet but if it’s mainly about seeing the snow monkeys you have a few choices. There is a Ryokan with onsen directly opposite the snow monkey park (think it is called Korakukan) so staying there you will probably see monkeys around the accommodation grounds too. Alternatively the little village at the start of the walk in, and where we take the bus to is called Kanbayashi Onsen and there are a couple of other options there so you can walk in and out from there to the park without other transport or the third option a bit further out again would be Yadanaka which is the township with the nearest train station and from there you’d take about a 10 minute bus trip to Kanbayashi Onsen where you start the walk in during winter. Have fun!

  • Loved all your Japan entries, now I am in a quandry. I have a free weekend while I am in Tokyo in December and am tossing up between a visit to the monkeys of Halkone for the 2 days. I want to do the full Onsen bit with a stay in a traditional Ryokan and have some sight seeing and wondered which you would chose. I can extend to a longer JR pass for the trip to the monkeys and that would be a cheaper option than Hakone (accom wise), but it’s hard to decide which offers the best value. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    • Hi Barb, what a great dilemma to have! It really will come down to personal choice and what you like to do most. We enjoyed both places as you may have read on the site 🙂 Even with the benefit of hindsight I would find it hard to say if I could have only done one which it would have been. Probably for me it would be the monkeys but we love natural places and wildlife and we had the perfect conditions for it. I understand there is usually snow on the ground in December near the snow monkeys but not blanketed in snow like it will be later in the season. That said we did both as (long) day trips and you have more time to spend, there is more to do in Hakone but if you want more time relaxing around your onsen then that won’t be as important. In Hakone the rope-way and geothermal area at the top was excellent and one of our favourite parts. The rope-way has been closed for a while recently but I am told it is open again although they are still monitoring the gas levels and there are some warnings against using it with certain medical conditions that you might want to check. If it’s an important part of the decision on whether you go to Hakone you might want to check on their site closer to the time. Have fun!

  • Hi I am glad I stumbled upon your post. What beautiful pics of the snow monkeys! I am in the middle of planning out itinerary for our first time to Japan trip. I plan on travelling to Nagano as we all want to experience the snow and spend three days there and definitely go to see the snow monkeys too. Do you think I need to book a tour from Nanago to see the snow monkeys or will it be quite easy to get there from Nagano? We intend to stay in Hakuba. Any feedback would be appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Melissa, that sounds like a great trip, although the monkeys do come down to the onsen all year around we think they are best visted during the snow season. They have tours running from Hakuba to the snow monkeys so you won’t need to do it out of Nagano unless you want to. I think if you want to do it independently with public transport you’d have to come into Nagano and out of there.

  • HI,

    We hope to see the Snow Monkeys on our visit in July. We bought tickets for the bullet train to go to Kyoto from Tokyo. Will that same train take us to Nagano? We bought a 7 day pass for the train. I hate to have to buy another one, but I’m not sure if we can take the train to Nagano? Do you know? We would appreciate any suggestions you can provide.

    • Hi Denise, Your Japan trip sounds fabulous. The train ticket you purchased sounds like the Japan Rail Pass as it’s for 7 days and you are able to be use it on the Kyoto to Tokyo route. If it is then that ticket can be used on all Japan Rail trains, not just the bullet trains (shinkansen). It is what we used to do the trip to Nagano and the snow monkeys. If you go back to the post I covered towards the bottom how to get from Tokyo to the snow monkeys and have included in there a link to the Hyperdia site. Hyperdia is an English resource for the Japanese transport network that will help you find the details for your specific day and time of travel. There are also maps in the post to Tokyo and Nagano stations to help orient you and to find your connections quickly.

      • Thank you for your quick response. We are excited to take our 17 year old to Japan to see the history and explore the culture. I am looking forward to seeing the snow monkeys. Curious how long of a day was it for you? I think I read it took 3 hours to get there? Thanks again for your advice and help.

        We hope to go to Australia Christmas of 2017. I’d love to hear any advice you could offer. Thanks

        Seattle, WA.

        • It will be an incredible experience for a teenager to get to do. I think all up the transit that day was about 3 hours each way which sounds a lot but it didn’t really feel like it. It was 90 minutes on the bullet train, 50 minutes on the local train and 15 minutes on the bus so by the time we allowed a little transit time between each 3 hours sounds about right. We got the bullet train from Tokyo just before 6.30am (we’re morning people so that worked for us) which meant we were in Nagano at 8am and continued straight on to the monkeys. We spent a lot of time with the monkeys watching and photographing them, much longer than most people would. We had a coffee and very late lunch once we were back in Nagano and time for a quick trip out to Zenkoji temple because I was really fascinated by its history. We had planned to explore Nagano city into the evening but it was middle of winter and snowing so we got a 4pm train back to Tokyo arriving about 5.30pm. It’s only 80-90 minutes back from there so you could easily have dinner in Nagano and still be back in Tokyo at a reasonable hour.

          Have a wonderful Japan trip. There is plenty more information on the site about other parts of Japan if you are interested especially on cultural and natural aspects. Are you going to have the chance to get out to Kyoto or other cities?

          I’m just starting to build our Australia base of articles now so take a look around and let us know if you have any questions. It’s a huge country, have you decided what parts of the country you want to focus on, cities, beaches, outback?

  • Hi, is it advisable to tag along a 2 year old with us on this Snow monkey trip?
    So one way, it would take around 3 hours to reach the park right from tokyo? (including the shinkansen and local train ride). We will be in Tokyo this coming December. does it always Snow in the park or nagano area? Thanks

    • Hi Jan, that does add some extra complexity. I’ve never travelled with a 2 year old but I imagine it adds another world of planning :). We were happy with so much snow was there when we went, it was February, the day after a blizzard and still snowing. We knew that and were excited by those conditions, we had the gear for it as we’d been north in Sapporo beforehand and it was what we’d hoped for. While there is snow in the region throughout winter (Dec to Feb) what’s in our photos is a whole lot more than you’re likely to see there in December. Personally I don’t think I’d attempt it as a day trip with a toddler. It’s a fantastic day and children would probably love the monkeys but it’s a long day, lots of travel time, not much chance for a nap and quite a bit of walking. It would depend on the child of course, and as I say I don’t have a lot of experience with that 🙂 Have a wonderful time in Japan, we really enjoyed visiting in winter.

  • Hi so glad I found your site.

    Did you pre-book any parts of your trip to see the snow monkeys?

    We are a family of four, kids are teenagers and great travelers, so train hopping won’t be an issue.

    Thank you

    • Hi Will, the only pre-booking we did was buying a JR pass which needs to be done before leaving your home country if you are going to use one. Then the day before we booked seats on the bullet train to Nagano. We really only did it because we wanted the first train and we were in the station anyway, it wasn’t necessary but with the JR pass booking tickets is a free service so there’s no disadvantage. We didn’t book the return trip as we wanted flexibility on when we came back which was good as we spent longer out there than we would have expected and decided to stay for dinner in Nagano before coming back. We usually book at least the outbound tickets on the bullet train but over the years we’ve only once had a situation when we might not have got a seat on the departure we wanted without the booking. Have a fabulous trip!

  • It’s even easier now. I a sitting on the ‘snow monkey express’ from Nanango to yudanaka right now, I bought a specific ticket at the Nanango (denctu? Line) ticket office. Train trip up to yadanaka and back, bus up and back and entry to the park, as many trips as you like on the bus and train, Y2900 for adult and Y1450 for children. It’s rather imaginatively called ‘ Snow monkey one day pass.’

    • Hi Stewart, thanks for the new information, I’ll take a look into that and update the post for future readers and our next trip. I guess that means it has become a lot more popular too if they are running a destination specific pass. I hope you have a wonderful day up there!

  • The snow monkeys were so cute! I paid for a tour from Nagano. It was worth it and included stops at a shrine in Nagano and for lunch. We had an hour at the onsen with the monkeys which was plenty on a cold snowy day. Looks like you had even more snow!

  • I am so happy I stumbled upon this! I was looking into tours from Tokyo to Jigokudani, which are quite pricey. Thanks to your detailed post, I’m pretty sure I can do this trip on my own for half the cost. I am considering spending a night in Kanbayashi Onsen. Do you think I’d have any problem taking my luggage with me?

    • Hi Sage, it would be wonderful to stay at Kanbaysahi so you can see the monkeys early or later in the day when it will have far fewer people. We’ve travelled with large luggage on the shinkansen many times and never had an issue, also on the local train from Nagano it was not busy (we were not in peak hour) so we could have managed luggage there if we had it. The buses in Japan are very cramped though you couldn’t take suitcases onboard easily. Perhaps the ryokan has a pickup service from the station or otherwise have you considered a small overnight bag for your stay and using takuhaibin (lugguage forwarding service) to send on your bags directly on to the next destination. Bags usually arrive the next day so it works well if you want to do an overnight stop in a less easily accessible spot. If you are returning to the same city several hotels have offered to hold our excess bags in their lockup so that might be an option? Enjoy your trip, I hope you enjoy the monkeys as much as we did!

  • Hi, saw your post and love to take kids to go and see these snow monkeys. We stay in Meiji jingumae (shibuya) we only have tomorrow and the day after free (30-31 December 2015) to do this one day tour. Is it possible to help us how to get there, we’ve been spending hours at information desk and still no one knows how to get there at this time of the year. Thanks sooo much for your help!

    • Hi Jenny, There are so many options based on the time you want to leave but if you ask the info desk to pull up the hyperdia website and plug in the date you want to go, earliest time you want to leave, Meiji Jingumae station and Yudanaka station it will give you the options. I’ve found Hyperdia to be very accurate in the options offered, it takes into account schedule changes for weekends and public holidays. From Yudanaka I’d get the local bus right outside the station, the info desk at the station has someone who speaks English who took us right to the bus we wanted, or you could show them a picture of a snow monkey. Foreign tourists getting on the bus were generally going one of two places, the snow monkeys or the ski resort at the end of the line. You don’t want to miss the snow monkey stop or you’ll have a long round trip and an extra cost but the driver will point it out to you if you tell him where you want to go. Hope you enjoy your last couples of days in Japan 🙂

  • Hi

    After reading your interesting article on Snow Monkeys at Nagano. We planning to visit the park on 1 Jan 2016.

    We wonder whether the park is open on Japan New Year day ? We also want to have a onsen experience too.. Do you have any recommendation ?

    Appreciate it you can advise us.

    Best regards
    Ms Wong

    • I’ve not been to the park on New Year but from what I can see online it’s open every day. New Years day is an important holiday in Japan when people have that time with family and many go to the shrine so many businesses will be shut. Have a fabulous trip!

  • I thought that i would have to take a tour to see these incredible monkeys, but it looks as if one can do it on their own. I am a solo senior lady traveller, with not a very good sense of direction . Do the trains run each day for the area and how far would I need to book in advance? I have a JR pass which finishes on the 27th November, the last day i could do this tour on my return to Tokyo. Is there any areas I need to be watchful of in case of getting lost? Can you get English info anywhere at the stations and places to change? I am staying in the Ginza main area, so I think the Tokyo station is close by? Or would I get a train into this main station from there?
    Thanks so much for your amazing posts.

    • Hi Anna. You will definitely be able to do it on your own if you want to. Use and plug in Tokyo station and Yudanaka, the date you’re going and earliest train you’re prepared to catch from Tokyo. It will return a variety of results, the first one should be the one that gets you there earliest. So if I put the details in now for a 7am start tomorrow I get the 7.20 bullet train to Nagano, about 20 minutes to walk out of Nagano station and into the local one which is heaps of time, then a 9.04 train will have you there just before 10am. At Yudanaka they have an English speaking person to assist with directions on which bus and ticket to get. Bus drivers often don’t speak English so maybe have a picture of the snow monkeys to show him where you are going and watch the time, the sign is out the left hand side of the bus. You won’t need to pre book train tickets unless it’s a holiday weekend but we do book the bullet train as it makes it quicker when you want an early start. Ginza should be a good location for access to Tokyo station, depending where you stay probably only about 1-2km so you could walk or take the subway from a closer station if you want to. Have a wonderful trip, it’s a great time to be in Tokyo too, should have some lovely autumn leaf colours. I’d love to hear how your visit goes.

  • Hi! I loved reading your review of the Nagano Snow Monkey trip you took! We are going to Tokyo for Christmas December 25th-30th and my goal is to take a trip to Nagano and see the snow monkey’s as well as the Zenko-Ji Temple. A few questions, we won’t be doing the JR Pass as we are only doing this one day trip given our limited amount of time. I hopped onto the HyperDia to have a look and many trains are open leaving from Tokyo to Nagano. My question is do you feel we would need to have a guide to cover both the shrine and the snow monkey park in one day or would it be easy for us to navigate doing this on our own? Also, when we get into the Nagano Train Station if we didn’t have a tour guide right there waiting, how would we go about getting ourselves to these two sites? One more question…sorry! Would you recommend a day trip as well to Hakone, if so do you have an itinerary on getting from Tokyo to Hakone? I am a very active traveller so I really do like to pack a lot into trips. Also, any tips for a first-time traveller 🙂 Thank you and fantastic blog! -Joanna

    • Hi Joanna, we don’t use tour guides personally and you can easily fit the snow monkeys and Zenko-ji into the day trip on your own if you’re prepared to have an early start out of Tokyo. Zenko-ji is about 3.5 km from Nagano station so you can walk or take the bus which leaves from outside the station and takes about 10 minutes. I’d go to the monkeys first (directions to get there are in the post) then come back through to the station and out to the temple as it will be cold in December and the days shorter so you’ll probably be ready for a hot drink by then.

      We enjoyed Hakone but at the moment the ropeway up to geo-thermal area is closed with no dates for re-opening. This post on Hakone or this one on the Hakone free pass might help. The ropeway and Owakudani was the section of the trip we enjoyed most so I would probably opt to go somewhere else myself until that reopens. Having said that it does depend what you enjoy most if you love onsen then Hakone is a good location easily accessible from Tokyo. As an alternative for a daytrip we enjoyed Nikko which has a good balance of temples, history and nature.

      Please let me know if you have any other questions and have a fantastic trip!

  • Thank you for such great information. I wouldn’t have known where to start. We are a family of five and going to Tokyo and Kyoto in January. We’re staying in Shinjuku. Just a bit worried about all the transport connections but hopefully we’ll be able to get there.

    • Hi Jeanine, I’m sure you’ll be fine and it’s so worth while, it would be such an amazing experience for children to see them in the wild like this. It was very different to our previous experiences seeing monkeys in Bali and other parts of Asia. If you have any questions I’ve not covered let me know. Enjoy your trip!

  • My husband and I are planning a trip to Japan next January and while he is excited at the prospect of sushi and snowboarding all I want to do is spend a day watching the Japanese Macaques! Beautiful images 🙂

    • Thanks Kira, I’m not a cold weather person at all but Japan in the winter time is stunning. If your husband is a snowboarder he’ll love it. I couldn’t get over how soft the snow was and how much of it fell so it was always fresh, clean and powdery. Have a great trip!

    • Thanks Jennifer, I hope you enjoy it if do go as much as we did. I’m sure the eye contact is only if you stare for an extended time, it’s not something we were particularly conscious of but apparently in the monkey world it’s an aggressive act, like a challenge.

    • Hi Ben, It was kind of cold but I was so excited to finally be there I didn’t really notice it until we were waiting for the bus back down to the station in the late afternoon. That trip to Japan was my first time actually in snow, before that I’d only ever seen a few flakes fall on previous spring trips so it was all a bit of a novelty.

  • I think i wrote this somewhere… but, I want to go to this place so much. I love your pictures, the type of light and brown / red color and the snow makes just the perfect combination. I’m in love with this place and their monkeys. WOW

    • Ha Ha, no you don’t need to worry, it’s a sustained stare they wouldn’t like. They also don’t disturb easily, we were really close, a baby climbed out directly in front of me and kept walking because they aren’t fed by people they just didn’t interact which is what I want in a wildlife experience.

  • Beautiful pictures! I’ve seen those monkeys so many times in travel or animal programs. So happy for you that you’ve seen them in real. I hope one day I’ll have the opportunity, too! 🙂

  • You know, several times I have seen this on TV and I really want to go. I am so thrilled you were there and the photos are great. We still have it on our list and will get there someday.

  • Utterly BEAUTIFUL photos – and one of the most interesting, alternative blog travel posts I’ve seen in a long while. I want to see the Snow Monkeys for myself. Magical 🙂

  • !!! Call me crazy but as a wildlife lover this is #1 on my list of things to do after visiting Tokyo! Glad to hear it was great day trip and thanks for the info on JR Pass, will have to look into it.

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