So named because of the area’s eerie bubbling hot springs, harsh landscape, and snowy frigid climate, Jigokudani translates to “Hell’s Valley”. Snow covers the ground more than four months out of every year and the valley is lined with jagged cliffs, jutting over 2,500 feet into the air.
The park is most famous for its population of Japanese Macaques, also known as Snow Monkeys, the most northern living non-human primates.
Sometime in the early ’60s these clever characters decided to test the waters of the natural hot springs, and they’ve descended from the forest to warm up in their steamy discovery every winter since. Some of the hot springs even reach temperatures above 122 degrees Fahrenheit, which is perfect for warming monkeys along with visitors to the region.
Although not technically a religious site, the Snow Monkeys are popular in Japanese fables and are believed to be messengers of the Shinto mountain gods and rivers. Although the region is remote, there is no doubt that seeing monkeys on a spa retreat is probably a surreal and spiritual experience all on its own.
Know Before You Go
Jigokudani Monkey Park is located near Yamanouchi town. The closest large city is Nagano, which is about 40 to 45 minutes away. You can find an exact list of bus times to/from the snow monkey park at the Nagano train station. An express bus from Nagano is 1,400 yen to the park entrance. You can also take a local train from Nagano to Yudanaka Station and from there take a local bus or taxi to the park entrance. From the park entrance it is a 1.6 km walk to the park itself. Snow boots and jackets can be rented from the information center, as the ground can be slippery in the winter. Monkeys are fed during the morning, bath in the hot springs after, then head off into the night to sleep, so it's best to visit early to mid-day to get the view of both the feeding frenzy and the bathing. The park can be visited year round but winter is the best time to visit when everything is covered in snow.