The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park In Nagano Japan

Jigokudani Monkey Park is famous for the Japanese Macaques, more commonly known as snow monkeys. These monkeys are very social, and they love bathing in the natural hot springs.

The snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park are accustomed to humans, so you may get close and capture some beautiful photographs of the monkeys.

This park was founded to help the recovery and preservation of the snow monkey species. As it stands, the goal has been successful. The Japanese Macaques have been currently listed as a “least concern” species.

Entrance to Snow Monkey Park (Jigokudani)

Despite their name, snow monkeys at Jigokudani Monkey Park are active year-round, including summer. These social Macaques will visit the hot springs all year long, although they frequent the hot springs more often during wintertime.

Monkeys require warmth to survive the brutally cold Japanese winter months, so they seek out the hot springs.

What is Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park?

Jigokudani Monkey Park is a famous park in Nagano, that a man named Sogo Hara established in 1949 as a refuge for Japanese Macaques. The Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of the most frequently visited tourist attractions in Japan. 

The adorable snow monkeys have drawn people from across the world, hoping for a chance to get a glimpse of these precious monkeys. From photographers to curious visitors, people worldwide come to see them. 

A group of snow monkeys enjoying the warm water spring

This park lets you observe one of Japan’s most loved monkeys from a distance and occasionally up close. These monkeys form strong bonds with each other. It is common to see these social snow monkeys gather in groups at the hot springs and then warm up during winter.

The history of Jigkudani Monkey Park 

Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is a prominent part of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. This national park was established in 1949, located in a mountainous region between several active and dormant volcanoes.

A man named Sogo Hara founded Jignokudani Snow Monkey Park after hiking through the valley. He reported that the terrain was harsh, and the smell of sulfur was overwhelming. On top of that, there were hot springs that local monkeys bathed in.

Tourist take up-close photos of the snow monkeys bathing in the hot springs

This mountainous area became a great concern for Hara once these monkeys were continuously stripped of their land as skiing became more popular in the Japanese community.

In 1964, Hara established the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park as an extended territory on the existing Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. This park is specifically dedicated to conserving the Japanese Macaques habitat.

Now, Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is more than a protected land for snow monkeys. This monkey park has become a world-renowned tourist attraction while maintaining its main purpose as a protected haven for snow monkeys.

Since Sogo Hara established this park, the population of snow monkeys has risen in Japan, from a threatened species to a species of least concern. 

The rise in its species, and continuous flourishment, is proof of Hara’s success.

Why did they name it “Jigokudani?

Jigokudani means “Hell’s Valley.” Many people say it resembles hell because of the many boiling hot springs emerging from the frozen grounds. This constant, rising steam and boiling water are regular relaxation pools for snow monkeys. But, from afar, they appear somewhat eerie and intimidating.

Since Jigokudani Monkey Park is lodged at the base of several active and dormant volcanoes, many people consider this to be a somewhat dangerous place because of the sulfur gases and potential volcanic activity.

Hell valley during heavy rain with dense sulfur gas

Exploring the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park

Thousands of people explore Jignokudani Snow Monkey Park each year. Visitors may stand at a very close distance to observe the Japanese Macaques as they take soothing baths in the natural hot springs.

The snow monkeys at Jignokudani Snow Monkey Park are very social. They love to bond and cuddle in groups inside hot springs, which make for excellent photographs. These peaceful monkeys are highly tolerant of humans, allowing visitors to observe them inside the National park year-round.

A large group of snow monkeys gathers in a hot spring in snow monkey park

The snow monkeys are the most active during wintertime when they must rely on the hot springs for warmth. Visiting during winter is great because the monkeys are active and the photographs are much better. 

Interacting with the snow monkeys 

Visitors can observe the adorable snow monkeys closely as the monkeys take soothing baths in the hot springs. The monkeys do not mind the human observation. In most cases, the Japanese Macaques will not pay much attention to the fact that you are there.

Interaction is limited to observing the snow monkeys from behind railings. Visitors cannot touch or feed the snow monkeys while visiting the park.

Japanese Macaques tend to ignore humans, which means you can safely take photos and view the monkeys. Especially during winter, the photographs of these snow monkeys are amazing.

Because these monkeys have no interest in humans, you should not expect them to pose or respond to your calls. However, there are private tours that let you learn more about the Japanese Macaques.

These tours from private tour guides can increase your chances of seeing the snow monkeys because of the trained park rangers who are allowed to feed the monkeys and to call them out into the open.

Snow Monkey Private Tours

When to Visit Jigokudani Monkey Park

Wintertime is the best time to visit Jignokudani Snow Monkey Park. The park is open year-round, but the snow monkeys are the most active in January and February.

A hiking trail is accessible year-round, even during winter. This trail is safe to hike and is about a 1-mile trek, even during wintertime on the snow-covered grounds as the trail is well maintained.

Snow monkeys soak in the hot springs during winter because they need the hot water to withstand the cold weather. Visiting the park during winter increases your chances of encountering snow monkeys.

In addition to the high activity, winter is a great time for photographers to capture a glimpse of Japan’s thermally active Hell Valley. The blankets of snow that cover the surrounding mountains and steam rising from the water create a very beautiful but eerie view.

The snow monkeys at Jignokudani Park are less active during other times of the year, but you may still see them. Seeing a snow monkey take a dip in the hot springs during warmer months might require waiting around for a bit. Or, you may ask a park ranger to help you lure them into the hot spring with a healthy treat.

Never feed a snow monkey yourself, or you can face a severe penalty in addition to being removed from the park.

Final Thoughts On Exploring Jigokudani Monkey Park

As one of Japan’s most frequented tourist attractions, the Jignokudani Snow Monkey Park is an amazing experience everyone must try. These precious monkeys gather in groups to take relaxing baths in the Jigokudani valley to warm themselves during the cold winter months.

The park was established in 1964 as an extension of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. Japanese Macaques in this park are free-roaming, with little attention paid to humans.

Snow Monkey Park Official Website

You can visit the park for free year-round to observe these monkeys as they relax in the warm hot springs. However, you cannot feed or touch the monkeys while visiting the park.

Snow Monkey Park Accommodations and Local Attractions Via Tripadvisor

The best time to visit is January and February when snow caps the mountains. These snow monkeys are the most active during this time. Snow monkeys come out year-round. However, in wintertime, they are the most active. Visitors can find them relaxing all day in the warm hot springs. People visit from across the world to watch these monkeys relax.

Virtual Visit To Snow Monkey Park

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.