Snow Monkey Hot Springs, Nagano
Nagano is home to a number of onsen villages were you can enjoy soaking in natural hot spring spas. The area is most famous for its "snow monkeys", wild Japanese monkeys who enjoy soaking in the natural spas just like the human visitors!
Jigokudani Monkey Park is the chosen home of more than one hundred Japanese Macaques, Japan's indigenous monkeys. The park is located in a valley, named "Hell Valley" for the volcanic activities to be observed there, and features a hot spring pool for exclusive use by monkeys.
The monkeys enjoy bathing especially during the cold winter months, when the air temperature drops below freezing and the valley is covered by a thick layer of snow. But even in the summer they take occasional baths.
Not far from the monkey spa, Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen villages are great places for to stay in a traditional wooden Japanese inn and experience for yourself why the monkeys love relaxing in the onsen! Several ski resorts are located not far from Yudanaka, most prominently Shiga Kogen, site of some Winter Olympics events in 1998.
Access: There are two approaches to the Monkey Park: one requires a 25-35 minute walk through the forest, while the other requires a 10-15 minute walk from the nearest parking lot.
The first approach involves taking a bus to Kanbayashi Onsen from Yudanaka Station (10-15mins, 1-2 buses per hour), Shibu Onsen (5-10mins, 1-2 buses per hour) or Nagano Station (40 minutes, 4-10 buses per day). Buses along the Yudanaka-Kanbayashi Line stop at "Kanbayashi Onsen" bus stop, while other buses stop at "Kanbayashi Onsen-guchi" bus stop, a short walk away. From Kanbayashi Onsen, a 25-35min walking trail leads to the monkey park. The walking trail is passable around the year, but sturdy footwear is recommended especially in winter.
The alternative approach involves a 10-15 minute walk from a paid parking lot just to the west of the monkey park. However the narrow road from Shibu Onsen to the parking lot is not served by public transportation and gets closed in winter.
Some hotels and ryokan in Yudanaka and Shibu offer free shuttle buses to the park for their guests.
Further information: Jigokudani Monkey Park