“There are so many benefits to off-season travel in Japan if you’re willing to look.” ~ Alyse.
When I first realised I had the opportunity to visit the Jigokudani Monkey Park in summer, I got really excited. I love venturing off the beaten path in Japan so what a special experience it would be to see these interesting creatures bathing in natural hot springs in Nagano Prefecture. Suddenly, couldn’t wait to visit the snow monkeys in summer!
This excitement quickly turned to disappointment after discovering there would be no snow at the park’s altitude during my summer visit. After some hunting around in search engines, my disappointment about missing out on snow turned to indifference when I learnt there may be potential animal welfare risks.
I refused to believe these Japanese Macaques being mistreated was true; there had to be more to the story. So, after even more digging around the Internet, I soon realised that paying a visit to the snow monkeys in summer was actually going to be a GREAT idea. After all, I wasn’t going to know what it was like unless I made the trip myself, so my excitement began to return.
Little did I realise, summer is probably the best time to visit the snow monkeys for MANY reasons, and seeing them is a great addition to a 2 day Nagano itinerary. Read on to find out why!
This guide to visiting Jigokudani Monkey Park in summer will cover:
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Why was the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park created?
My tour leader from InsideJapan explained that the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park 地獄谷野猿公苑 wasn’t initially made to be a tourist attraction. It just happened to turn out that way! I also think it’s an important story to tell as it’s not one of exploitation after all; it’s one of conservation.
In the 1950’s Nagano was expanding its snow fields by cutting trees and building chair lifts, therefore encroaching on the monkey’s natural habitat. This led the monkeys to wander down to lower altitudes into areas inhabited by humans such as villages and farm areas.
You see, the Nagano region is famous for its delicious apples that are exported throughout Japan. Farmers were becoming quite disgruntled with furry visitors as the monkeys also realised that Nagano apples were delicious and started thieving them from farms, therefore putting their own lives at risk.
The snow monkey park was created to lure these Japanese Macaques away from the farmlands, and it worked very successfully. The monkeys are free to come and go as they please, but I guess the promise of easy food and the hot spring keeps them coming back.
Benefits of visiting the Jigokudani snow monkeys in summer
Do the snow monkeys visit the park in summer when there is no snow? Short answer: Yes – they absolutely do! Contrary to popular belief, the monkeys are here year-round. I’ve outlined my experience and the benefits for visiting the snow monkeys in summer in more detail below. Travelling during the off-season is so underrated!
The journey itself is incredibly beautiful
You’ve probably seen stunning imagery of the tree-lined paths to the monkey park covered in a blanket of snow. While I agree that would be especially stunning, the summer months have their own kind of beauty in the form of lush greenery and the sounds of distant rivers flowing.
Winding paths through the forest left me a little awestruck from the sights around each bend. I couldn’t help but feel I was exploring deep in a forest far from any civilisation at times, the forest looks so untouched (aside from the obvious path).
TIP: My morning walk meant that much of the forest was blanketed in a light mist that created an unusual, mystical feeling. I almost expected to see a fairy fluttering around!
It wasn’t long before the crispness of the morning alpine air was replaced with a damp warmth from the sun beginning to pierce its way through the trees – known as komorebi in Japanese. It also radiated from the warm water flowing in the canal by the path. The slight smell of sulphur from this just meant I was getting closer to my destination the stronger it got! But really, the smell isn’t overpowering at all, but it is there.
Summer climate in Nagano is especially pleasant
Visiting the snow monkeys in summer means there’s no need to rug up in multiple layers of clothing and heavy snow boots! You can expect the temperature in the sun to reach mid-20°C to low 30°C during the middle of the day, so you can pack light.
Wearing shorts and a T-shirt to the monkey park in summer is completely fine. Even though I arrived to commence the walk around 8am, the early morning temperature was crisp but not cold, meaning a lightweight cardigan was enough for me.
By the time I reached the monkeys outside the shade of the forest path, the sun was beaming and pleasant enough to take off my cardigan.
Crowds are minimal while snow monkeys are abundant
Obviously, this is called the snow monkey park, so you can expect visitors to be at their peak during the winter months. From photos I’ve seen online, these tourists are all clambering over one another to try and capture that iconic shot of the monkeys bathing in the hot spring.
Before the museum and ticket centre, there’s an opening in the forest where a huge river is flowing beside Korakukan Guesthouse. That’s where I saw my first monkeys going about their monkey business: Jumping off bridges, scaling rock ledges and running around freely in this setting.
TIP: Although it’s a park in name, it doesn’t feel like one in the traditional sense. The feeling is quite natural and I was pleased to see the monkeys had this abundance of space.
Once I made my way up the final set of stairs through the ticket centre, monkeys were hanging around the doorway and on the roof. Aside from these monkeys, it took a little while to spot more as I walked along the path.
I soon realised that the snow monkeys in summer are so camouflaged against the rocks without the white snow as contrast! And suddenly there were DOZENS!
Speaking of an abundance of monkeys… The BABIES
Considering summer is the only time of year to see newborn babies, let this be reason enough to visit! If you’re after a dose of cuteness overload, Jigokudani Monkey Park in summer is where you’ll find it.
My goodness, they are so adorable to watch as they start to learn about their world around them through play.
It’s also super cute to witness the mothers hugging their babies and carrying them on their backs around the park. I’ll let these photos speak for themselves… KAWAII かわいい !!!
Tips for planning a visit to the snow monkeys in summer
Before my visit to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, as usual I did my research and discovered that the track during summer would be a little muddy and it was better to visit in the morning around opening time rather than in the afternoon. I can confirm both these things!
Wear and bring the appropriate gear
The track to the park is 1.6 kilometres from the parking area. There is gravel in parts and it can be muddy in some sections of the track, so wear appropriate shoes. I personally wore sandals as I do everywhere, but keep this in mind if you don’t want muddy feet.
In saying that, near the toilets in the car park there is a tap with running water equipped with a scrubbing brush to wash the mud from your shoes before you hop back in your car!
As the summer months in Japan are considered the rainy season, I recommend bringing an umbrella to shield you from rain or even the dew drops throughout the forest as you make your way to the park. A compact umbrella you can fit in your handbag is a good idea to have in Japan during summer. You take it in and out a lot as the rain constantly comes and goes.
TIP: Do remember to either bring some insect repellant or spray it on before you start your journey to the monkey park. The pathway is notorious for tiny flying insects and mosquitoes.
Visit in the morning, preferably not long after the park opens
At the park in the morning, the keepers sprinkle ample food/seeds around the area so the monkeys are keen to come down to the viewing areas and find it all. From what I’ve read, in the afternoon (especially near closing time) the monkeys can all run off into the forest and there aren’t many around to see. So keep this in mind as a late afternoon visit may not be worth your time if you purely want to see the monkeys.
Be respectful and refrain from smiling at the monkeys
As these are wild animals, they may attack you if they feel threatened. This even includes smiling or making eye contact with the monkeys, as showing your teeth or looking them in the eyes is seen as an act of aggression.
Touching the monkeys or obstructing their path is also forbidden. You can bet this also means trying to get a selfie with them is a huge no-no! It should go without saying but selfie sticks, drones, tripods and other special photography equipment are forbidden from being taken into the park.
Also, don’t bring any snacks in your bag or pockets. The monkeys will be able to smell any food on you and may become aggressive trying to get their hands on your snacks. Keepers also wander the grounds and ensure these rules are being obeyed by visitors.
NOTE: Although some of my images do look like I was very close to the monkeys, it’s important to note I used my camera zoom to capture many of these close-up shots. I’ve also edited and cropped some for maximum effect. For your safety, always ensure you aren’t getting too close to the monkeys.
Try the apple ice cream at the café near the car park
On a separate note, if you worked up an appetite from trekking 3.2km to the monkeys and back, you definitely deserve to treat yourself with the local specialty. Remember how I mentioned the famous Nagano apples earlier on?
Oh my gosh, if you love apple-flavoured things, you can’t afford to miss the Shinshu apple ice cream at Enzo Café! The café is just beside the car park before so you can’t miss it.
It is simply divine and has a little of a sorbet-like texture, but in the form of soft serve ice cream. It’s hard to explain so don’t take my word for it, just go try it for yourself. Another of my favourite treats from Nagano are the Apple Kit-Kats as mentioned in my detailed guide to Japanese snacks. They’re incredibly delicious!!!
How to get to Jigokudani Monkey Park
There are a couple of options for getting to the park. Due to the early morning start, you may wish to spend the night before in Nagano so it won’t take you long to reach the park in the early morning. In addition, the cost of a return ticket to Nagano from Tokyo on a bullet train may cost the same as a night in a hotel in Nagano anyway!
The journey to Jigokudani Monkey Park from Tokyo is around 3.5 hours, so if you’re wanting to be there near opening time it’s a very early start! From Tokyo station, it takes 1 hour 20 minutes minutes to reach Nagano station on the Hokruriku shinkansen (bullet train, adult cost JPY 8,200 one way).
From there, the most efficient option is to take a bus or taxi for 40 minutes to Kanbayashi Onsen, the beginning of the track to Jigokudani Monkey Park. For even more bus options, see the Snow Monkey Resort Access.
If a hotel sounds better to you, for more info and to book hotels in Nagano, click here.
Day trip tours from Tokyo are another option. As well as visiting the Jigokudani snow monkeys, these tours also include sake tasting in nearby Nagano and a visit to the city’s star attraction, Zenko-ji Temple to make a day of it.
There is an express bus that takes 40 minutes from Nagano station called “Nagaden Bus”. It takes you directly to the beginning of the track to the park (adult cost JPY 1800 one way).
Summer opening hours and cost
During summer, the park is open from 08:30 – 17:00. The cost to enter the monkey park is JPY 800 ea for adults and JPY 400 ea for children. This also includes admission into the small museum about the snow monkeys adjoining the ticket office.
TIP: Before your trip, you can even check the live Jigokudani webcam to see the conditions at the park before you arrive and how many monkeys are frolicking about! The webcam is also on a screen at the beginning of the path so you know what to expect before you make the journey.
Concluding my visit to the snow monkeys in summer
This sums up my delightful visit to Jigokudani monkey park in summer! I was completely satisfied visiting the park during the warmer months and I don’t feel as though I need to return another time in winter purely to see the monkeys in the hot spring.
To me, having the monkeys running around and seeing the babies play was such a highlight! I don’t think that could really be beaten by visiting in winter with the hoards of other tourists. For not really knowing what to expect from a summer visit and the initial concern about animal welfare, I can honestly say I now highly recommend this experience during the off-season.
What are your thoughts? Would you change your mind about visiting the snow monkeys in summer from this article? Let me know in the comments below! Don’t forget to take a look at my extensive 3 weeks in Japan itinerary that features the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park, as well as things to do in Nagano, where to stay and eat for further trip inspiration.
Until next time,
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This guide to visiting Jigokudani monkey park in summer contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!