See snow monkeys in Yudanaka
Wandering through the otherworldly, geothermal hills of Jigokudani National Park is an exhilarating experience in its own right, but there’s one special sight here that every visitor longs to see. Emerging onto the path overlooking a steaming thermal pool, you can spot the park’s most famous residents – the snow monkeys – leisurely bathing and grooming each other in the warm, mineral-rich waters; a sight guaranteed to raise a smile even on the chilliest day.
What to expect from the snow monkeys...
Jigokudani National Park is a picturesque landscape of pine forests clinging to steep rocky cliffs, with rivers carving paths through the valley below. The terrain is peppered with vents puffing atmospheric gusts of steam, and pools of boiling water that bubble up, bringing heat from the volcanic activity hidden beneath.
Snow covers the ground for almost a third of the year, making Jigokudani a go-to destination for walking in a glistening winter wonderland, and it is home to large troops of Japanese macaques, also known as snow monkeys.
Though the macaques inhabit much of Japan, seeing them in the wild is rare. Jigokudani is one of the few places where the monkeys can be closely observed in their natural environment, as the steaming hot pools provide a gathering point where they come to feed and socialise.
The monkeys enjoy a warm onsen soak as much as anyone! Having become used to humans in their environment, they often ignore visitors completely, walking confidently across the paths at your feet and providing some unparalleled close-up photo opportunities.
Being wild animals, the macaques are free to come and go as they please, and the park is committed to ensuring their well-being– the monkeys have right of way!
Many people prefer to visit in the winter, as the monkeys make the most of the thermal springs during the colder weather and extended sightings are more likely.
Location: Yudanaka, Japan
Duration: 1-2 days
Accommodation: Shibu Onsen, Yudanaka
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'Fab for families and wildlife aficionados alike - watching the monkeys interact is fascinating.'
Good to know
You can visit on a daytrip from Matsumoto, or stay overnight in Yudanaka to be on the first morning bus and at the park before the crowds. The spa street at Shibu Onsen in Yudanaka is a historic hot spring resort, at least 1,300 years old, with wooden ryokans around old cobbled streets - a very atmospheric overnight stay!
Comfortable footwear and warm clothing are recommended for walking to see the snow-monkeys, as the park is reached by a half-hour hike.