Visiting the snow monkeys in Japan has been something I have wanted to do for years, but never had the time to visit them until now. We made an ambitious trip to Yudanaka in one day, where the snow monkeys are located, and it was quite a trek, but so worth it.
Our time in Japan was limited, so we only had one day to travel to Yudanaka and come back to Tokyo the same day. It’s a crazy and tiring schedule, but we’re used to fitting in as much as possible within a short amount of time. We started our trip from Tokyo and took the bullet train to Nagano, which took about an hour and a half. Then, from Nagano, you take a 45-minute train ride to Yudanaka.
Once you arrive in Yudanaka, there are volunteers there to help you travel to your next destination, which is most likely the Snow Monkey Park, the hot springs or a ski resort. Not sure if these volunteers are there everyday or just on the weekends, but they were there on a Saturday to help the tourists.
We had two ways of getting to Snow Monkey Park: 1) by taxi or 2) by bus. The taxi would obviously get there faster, but it’s much more expensive at ¥1,600 (~$16). The bus was significantly cheaper at ¥300 (~$3) and it was leaving shortly, so we went with that option. I was thinking about taking the taxi at first because it can drop you off at a closer location to the Snow Monkey Park, but during the winter, the road to that location is closed due to dangerous road conditions.
The bus ride was a short 15-minute ride. We got off at the Kanbayashi Onsen station and started our hike to the park. The hike was pretty strenuous going uphill for the first 20 minutes. The next 15 minutes, you go downhill, but we had to be careful walking down because the grounds were all muddy due to the snow melting that day. I highly recommend wearing snow boots or hiking shoes because you will get dirty for sure. My shoes and pants were covered in mud by the end of the trip.
Finally, you come upon the Snow Monkey entrance gate and walk uphill for another 5 minutes. You’ll already start seeing some snow monkeys lingering around in this area. You pay the entrance fee of ¥800 (~$8) and walk downhill another 5 minutes and then you’ll see all the snow monkeys! Couple rules to note when visiting the monkeys: 1) Do not show the monkeys food or feed them and 2) Do not stare into their eyes.
I couldn’t believe how many snow monkeys there were playing around in the hills and hot springs. They were all very friendly and cuter than I originally thought. They pretty much come right up to you and are not afraid of the humans at all.
We watched the entertaining snow monkeys take a bath, drink hot water, scratch their companion’s back and comfort each other. There were even baby monkeys playing and taking hot baths, which was the cutest thing!
At one point, one of the monkeys came right up to us because we were looking for something in our bag and he thought we had some treats for him. The curious look in his eyes and the way he looked at the bag really made me want to give him something, but I knew I couldn't. Eventually, the curious monkey gave up and went back to his friends.
We stayed there for a couple of hours watching the monkeys before we made the trek back home. We were pretty hungry on our way back, but only had a limited amount of time before we had to catch the bus back to the train station. Luckily, Enza Cafe was open and had take-out options which was super convenient. We ordered kara-age and fried sweet potato which was very satisfying to our grumbling tummies. That sweet potato was so good that I regretted not getting another one.
It was quite a journey to get to these snow monkeys in one day, but I would do it all over again. It was an adventure and those snow monkeys were even cuter than I had imagined. Highly recommend visiting these cute monkeys.
Have you seen the snow monkeys in Japan? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below!