Nestled in the heart of the Japanese Alps, the Hakuba Valley is among the best places to ski in all of Asia. With an annual snow fall of 11 meters and a nearly endless number of runs, Hakuba is quickly becoming a global ski destination. In fact, we expect 200,000 foreign stays in Hakuba this year. But these visitors are not coming solely for the epic runs; they’re also visiting to see the only monkeys in the world known to bathe in hot springs.
Jigokudani Koen “Hell Valley Park”
Named for the volcanic activity that powers the hot springs in the area, wintertime in the park is a heavenly site. Set in a beautiful valley forest with breathtaking mountain views, Jigokudani Koen especially shines in the snowy season.
While visitors here will have access to some of Japan’s most beautiful forest views, the main attraction is of course the hot spring monkeys. The monkeys stormed onto the world stage in 1970 after the park was profiled on the cover of Life magazine. Since then, their popularity has continued to grow around the world.
Visitors must walk 25-40 minute through a beautiful snow-covered forest trail before reaching the hot spring area. The trail is well marked and you’ll see plenty of other travelers so you won’t get lost. Dress warmly, wear appropriate footwear, and enjoy the nature walk.
After finishing up your walk, there will be an office selling tickets for ¥800 and from there you are ready to meet the monkeys! The monkeys congregate primarily in and around the hot spring but there will be opportunities to take pictures of them in various locations throughout the viewing area.
The monkeys have grown accustomed to being around people but are still wild animals; it’s best not to get too close and you should never try to touch them.
The Hot Springs
The Japanese Macaques bathe in the hot springs year round, but are naturally most photogenic against the wintery background. It’s not uncommon to see the monkeys cleaning each other in the bath or to witness baby monkeys playing in the snow before jumping in the warm pool.
The troup of monkeys that frequent the hot springs are primarily females and children but the troup is organized in a strict hierarchy led by a dominant male, Tomamu 96 (born in 1996). Significantly larger than the other monkeys, Tomamu 96 has a large scar across his face, and always eats first during feeding time. Keep an eye out for Tomamu 96, but don’t get too close!
Access from Hakuba
There are three legs in the journey from Hakuba via JR Nagano Station.
- First you will have to take a bus from Hakuba Bus Terminal to Nagano Station which takes about 1 hour and costs ¥1,800.
- You will take a Train from Nagano Station you can catch the express train to Yudanka station. The trip takes 50 minutes and costs ¥1,160. (Nagano Station is about 2 hours from downtown Tokyo via bullet train)
- Then, it’s a 10 minute bus ride to the monkey park and the station staff will be able to assist you in purchasing a ticket.
If you’d like to join a guided tour please visit hakuba.com for more information.
This was originally published on travelswithbibi.com.