"A Winter Must See: Snow Monkeys in the Hot Bath" Snow Monkey Park Tip by AKtravelers
Snow Monkey Park, Nagano: 3 reviews and 9 photos
Without a doubt, one of the coolest spectacles in all of Japan is to watch the wild snow monkeys of the Japanese Alps sit out a snowy winter day soaking in the hot waters of a naturally-heated onsen. At Jigokudani Yaenkoen monkey park, just above Nagano, you can see these migratory macaques, the world's most northerly primates (besides man) forage for food under the snow and soak in an onsen to relax after a hard days work. The monkeys can be reached after a 1.6 km hike over a wide path covered in cedars along the Yogoku River (itself a beautiful activity during a snowfall). At the end, you'll reach a small cabin where you'll pay Y500 to go see an onsen that was originally meant for people but taken over by the monkeys. There were around 20 of them bathing at once when I visited during a somewhat heavy snowfall. It's very interesting to watch them interact or sleep, much as humans would, as they take to the waters. Of course, they are very active and scurrying around accomplishing tasks other than bathing -- during which they seem to pay you no heed. I wouldn't touch them or harass them -- wild monkeys can hurt you -- but you can get pretty close without them seeming to mind.
....Jigokudani literally means "Hell's Valley" and is located 850 meters above sea level, so snow covers the area about a third of the year. I have been told that some macaques hang out there year round, but are most easily seen in the winter when they congregate around the onsen.
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