The Valley with Wild Monkeys and Onsens
Yamanouchi, and in particular the Jigokudani Monkey Park, is famous during Winter for its hot springs and its monkey population that uses theme to relax ! It is an original experience that can only be found in this valley. Jigokudani means “hell’s valley” in Japanese, in reference to the many hot springs in the valley that emit thick columns of smoke.
In winter, the monkeys descend from the mountain to find the warmth of the hot springs. To access the park from Yudanaka, you will have to walk for about twenty minutes. The path is practicable and pleasant because there are informations on the monkeys that inhabit the valley.
Once at the end of the valley, you arrive at an old inn. Look around you because the monkeys are already everywhere ! It is possible to sleep in this inn by booking in advance (http://www.jigokudanionsen.com/). Otherwise, you can use their outdoor onsen. You will be in plain sight, and monkeys can invite themselves into your bath.
Next door is the entrance to the onsens for monkeys, a unique place that I recommend !
As the entrance fee is expensive, remember to look at the live camera on the park’s website (https://en.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/) to find out if any monkeys are using onsens. Be careful, you are in the monkeys’ territory and here they are the ones who rule !
Down the valley, the Shimotakai district is nice to visit. There are many old style Ryokans where you can spend the night. They all have private onsens. There are also independent onsens, accessible at any time of the day. I recommend the Waku Waku Onsen which offers a beautiful view of the Japanese Alps. There are many temples and shrines in the valley. I especially enjoyed the Heiwakannon temple, the Onsenji temple and the Tenkawa shrine.
Access : From Nagano Station, take the Nagano Dentetsu Line to Yudanaka Station (45min for 1260 yen). From the Yudanaka station, take a local bus to the park (15 min for 310 yen).
Pass: Snow Monkey 1-Day pass (all fees icluded, from Nagano, for 1000 yen).
Jigokudani Monkey Park : Open everyday from 08:30 to 17:00 (entrance fee of 800 yen).