We travelled to the Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park in October 2012 as an independent day trip from Tokyo. Prior to setting out, we were concerned (1) about how to get there and (2) if there would be any monkeys in October:
(1) It's actually much easier than we thought - we had JR passes which covered our trip on the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Nagano and then from Nagano we caught the private rail (there are direct busses in the winter but these are very infrequent off-season) to Yudanaka, a bus from the train station to the bottom of the park area (40 minute walk or 10 minutes on the bus) and then a nice walk to the park through the forest on a well maintained trail (30 minutes - I did this in flip flops and was quite happy but I appreciate that in winter you might need proper shoes). Based on the Onsen Soaker Blog, we bought the Kaede no Yu coupon at Nagano station (please note that there is some poorly translated english guidance at the station which suggests that you should not do this but it worked really well for us) for ¥1500 which included the round-trip train ticket and a trip to the Onsen which is located just to the back of the Yudanaka Train Station (I think that it is mandatory that you visit the onsen (they will stamp your ticket) but the onsen is basic but clean and very friendly (and is quite a nice break if you've been travelling all day - though do remember a towel)) - the coupon reduced the cost of the train ticket by about half (plus you get to visit an Onsen!). There were English speaking volunteers at the train station who greeted us with maps and helped us with the bus. I cannot emphasise how friendly (and helfpul) everyone at the station, in the village and in the Onsen was - especially as we did not speak Japanese.
(2) There were monkeys, lots and lots of monkeys - along the paths, on the roofs and near the monkey onsens - large monkeys and baby monkeys.
I would absolutely recommend this trip - we left Tokyo around 8am and were back for dinner. There is a lot of transport involved but it is reliable and quite straightforward. The monkeys are amazing and Yudanaka is a really nice place to visit if your travels have mostly been through the cities.
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