How to Get to Snow Monkey Park from Yamada Onsen – The Best Kept Secret Onsen Village
If you are thinking of visiting the Snow Monkey Park this year, you might be wondering where to stay in Nagano. Nagano Prefecture is one of the largest prefectures in Japan and is stretched out over 212 km (131.7 miles), from the north to the south end. The Snow Monkey Park is located in the north-eastern edge of Nagano Prefecture so if your main purpose of visiting Nagano is to visit the Snow Monkey Park, it’s best to stay in northern Nagano.
So where should I stay? – We recommend to stay in an “Onsen Village”
The Nagano Station area is obviously an easy pick to choose as it is near the convenient transportation hub. However, we recommend you to stay in a traditional onsen (hot spring) village as it is another top reason why Nagano is famous as a tourist destination, together with various nature activities visitors can enjoy. Surrounded by high mountain peaks of which many are active volcanos, the region has a large number of natural hot spring sources.
Nagano’s hot spring water is 100% natural volcanic water, and the water contains various minerals which provide medical benefits to the human body. Through Japan’s history, onsen have been known as a traditional remedy to cure illnesses and wounds. The type of onsen water varies depending on the location and stratum of the water source. The water of every onsen has its own mineral composition, color, smell, and feeling of water, and this created an onsen culture deeply rooted in Japanese society.
Yamada Onsen Village – traditional village with the largest variety of onsen
To experience different types of onsen, Yamada Onsen Village, located right in the midpoint of the railway line (Nagaden) between Nagano Station and Yudanaka Station, is the most recommended destination if you are an onsen fan. The village is set in a forested, quiet environment thus if you are also the type of person who prefers to be on an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ route and like to discover the untouched culture of the Japanese countryside, Yamada Onsen village would be an optimal base to stay.
Yamada Onsen holds 7 different onsen facilities that are spread across the village. Each onsen is connected to a different hot spring source and thus contain different minerals and water color.
1) Yamada Onsen
2) Matsukawa Valley Onsen
3) Oku-Yamada Onsen
4) Shichimi Onsen
5) Goshiki Onsen
6) Warabi Onsen
7) Koyasu Onsen
Our recommendation is to visit 1) Yamada Onsen as it is located in the village center and more convenient to access to other onsen facilities. You would find Takino-yu in 2) Matsukawa Valley Onsen especially unique and authentic as its spacious, outdoor bath is made out of natural gigantic rocks and is established at the top of a gorge. It is a gender-mix onsen and visitors are allowed to wrap a towel around their body while bathing.
4) Shichimi Onsen also has an authentic style, stone-made bath set in the middle of the mountains. Shichimi means “seven tastes” as its onsen water is extracted from multiple onsen sources and mixed into a special onsen bath. The water changes color from milky white to emerald green depending on the temperature or the climate of the day, as volcanic minerals are exposed to air when water comes bubbling out from the onsen source.
As for our recommended place to stay in Yamada Onsen, Fujiiso offers great service to its guests, such as a free pick up from the local station, top-quality food, as well as a wide variety of room options. The ryokan’s hot spring baths are gender-separated and have both indoor and outdoor baths with a great view over the gorge.
How to get to the Snow Monkey Park from Yamada Onsen
So, if you stay in Yamada Onsen, how can you access to the Snow Monkey Park? The way to get to the monkey park is basically the same if you travel from Nagano Station. You need to start your trip from Obuse Station which is the midpoint station of the railway line between Nagano Station to Yudanaka Station. Once you get to Yudanaka Station, there are local buses running to the monkey park. Below is a step-by-step explanation:
a) Go to Obuse Station with the drop-off service of your ryokan:
Most of the ryokan in Yamada Onsen offers a transportation service to Obuse Station. The same case is applicable when you are coming to Yamada Onsen from Nagano Station and want to get picked up at Obuse Station to the ryokan. It is best to check with the ryokan for the specific time of pickup or drop-off when you book your room with them.
b) Get on the train (Nagaden) to Yudanaka Station.
Once you get to the station, purchase a ticket to Yudanaka Station. One way is 590 JPY (on the date the article is published). The station has only two platforms; one going to Yudanaka Station and the another going back to Nagano Station. The direction is indicated in English on the sign at the platform.
Note that there are both local lines and express lines. Some trains go directly to Yudanaka Station, but many trains end at Shinshu Nakano Station, where you have to change the platform and transfer to the local line going to Yudanaka Station. Please refer to the train schedule to see which train goes directly to Yudanaka if you want to avoid a transfer.
c) Take a local bus to the Snow Monkey Park
Once you get to Yudanaka Station, there are local buses that run every day to the Snow Monkey Park. The bus ride is approximately 10 minutes long. There are two different lines, Kanbayashi Line and Shiga Kogen Line, but both goes to the Snow Monkey Park area. You can see the timetable here. In the linked page, see the chart No. 5, “Yudanaka Stn to Kanbayashi Onsen.” Note that in the same chart No.5, the timetable of “②Shiga Kogen line” differs between green season (April – Nov) and winter season (Dec – March), while “①Kambayashi Line” has the same schedule throughout the year.
If you wish to avoid the hustle of public transportation, Snow Monkey Resorts operates a private tour for your group with a chartered vehicle and an experienced guide. You can choose either to start from Yamada Onsen and end at Yamada Onsen, or start from Nagano Station and end at Yamada Onsen, or vice versa, according to your preference. Check the link below for further information of the tour.
While Yamada Onsen is a renowned onsen village due to its wide variety of onsen options, the northern Nagano has other popular destinations. Kanbayashi Onsen is closest to the Snow Monkey Park. Luxurious onsen ryokans (Japanese inns), such as Senjukaku, lie just at a 1-minute walk away from the Snow Monkey Park entrance. The village gets quiet after 5 pm and is surrounded by nature – a perfect environment to enjoy onsen without any hustle or bustle. Although our recommendation is to reserve Japanese kaiseki-style dinner at a ryokan, if you prefer to have eat-out options, Hotarutei, the village’s fine dining restaurant, is located right at the entrance of the village.
Shibu Onsen is also a popular onsen village with lots of traditional ryokans and still has authentic vibes. The village is located at a 20-25 minute walk away or a 10-minute bus ride to the monkey park entrance. It gets busy especially during winter as both international and Japanese tourists come to stay and experience Japanese-style hospitality provided by the ryokans and relax in the village’s renowned onsen. The village is full of untouched traditions with temples, small shrines, shops, and some local izakayas (Japanese drinking bar), that are completely made by and for locals and not so much aimed at tourists.
Hope this information helps you choose where to stay in Nagano!