Winter (Dec-Mar) at the Jigokudani Monkey Park
Nagano’s reputation is one of Japan’s premier winter destinations is well-established. Host of the 1998 Winter Olympics and home to around 80 ski resorts, winter sees an influx of visitors from around the world. Draw to Nagano by its dramatic mountains, huge snowfall, hot springs and friendly atmosphere, there are lots of reasons to travel here in winter.
Hugely popular in winter, the Jigokudani Monkey Park is one of Nagano’s top attractions. When planning your visit, we recommend you start with our ‘Jigokudani Monkey Park’ activity page which includes tips and suggestions for getting the most out of your visit.
For information regarding opening times, entry tickets and access please refer to our ‘Snow Monkey Park Information’ page, while our ‘The Snow Monkeys FAQ’ page answers the most common questions when planning a visit.
What to expect in winter
December to March is the most popular time of year for visitors. Cold temperatures and heavy snow encourage the monkeys to spend a lot of time in the onsen or otherwise huddle together to stay more.
The monkeys behaviour is winter is very reliable. Expect them to be in the park by opening at 9AM. They should remain in the park all day however it is always worth noting that they are wild animals, therefore their beaviour cannot be guaranteed. Days of heavy snowfall can affect when they come and go from the park.
The weather will be cold and the park and trail will be affected by snow and ice. Warm clothing and appropriate footwear are essential. It is always worth be prepared for the walk to the park in winter with rental boots and winter clothing are available at the Snow Monkey Resorts Gift & Info Shop.
From early-December onward, visitors can expect the first snow in the park with temperatures falling rapidly – expect a temperature of between 0°C to 10°C during the day – before late-December sees winter take hold with a likely daytime temperature of only 0°C or below. In January and February the temperature can get as low as -10°C to -15°C.
For information regarding other seasons in the monkey park, please refer our ‘Snow Monkey Park Throughout the Year’ page.
Recommended things to do in and around the park in winter
Blessed with many ski resorts and an abundance of snow, there are many things to do in Nagano each winter. Our ‘9 Things To Do in Nagano in Winter’ page is a great place to start and top of that list – after of course, the Snow Monkeys – is a visit to Japan’s largest ski resort – Shiga Kogen.
Winter in Shiga Kogen
The nearest ski resort to the monkey park, Shiga Kogen is our recommendation as Nagano’s best winter sports destination. As Japan’s largest ski resort, Shiga Kogen, offers an expansive area to explore and conquer – around 80 courses, spread over a huge variety of terrain connected by more than 50 chairlifts and gondolas.
In total, Shiga Kogen offers around 600 hectares of terrain and 80+ km of trails covered by one all-mountain pass.
Shiga Kogen is both the largest and highest ski resort in Japan. Boasting the highest chair-lifted ski run in Japan – reaching 2307 metres at Yokoteayama – Shiga is notably higher than the nearby resorts of Nozawa Onsen, Myoko Kogen and Hakuba. The altitude and topography of the mountain means that Shiga is blessed with Nagano’s best and most reliable powder snow and stunning natural beauty.
Visit any of Nagano’s fantastic ski resorts
Home to around 80 ski resorts, visitors to Nagano in winter are spoiled for choice. While we are big fans of Shiga Kogen, we are just as keen on many of the other fantastic resorts dotted throughout the region. Around an hours drive from Shiga Kogen, Nozawa Onsen is a popular resort with a lively village. Particularly well-suited to snowboarders, the resort has a youthful atmosphere with lots of restaurants and facilities catering to international visitors.
Of course if you want resorts setup for international visitors, then head to Hakuba. Home to several resorts, Hakuba’s reputation as Nagano’s most international mountain area is well-established. Blessed with some great terrain including epic backcountry, Hakuba is popular for many reasons.
But be warned, it is popular… you won’t find the quiet runs of Shiga Kogen here!
Join a winter tour
As Nagano’s No.1 rated tour and charter operator, we are happy to provide a variety of tours each winter combining a visit to the monkeys with the regions most unique attractions – starting with our always popular 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple and Sake Tour.
With pickup available in both Nagano and Hakuba, this engaging one-day tour combines a morning visit to Nagano’s near-1400 year old Zenko-ji Temple, followed by a warming sake tasting and lunch, followed by an early afternoon visit to the monkeys.
Our 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Snow Fun in Shiga Kogen Tour and 1-Day Snow Monkeys & Snowmobiling in Shiga Kogen Tour operate from December until March and combine morning snow fun activities or snowmobiling in Shiga Kogen before enjoying lunch at a nearby restaurant before heading into the monkey park. These are some of our most popular tours of the year, suitable for both children and adults.
For full details regarding all available tours, please refer to our ‘Tours’ page.
Attend a winter festival
Taking place every year on January 15th, the ‘Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri’ or ‘Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival’ is one of Japan’s three famous fire celebrations and a rowdy affair in which spectators can’t help but get caught-up in the chaos!
This extremely popular event attracts thousands of visitors so you need to plan ahead, especially if you want to stay in Nozawa on the day around the festival. Accommodation is fully booked well in advance of the festival so make sure to book early to avoid disappointment!
From late November to late December, the Zenko-ji Omotesando Illumination brings the temple and ancient thoroughfare leading to it into radiant light and vivid color. Starting with the road leading to the temple, and then the temple itself, the historic centre of the city will be bathed in purple, violet and silver – an illumination of the mind and imagined Buddhist paradise on Earth.
In the first week of February, the Nagano Tomyo Festival runs for one week and brings the city’s most important cultural site, Zenko-ji Temple, into vivid light.
First held in 2004 in commemoration of the 1998 Winter Olympics, the festival has quickly become a popular event on the city’s calendar. The festival consists of a whole week of nightly events, with the nighttime lighting of the temple an act of ‘tomyo’ or offering light to the Buddha and paper lanterns lining Nakamise Street.
We provide tours combining a visit to the monkeys with all three festivals. For full details regarding all available tours, please refer to our ‘Tours’ page.
Soak in an onsen
Nagano and Central Japan is blessed with many onsen that can be enjoyed all year round. Scattered throughout the region, the greatest concentration of hot springs can be found in traditional towns including Kanbayashi Onsen, Shibu Onsen Nozawa Onsen, Yamada Onsen and Bessho Onsen along with Okuhida Onsen, Gero Onsen, Kusatsu Onsen and many others.
Onsen can be enjoyed all year round with winter being perhaps the most magical. Sitting in an onsen as the snow falls around you is truly fantastic. With so many hot springs to choose from in Nagano, we recommend making your onsen experience high priority while visiting in winter.
Want to learn more about the monkeys?
Why not book at tour! Operating all year round we are Nagano’s No.1 rated tour and charter operator!
Awarded a 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award for our 1-Day Snow Monkeys, Zenko-ji Temple & Sake Tour – recognised as one of the Top 10 Experiences in Japan – we operate a variety of group tours that combine a visit to the Jigokudani Monkey Park with other nearby attractions and experiences.
We offer the local knowledge, support, and service that you need to get the most out of your adventure in Japan including private tours and charters to any destination in the region. Our drivers and vehicles are fully certified, allowing us to transport you to and from your preferred destinations, in combination with any activity that suits your interests and schedule.