Other than snowboarding (and making snowmen), our other main reason for visiting the Japanese Alps was to see the snow monkeys. Marc remembers reading a National Geographic magazine when he was about 10 years old about the Japanese macaques that soak in the hot springs during winter. It was incredible for him to be able to see them in person 30 years later. It was indeed a pretty special experience to be able to hang with wild monkeys in the Japanese Alps.
There are two options for visiting the snow monkeys who can be found at Jigokudani Monkey Park located in Yamanouchi – organized tour or go on your own. The tours are expensive at 12,000 JPY ($101 USD/$143 CAD) per adult and 8000 JPY ($67 USD/$95 CAD) per child (ages 3-11). We decided we could go on our own for 14,000 JPY ($118 USD/$167 CAD) for our whole family. Plus an additional 1000 JPY for bento boxes for lunch from Nagano station. I’m sure you will agree this is a significant savings.
So if you want to go on your own to Jigokudani Monkey Park from Hakuba, this is how you do it: take the bus to Nagano and then from Nagano take the bus to Shiga Kogen/Jigokudani Monkey Park. A discounted round trip ticket for the Nagano to Hakuba route is available for 2800 JPY for an adult and 1800 JPY for a child (under 6 is free). A one-way ticket for the Nagano to Jigokudani Monkey Park is 1400 JPY for an adult and 700 JPY for a child (under 6 is free). The Hakuba-Nagano bus departs and arrives at bus stop #26 at Nagano Station. The Nagano-Shiga Kogen bus departs and arrives at bus stop #23. The bus stops are almost beside each other making it super convenient for the transfer. A bus schedule is available at the Hakuba-Happo Bus Terminal for the complete route.
By making our own way there we also could take our time during the beautiful walk through the cedar forest to the hot springs where the monkeys are and we got to have as much time as we wanted with the monkeys. A slower pace is always nice when travelling with young children and in our opinion a better quality experience.