One of the highlights of our trip to Japan was a visit to the snow monkey park in Yudanaka. We absolutely loved getting up close and personal with these darling little monkeys. That’s not to say that we didn’t make mistakes in planning this portion of the trip. If we were to do it again we would definitely make some changes. The monkeys, however, are not to be missed and we lucked out on a few details that I’ll share.
We made a large loop around central Japan. From Takayama we headed north, past Nagano, to Yudanaka where the snow monkey park is located. Our first mistake was to only schedule one day in the area. The trip from Takayama to Yudanaka is beautiful, but takes nearly five hours and requires switching trains in Nagano. We left mid morning and did not arrive at our ryokan until mid afternoon. This left a very short window of time to get to the park, enjoy the monkeys and head back to town.
Adorable Inn Owners
Fortunately, we were very lucky in our choice of ryokans! Purely by chance, we chose to stay at Yudanaka seifuso, a very traditional Japanese onsen inn just a few hundred yards from the Yudanaka train station. The ryokan was built in the Meiji era (1868-1912) and is owned and operated by possibly the cutest, elderly couple in Japan. They greeted us very warmly and immediately offered to drive us to the entrance of the monkey park. The owner explained in halting English that we needed to hurry so we scrambled to load into their car for a 10 to 15 minute drive. He pointed out the famous local ski areas on the way and advised us that the park closes at 5 o’clock and we would need to be down the mountain in time catch the last bus back to town by 5:53. He dropped us off and we were on our way.
There is a small gift store at the base of the hike where the owners speak English and can answer any questions you may have. The hike to the park takes about a half an hour and is mostly a gradual incline through an amazingly beautiful and peaceful forest. We visited in May and the ground was dry and the temperature perfect. There is one large set of stairs but the hike was easily managed by this out of shape 57-year-old. Entrance to the park cost ¥500 (approximately five dollars) per person.
The Onsen Experience
When we returned we really enjoyed our ryokan and it’s four separate baths each with a different atmosphere. The sheltered, outdoor spring fed pool soothed us after our hike and prepared us for our night’s sleep on futons and tatami mats. Look for separate posted times for males and females at each bath. I will write a detailed post about onsen etiquette and culture, but it is helpful to do a bit of research before heading off to the baths.
If we were to go again,we would definitely spend more time exploring the local area. We missed some sites like the nine public baths that are located on the street of Shibu Onsen, Sake breweries and local culture since we needed to hurry back to Tokyo first thing in the morning. The monkeys are the main attraction, but there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy for two days.