Jigokudani is located in the valley of the Yokoyu River, in Nagano Prefecture, in Japan, at an elevation of 850 meters. Literally “hell’s valley”, the area took its name from the steam and boiling water that bubble out of small crevices from geothermal hot springs in the ground below. Jigokudani is surrounded by steep cliffs and formidably cold forests. The ground remains frozen in winter and heavy snowfalls cover the area for at least four months each year. In this hostile environment, lives a small population of Japanese Macaques, also known as Snow Monkeys, who manage to keep themselves warm by bathing in the natural hot water pools. These monkeys blissfully soaking in the hot pool with their fluffy, snow-powdered heads sticking out of the water is fascinating to watch. Despite being relatively well-known, however, few people are willing to undertake the two-kilometre trek through the frozen forest in the peak of winter to observe the monkeys. Jigokudani Monkey Park, hence, remains largely uncrowded.
The wild Japanese Macaques forage around Joshinetsu Kogen National Park, where the park is located, during the warmer months, coming down to the valley only during the winter. This is the time when the park is best to visit – when the valley is covered in a blanket of white snow, and the monkeys are playing around the hot spring bath. There is usually snow in the region from December to March, and the best timing for a visit is January and February. Monkeys bath around the year, but they are a little reluctant especially during the warmer months, and may need some encouragement from park wardens who throw food into the pool.
The monkeys live in large social groups, and it can be quite entertaining to watch their interactions. Accustomed to humans, the monkeys can be observed from very close range.
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