Relax and Rejuvenate in Nagano’s Top 7 Onsen

David Taylor

David Taylor is the creator of the Forever Foreign Podcast. He's been a full-time liver and Part-time lover of Japan for... possibly too long at this point.
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Nagano prefecture made a name for itself by hosting the 1998 Winter Olympics. And any athlete who participated had the opportunity to soak in some of Japan’s most famous onsen, or hot springs, at the end of a long day of competing on the slopes.

While those baths are great for tired Olympians, they work just as well for anyone looking to relax among the scenic Japanese Alps.

We’ll dive into each of these lovely hot spring spots below, so get your trip planner ready.

And if you’re a little nervous about stripping down and hopping into the toasty waters, we’ve got you covered with our guide to traditional Japanese bath houses. Check it out and get ready for one of the best experience you can have in Nihon.

1. Shibu Onsen

Location: Yamanouchi
Getting there: Shinkansen to Nagano station, express train to Shibu Onsen

Even if you haven’t heard of this Nagano onsen, there’s a good chance you’ve seen it. After all, some of Japan’s most recognizable hot spring photos were taken at the nearby Jigokudani Yaen-Koen. Hint: red-faced snow monkeys.

Admission to the snow monkey park is around ¥800 per person, and if we’re talking about accommodations nearby, look no further than Shibu onsen.

Snow-filled river and mountains around Shibu Onsen town in Nagano
Shibu Onsen: A snowy paradise
Photo by Chloe Evans on

Located a short walk west, a stay in Shibu onsen means experiencing the best of both worlds. Something fun and touristy during the day, and old-school Japanese charm to cap it off. The town has narrow streets lined with traditional Japanese inns, or ryokan. You can book a night or two at any of them for the ultimate romantic experience.

If monkeys don’t float your boat, you may want to give “onsen hopping” a try. There are nine unique public onsens in the area, each well worth a visit on their own. Some are exclusively for inn guests, while others are open to the public. Admission fees vary, but they usually range from ¥400-1,000 per person.

2. Yudanaka Onsen

Location: Yamanouchi
Getting there: Shinkansen to Nagano station, express train to Yudanaka Onsen

Still haven’t gotten your fill of red-faced monkeys? Another Nagano hot spring option just a short distance from Shibu onsen is Yudanaka onsen. It’s known for its healing properties, with mineral-rich waters that are believed to have therapeutic benefits for various ailments.

It also happens to have more magical ryokans that are every bit as worth a visit as Shibu onsen. So, if you can’t find what you’re looking for in one area, take a look at the other.

This portion of Yamanouchi town offers both indoor and outdoor baths, some with beautiful views of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. There are also many entertainment options in the area.

monkey sitting in outdoor hot spring
Jigokudani Yaen-Koen, a famous Nagano onsen
Photo by Pratik Bisht

Here are some of the Yudanaka and Shibu Onsen area highlights:

  • Jigokudani Yaen-Koen (monkey park)
  • Take a gondola ride up a nearby mountain
  • Shiga Kogen Ski Resort
  • Nearby hiking trails

3. Nozawa Onsen

Location: Nozawa Onsen (northern Nagano prefecture)
Getting there: Shinkansen to Nagano station, JR train to Iiyama station, bus to Nozawa Onsen

Nozawa Onsen is a traditional hot spring village that goes back in written history all the way to the 1,200s. After all of that time, it’s learned a thing or two about soothing its visitors. It also made the cut for our list of top Japanese hot springs.

A clear road with piles of snow on either side in nozawa onsen, Nagano
Incredible amounts of snow at Nozawa Onsen
Photo by Matt Ketchum

As with many of the entries on this list, it’s also a hot spot for winter sports-lovers. So, if you’re looking to wind down after some thrilling skiing or snowboarding, this is where to do it. The area hosted the biathlon during the Nagano winter Olympics and boasts an incredible ski resort.

Nozawa Onsen features 13 public baths, each with its own unique design and atmosphere. Some are mixed gender, while others are separated. If you’re there in January, have a look at the Dosojin Fire Festival!

4. Bessho Onsen

Location: Ueda City
Getting there: Take a local train or shinkansen to Ueda City and transfer to a local train bound for Bessho Onsen.

Another hot spring town known for its history (1,400 years, in fact) is Bessho Onsen. It’s a small town of less than 5,000 people within the larger area of Ueda City in central Nagano prefecture.

Bessho onsen station in Nagano, an old station surrounded by trees
Bessho Onsen’s quaint train station

If you’re looking for a taste of Japan’s countryside while enjoying some fantastic baths, this is where to do it. The town is walkable with temples and small restaurants all around. And if you’re looking for more to do, there’s plenty to explore in the nearby Ueda City.

Bessho Onsen has multiple ryokans in the area to choose from, all with great views of the quiet surrounding landscape. There’s also plenty of variety in the baths in the area, and their healing properties are the stuff of legend.

5. Hakuba Onsen

Location: Hakuba
Getting there: Shinkansen to Nagano City, grab a bus bound for Hakuba

Another great option for those wanting to visit Nagano in the winter is Hakuba Onsen. Located west of Nagano City in the Japanese Alps, it’s a small village full of some of Nagano’s best onsen. It also serves as a great base camp for ski and snowboard excursions.

Iimori Ski Resort
Photo by Andi Winata

Here are a few of the ski resorts nearby that you can plan your trip around:

Some onsens in Hakuba offer stunning views of the surrounding Japanese Alps, and many are open to both overnight guests and day visitors. Try to pay a visit to one of the onsens that have rotenburo, or outdoor baths.

6. Shirahone Onsen

Location: Matsumoto City
Getting there: Take a train to Matsumoto City, transfer for train bound for Shinshimashima Station, and take a bus or taxi to Shirahone Onsen

Another hidden gem deep in the mountains of Nagano is Shirahone Onsen – literally ‘white bone hot spring.’ It gets its name because of the milky white waters that naturally spring from the earth, and it’s another onsen that supposedly has healing properties.

There’s no doubt that this one is a little off the beaten path, but it’s well worth the journey. If you’re a fan of the outdoors, there are plenty of activities for all seasons. Of course, there’s also a variety of attractive ryokan for anyone looking to connect with nature.

view of kamikochi mountains from across a river
Kamikochi is one of Nagano’s top destinations
Photo by 泉 龍都

Speaking of nature, one of Nagano’s most famous outdoor destinations is just around the corner: Kamikochi. If you like hiking, this is one of the greatest places to get it done in Japan. And if struggling up trails doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of stunning views to see in and around the main valley.

7. Uruoikan Onsen

Location: Nagano City
Getting there: Shinkansen or local train access, followed by a short city bus ride

On the opposite end of the convenience spectrum, there’s the Uruoikan Onsen Hotel, located near the center of Nagano City.

The hotel was built on the banks of the Susobana River and presents a unique opportunity to enjoy natural hot spring water with beautiful views of Nagano’s landscapes, all within easy access of civilization.

Temples in Nagano surrounded by pine trees
Scenic temples galore in Nagano
Photo by Delphine Ducaruge

There’s plenty to do in the area, from attractions like Nagano’s Zenkoji Temple to hiking or skiing day trips. Just use your imagination to make this the launching pad to your Nagano onsen vacation.


Visiting Nagano’s onsens means seeing gorgeous sights and experiencing rejuvenation like you’ve never had before. Whether you’re looking to heal up in bone-white waters, observe snow monkeys between baths, or relax at the end of a day of skiing or hiking, Nagano’s onsens have something for everyone.

Don’t sleep on this hot spring powerhouse!

Bessho Onsen Station photo by アルトクール – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,