Niigata's Murakami City: Enjoy Fun Events, Sightseeing, and Local Cuisine!

The Snow Monsters of Zao: Best Season, Access, Things to Do, and Tips

This service includes sponsored advertisements.
article thumbnail image

Yamagata's Zao mountains are famous for mystical frost-covered trees known as "snow monsters." Learn about when to visit Zao, how to get there from Tokyo, and must-visit spots where you can see this one-of-a-kind winter wonderland.

Latest update :

See Zao's Mystical Snow Monsters

Snow Monsters of Zao

The Zao area in Yamagata Prefecture is the largest snow resort in the Tohoku Region. It is famous for its snow monsters, the frost-covered trees that a large number of visitors every winter.

This article provides a comprehensive guide to the magnificent snow monsters of Zao, from how to get there from Tokyo to the weather.

Travel in the Zao Area

Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

Zao is a mountain range that borders Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures. The easiest way to get to the snow monsters is to come from Zao Onsen (a hot spring town) in Yamagata.

The snow monsters are created as dense fog exposed to the subzero temperature repeatedly sticks to the branches and leaves of the fir trees in the area. They are called "snow monsters" due to their otherworldly and slightly frightening shape.

When to See the Snow Monsters in Zao

The best time to observe the snow monsters is in February. The average temperature ranges from minus ten to 15 degrees Celsius. During this month, the seasonal wind blows from the Sea of Japan, contributing to forming this rare sight.

The snow monsters can also be seen in March, but they tend to be smaller in size and much thinner. It is best to visit the region in February to truly enjoy them.

Access to Zao Onsen

The following are transportation routes from Tokyo, Sendai, and Yamagata.

From Tokyo (Haneda Airport)

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

The flight to Yamagata Airport from Haneda Airport takes about an hour. Once you've landed, take the Zao Liner headed for Zao Onsen.

The ride takes roughly an hour and the one-way fare costs 3,000 yen. Please note that a reservation must be made by 17:00 the previous day.

Zao Liner Reservation Site:

From Sendai Station

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

From Sendai Station, take the JR Senzan Line rapid train and get off at Yamagata Station. The ride takes about 75 minutes and the fare costs 1,140 yen. From Yamagata Station, take the Yamako Bus bound for Zao Onsen Bus Terminal.

The bus runs about once an hour from 6:50 to 20:00. The ride takes around 35 minutes. It costs 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for children.

From Yamagata Station

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

From Yamagata Station, take the Yamako Bus mentioned above, which goes directly to Zao Onsen. A rental car is another option, but the roads in this area tend to be frozen during the winter, so public transportation is the safest way to travel.

From Zao Onsen

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

To arrive at the snow monsters, take the Zao Ropeway Sanroku Line from Zao Sanroku Station to Juhyo Kogen Station. Then, switch to the Sancho Line and get off at Jizo Sancho Station.

The ride takes about 20 minutes. The fare and business hours are as follows:

Zao Sanroku Station → Juhyo Kogen Station → Jizo Sancho Station
Adults: 1,500 yen (one-way); 2,800 yen (round trip)
Children: 800 yen (one-way); 1,400 yen (round trip)

Business Hours:
Zao Ropeway Sanroku Line: 8:30 - 17:00
Zao Ropeway Sancho Line: 8:45 - 16:45
*Please note that the service may be suspended due to harsh weather conditions.

Four Recommended Ways to Enjoy the Snow Monsters

The following are four great places with views of the spectacular snow monsters.

1. From the Ropeway Window

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

The ropeway cabin holds up to 18 passengers and offers a stunning view of the snow-covered field of trees. The fare and business hours for the ropeway are mentioned above.

2. Jizo Sancho Station

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

Fantastic scenery awaits passengers getting off at Jizo Sancho Station. This is an ideal spot for those who wish to see the snow monsters up close.

3. Mountaintop Observatory

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

Visitors can enjoy a panoramic 360-degree view from the observatory on the summit. Here, they can take photographs of the snow monsters with other mountain peaks in the backdrop. Please note that the observatory may close down due to harsh weather conditions.

4. Restaurant Sancho

While the temperature in winter drops below minus ten degrees Celsius, visitors can comfortably enjoy this winter wonderland from Restaurant Sancho, located on the mountain summit. Take in the seasonal sight while savoring Yamagata dishes, such as imoni (simmered taro) and pork bowls.

Other Fun Things to Do in Zao

The following is a list of attractions and special activities you will find only in Zao.

Snow Monster Illuminations

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photograph by Pixta

The snow monster field becomes illuminated in the evening from December through early March. Visitors can appreciate the close-up view from the Nightcruiser, a snowcat properly equipped with heating. The tour details are listed below:

Nightcruiser Tour
Period: From late December to early March
Round Trip Fare: 4,000 yen (adults); 3,300 yen (children)
Point of Departure: Zao Sanroku Station
Capacity: 36 participants per tour
Reservations: Please call +81-23-694-9518
*A reservation is required for the tour. If there are vacancies available on the tour day, additional registrations will be accepted.


The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

Zao is also an area with snow resorts with around fourteen ski slopes. The most popular course is a long downhill slope that starts at 1,661 meters above sea level. Skiers can catch an amazing view of the snow monsters on their way down.

Hot Springs

The Complete Guide to Juhyo in Zao

Photo by Pixta

Be sure to visit Zao Onsen at the foot of the mountain range after a day of activity in the snow. These hot springs have a history of more than 1,900 years, making it one of the oldest hot spring resorts in Japan.

The acidic spring is said to provide benefits such as improved blood circulation, skin purification, and anti-aging. There are various communal bathing facilities and footbaths, making it fun to visit multiple spots.

Weather Conditions and What to Wear

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

The temperature in Zao drops below minus ten degrees Celsius and strong winds are frequent in the area. Warm and windproof clothing such as skiwear is necessary even if you're only observing the snow monsters.

In addition to wearing multiple inner layers and thermal wear, visitors should also bring hats, gloves, and neck warmers.

Tips for Travel in Zao

The weather in Zao tends to suddenly change. In the case of poor weather, the skiing courses will shut down, and activities may get canceled.

To view actual weather conditions, check the live feed on the official website of the Zao Ropeway.

Please be aware of the train timetable. In case you miss the last train, check the lodging facilities in the area. There is a wide variety of accommodations—from ryokans (Japanese-style inn), hotels, guesthouses, and pensions—to choose from.

Some lodging facilities such as Zao Kokusai Hotel and Takamiya Ryokan Miyamaso have English-speaking employees. View the official website for Zao Onsen in advance for more information on foreign language support.

Nearby Sightseeing Spots

The Complete Guide to the Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

Sukawa Onsen Shrine is located at the end of Takayu-dori Street. It was built in the Heian Period (794 - 1185) and enshrines a deity of hot springs.

After passing through the red torii gate, visitors must climb 229 stone steps to reach the main shrine. Although the ascend is challenging, the view of the town from above is worth the climb.

Make the Most of Japan's Winter in Zao

Snow Monsters of Zao

Photo by Pixta

The Zao area is renowned for its beauty but also known for its frigid climate. To fully enjoy the region and snow monsters, you should dress warmly.

For visitors who forget to bring the proper apparel, please visit Jupeer (Japanese), a rental shop serving skiers at Zao Onsen. Enjoy the whimsical winter scenery and the myriad of unique activities here while staying warm and safe.

Main image by Pixta

Written by

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting. Some of our articles contain affiliate links. We kindly ask our readers to exercise careful judgement when making a purchase or booking a service online.