If you’re planning a trip to Patagonia’s diverse Pumalin Park, you best enjoy hiking. Or at least want to give it a go.
Pumalin Park is a perfect place for beginners and avid hikers alike. The well marked hiking trails in and around the national park are manageable within a day or less.
Some of the trails demand at least a moderate level of fitness while others are a breeze. And this is by our standards so you don’t need to worry about the bar being set too high.
Here are 4 excellent day hikes in Pumalin Park to kick off your Carretera Austral road trip.
Hiking Volcano Chaiten
Thought to be dormant for over 9000 years, Volcano Chaiten surprised everyone and erupted in May 2008.
Chaiten town and the surrounding Pumalin Park was badly affected by falling volcanic ash, and the area was closed for a couple of years.
The citizens of Chaiten have since returned and the park trails re-opened. Today, a hiking trail up the still smouldering volcano is a highlight of any visit to northern Patagonia in Chile.
The trail begins with gentle walk through a lush forest. Crossing a wide rocky riverbed, using the boulders as stepping stones, it quickly begins to climb. Soon the trail becomes little more than a zig-zagging staircase.
Each step a different height, the forest thins, until all that surrounds us is the ghost-like remains of tree trunks.
A little further and any remaining trees are uprooted, serving as perfect resting posts before the final steep scramble to the crater’s rim.
Once at the top, the climb is completely worth it. A new volcanic cone, created during the 2008 eruption, rises from the crater below. It still smoulders. Dead, fallen trees surround the rim while solid brain like lava divides a crater lake in two.
The volcano feels very much alive from the top. A large rock fall on the smouldering cone was enough to startle us into beginning our descent! It scared the living daylights out of us. We got down a lot quicker than we got up!
What you need to know about hiking Volcano Chaiten
Distance | 4.4 kilometres round trip
Difficulty | This was the toughest of all the hikes we did in Pumalin park. It may not be far in terms of distance but it’s so steep! Ascending 600 metres over the final kilometre or so, our legs knew about it for a couple of days after. Bring hiking poles – they’ll make all the difference.
Duration | It took us 5 hours all told with 1 hour spent at the top. But we’re slow. If you’re fitter than us it won’t take this long.
Getting there | The start of the trail is about 24 kilometres north of Chaiten town and parking is available. If you don’t have your own transport, hitching is the best option if you miss the daily bus that leaves Chaiten for Caleta Gonzalo each morning.
Don’t forget to check out our definitive guide to Chilean Patagonia while you’re here
Sendero de Alerces
The southern equivalent of Californian redwoods, the towering Alerces trees dominate this area of Patagonia. If estimates prove correct, these 4200 year old Alerces are some of the oldest living trees on the planet.
These same trees were under threat of logging in the late 1980s and 1990s, a significant reasons why Doug Tomkins began on his path of conservation here.
This short trail is well maintain. A wooden bridge spans the turquoise clear river. The forest floor is soft underfoot, damp yet protected from the worst of the Patagonian winter weather by the huge evergreen canopy high above.
The trail meanders through the forest and strategically placed boards provide visitors with information of the flora and fauna here.
This isn’t a hike for those out for an energetic morning. Rather a place for quiet contemplation and a peaceful stroll surrounded by the sound of nothing but nature as it was intended. Patagonia may be known for its dramatic jaw-dropping landscapes but don’t miss the beauty in the detail too.
What you need to know about Sendero de Alerces
Distance | 1.5 kilometres round trip
Difficulty | The easiest of all the day hikes we did in Pumalin Park. It’s more of a stroll than a hike but a good way to limber up the leg muscles before the next hike – which we did on the same day.
Duration | It took us an hour to bimble round. We were accompanied by a friend Kirsi and her dog Jack so couldn’t help stopping for photos of him!
Getting there | The start of the trail is about 45 kilometres north of Chaiten town and parking is available. Again, if you don’t have your own transport, hitching is the best option if you miss the daily bus leaving Chaiten for Caleta Gonzalo each morning.
This trail somehow cuts through thick vegetation native to the area. The forest here is humid, so reaching each waterfall is a refreshing break on the uphill hike.
The forest here was the most wonderful we saw in Patagonia. Every inch of the forest floor covered by lichen, ferns and giant rhubarb. A creepy crawly spa!
This is an outdoor paradise and while the hike itself only takes a couple of hours, we highly recommend you take the time to enjoy this trail.
You’ll see many more waterfalls further south along the Carretera Austral but none accessed through such pristine and dense forest.
What you need to know about Cascadas Escondidas
Distance | 2 kilometres round trip
Difficulty | The trail upto the first of the waterfalls is pretty straight forward and quite easy. After this, the going gets a little tougher. Parts of the trail aren’t in good condition but the rangers have built wooden ladders and steps to help you get your footing. Take care when it’s wet.
Duration | It took us about 3 hours all told but we stopped a lot for photos and to cool off in the spray. Parts of the trail were pretty treacherous because it was so wet. And it wasn’t even raining! Take care, wear sensible shoes and bring a raincoat. Take a look at this article for more information on packing for Patagonia.
Getting there | The start of the trail is about 43 kilometres north of Chaiten town and parking is available. Again, if you don’t have your own transport, hitching is the best option if you miss the daily bus leaving Chaiten for Caleta Gonzalo each morning.
Where to stay | One of the established campgrounds in Pumalin Park is here at the start of the trail. Camping is free except during the high season. Take a look at our guide to Pumalin Park for more information.
Ventisquero El Amarillo
If you want to get up close to a glacier, this long hike to Michinmahuida Glacier is a must.
The trail is 20 kilometres long and takes at least 6 hours so one of the full day hikes in Pumalin Park.
We passed on this hike and hope one day to return to do it. Let’s hope the glacier is still there then!
What you need to know about Ventisquero El Amarillo
Distance | 20 kilometres round trip
Difficulty | The trail is pretty easy going and mostly flat. But parts are especially uneven and there’s a river crossing too. While crossing the river isn’t difficult, bear in mind the river gets a little higher later in the day (so on your return trip) as the midday sun melts the snow. If you think it’s too high in the morning, think carefully before proceeding.
Duration | This is going to take at least 6 hours. We didn’t do the full trail instead opting for a shorter route for views of the glacier without killing our already weary legs.
Getting there | The start of the trail is from Ventisquero Campground so perfect for an early start straight from camp.
For more information on trails and full day hikes in Pumalin Park, check out the official website here.
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