Along the scenic Carretera Austral route in Southern Chile lies Patagonia Park, one of the newest National Parks in Chile.
Still in its “toddler” stage, Patagonia National Park offers scenic trails and epic views without the price tags and crowds that some of the more popular parks experience in this region (like paying $30 to hike Cerro Castillo just up the road).
Beautiful and remote with versatile treks that lead through rugged mountains passing alpine lakes and wild guanacos along its path, Patagonia National Park is easy to fall in love with and hard to leave.
However, because Patagonia National Park is so new, there are a few things you should know and keep in mind before venturing into this region.
Here’s our guide with everything you need to know for an incredible visit at the stunning Patagonia National Park in Chile:
- About Patagonia National Park
- Where To Start
- How To Get Around
- Best Trails
- Where To Stay
- Park Rules
- Other Tips
About Patagonia National Park
Patagonia National Park was created by Douglas Tompkins, the adventure-loving founder of The Northface and Espirit clothing companies. Alongside his wife Kristine, Douglas had been leading conservation and park projects in Chile for many years with the main goal of creating more National Parks and protected areas.
During our month-long road trip along the Carretera Austral highway, we spent considerable time exploring Pumalin National Park, another wonderful park created by Douglas and Kristine Tompkins. We were so impressed by Pumalin Park that when we heard about Patagonia National Park, we just had to go venture into it as well.
When we made our way into Parque Patagonia, we could really sense how much this place meant to Doug and Kristine. They lived here, grew old here and spent their lives devoted to creating these amazing places that now we get to enjoy.
Where To Start
For all newcomers like us, the best place to start is at the Valle Chacabuco Visitor Center about a 30-minute drive into the park. This is the main area of the Patagonia National Park where all new visitors can get information on the best trails, check out the park’s interactive museum, and even pick up a few souvenirs.
The staff at the visitor center is very knowledgeable and gave us some really awesome recommendations for trails to check out in the area. If you’re still working on your Spanish skills, the visitor center staff also speaks very good English which I found super helpful.
Right across from the visitor center there is a really nice restaurant and bar that is open for lunch and dinner. The dining area is based on reservations (or more like heads up) but an hour of notice was enough for us to enjoy a lovely meal there. Both of our meals were super yummy and all the veggies used are grown in the park’s organic garden!
The visitor center also has an exhibition showcasing Doug Tompkins life efforts to promote love and conservation surrounding Chile’s nature. His hope was to create a place where visitors could learn about the wildlife in this region and the challenges in our current world.
How To Get Around
Most of the trails at the Patagonia Park are pretty spread out and the only way to get around is by car. The park has one main road – the scenic Highway X-83 that leads through the park all the way up to the Argentina border on the east.
From what we saw, the park offers no public transportation so this is bad news if you’re backpacking. Along our Carretera Austral highway road trip we met a lot of backpackers who told us that they would have loved to explore this park, but catching a ride there and around was an impossible task.
Because the park is quite remote and difficult to access, only a few people venture into this region– mostly those that have a personal vehicle, a rental car or a lot of willpower. It was awesome for us since the trails were completely empty but not so great for all the backpackers traveling through Chile’s Patagonia region.
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Patagonia National Park is relatively new and many of the trails within the park are still being created. During our visit, we hiked 3 trails in the park and loved how untouched and remote nature in this region is.
As of 2019, the trails at Patagonia National Park are free to hike. After spending anywhere from $15 to $30 for some of the more popular treks in this region, it was nice being able to enjoy nature without the steep cost that sometimes comes with it.
We arrived in Patagonia National Park in March that falls towards the end of the busy travel season in Chile. Most of the vacationing families and traveling university students had already left this region and as a result, we barely saw anyone else hiking inside the park.
Here are a few of our favorite trails from our visit at Patagonia National Park.
Douglas Tompkins Mirador
If you’re looking for a quick yet epic trail to do at Patagonia National Park, you’ll love the Douglas Tompkins Mirador. This was my absolute favorite hike that we did because the views from the overlook are just breathtaking.
The Douglas Tompkins Overlook is located on the east side of the park towards the Argentina border. We used a combination of iOverlander and Maps.me apps to find the right turn off from Highway X-83 and the trail starting point.
If you have a 4×4, you can drive all the way to the designated parking lot and from there hike about 5-10 minutes to the overlook.
We travel in a self-converted Promaster van that’s been pretty good to us on our road trip through the America’s, but unfortunately, some roads are just a no-go. This was one of them.
We made it about halfway up to the Douglas Tompkins Mirador before we had to pull over and park our van in a 2-wd parking lot. From there on we hiked in the rest of the 2 miles up to the viewpoint.
The hike itself was not very exciting and went along a steep road, but the views at the Douglas Mirador overlook are worth every sweat along the way.
The viewpoint overlooks Cochrane Lake and a few islands like Isla Victor in the distance. There is also a small enclosed area to have a picnic or take cover from the wind and rain (like we had to) when an unexpected storm sweeps in.
Sendero Lagunas Altas
We knew we were signing up for a challenge when we decided to hike the Sendero Lagunas Altas trail, but challenges often come with incredible rewards. Besides sore legs for days, the Lagunas Altas trek offers jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Patagonia National Park and Chacabuco valley from the top of a mountain. Literally.
At 14 miles from start to finish, Sendero Lagunas Altas is one of the longest day hikes we’ve done in South America. Surprisingly, this half-marathon-ish long hike is also one of the most popular day hikes to do at Patagonia Park. I account this to the ease of its location – the trail starts AND ends right at the Westwind campsite making it a super convenient for park’s visitors.
If you have the time (and energy) to spare, the Sendero Lagunas Altas trek is a must! Yes, the first 4 miles feel like a stairmaster on steroids climbing straight up to the top of a mountain, but from there the trail flattens out and follows a relatively flat path passing beautiful alpine lakes along its way.
What mesmerized me the most is the diversity of the landscapes that we saw on this trail. One section of the Lagunas Altas trek reminded me of the scenery from our road trip through Iceland with black jagged mountain peaks covered in moss. We also passed some pristine alpine lakes reflecting incredible blue and green tones when the sun hit the lake just right. I could see why visitors push themselves to do this challenging 14-mile trail just to get a glimpse of Parque Patagonia’s beautiful landscape.
The official Laguna Altas hiking time listed at the visitor center is 6-10 hours. We completed this trail in 6.5 hours including taking lots of photos and stopping for a quick lunch at the top. We are in no way in the best shape so this trail is definitely doable as a half day hike.
The Furioso trail is a 14-mile hike in the northern part of the Patagonia National Park. While cruising along the scenic highway that leads through the park, we went to check out a section of the Furioso trail by Rio Chacabuco.
We followed iOverlander app’s marker point for “Rio Chacabuco, Parque Patagonia” and parked our van at a designated parking lot near the river. We didn’t see an official trail entrance point but it seemed that structures have been laid out to create one in the future. This trail is so new and so little traveled that it’s not even shown on Maps.me – our go-to hiking app that typically lists even the smallest of trails.
Since there wasn’t an obvious path that we spotted, we just hiked next to the river until we reached a beautiful suspension bridge. We crossed the bridge and continued along on a tiny foot track passing some old farming areas. Soon after the trail connected with a road and from there on the trail just kept going for a very long time. We hiked along this main road until the sun started setting and made our way back to our car.
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Where To Stay
Here are a few camping and lodging options available at Patagonia National Park.
Most people that come to explore Patagonia National Park stay at the Westwind campsite near the visitor center. Although we spotted a few other camping areas in the park, this is the only campsite that we actually saw people staying at.
Camping at Westwind site costs 8000 Chilean Pesos ($12 USD) per person per night. The Westwind campsite comes with a few enclosed picnic areas along with nice restrooms complete with running water and solar showers, although they were pretty chilly during our stay.
It seems that for the majority of park visitors the Westwind campsite becomes sort of the home base where people come to set up their tents and drop off their backpacks before venturing into different sections of the park for day trips.
In addition to the campsites, Parque Patagonia has a beautiful (and quite unexpected) upscale lodge inside the park.
We stumbled upon this lodge after wondering around the visitor center area. Although we personally did not stay here, we did walk inside the lodge to check it out. Our curiosity usually wins and we always feel more comfortable recommending places if have seen them for ourselves.
The first thing we noticed inside the lodge was a luxurious hangout room built in a safari style with giant windows overlooking a valley full of guanacos roaming in the distance. The common area is furnished with plush couches and a fireplace reminding me of a fancy ski lodge.
I could totally see myself enjoying a glass of local wine after a day full of hiking while stargazing from the patio… But then I remembered that our daily travel budget is $50 per day and so we went back to the Westwind campsite to sleep in our van and daydream about the lodge.
The Lodge At Valle Chacabuco offers 6 rooms and is only open from October through the end of April. For lodge pricing and availability, you can find out more here or by emailing at email@example.com.
Here are a few park rules to keep in mind while visiting Patagonia National Park in Chile:
- Please keep a respectful distance from the wild guanacos. Although there are lots of brave guanacos that hang around the visitor center to eat the trees and grass in this area, most of the guanacos at Patagonia Park are pretty scared of people and cars. If you see any, please don’t chase after them as they will be pretty terrified and run away. We saw some guys hovering over a group of guanacos with a drone and although we are drone owners ourselves, we don’t advise using them around animals since they can get easily spooked. When shooting wildlife, we use our zoom camera lens to get any closeup shots of the animals.
- The park does not allow dogs. This region has a few ongoing conservation programs trying to rehabilitate endangered animals like pumas and huemul deer back into the wild. Unfortunately, our sweet little pups can carry diseases that the wild animals are not used to and can potentially harm them.
- Fires at Parque Patagonia are not allowed. This region is pretty dry and very prone to wildfires. Even a small spark can result in an uncontrollable fire so please keep this in mind and do not make any fires in the wild.
Here are a few helpful tips to make your time at Parque Patagonia more enjoyable:
- This region is super windy and rainy so make sure to pack accordingly. It rained, hailed, and even snowed a bit, on pretty much every hike that we did. Waterproof hiking boots, a rain jacket, and warm clothing is a must.
- The park has a really nice restaurant and
barnext to the visitor center that is open for lunch and dinner. BUT besides the restaurant, there are no markets or other places to get food at Patagonia Park so make sure to stock up on food before entering the park. We actually ran out of food ourselves and went to have a lovely dinner at the El Rincon Gaucho restaurant on our last day there. It was quite the splurge for us but we had just finished a 12-mile hike and wanted to reward ourselves for it.
- The park has no cell reception (except for this one random spot in the park where we saw a guy on a motorcycle downloading Netflix shows). For the most part, we used Maps
.Meand iOverlander phone apps to navigate around the park and on the trails.