The Ultimate Guide To Visiting Pumalín National Park In Chile

Guide To Visiting Pumalin National Park In Chile

Every outdoors enthusiast dreams of traveling to Patagonia, a scenic region in southern Chile that is known for jaw dropping scenery, snowcapped mountains, endless glaciers and amazing treks that don’t compare to anything else around the world.

And we were lucky enough to experience this area for ourselves during our 14 month trip through South America.

But while most people that arrive in Patagonia zoom down to some of the most popular parks, we decided to venture into Patagonia’s lesser known regions. Because there is nothing that we like more than doing things a bit differently and finding amazing places that often get overlooked.

We started our trip by exploring Pumalín National Park, sort of the designated gateway park into Patagonia.

Pumalín is also one of the latest additions on Chile’s National Park list and quite possibly one of the nicest parks we’ve ever been to. If you’re planning a trip into southern Chile, don’t skip it! We highly recommend spending at least a few days hiking and camping in this untouched part of the world.  


Here’s our guide to Pumalín National Park covering all the top hikes to do at Pumalín, best campsites to stay at, how to get there and more:


About Pumalín Park

Before heading into Pumalín National Park, frankly, I didn’t know much about it. During our visit, we learned a few bits about its history and we found out that Pumalín Park has quite the unique and controversial story behind its creation!

Pumalín National Park was originally envisioned and created by Douglas Tompkins, the founder of The Northface and Espirit clothing companies. Alongside his wife Kristine, Tompkins purchased over 700,000 acres of untouched rainforest land in this region and over the years they built it into what we now know as the Pumalín National Park.

All of this was started back in the day when National Parks didn’t really exist and their vision was to create a place that would be preserved and untouched, purely for the enjoyment of the outdoors. A radical idea at the time that was met with quite the opposition and skepticism especially from the local landowners.

“We want for people to get out and fall in love. Because you will not protect something unless you love it.” ~ Kristine Thompkins

Travel Guide To Visiting Hiking And Camping Pumalin Park In Chile
Views From A Volcano Hike At Pumalín Park In Chile

Currently, Chile has 36 National Parks and with the help from the Tompkins Foundation, Chile keeps expanding that list creating more National Parks. In 2018 the Tompkins Foundation donated Pumalín Park to the State of Chile adding to that growing list.

After traveling through all of Central America and South America where National Parks are almost nonexistent (even today), it’s quite the accomplishment. Coming from the US it was hard to wrap our heads around it at first, but National Parks are still a very new concept in many countries.

For Douglas & Kristine Tompkins this big challenge paid off. The locals and international visitors alike that come to hike the Pumalín Park from all over the world are very much in awe and appreciation of their vision and achievements in Patagonia. Now that’s quite the legacy to leave behind!

As of 2019 the newly made Pumalín National Park will be managed by Chile’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF). New changes will be implemented and one of those changes could be the increase in park fees that the visitors will need to start paying to hike the trails to help with the upkeep of the park.

We visited Pumalín Park in February 2019 and it was still free to hike all of the trails which is one of the main reasons why we spent so much time exploring it.

If anyone has visited this park since then, we would love to hear of the new changes in the comments below!

Layout Of Pumalín Park

Pumalín National Park consists of 12 trails. 8 of those trails are located in the northern part of the park and 4 more hikes in the southern part of it. These hikes range anywhere from 30 minutes to 10+ hour long hikes. All of the trails at Pumalín Park are day hikes with campsites set up near their starting points.

Overall the park is very well planned out and easy to navigate. Only one main road, the Carretera Austral scenic highway, goes through the park and majority of the trails and campsites have been created along this highway. The park is really well maintained and has lots of beautiful camping areas, restrooms and even showers, although icy cold.

To navigate the park we mostly used Maps.me and iOverlander phone apps. Most of the trails are marked on these apps and they are especially helpful in places that don’t have cell reception, like this entire region.

The ranger stations also sell paper maps, but we didn’t really feel that one was necessary.

Tip: The ranger station at Caleta Gonzalo entrance has a huge map on the wall with locations and names of all the trails and campsites. We took a few photos of it and used that as the main guide along with Maps.me and iOverlander apps.

Trails Through Dense Rainforest At Pumalín National Park

How To Get To Pumalín Park

Most visitors start off at the northern entrance called Caleta Gonzalo and travel south along the Carretera Austral scenic highway. BUT the only way to get into Pumalín Park in the north is by a ferry from a town called Hornopirén.

We ended up shipping our van on this ferry and it was one of the messiest experiences we had in South America, almost as hard as shipping our van from Panama to Colombia. We came in the busy season (February) and everyone trying to get into Patagonia in their cars was bottlenecked in Hornopirén waiting for a ferry in.

We didn’t do our research ahead of time so we didn’t know that we could (and should) buy tickets prior to arrival. The ferry was sold out for the next 6 days and we had to get on a waiting list and physically wait for 3 days in our van outside the boat dock until we got a spot on the next available ferry out. Oh, and we couldn’t leave our van even to use the restroom or we’d be skipped. Sounds fun? Not to us.

But good news for backpackers and bikers– if you don’t have a car, you can hop on a ferry the same day or next at the latest! Some of the backpackers we befriended were laughing at our dire “do or die” situation we had to deal with for 3 days…that is until they got off the ferry and realized that there is no public transportation at Pumalín. But more about that later.

There are two ferry companies operating from Hornopirén: Transportes Austral and Somarco. We heard that Somarco is the nicer one and sometimes even takes a longer scenic route through beautiful fjords. It’s the one we ended up shipping our van with but unfortunately, our boat skipped the scenic route – time is money in the busy season!

If you want to reserve the ferry tickets ahead of time, you can do that on their websites.

How To Get Around

We have been traveling through Central and South America in our self-converted Promaster van for over a year now and our van has given us the mobility to move around easily and sleep whenever we want.

Unfortunately for folks that don’t have a car on this leg of the journey, the Pumalín region does not make it easier for them. Most of the backpackers that we met in Pumalín (and there were TONS of them) were hitchhiking since the park does NOT offer any type of public transportation.

We felt bad. Like really bad. Some guys were waiting in the rain for hours before somebody stopped for them. We tried to give as many backpackers rides as we could and at times squeezed like 8 people in our van but there were so many left behind…sigh.

There are some tour companies operating from the next town Chaitén that can arrange transportation and tours from there. Chaitén is a small town but it has restaurants, hostels and grocery stores so many people make this their home base while exploring Pumalín Park.

During our time in Pumalín, we met a gentleman Nicholas from Chaitur tour company as he was taking visitors around on different tours and hikes in the region. He was super friendly, spoke perfect English and gave us tons of awesome recommendations. If you’re interested in an organized tour, his email is nchaitur@hotmail.com.

Pumalín National Park

Best Trails At Pumalín Park

Pumalín National Park has 12 trails and they are marked as #1-#12 on the map along with descriptive names.

Of the 12 trails that are available in the park, trails #1-#8 are located in the northern part and trails #9-#12 are located in the southern part.

In the northern part, we hiked all of the trails except for two. We decided to skip trail #6 – Sendero Volcan Michinmahuida because everyone we talked to had the same thing to say – the trail is super long, it offers no views and leads through an overgrown forest for almost all 13 miles of it.

We also skipped trail #7 – Sendero Interpretativo since it just goes through a forest near a campsite and we heard that it’s also not that exciting.

The southern part offers 4 trails and from the available trails, we hiked trail #11 El Mirador to a viewpoint of a glacier. A longer 10-hour hike is available that goes up to the glacier base but we decided to skip it since at that point we already had done tons of hikes and our stiff “van bodies” couldn’t handle anymore!

Here are all the best trails to hike at Pumalín Park, starting from Caleta Gonzalo heading south.

Sendero #1 Caleta Gonzalo-Cascadas

  • Trail Length: 3.7 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1240 feet
  • Time Needed: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

The Sendero #1 Caleta Gonzalo-Cascadas is one of the top trails to do at Pumalín National Park. It is also one of the most accessible treks starting near the dock where the ferry drops off all new arriving visitors.

Right across from the trailhead, there is a campsite where visitors can drop off their packs before heading to explore this trail. Overall it’s super convenient and most visitors that arrive at Pumalín Park choose to do the Caleta Gonzalo-Cascadas trail as their first hike.

The trailhead is located right across from the Caleto Gonzalo ranger station. Just look for signs that say “Sendero Cascada” – the trail is one straight path from there.

The Cascadas trail is very scenic and medium in difficulty. The trail goes through a mossy forest crossing rivers, climbing over rocks and ends at a beautiful waterfall.

Caleta Gonzalo – Cascadas Trail

Parts of the trail feel like a “chutes and ladders” game climbing up and down wooden stairs and using ropes to get over boulders along the trail. It’s really fun (in an obstacle course type of way) but could be a bit tough on joints and knees during some of the stair climbs.

Where To Stay

The Rio Gonzalo campsite is located right across from the Cascadas trailhead and is one of the nicest campsites that I have ever seen at a public park.

The campsite costs 6000 Chilean pesos (around $9 USD) per person per night and the camping areas are scattered through the site in forest clearings. The campsite has bathrooms with running water and showers, although I was in it for less than a minute before I called it quits – it felt like glacier water running down my back.

Where To Stay Pumalin Park Rio Gonzalo Campsite
Rio Gonzalo Campsite

The campsite is located next to a rustic farm and has a mini market that is open during the busy season (December to February). Although the posted hours for the mini market were from 8:30-10:30 am and 5:00-7:00 pm, the few times I went down there it was closed during the posted hours.

Sendero #2 Laguna Tronador

  • Trail Length: 3 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1360 feet
  • Time Needed: 4 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

The next hike in Pumalín Park heading south along the Carretera Austral road is the #2 – Sendero Laguna Tronador trail. This is a few hour long trail that leads up to a beautiful lake.

Within the first 15 minutes the hike passes a few gorgeous waterfall viewpoints and then climbs through an overgrown forest until the end.

Pumalin Park Chile Tronador Hike
Waterfall Viewpoints Along Tronador Hike

At one point we passed what was supposed to be an overlook of the Michinmahuida volcano in the distance but the overlook was completely obstructed by trees and we couldn’t see anything at all.

After 2 heart-pumping hours of hiking, we reached a viewpoint of the lake. It was one of the steepest trails that we did in Pumalín Park and felt like 2 hours of nonstop stair master climbing up tiny wooden stairs. We made our way down to the lakefront but had to fight through some overgrown shrubs to get there.

If you happen to be visiting Pumalín Park during rainy weather, I highly advise skipping this hike. Most of the trail is made of tiny wooden stairs that can get very slippery and difficult to climb after a rainfall.

Tronador Lake Trek Pumalin National Park Chile
Tronador Trail Lake

Where To Stay

There are no campsites right outside the Tronador trailhead for visitors to drop off their stuff and as a result not a lot of people hike this trail. The closest camping spot is Cascada Escondida campsite around 1.5 miles south.

A lot of backpackers and bikers make Cascada Escondida campsite sort of the home base and walk (or catch a ride) to the Tronador trail to hike it.

Sendero #3 Alerce

  • Trail Length: 1 mile round trip
  • Elevation: none
  • Time Needed: 1 hour
  • Difficulty Level: Very easy

The Sendero #3 Alerce trail is a quick and easy path that leads through a forest of giant Alerce trees. The Alerces trees are sort of the Sequoias of Patagonia. They are these tall ancient trees, one of the largest and long-lived species on Earth, that can be up to 4000 years old. Unfortunately, most of the Alerce trees have been logged in the past so there are not that many left anymore. As an effort to preserve the Alerce trees from extinction it is now illegal to cut down this type of a tree.

The Alerce trail leads through a portion in the Pumalín Park where they are commonly found. The hike follows beautiful wooden walkways and bridges made of old fallen Alerce trees.

The trail is set up as a loop. Make sure not to miss a small turnoff that leads to a viewing platform of a really awesome looking tree trunk.

Alerce Trail Best Hikes Pumalin National Park
Alerce Trail At Pumalín National Park

Where To Stay

The closest campspot to the Alerce trail is the Cascada Escondida campsite about 1 mile south.

Sendero #4 Cascadas Escondidas

  • Trail Length: 2.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 920 feet
  • Time Needed: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate

The Sendero #4 Cascadas Escondidas is another popular hike in Pumalin since the trail starts right at a campsite.

The trail leads to two different waterfalls. The lower falls can be reached within the first 20 minutes and has a side trail that leads to the base of the waterfall.

Casdaca Escondida Trail Best Hikes Pumalin National Park Chile
Lower Falls Along Cascadas Escondidas Trail

The second waterfall is located another 40 minutes in and has a viewing platform offering spectacular views of the tall waterfall.

Overall the trail was pretty easy and I saw lots of families doing this hike. There are some parts that require climbing up and down wooden stairs and over some tree roots and rocks, but it didn’t seem to give too much trouble to most people on the trek. 

Cascada Escondida Campsite Pumalin Park Accomodations
Cascadas Escondidas Campsite

Where To Stay

The waterfall trail starts at the Cascadas Escondidas campsite which makes it very convenient for bikers and backpackers. This camp offers beautiful roofed private sites for 16,000 Chilean pesos ($25 USD) that are perfect for bigger groups and families up to 4 people. Individual spots in the community area cost $6000 Chilean pesos ($9 USD) per person.

Sendero #5 Punta Del Lago

  • Trail Length: 1-mile round trip
  • Elevation: none
  • Time Needed: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty Level: Very easy

Sendero Punta Del Lago is the easiest trail that you could do at Pumalín National Park. The trail starts at the Lago Negro campsite and leads to a viewing area of the lake.

It’s a nice short hike if you’re looking for a quiet spot in the nature, but not much of a destination.

Punta Del Lago Trail Pumalin National Park Chile
Punta Del Lago Trail

Where To Stay

Punta Del Lago trail starts at the Lago Negro campsite. It’s one of the smallest and least impressive campsites of the park which is why it’s usually pretty empty. The site has a few larger private sites that cost 16,000 pesos ($25 USD) for the entire site and a few individual camping spots scattered in the forest for 6000 pesos ($9 USD) per person.

Sendero #8 Volcán Chaitén

  • Trail Length: 3.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2000 feet
  • Time Needed: 4 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to difficult

This was actually one of my favorite hikes that we did at Pumalín National Park and if you’re looking for THE ONE hike to do, I highly recommend to put Sendero #8 Volcán Chaitén one on top of that list. The panoramic views from this hike are just mind blowing!

This trail leads to a viewpoint of Volcán Chaitén, an active volcano that erupted in 2008 causing a violent mud flow destroying major parts of the Pumalín forest in its way. During the hike, we could see stumps of old trees with their tops blown off that are still standing intact with new ones sprouting around them.

The hike starts off in a lush rainforest, passes a river and leads through a steep climb up with incredible views of the valley along the way.

Views From Volcán Chaitén Trail

The trail ends next to Volcán Chaitén that we could ACTUALLY see smoking and evaporating steam a few hundred feet away from us. The scenery is pretty unreal and the vibrant colors add a Mars-like feel to it.

Make sure to bring along a jacket and gloves – we were exposed to some icy winds at the top and within a few minutes we couldn’t feel our hands or toes.

Where To Stay

The Volcán Chaitén trail does not have a campsite at the base of it but there are two amazing camping options nearby.

El Volcan Campsite is located around 4.5 miles north of the volcano trail and is one of the most scenic campsites in all of Pumalín Park with views of wild meadows and mountains as its backdrop. The campsites here cost 16,000 Chilean pesos ($25 USD) per site and are pretty spread out so they feel very private.

Pumalin Park Accomodations Volcan Campsite
El Volcan Campsite

If you’re backpacking, you may want to arrange a ride into this campsite as the site is located 1.5 miles off the main road that goes through the park.

Another awesome camping spot nearby the Volcán Chaitén hike is the Santa Barbara beach. This is not an official campsite but many people set up their tents around the beach. This is also a very popular place to spot dolphins in the water which we did see for ourselves around sunset.

Santa Barbara Beach Camp Pumalin National Park Chile
Santa Barbara Beach

The beach has public restrooms (with cold showers) and best of all – it’s free! The Santa Barbara beach is located 8.5 miles south of the volcano trail.

Sendero #11 El Mirador

  • Trail Length: 3.4 miles roundtrip from Campsite Grande
  • Elevation: 1270 feet
  • Time Needed: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

The last trail that we did in the Pumalín park is the Sendero #11 El Mirador trail to an overlook of the Michinmahuida Glacier. This hike is located in the southern part of the park after passing through town Chaitén.

Another popular hike in this area is a long day hike that leads all the way to the base of the Michinmahuida Glacier. But this trail is 12 miles long and we opted to do the shorter hike to a viewpoint of the glacier instead. Call us lazy, but at this point we had already done 6 other hikes at Pumalín and we were starting to feel a bit too sore to attempt a 12 mile hike.

We started the El Mirador hike from Grande camping area and followed along a wide road for 1.2 miles until we reached the trail turnoff point that leads to the glacier viewpoint. Make sure to use Maps.me to find this turnoff. It was not well marked and we missed it the first time around.

There is a closer starting point from the Ventisquero Amarillo campsite to this trail but you need a 4×4 to get there. The Rangers had warned us not to attempt driving on this road past the Grande campsite and had just pulled out a flipped car that didn’t listen to their warning.

Viewpoint Of Michinmahuida Glacier From Mirador Hike

Where To Stay

To hike the glacier viewpoint trail you can either stay at the Grande Campsite or try to get up to Ventisquero Amarillo Campsite and eliminate 1 mile of the hike.

Both campsites have private sites that cost 16,000 Chilean pesos ($25 USD) per site or 6000 pesos ($9 USD) for community spots.


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