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 in the world. And I was lucky enough to experience this area for myself during my 14-month trip through South America.

But while most people who arrive in Patagonia zoom down to some of the more popular parks, I decided to venture into Patagonia’s lesser-known regions. I started by spending a few days at Pumalín National Park, one of the latest additions to Chile’s National Park list.

If you’re planning a trip to southern Chile, don’t skip it! I highly recommend spending at least a couple of days hiking and camping in this untouched part of the world.  

Here’s my guide to visiting Pumalín National Park covering all the top hikes, the best campsites to stay at, how to get there, and more!


Table Of Contents:


About Pumalín National Park

Before heading into Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park, I didn’t know much about it. during my visit, I learned more about its history and the controversial story behind its creation.

Pumalín National Park was 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 during a time when National Parks didn’t exist in South America. 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 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 of Pumalín Park in Chile.

In 2018 the Tompkins Foundation donated Pumalín Park to the State of Chile adding to a new growing list of National Parks.

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


Layout Of Pumalín National Park

Pumalín National Park consists of 12 trails. 8 of these trails are located in the northern part of the park and 4 of the trails are located in the southern part of the park.

All of the trails at Pumalín Park are day hikes with campsites set up near their starting points. Some trails only take 30 minutes to complete while others take all day.

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

To navigate the park we mostly used the iOverlander and AllTrails hiking apps. Most of the trails are marked on these apps which is helpful in places that don’t have cell reception (like this entire region).

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 in this region. I took a few photos of the map and used that to guide me along with the apps.


Beautiful trail through the dense rainforest at Pumalín National Park.

How To Get To Pumalín National Park

Most visitors start their Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park visit at the northern entrance called Caleta Gonzalo and travel south along the Carretera Austral Highway.

To reach Pumalín National Park from the north you will need to take 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. We came in the busy season (February) and everyone trying to get into Patagonia in their cars was stuck in Hornopirén waiting for a ferry for days.

We didn’t do our research ahead of time so we didn’t know that we could (and should) buy tickets before 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.

But good news for backpackers and bikers– if you don’t have a car, you can hop on a ferry the same day or the 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 in Pumalín and realized that there was no public transportation in this area to get around.

There are two ferry companies operating from Hornopirén: Transportes Austral and Somarco. We heard that Somarco is the nicer one so we chose this company to ship our van with.


How To Get Around Pumalín Park

Having a campervan during our Pan-American journey gave us the mobility to move around easily and sleep whenever we wanted.

Those who don’t have a car in the Pumalin region will be faced with some challenges. Most of the backpackers that we met in Pumalín (and there were lots 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 to give them a ride. 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 tour companies in the town of Chaitén that offer transportation and tours. Chaitén is a small town but it has restaurants, hostels, and grocery stores so many people make this their home base while exploring Pumalín National Park.


Pumalín National Park

Best Trails At Pumalín National 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, offers no views, and leads through an overgrown forest for almost 13 miles.

We also skipped trail #7 – Sendero Interpretativo since it just goes through a forest near a campsite and we heard that it’s 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.

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

Sendero #1 Caleta Gonzalo-Cascadas

Caleta Gonzalo – Cascadas Trail

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 moderate in difficulty. The trail goes through a mossy forest crossing rivers, climbing over rocks, and ends at a beautiful waterfall.

Parts of the trail require climbing up and down wooden stairs and using ropes to get over giant boulders. This trail is really fun (in an obstacle course type of way) but can be a bit tough on joints and knees.

Where To Stay Nearby

Where To Stay Pumalin Park Rio Gonzalo Campsite
Rio Gonzalo Campsite

Camping Río Gonzalo is located right across from the Sendero Cascada trailhead and is one of the nicest campsites that I have ever stayed at a public park.

The campsite costs 6000 Chilean pesos (around $9) per person per night and the camping areas are scattered in a forest clearing. The campground has bathrooms with running water and cold showers.

The campground is located next to a rustic farm and has a mini market that is open during the busy season (December to February).


Sendero #2 Laguna Tronador

Tronador Lake Trek Pumalin National Park Chile
Tronador Trail Lake
  • Trail Length: 3 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1360 feet
  • Time Needed: 4 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • AllTrails Route: Tronador Lagoon

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 to a beautiful lake.

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

Pumalin Park Chile Tronador Hike
Waterfall viewpoints along Tronador Hike

After 2 heart-pumping hours of hiking, we reached a viewpoint of the Tronador lake. This was one of the steepest trails that we did within Pumalín Park and required us to hike along tiny wooden stairs for 2 hours. Once we reached the trail end, we made our way down to the lakefront but had to fight through some overgrown shrubs to get there.

Hiking tip: 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 rain.

Where To Stay Nearby

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

Many backpackers and bikers make Cascada Escondida campsite their home base and walk (or catch a ride) to the Tronador trail to hike it.


Sendero #3 Alerce

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

The Sendero #3 Alerce trail is a quick and easy path that leads through a forest of giant Alerce trees. The Alerces trees are 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 tree.

Sendero los Alerces leads through a portion of 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 unique tree trunk!

Where To Stay Nearby

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


Sendero #4 Cascadas Escondidas

Casdaca Escondida Trail Best Hikes Pumalin National Park Chile
Lower Falls along Cascadas Escondidas Trail
  • Trail Length: 2.8 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 920 feet
  • Time Needed: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate
  • AllTrails Route: Cascadas Escondidas

Sendero Cascadas Escondidas is another popular hike in Pumalin National Park that starts next to 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.

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. Some parts require climbing up and down wooden stairs and over some tree roots and rocks.

Where To Stay Nearby

Cascada Escondida Campsite Pumalin Park Accomodations
Cascadas Escondidas Campsite

The waterfall trail starts at Camping Cascadas Escondidas which makes it very convenient for bikers and backpackers.

This camp offers beautiful roofed private sites for 16,000 Chilean pesos ($25) that are perfect for bigger groups and families of up to 4 people. Individual spots in the community area cost 6000 Chilean pesos ($9) per person.


Sendero #5 Punta Del Lago

Punta Del Lago Trail Pumalin National Park Chile
Punta Del Lago Trail
  • 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 can hike at Pumalín National Park. The trail starts at Camping Lago Negro and leads to a viewing area of a lake.

This is a nice short hike if you’re looking for a quiet spot in nature.

Where To Stay Nearby

The Punta Del Lago trail starts at the Lago Negro campsite. This is one of the smallest and least impressive campsites in the park which is why it’s usually pretty empty.

The site has a few larger private sites that cost 16,000 pesos ($25) for the entire site and a few individual camping spots scattered in the forest for 6000 pesos ($9) per person.


Sendero #8 Volcán Chaitén

Views from Volcán Chaitén Trail
  • Trail Length: 3.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2000 feet
  • Time Needed: 4 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate to difficult
  • AllTrails Route: Chaitén Volcano

Volcán Chaitén was one of my favorite trails that we hiked at Pumalín National Park. If you’re looking for THE ONE hike to do, I highly recommend putting Sendero Volcan Chaiten on top of your 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 mudflow that destroyed major parts of the forest in its way. During our hike, we could see stumps of old trees with their tops blown off still standing intact with new ones sprouting around them.

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

The trail ends next to Volcán Chaitén where you can see volcanic steam smoking and evaporating a few hundred feet away from the viewpoint. The scenery is pretty unreal overlooking a vibrant, Mars-like landscape.

Hiking Tip: Make sure to bring along a jacket and gloves. We were exposed to some icy winds at the top and within a few minutes I couldn’t feel my hands.

Where To Stay Nearby

Pumalin Park Accomodations Volcan Campsite
El Volcan Campsite

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

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

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.

Santa Barbara Beach Camp Pumalin National Park Chile
Playa Santa Bárbara

Another awesome camping spot near the Volcán Chaitén hike is the Playa Santa Bárbara. 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.

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


Sendero #11 El Mirador

Viewpoint of Michinmahuida Glacier from Mirador hike.
  • Trail Length: 3.4 miles roundtrip from Campsite Grande
  • Elevation: 1270 feet
  • Time Needed: 3 hours
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate

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

We started the El Mirador hike from the Camping Grande area and followed along a wide road for 1.2 miles until we reached the trail turnoff point that leads to the glacier viewpoint.

There is a closer starting point from Camping Ventisquero 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.

Where To Stay Neaby

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) per site or 6000 pesos ($9) for community spots.


Ready to visit Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park in Patagonia? Which of these trails are you adding to your list? Let me know in the comments below!

Looking for more South America travel inspiration? Be sure to check out these popular posts next:

This post is written by Laura Sausina. Hi, I’m the founder of the Fun Life Crisis travel blog and I’ve been traveling full-time for the past 7 years. Here I share my experiences and tips to help 100,000 people a month plan their adventures around the world! Read more about me here.

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6 thoughts on “Guide To Visiting Pumalín National Park In Chile”

    1. Hey Peter,

      We spent about a week at Pumalín National Park. This was enough time to hike most of the available day hikes there.

  1. Hey guys,

    Small question but I nmoticed you didn’t mention the first ferry
    (Caleta La Arena – Caleta Puelche/Caleta Puelche – Caleta La Arena/Carr. Austral ferry on Google).

    Do you have to book this one too?

    Thanks,

    Andrew

    1. The one from Hornopiren is the only one you have to book in advance. The others are pretty short so the lines aren’t very long. The first one you can actually drive around if you don’t want to take the ferry

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