This post is part 6 of 18 in the series Carretera Austral Travel

In 2018, the Lago Jenimeni National Reserve was incorporated into the newly created Patagonia National Park along with the Chacabuco Valley and the Lago Cochrane National Reserve. Most visitors to Patagonia National Park explore the Chacabuco Valley area where visitor facilities and trails abound. But the Jeinimeni area, accessed off the Carretera Austral in the Patagonia region of southern Chile, offers charms of its own including a scenic campground and lakeside hiking.

lago jeinimeni flowers

Lago Jeinimeni in all her glory.

The Jeinimeni section of Patagonia National Park (9,000 CLP/US$10 per person per day) encompasses nearly 400,000 acres (161,000 hectares) of forest, steppe, and snowy peaks. The landscape also features numerous rivers and lakes.

Hiking in the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park

Piedra clavada patagonia nacional park

Seeing the Piedra Clavada (Nailed Rock) is a hiking highlight of the Jeinimeni section of Patagonia National Park.

About 45 minutes from the town of Chile Chico, on your way toward the Jeinimeni sector entrance, you’ll pass the Piedre Clavada (Nailed Rock)/Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands)/Valle Lunar (Moon Valley) Trail. Though outside the park entrance, this area is part of the official park protected area and this 4.8 mile (7.7 km) loop is worth your time with natural beauty and a bit of ancient culture.

valle lunar chile chico jeiniemeni

The Valle Lunar gets its name from this stark and slightly surreal landscape.

The loop trail gains about 1,633 feet (498 meters) along a mostly gentle trail with one moderate ascent and one fairly steep descent. Natural highlights include Piedra Clavada (Nailed Rock) which is a 130 foot (40 meter) spire of rock that seems to be piercing the earth, and Valle Lunar with white rock formations that seem to be melting.

cueva de las manos chile chico jeinimeni

Sadly, vandalism and weather have damaged the ancient hand prints in the Cueva de las Manos.

The trail also passes the the Cueva de las Manos where you can see faint ancient hand art. Sadly, the cave, once protected by a fence, is badly damaged and shows signs of vandalism. On the first part of the loop trail, on the way to Piedra Clavada, there’s a sign that reads Paradon con Pinturas Repuestres (Wall with rock paintings). There you can see one hand print (pictured above top right) that’s in better condition than anything visible in the cave (picture above below right). And the hand prints seen here are nowhere near as impressive as the distinct and numerous hands to be seen at the famous Cuevas de Las Manos site in Patagonia National Park in Argentina.

Pinturas repuestres patagonia national park

Make a stop when you encounter this sign to see the best hand print example along this trail.

Allow 2 hours for the full loop and be prepared with hats, water, and sunscreen. There is very little shade.

Pro tips: Don’t park at the building just off the main dirt road into the park. Instead, drive up above that structure nearly 1.5 miles (2.5 km) on a curvy dirt road to reach a small parking area right at the trailhead. And because this trail is outside the official park entrance, you don’t pay a fee to access it.

parque nacional patagonia lago jeinimeni sector

Entering the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park in the Patagonia region of southern Chile.

About 10 miles (16 km) further on you reach the official park entrance with a ranger station where the entrance fee is collected. Inside the park entrance, hiking trails lead to brilliantly green Lago Verde, shimmering Lago Esmeraldas, and scenic viewpoints around azure blue Lago Jeinimeni.

lago jeinimeni mirador viewpoint

Lago Jeinimeni from one of the viewpoints above and around it.

We cobbled together nearly 10 miles (16 km) along these mostly flat lake trails in one afternoon heading out past Laguna Esmeralda and then climbing to the Lago Jeinimeni Mirador on the return.

lago jeinimeni patagonia-national-park

Lago Jeinimeni.

Vistors with more time can tackle the Aviles Trail which covers the 13 miles (20 km) between Lago Jeinimeni and the Chacabuco Valley and is usually done in two days. A 9-mile (15 km) trail to Estero Ventisqueros, the reserve’s interior snowdrifts, is usually done in three days.

Camping in the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park

Not far from the Jeinimeni sector ranger station is the El Silencio Campground (3,000 CLP/US$3 per person per day) with 10 or so level, spacious, and shaded drive-in campsites with picnic tables and small shelters within a stone’s throw of the brilliant blue water of Lago Jeinimeni that drains under a bridge to form the Rio Jeinimeni.

lago jeinimeni parque nacional-patagonia

Lago Jeinimeni as seen from the edge of the El Silencio Campground.

Campsites are private and located under tall, swaying trees. We heard woodpeckers and pumas have been seen in the area.  A common building has a flush toilet, cold showers, and sinks with running water for campers to use.

Note that when we visited the Jeinimeni area we had to pay an entrance fee for each day we were in the park (9,000 CLP/US$10 per person) plus the per person per day camping fee of 3,000 CLP/US$3. In other words, one entrance fee does not cover you for multiple days of camping. You must pay the campsite fee and an entrance fee each day for each person which adds up to 12,000 CLP/US$13 per person per day.

The Jeinimeni area also has a hike-in camping area called the Raleigh Campground that’s located on Lago Verde, but this facility is not always open. And the entire Jeinimeni sector can close during South American winter months.

Getting to the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park

The Visitors Center in Valle Chacabuco, the primary tourist area in Patagonia National Park, may be less than 30 miles (48 km) from Lago Jeinimeni as the condor flies, but driving between the two areas is not that simple as they are separated by 141 miles (226 km) of unpaved road.

road puerto guadal chile chico

Spectacular Ruta 265 runs along Lago General Carrera between Puerto Guadal and Chile Chico.

To get to the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park, we left Valle Chacabuco and drove north along the Carretera Austral (Ruta 7) to the junction with Ruta 265 (called Cruce El Maitén) just before the town of Puerto Guadal. The 65 miles (104 km) of Ruta 265 between Puerto Guadal and Chile Chico is spectacular, frequently clinging to the mountainside above Lago General Carrera with views in the distance of the glacier-covered peaks surrounding the Northern Patagonian Ice Field including Monte San Valentin, the tallest mountain in Patagonian Chile.

Chile Chico on Lago General carrera

Welcome to Chile Chico, Chile, your gateway to the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park.

However, this road was in particularly bad shape with lots of washboarded sections, many brutal potholes, loose gravel, and other conditions that slowed us down so much that it took 5.5 hours to cover the relatively short distance between the two towns.

We arrived in Chile Chico too late to enter the park and set up camp, so we spent the night at Kon Aiken Turismo where they offer cabins (40,000 CLP/US$43 got us a tiny cabin with a bathroom and small kitchen), camp sites, and rooms and also operate a tour company.

From Chile Chico, it’s 29 miles (47 km) along Ruta X-753 to reach the entrance to the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park (passing the Piedra Clavada/Cueva de las Manos/Valle Lunar trailhead along the way). Allow at least 1.5 hours driving time each way and allow even more drive time if the dirt road is in bad condition.

When we left the Jeinimeni section of Patagonia National Park, we headed for the nearby Paso Jeinimeni border crossing just outside of Chile Chico and traveled back into Argentina.

 

Here’s more about travel in Chile

Here’s more about Carretera Austral Travel

Here’s more about Patagonia Travel

Here’s more about National Parks in the Americas

Here’s more about Adventure Travel in the Americas

 


Series Navigation:<< The Quirkiest Stop on the Carretera Austral – Caleta Tortel, ChileA Trail for Everyone – Patagonia National Park, Chile >>

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