This post is part 5 of 18 in the series Carretera Austral Travel

A wide variety of hiking trails, scenic and comfortable campgrounds, a growing population of wildlife, and even a luxury adventure lodge make Patagonia National Park a must-stop for nature lovers of all sorts. Use our Patagonia National Park adventure travel guide to make the most of this gorgeous, well-appointed, and accessible park on the Carretera Austral in southern Chile.

chacabuco valley patagonia national park

The Chacabuco Valley area of Patagonia National Park in southern Chile protects grasslands, valleys, rivers, lakes, buttes, and peaks.

Exploring Patagonia National Park in Chile

Despite the many compelling features of Patagonia National Park (formerly called Chacabuco), few travelers seem to visit. We, on the other hand, have been to “PNP” twice and we’d visit again in a heartbeat.

Not so long ago, the Chacabuco Valley, which forms the most accessible heart of what is now Patagonia National Park, was used for grazing livestock. In 1995, Kris and Doug Tompkins visited the area and, after exploring the landscape on foot and from the air (Doug was a licensed pilot), the couple fell in love with the land. With conservation in mind, they began acquiring estancias (ranches) in the area one by one, removing hundreds of miles of fencing and tens of thousands of sheep in the process.

Patagonia National Park Chile

The park’s visitor village is home to a visitor center and museum, a luxury adventure lodge, a cafe, and the grave of Doug Tompkins.

Kris and Doug (the former CEO of Patagonia and the founder of The North Face and Esprit respectively) were already buying and rehabilitating large tracts of land through their Tompkins Conservation organization (now called Rewilding Chile) with the goal of donating the “rewilded” areas to the government to operate as national parks.

Doug Tompkins grave Patagonia National Park

Doug Tompkins, who died in a kayaking accident in Patagonia in 2015, is buried in this small cemetery that’s part of the visitor village of Patagonia National Park.

Patagonia National Park was officially created in 2018 when Kris donated a massive amount of land to the Chilean government and brokered a deal with then-President Michelle Bachelet to turn that donation into national parks including Patagonia National Park and Pumalin Doug Tompkins National Park, named in honor of Kris’s husband who died in 2015 in a kayaking accident on nearby Lago General Carrera.

So far, the Tompkins have purchased and protected approximately 15 million acres (6,070,284 hectares) of land in Chile and Argentina through their Tompkins Conservation organization and its partners. Most of that land has been donated and turned into national parks run by the Chilean or Argentinean governments.

Logo Cochrane panorama

This panorama, taken from the Lago Chico Trail, shows Lago Cochrane with San Lorenzo peak in the distance.

Today, Patagonia National Park covers 640,000 acres (260,000 hectares) incorporating the Chacabuco Valley region (donated by the Tompkins), the Lago Jeinimeni National Reserve (learn about that area of the park in our post about the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park), the Lago Cochrane National Reserve, and additional land. The park protects steppe grasslands, imposing buttes, lakes and streams, forests, and peaks including Cerro Kristine which was named for Kris Tompkins. Patagonia National Park also extends over the border into Argentina where it’s run by the Argentinean government.

pygmy owl Patagonia National Park Chile

A pygmy owl in Patagonia National Park.

Ongoing projects within Patagonia National Park are focused on species reintroduction including fostering more robust populations of rhea (an ostrich-like bird), puma (which have been spotted by park guides), and guanacao–the wild cousin of the llama and the favored prey of pumas–which appear to be thriving (you’ll see them everywhere). Huemul deer and Andean condors are also found within the park.

Hiking in Patagonia National Park

It’s unusual for one park to have so many different types of hikes, but with 155 miles (250 km) of hiking trails in the Chacabuco Valley area of the park, there’s a trail for nearly everyone from family-friendly strolls to challenging day hikes to multi-day traverses to mountain ascents.

Hiking the El Aviles Trail in Patagonia National Park

aviles loop trail patagonia national park

Heading out on the El Alviles Trail in Patagonia National Park.

Our first hike in Patagonia National Park was the El Aviles Trail, a 10.7 mile (16 km) loop that starts and ends at the Casa Piedra Campground and travels up one side of the Aviles River, crosses over a well-built hanging bridge, then travels back down the other side of the river.

PNP aviles loop trail

Karen on the El Aviles trail in Patagonia National Park.

Along the way, you gain 1,500 feet (457 meters) up and down (ascents/descents are never extreme) through grasslands and forests with glimpses of Painted Mountain with its mineral-induced natural red and gold color. During our time on this trail, we saw Andean condors and just two other hikers.

hanging bridge aviles loop trail

Karen crossing the Aviles River on an extremely well-built hanging bridge.

We did this hike in 5 hours total including a brief stop for a riverside picnic. There is very little shade, so wear sunscreen and a hat. The El Aviles hike is a good choice for people looking for a somewhat challenging half-day hike. This hike forms part of a larger multi-day hike that connects the Chacabuco Valley area of Patagonia National Park with the Jeinimeni area of Patagonia National Park.

Hiking the Lago Chico/Doug Tompkins Lookout Trail in Patagonia National Park

Our second hike in Patagonia National Park was the Lago Chico/Doug Tomkins Lookout Trail. The trailhead is up a rough dirt road above the Alto Valle Campground. This 7.5 mile (12 km) loop gains 800 feet (243 meters) in elevation (there are a few short steep bursts but this trail is mostly undulating and easygoing) through steppe grasslands and forest plus a lovely lakeside section around Lago Chico.

Lago Chico hike Patagonia National Park

Skirting around Lago Chico on the loop trail of the same name.

At one point we strolled through a stretch of low and fragrant plants that released their sweet and herby scent as we passed. We saw guanacos and vizcachas and enjoyed views of Chacabuco Lake and the San Lorenzo peak and glacier in the distance.

Doug Tompkins Lookout

The welcoming Doug Tompkins Lookout is perfect for a post-hike picnic with epic views included.

We did this loop in 3.5 hours total and capped it off with lunch on one of the picnic tables in the open-sided Doug Tompkins Lookout shelter that we reached near the end. This trail has very little shade so wear sunscreen and a hat. This hike is a good choice if you’re with children or anyone with limited stamina because the trail is gentle and you could simply turn back at any time and still have an enjoyable outdoor experience without overdoing it.

Hiking the Lagunas Altas Trail in Patagonia National Park

We saved the most iconic hike in Patagonia National Park for last.

Lagunas Altas Trail Patagonia National Park

Heading up the Lagunas Altas Trail in Patagonia National Park.

The Lagunas Altas Trail is, by far, the most famous and most popular hike in the park.  We started this 13-mile (20.9 km) hike from the visitor center in the park’s visitor village. After walking about half a mile along the valley floor, we reached the true trailhead where we immediately began a 4-mile (6.5 km) climb up from the valley floor to the top of an imposing bluff, gaining nearly 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).

lagunas altas trail pnp

Traversing dramatic bluffs on the Lagunas Altas Trail.

Once on the blufftop, the trail traverses it, undulating gently past lakes and through forests on the surprisingly large and diverse bluff. Views are expansive and winds can be strong.

After crossing the bluff, the trail descends 3 miles (4.5 km) on the other side of the formation back down to the valley floor. If you want to make this a true loop, you’ll then have to walk an additional mile (1.6 km) on the dirt road that travels through the park to return to the visitor center.  Allow at least seven hours to complete this trail, including a stop for lunch.

Lagunas Altas Patagonia National Park

One of the many bluff-top lakes that give the Lagunas Altas Trail its name.

The Laguna Altas hike is long and tiring with a seriously long and steep ascent at the beginning and a long descent at the end, but there’s plenty of varied scenery and terrain along the way to make the effort worth it. This trail will appeal to hikers looking for a full-day challenge.

Non-hiking things to do in Patagonia National Park

The visitor center in the park “village” in Chacabuco Valley (where you’ll also find a cafe, gift shop, and the Explora Patagonia Lodge), delivers a compelling environmental reality check.

Patagonia National Park- Vsitors Center

Visit the museum behind the park visitor center to see excellent exhibits about the flora, fauna, culture, and history of the Chacabuco Valley and about environmental issues threatening it and the rest of the world.

Enter the imposing stone visitor center and push through saloon-style swinging doors and you’ll find a diorama of the park, gorgeous wildlife photography, information about Indigenous cultures and subsequent colonization, and well-presented and interactive information about flora and fauna and the threats they face from water scarcity to habitat loss to plastics (all in Spanish and English). A particularly chilling display illustrates global species loss. And don’t miss the charming hologram of Kris Tompkins talking about her commitment to conservation.

lucas-bridges-homestead-Patagonia-NP

Casa Museo Lucas Bridges gives visitors the chance to see the refurbished cabin of one of the first non-Indigenous residents of this area.

The informative and authentic Casa Museo Lucas Bridges opened in February of 2020 in the eastern area of the park about 8 miles (12.8 km) from the border with Argentina and near the Alto Valle Campground. Here, the cabin home of Lucas Bridges, a pioneering character in the early days of Patagonia, has been restored. All of the rooms in the humble house have been re-furnished and recreated as they would have been when Bridges, an Anglican missionary and one of the first non-Indigenous settlers in Patagonia, lived there in the early 1900s. The cabin is locked and unmanned, but visitors can peer into the rooms.

Interested travelers can dive deeper into the Bridges legacy in Patagonia with a visit to Estancia Harberton near Ushuaia.

Hotels and camping in Patagonia National Park

Most national parks in Latin America do not have hotels inside their boundaries. However, Doug and Kris built a lodge in the Chacabuco Valley before the land was made part of Patagonia National Park. That original lodge was recently taken over and completely re-furbished and reimagined by the Explora group, a Chilean company that operates some of the most luxurious adventure travel lodges in South America.

guanaco explora patagonia national park

Explora Patagonia National Park Lodge is a luxury all-inclusive adventure basecamp inside the park offering excellent food, service, and guided excursions.

At the Explora Patagonia National Park Lodge, (formerly called the Valle Chacabuco Lodge), located in the park’s “village” area, wood, and stone create a lodge-like look and feel in the common area, bar, and restaurant and in the rooms. Fresh interior design and enormous windows that make the most of valley views elevate the outdoor chic ambiance.

Explora hotel Patagonia National Park Chile

A recent refurbishment brought even more polish and rugged style to Explora Patagonia National Park Lodge.

The lodge restaurant delivers a food and wine experience designed by the team behind Don Julio restaurant in Buenos Aires, a regional and global chart-topper. Highly trained guides are on hand to tailor your activities from an extensive menu of excursions, and all-inclusive rates make it easy to say yes to everything. Learn more about this hotel in Patagonia National Park in our full review of Explora Patagonia National Park Lodge for Luxury Latin America.

Patagonia National Park also offers very comfortable and scenic camping options. The Alto Valle Campground, in the eastern area of the park has level campsites each with charming wood shelters and picnic tables. Shared facilities include solar hot water showers, modern flushing toilets, and dishwashing facilities. The West Winds Campground and the Casa Piedra Campground, located in different parts of the park, have similar facilities.

Getting to Patagonia National Park

Patagonia National Park in Chile is easily reached by car via two entrances.

Confluence Baker & Chacabuco Rivers

It’s worth a stop at the confluence of the Rio Baker and the Rio Neff near the Baker Entrance to Patagonia National Park.

The park’s primary entrance is the Baker Entrance on the western side of the park off of Ruta 7 (which is the numeric name of Chile’s iconic Carretera Austral) near the dramatic natural confluence of the Rio Baker and the Rio Neff (pictured above and worth a stop. The Rio Baker is Chile’s largest river by volume and at the confluence point the bright blue waters of the Rio Baker meet the milky, glacier-fed waters of the Rio Neff.

The second entrance is accessed via the Paso Rodolfo Roballos border crossing between Chile and Argentina. The Chile side of this border is in the eastern area of Patagonia National Park quite close to the Alto Valle Campground and the Casa Museo Lucas Bridges.

 

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:<< Lovely, Lonely Lakes – Jeinimeni Sector of Patagonia National Park, ChileWet, Wild, and Worth It – Pumalin Douglas Tompkins National Park, Chile >>

Share via