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Trekking in Patagonia Chile - National Parks
Chile has eight Unesco World Biosphere Reserves and four World Heritage Sites. Chilean Patagonia has the lion's share of these. Trekking in Patagonia is challenging but unforgettable, with highlights including deserted rainforests, active volcanoes, jagged glacier-encrusted mountain scapes and a big chunk of the earth's remaining wilderness.
Trekking highlights of this fertile and diverse region of Patagonia include Villarica's active climbable volcano; Huerquehue's watery wonderland of lagoon's, waterfalls and rivers; Nahuelbuta National Park, a local family favorite, Tolhuaca's 19th-century thermal baths, which come with a national park attached, and the vast volcanic forests of Conguillio National Park.
Huerquehue National Park
Huerquehue is one of Chilean Patagonia's most accessible and popular National Parks, only 33km from the bustling adventure hub of Pucon.
Treks range from a half-hour nature trail to a two-day trek. Highlights include native aruaucaria (Monkey Puzzle) forests, snowy volcanoes and lots of water, with some 2,000 millimeters (81 inches) of annual rainfall feeding innumerable lakes, rivers, lagoons and springs.
Villarrica National Park
Villarrica's main attraction is its volcano (Volcan Villarrica). Trekkers can climb the 3000 metres to its iced summit and peer down into a crater of bubbling lava (ice picks and gas masks supplied). This is one of South America's most active volcanoes, and inhabitants of nearby Pucon are always ready to make a run for it - you may hear the drill siren while you're there.
The surrounding National Park has two other Volcanoes, Quetrupillán and Lanín, both set in 63,000 hectares of ancient woodland, lakes and rivers.
Nahuelbuta National Park
Nahuelbuta is a small family-friendly national park, covering just 6832 hectares with about 14km of trails. Like Huerquehue, farther south, it comes with forests of Araucaria trees (monkey puzzle trees), but here their setting is a warmer and dryer part of Patagonia. The trees, some of which are 1000s of years old, make a magical setting for children, who are also catered for with a short nature trail and picnic areas.
Trek to the top of Piedra del Aguila for views across of the Andes and the Pacific.
Tolhuaca National Park
Tolhuaca thermal baths opened in 1898, and they're still a popular way to chill out after exploring neighboring Tolhuaca National Park - 7000 hectares of lush forest set in the Andean foothills. Highlights include Malleco waterfall, Tolhuaca Volcano (2806m) and unlimited bird-watching opportunities.
Conguillio National Park
Conquillio National Park is the place to see Araucaria Trees (Monkey Puzzle Trees). They predominate in this strange volcanic landscape. Their lime green shoots rise everywhere from black volcanic slopes, against a backdrop of taller trees thousands of years old. So antediluvian is the scene, the BBC used it as the setting for their series, Walking with Dinosaurs. The volcanoes are Volcan Llaima and Volcan Sierra Nevada, both active - Llaima last erupted in 1996.
Conquillio is popular with Chileans and therefore well-developed. Facilities include several well-marked walking treks, campsites and lodges as well as a road running the entire length of the park.
The Lakes (Los Lagos)
Chile's Lake District is a good place in Patagonia to combine trekking with water-based activities: such as kayaking and fishing along the waterways of Vicente Perez Rosales or Chiloe National Parks.
Puyehue National Park
Puyehue is one of Patagonia's most visited parks, but back-country trekkers are rare. They are missing out on lush Valdivian rainforests, stunning lakes, snow-topped volcanic cones, and quite a bit of Patagonia's native wildlife, including miniature deer, Darwin's Frogs, and over a quarter of the country's bird species.
Treks range from easy strolls through woodland to challenging treks round Volcan Casablanca (three days), to its crater (one day) or up nearby Volcan Puyehue.
Puyehue National Park covers nearly 107,000 hectares.
Vicente Perez Rosales National Park
Waterways, Volcanoes, Mountains and Rainforest
A handful of the Lake District's must-see attractions are in this national park, which was the first to be created in Chile. Osorno Volcano, Petrohué Waterfall and Lago Todos Los Santos, a many-fingered lake which reaches into lush valleys of temperate rainforest are all easy to get to, making this a great place for day treks mixed with other activities, such as fishing, kayaking and thermal bath visits.
Vicente Perez Rosales National Park covers 251,000 hectares.
Alerce Andino National Park
Alerce Trees (Fitzroya cupressoides), or Redwoods of the Andes, can live for 4000 years and grow to 70 meters. Alerce Andino National Park is one of only a few places where you can still see them. You'll have to brave steep and waterlogged trails to get to the oldest ones though. (Get advice from local rangers before setting off.) Less demanding treks can be organized at Alerce Mountain Lodge.
The Park also has about 50 lagoons and lakes, some with lakeshore campsites.
Chiloe National Park
Chiloe is a rain-drenched archipelago of some 40 islands with its own unique culture. Look out for stilt houses and wooden Jesuit chapels, 14 of which comprise a World Heritage Site. Chiloe National Park is on the west coast of Chiloe Island.
Here, trekking is perhaps best combined with kayaking Chiloe's many waterways.
Hornopiren National Park
Rainforest, rivers, volcanoes and glaciers
Undeveloped and often overlooked, Hornopiren is gem of a national park, which crams glaciers, volcanoes and miles and miles of pristine Valdivian rain forest into just 48,232 hectares.
The sparsely populated Aisén Region offers limited but challenging trekking among ice caps, glaciers and deserted forests.
Queulat National Park
The Carretera Austral runs through Queulat National Park, but beyond that, dense evergreen forests make for some challenging hiking. The park's main attractions - the Queulat Hanging Glacier and Padre García and Cóndor waterfalls are the easiest to get to.
Magallanes' main attraction for trekkers is the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park, but the region also has the less well known Pali Aike National Park, offering short treks in a strange lunar landscape.
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine draws trekkers to two world-class treks, the Torres del Paine W - four days - and the Torres del Paine Circuit- about 10 days. Both treks climb in and out of the extraordinary Paine Massif, a barely formed mountain range of jagged peaks and icy valleys, with the Circuit also traversing the John Gardner Pass, which overlooks the Patagonian Ice Cap.
Pali Aike National Park
Pali Aike means desolate place, and its 5000 hectares is a barren mix of pampas, volcanic cones and massive rock sculptures.
Four short treks take you to the main sights, including Pali Aike Cave, a national monument, Cráter Morad del Diablo, and Laguna Ana.