Argentina’s oldest and second-largest national park, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi (Nahuel Huapi National Park) is 2,750 square miles of shimmering lakes, arrays of red-barked trees, and mountains dotted with mountains that swell under the weight of their pack. bow down. Given the size of the park, you’ll often need a bus or car to reach some of its points. Much of it can be visited on foot and by hiking and camping on Refugio (mountain hut) routes in summer, or by skiing and snowboarding on its slopes in winter.
Located near the city of Bariloche in the Lake District of Argentina, Nahuel Huapi was formed in 1934 as the result of a large donation of land by Dr. Francisco Pascacio Moreno, an explorer and museum curator from Buenos Aires. The park’s name comes from Mapudungun, the language of the indigenous Mapuche people, with “Nahuel” meaning “puma” and “Hupi” meaning “island”. Mapuche communities still live in the park, as do pumas, and possibly even Nahuelito, a Loch Ness-like monster in the depths of Lake Nahuel Huapi.
While access to the park is free at most points, some points require a permit fee of 1,300 pesos (about $13). If you are planning on trekking and camping, you will need to register your trek before beginning, as well as book a bed or campsite at a Refugio. All booking information can be found on the park’s official website.
Things to Do
With over 60 lakes and lagoons in the park, you’ll have your choice of places to swim, kayak, standup paddleboard, canoe, and sail. The lakes also form the main attraction on the park’s famous road trip itinerary: La Ruta de Siete Lagos, which links beautiful views of the Seven Lakes from Bariloche to San Martín de Los Andes. Go flyfishing in the park’s rivers to catch brown and rainbow trout, or mountain bike on one of its mountain trails. Multi-day hiking and kayak trips can be taken in the summer months, while snow sports such as skiing, sledding, and snowboarding are offered in the winter.
Various circuits of road biking throughout the park allow you to visit some of the area’s most famous natural wonders and historic settlements, and if you love rock climbing, you’ll love the area’s many accessible trails.
Best Hikes & Trails
In less than an hour, Nahuel Huapi National Park has plenty of day hiking, through hiking trails and short walks. If you are planning to do an overnight hike, the park requires that you register before starting your trek. If you’re planning on sleeping in a refuge or camping, you’ll need to book with Refugio through Club Andino.
- Cerro Campanario: This is an easy 1.3-mile out-and-back trail, with 360-degree views of the surrounding lakes, mountains, and points of interest such as Colonia Suza. Located on Avenida Exequiel Bustillo at 17.5 kilometers outside Bariloche, it has a chair lift and bathrooms.
- Refugio Frey: A popular day hike option, Frey can be reached by two routes: Cerro Cathedral (11.6 miles one way) or Vila Los Coihus (7.3 miles one way). Considered both to be difficult, the trails meander through rivers, forests, and rocky landscapes. Food and drink can be bought at the Refugio and a dip in the cool lagoon will refresh your muscles for the return trip.
- Cerro Tronador: The highest mountain in Nahuatl Huapi, the two peaks of Cerro Tronador are accessible from the Refugio Otto Meiling, located at the base of the Tronador. The trek to the Refugio can be done on your own, although a certified mountain guide will be needed to take the glaciers to the top. Book with a tourist agency in town or arrange with a refugee directly. Take a chartered bus to Pampa Linda, then hike the 8.6-mile medium route to reach Refugio.
- Hut to Hut Hike: Many of the huts in Nahuel Huapi connect to each other via a series of trails that span several days of hiking. One of the most common routes is from Refugio Frey to Refugio Jacobs via Refugio Laguna Negra to Refugio López, which usually takes two to four days. The starting point is the same as for hiking Frey, and the stopping point is Arroyo López, down Cerro López. If you start at Cerro Cathedral, expect a moderate to difficult route of about 38.5 miles.
Nahuel Huapi has hundreds of routes and climbing areas, including walls, slabs, crevices, and overhangs. Frey, Cerro López, and Piedras Blancas are some of the most popular spots, and none require a permit. Just outside the park in the Virgin de las Nieves area, Berlioche There is bouldering and top-rope climbing.
One of the most famous biking routes is the Circuito Chico, a 37-mile route that winds through ports, lakes, Colonia Souza, beautiful mountain scenery, and the Patagonia Brewery. Both paved and dirt, this is an all-day activity that can easily be done on its own or with a tour. There’s also mountain biking at Cerro Cathedral Bike Park and plenty of forest trails on Victoria Island.
Nahuel Huapi offers skiing, snowboarding, sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Cerro Cathedral is the most popular option, with 75 miles of slopes to speed up while cat skiers head to the Bagules Mountain Reserve. Piedras Blancas has ski schools and runs for the whole family, and spooky snowshoeing awaits those who visit the Refugio Extremo Encantado.
Where to Camp
- Refugio Emilio Frey: Perched at an elevation of 5,577 feet on the banks of Laguna Tonsec, Refugio Frey can only be reached by a four-hour trek. Open year-round, it offers a basic canteen, free camping, and bedding for a fee.
- Refugio Laguna Negra: Also known as “Refugio Italia”, this Refugio is open from September to April and is located on the edge of a black mountain lagoon. Several treks lead there, ranging in altitude from 2,716 to 5,323 feet. There is a fee for both camping and staying at the Refugio. The trek proceeds through canyons, scree fields, mountain paths, and rocky outcrops with wild berries and large Coihues trees along the way. There is a canteen which also rents out sleeping bags.
- Lago Gutiérrez: This well-equipped campground is located on the shores of Lake Gutierrez, and can be easily reached from Bariloche. Several short, nearby walking tours are just steps from the entrance, and showers, a grocery store, a restaurant, and kayak rentals are all on site. Only cash is accepted.
- The trail from Pampa Linda to Colonia Suja: This is the only trail in the park along which wild camping is permitted. Usually only accessible from January to April, you will need to register your trek with the park office. Plan on four to five days of trekking on the 31-mile-long trail, and bring everything you need because provisions on the trail can only be purchased at Pampa Linda or Refugio Lopez.
- Pichi Trafful: Located just 9 miles from Villa Trafful, this campground extends to the shores of Lake Trafful. Easy to drive, it is popular for fly fishing and trekking through Civinko Waterfalls. A well-maintained campground with a general store, it has hot water showers, bathrooms, and a wide, sandy beach. There is a small fee for camping. Call 2944-411-607 for reservations.
Where to Stay Nearby
- Llao Llao Resort, Golf Spa: A historic hotel right off the Circuito Chico, Llao Llao features five restaurants, high tea, spa services, an entire golf course, and more than 200 rooms overlooking Lake Nahuel Huapi.
- Greenhouse Hostel: A two-story hostel just above Lake Nahuel Huapi, the Green House has dorm beds, a few private rooms, a communal kitchen, an inviting lounge, Wi-Fi, and a ski school. A supermarket, bus stop, and restaurant are within walking distance.
- Corentoso Lake River Hotel: at Villa La Angostura on the banks of the Corentoso River, The hotel offers charming, wood-paneled rooms and suites overlooking the Nahuel Huapi Lake, as well as beach access, swimming pool, room service, a library, and a games room.
How to Get There
Nahuel Huapi National Park has several entrances, but the most popular way to get there is by driving from downtown Bariloche. There are flights from Buenos Aires to Bariloche every day. From Newquan, drive RN 237. From San Antonio Oeste, drive RN 23, and from El Bolson, take RN 40. Many trailheads and campgrounds can be operated, while others can be reached by Bariloche public buses. A self-driving or charter bus is required to reach some trailheads in the park, such as Pampa Linda. Since the park is so vast, it’s best to figure out where you want to go first, and research whether that particular trailhead or campground is accessible via a public bus using Moovit. If not, you can call a Remis (eg Remis Bariloche on 0294 443-3400) or purchase a charter bus ticket.
While Argentina continues to improve towards inclusive travel, not all activities in Nahuel Huapi National Park are accessible to people with limited mobility or vision. However, there are still some activities that can be enjoyed, and the tour company Travel Experience specializes in wheelchair-accessible tours in the area. Catamaran boats touring around Puerto Panuelo, Puerto Bleast, and Lago Fris have wheelchair lifts and/or ramps. Some trails, such as those around Victoria Island, have wheelchair-friendly boardwalks. Circuito Chico can be driven by car rather than by bike, and many of the famous mountains in and around the park have chairlifts or gondolas to the top, including Cerro Cathedral, Cerro Campanario, and Cerro Otto. Park signs do not have braille.
Tips for Your Visit
- Most refugios are open from October/November to April/May.
- Take all the gear you need. Due to Argentina’s high import taxes, gear is expensive to buy in surrounding areas such as Bariloche.
- Pets are not allowed in the park, as they can destroy the delicate native fauna.
- You can buy some chocolate or locally brewed beer from one of the many chocolate shops or microbreweries in the nearby town of Bariloche.