The frosted mug and homemade beer had to be a dream. I was six hours into the dense, flourishing forests of the Patagonian Andes. A wandering – yet perfectly manicured – single-track trail had led me to a beautiful, rustic log cabin. It was my sanctuary, restaurant, and place of entertainment for a few nights, until I decided it was time to hike on to the next Andean refuge.
Welcome to the reality of the trail circuits of northern Patagonia. The trail system, created in the mid 1900s, flows through miles of untouched, virgin bamboo forests. Glaciated mountains, thick timberland and crystal clear rivers intensify the beauty of the pristine playground. The paths are interlinked by fully stocked and manned huts. Continue on for beta on five hikes in the virgin forests of Parque Nacional de Nahuel Huapi.
1. Refugio Frey to Refugio San Martin: The grand daddy of them all, Refugio Frey is surrounded by a surreal setting. The mountains are rugged like a baby Chamonix, the dense forest resembles Alaska, and the rock climbing and winter backcountry descents are world-class. The laborious hike to the hut can either begin by chairlift from the Catedral ski area or by trail, either is more or less a four hour excursion. The log and rock refuge, built in 1957, has the capacity for 40 people, including mattresses and blankets. From Frey you can continue on through thick forests to rustic Refugio San Martin, where emerald-green Lake Jakob awaits you. The hut, built in 1952, is outfitted for 30 people. It is a five to seven hour hike between the two huts, with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. The hike out is a five to seven hour stroll that follows the clear, blue water of the Rucaco river.
2. Refugio San Martin to Laguna Negra: If the wander lust is still strong, then continue on to another hut based out of Laguna Negra, Refugio Italia. This is a more difficult hike, requiring compass work and agility. It takes between six to nine hours to connect the two huts. The trail ventures through dense old-growth woods, the open steppe offering clear views of rugged mountains and class-three rock climbing. From Refugio Italia it is another five hours of easy hiking back to civilization.
3. Refugio Lopez to Laguna Negra: This popular trail head tends to be busy at the entrance and near the small kiosco (side note: they have great choripan). The trail starts with a steep climb offering incredible, panoramic views of the Lakes District. A three hour walk takes you to a pink-stucco, sixty-person refuge. From Refugio Lopez it is a five to seven hour hike of medium difficulty to Refugio Italia, with an elevation gain of 2500 feet.
4. Laguna Negra to Pampa Linda: Another option once at Refugio Italia is to continue on towards the glaciated faces of Mount Tronador . This is considered one of the prime hiking trails in the world because of its close proximity to the immense glaciated fields of Mount Tronador. The sense of being surrounded by the gigantic Andes doesn’t hurt either. It is a three to five day excursion that ends in the Tronador national park at Pampa Linda. There are camp sites along the way and a hotel in Pampa Linda. It is encouraged to be experienced with camping, trekking and the use of a compass if attempting this journey.
5. Lago Mascardi to Laguna Llum: This is an easy, two to three hour hike that climbs about 500 vertical feet. The trail wanders through rainforest-like terrain that is inundated with Patagonian bamboo and native Cipres and Coihue trees. It visits soft sand beaches framing the emerald-green water of Lago Mascardi. The trail continues to a hidden lagoon where it is said the forests are magical. At Laguna Llum, is an abandoned hut, Refugio Vivac. From Laguna Llum it is possible to continue on to Pampa Linda at the base of Mount Tronador. A tent is vital for this excursion.
There are few different ways to locate information on these and other hikes. Club Andino Bariloche, an organization created out of the mantra to interact, enjoy and spread the knowledge of the mountains has offices throughout Argentina. They offer maps and information about the various trails, access and current conditions. The main Bariloche hub is a non-descript building located in the center of town, across the street from the Moreno YPF gas station. Look for a green sign saying ‘Información de Montaña’. Another place for the best maps and local guide books is a little fishbowl of a place on the corner of Villegas and Moreno. There are two different book series that cover the Bariloche Lakes region; Info Trekking de la Patagonia and Guia Sendas y Bosques. The Nahuel Huapi editions of both of these books are must-haves.
Hiking through the world’s longest and second highest mountains is life changing, awe-inspiring and an incredible way to get in touch with nature. Bariloche gives the adventurous a multitude of choices to become enveloped by the antique forests and towering granite mountains. And with so many hiking choices you are certain to find your own piece of paradise.
20 de Febrero Nro 30
(8400) San Carlos de Bariloche
winters: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.
summers: 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Tourist Information Kiosk
Corner of Villegas and Moreno,
Next to the Artisan Market
9 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Guia Sendas y Bosques
Edición Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi
Marcelo Castro, Gustavo Santos, Jaime Aguayo
Trekking e Interpretación de la Naturaleza
Publisher, Ediciones S & B, San Martin de los Andes, Neuquén
Info Trekking de la Patagonia
Edición Nahuel Huapi
About the author: Shanie Matthews and her husband have lived full time in Patagonia since 2007. When they are not fine dining, they spend their time outdoors. They have a daily blog, www.LivingInPatagonia.com and are currently selling their majestic property, www.PatagoniaInvestmentProperty.com. They also manage a vacation rental business, www.BarilocheVacationRental.com, and have hosted guests from over 30 countries.