Pumalin park – trekking and camping in Patagonia, Chile

Caleta Gonzalo, Pumalin park
Caleta Gonzalo, Pumalin park

Pumalin park in northern Patagonia is a stunning area that offers some great opportunities for outdoor lovers; several hiking trail, in-nature campsites, crystal clear river, unique flora and fauna – all these you will ding here. Pumalin park is situated on the famous Carretera Austral (Southern road) that starts in Puerto Montt and finishes in Villa O’Higgins – it’s definitely worth to stop here for a couple of days before heading south. 

Pumalin park facts

  • Area – 400 000 ha.
  • Pumalin was a private reserve, it belonged to the founder of North Face gear company Douglas Tompkins.
  • Till 2017 Pumalin was larges private reserve in Chile, last year it was gifted to Chilean state and became a part of the National park – the largest park in South America with total area of 4 000 000 ha.
  • In 2008 and eruption of Chaitén volcano the park was closed for two years and opened again in 2010.

Weather in Northern Patagonia

Weather in this part of Patagonia is not as extreme as in the South; summer temperatures are around 16-20°C, in winter it rarely goes down below 0°C. Summer weather is nice and comfortable for hiking and camping, it’s not too hot during the day and cool at night time.

Rainfalls can happen any time and sometimes it can rain for a couple of days but in general summer has not much rain. Winter months are the rainy months here – not the ideal time for hiking and camping. Though you might be lucky and get very little rain we’d recommend to have a waterproof tent it can rain quite heavy in summer.

How to get to Pumalin park

By bus+ferry from Puerto Montt

There are buses from Puerto Montt (bus terminal) that offer a combination bus+ferry and will deliver you right to Caleta Gonzalo or Chaitén, departure time 7am (it can change we’d suggest to arrive a day earlier and find out) the journey takes 9 hours. Price CLP 14 000/US$21.

By car/hitchhiking from Puerto Montt

  • From Puerto Montt drive south on the Carretera Austral to Caleta Arena, from there catch a ferry to Puelche, a short ride – 20min., departs every 30 min. or so. If you walk in you pay CLP 700/US$1. You can just jump in someone’s car, the price is per car doesn’t matter how many passengers are in it.
  • Arrive at Puelche harbor. From here continue driving – 60 km to Hornopiren – a small town. 
  • From Hornopiren catch another ferry to Caleta Gonzalo, 5 hour trip with one switch – at Leptepu everybody gets off the ferry, drives for 10 minutes to Fiordo Largo and embark another ferry to Caleta Gonzalo. There is a morning departure from Hornopiren at 9.00 am. If you travelling by car in season book a spot beforehand at the ferry station or online. Here they charge per person not per car, doesn’t matter if you walk in or drive in (only driver doesn’t pay), price CLP 30 000/US$45 per car (driver doesn’t pay), CLP 5600/US$8 per person. The ferry fits 50 cars and 300 passengers, it’s a big and comfortable ferry. You can buy some food; sandwiches, pastry, instant noodles, tea/coffee but everything is very expensive. Once you’re on the ferry check for seats with outlets, don’t miss the chance to charge your devices there is no electricity in the park. Ferry timetable changes depending on the season, it’s better to find out beforehand in the town. 

Packing list for Pumalin

You can find complete packing list for trekking and camping in Patagonia here ↓↓↓↓

Nearest towns 

Hornopiren is a small town with different accommodation options; hotels, cottages and campsites, one supermarket, a couple of restaurants and an ATM. We’d recommend to draw money in Puerto Montt, just in case this ATM doesn’t work. It’s always a problem in Patagonia, every time you see a working one just draw money. There are several nice hotels in the town depending on your budget – Cahuin Hostel or Residencial El Botecitobudget options; Pichical Ruca cottages, Hosteria Catalina or Entre Fiordos y Sirenasmiddle price range; Cabañas El Cobre – a bit more pricey

Chaitén – the nearest town to Pumalin park – 58 km from Caleta Gonzalo. It’s rather a village, very small, with two or three shops, many hotels and hostels, a couple of local restaurants and one or two campsites. There are no ATMs here, not all places accept credit cards – make sure you have cash. Accommodation options – Hostel Chaitén Renacebudget; Cabañas Renacemiddle price range; Cabañas El Fandangomore expensive

How to get from Pumalin park to Chaitén

There is one local bus from the western part of the park to Chaitén, at 11.00am, for CLP 1000/US$2. Departure time better to confirm at the information office at Caleta Gonzalo. You can use the same bus to move from one campsite to another one inside the park. Park rangers sometimes pick up tourists if they go the same way. In this part of Chile public transport can be a problem, there are few buses, they don’t go everyday, sometimes they are full, if you short in time, plan your trip beforehand and find out more buses.

Pumalin park hiking and camping
River with crystal clear water, campsite Caleta Gonzalo, Pumalin park

Pumalin park campsites and hiking trails

Ferries arrive right at the park, at Caleta Gonzalo. There is an information office at the pier where you can get a map and some info about the park and campsite (they speak English). Entrance is free.  Since 2017 Pumalin park is not private reserve anymore – it belongs to the government. The park is not very famous outside Chile – for us it was a nice surprise and one of the best experiences in Patagonia. Pumalin park has a very good website in English and Spanish.

Pumalin park map.
Map of Pumalin park. 1 – Caleta Gonzalo; 2 – Chaiten; 3 – south entrance to the park.

Campsites in Pumalin park

There are several campsites in the park, price for camping is the same – CLP 6000/US$9. All campsites have toilets, some have cold showers and shelters with tables and benches where you can hide from the rain, cook or play table games. We stayed at Caleta Gonzalo (western part of the park) and Carlos Cuevas (southern part) campsites. The first one is next to the ferry – very nice and well maintained. It has a small shop where you can buy some food; pasta, soups, cheese, instant noodles, eggs, bread, milk, cookies, tea, snacks and chocolate. Prices are a bit higher than in towns, especially for fresh stuff. The second campsite is more of a wild experience with only ablution complex and basins for washing dishes. 

* Both are not official campsites with limited facilities you can camp there if necessary.

Pumalin park hiking and camping
Campsite Carlos Cuavas, southern part of Pumalin park, Patagonia, Chile

Pumalin park trekking routes

The main activities are hiking and observing the nature. There are several trails of different lengths and difficulty, all trails start near the campings, just choose which one you want to hike and stay in the closest camping.

Trails of the western part of the park

Cascadas (waterfalls), Rio Gonzalo campsite – 5,6 km return, 3 hours. The trail is very beautiful and picturesque, the path, sometimes wooden bridges, goes through the dense forest, along the river and ends with an impressive huge waterfall. When it rains a lot it can be difficult to get there, you need to cross a river and sometimes it can be quite strong and deep, but it’s possible, just find a right spot. The path is very clear and easy to follow, even without seeing the waterfall it’s worth of walking.

Waterfall, Cascadas trail, Pumalin park.
Campbell at the waterfall, Cascadas trail, Pumalin park

Laguna Tronador, Tronador campsite – 4,8 km (return), starts at Tronador bridge, 11 km south of Caleta Gonzalo. Wooden stairs in the beginning leading to the suspension bridge, 3 hours.

Cascadas escondidas (hidden waterfalls), Cascadas Escondidas campsite – 2 km return, 2 hours. About 14 km from Caleta Gonzalo, small waterfalls, nice walk through the forest.

Lago Negro, Lago Negro campsite – 1,6 km return, 30 min. to a beautiful viewpoint on the shore of the lake.

Volcano Michinmahuida, Lago Blanco campsite – 24 km return, 8-10 hours. It starts at Carol Urzúa bridge, 28,5 km south of Caleta Gonzalo.

Interpretativo de Naturaleza, Volcan campsite – 3 km loop, 1 hour. It goes through the rain forest where you can see many endemic species. 

Volcano El Chaiten, Volcan campsite – 4,4 km return, 2h30min. The trail starts 5 km away from the campsite, ascend to the top with subsequent descend back. There was a big eruption in 2008 and the forest around hasn’t recovered yet, some dry trees and bare land. The scenery here is very different from the other parts of the park. On a clear sunny day you can see the sea and Chiloe island from the top.

Las Cascadas trail, Pumalin park
Alya climbing the ladder on the way to the waterfall, Cascadas trail. Pumalin park

Trails of the southern part of the park

To get there you can catch a bus from Chaiten to Futalefu and get off at El Amarillo entrance. Hitchhiking is possible as well and works quite good. Bus leaves everyday at 12.00pm and 5.00pm, price CLP 700/US$1, it stops near the entrance to the park. From the entrance you’ll have to hitchhike or walk for 2,5 km to the nearest to the park entrance campsite – Puente Carlos Cuevas. It has toilet, tap with drinking water and shelter with big table and benches, no shower.

Darwin’s frog trail, Carlos Cuevas campsite – 2,5 km, 1h30min. The trail starts 1,5 km from the campsite, it’s a short hike with some ups and downs, neither steep nor long, through the forest, with small waterfalls, two view points, there you have a chance to spot a shy Darwin’s frog, we didn’t see any.

El Mirador trail, Vuelta del Rio campsite – 6 km, 2h30min. It starts 2 km away from the campsite, very long and steep ascend to the top of the mountain but it’s totally worth of effort, you get an amazing view over the park, the glacier and the valley.

Ventisquero El Amarillo trail, Ventisquero campsite – 20 km return, 6 hours from the campsite and back. It starts 10 km from the south entrance, from Ventisquero campsite to the glacier  are 10 km more, if you don’t have a car and stay at Carlos Cuevas campsite you’ll have to hitch, it’s quite far to walk from there and back in one day. The trail ends at the glacier you come quite close to it.

Pumalin park hiking and camping
Ventisquero (glacier) Amarillo from the view point, Pumalin park hiking

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4 Comments

  • hi! i’ll travelled the carretera austral last year till the end and crossed to el chalten, but i missed the first part because i took a ferry between p.montt and p. chacabuco. on jan i’ll come back to visit the northern section, so i will start from pumalin. i don’t understand if you suggest to change campsite each day according to the trails you want to hike or is better to stay in one (or in el chalten village if i find some cheap place) and try to reach the different trails starting point by bus or i don’t know how. since i don’t have a car, logistic is a thing i’m always worry about.
    gracias!

    • Hi, Daniele! We stayed in two different camp sites in the Northern and Southern parts of Pumalin park. You can stay in the Northern part in one camp site and try to reach different hiking trails there are three or four. The best option to move between trails is hitchhiking. There is a bus but it goes once a day and not every day. Sometimes park rangers can give you a lift. The same for the Southern part you can stay in one camp site and do day trips from there most of the trail there are reachable by walking. The nearest village is Chaiten (not El Chalten) camp sites in Pumalin park were free (in the Southern part) or very cheap in the Northern part cheaper than in Chaiten.
      Suerte!

  • From what I’ve read it sounds like only one trail starts near the rio Gonzalo campground. How did you get to Cascadas Escondidas and the el chaiten trails? Is there some sort of transportation within the park?

    • Hi, Cate! There are many trail and campings in the park, they all well marked and easy to follow. There is a gravel road through the park. To move between different campings and trails you can by local bus or hitchhiking. Bus drives from Caleta Gonzalo to El Chaiten at 11 am but not every day (they know the timetable at the Information office at Caleta Gonzalo or at any camping). Hitchhiking is easy and safe local tourists or sometimes park rangers pick up people.
      Good luck!

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