Patagonia is a geographical region at the southern end of South America and belongs to two countries, Argentina and Chile with the incredible Andes Mountains separating them.
The massive tip of the continent, is a playground for a range of different adventure activities being covered in glacier fields, mountains, volcanoes, lakes and fjords. Bound by the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans the mountains, lakes, fjord, rainforests, glaciers and deserts are protected by national parks in Argentina and Chile.
We spent 90 days exploring the national parks of this wonderful region on our first visit to the area. Patagonia is a dream destination if you love the outdoors with plenty to offer adrenaline junkies. Go paddling through fjords, white-water rafting, climb spectacular granite walls, explore the world famous glaciers (or go off the beaten track), go fishing, horseback riding or camping in the mountains. For us exploring the national parks in Patagonia was all about hiking. The region offers an unparalleled array of hiking trails, there are countless scenic day hikes in Patagonia as well as challenging multi day hiking adventures.
Getting to Patagonia and exploring the area can be challenging because it is remote with little facilities. Travel around here by a combination of flights, buses, ferries and we did hitchhike the entire Carretera Austral (Chile’s Route 7) for a month!
The national parks of South America’s most southern region is still truly pristine. This area is made unique by the wide variety of landscapes and unique wildlife that can be found nowhere else on earth. With national parks encompassing stunning glaciers, massive Andean peaks, crystal clear alpine lakes, semi-arid tundra this unspoilt area is a nature lovers paradise.
The logistics of visiting Patagonia is already quite complicated and making it to the ‘off the beaten track’ areas is only for hardcore adventurers. Many travelers to Patagonia visit the three most famous national parks: Torres del Paine (W-trek), Los Glaciares (Perito Moreno glacier) and Tierra del Fuego (Ushuaia). With good infrastructure they are not too difficult to reach and explore.
In this post I will discuss our favorite national parks in Patagonia and logistics to visit them.
We spent two months hiking and camping in Patagonia during that time we had all kinds of weather; from hot sunny days to hail and storm wind. See our complete packing list for camping and trekking in Patagonia.
National Parks in Chile Patagonia
- Torres del Paine National Park
- Pumalin National Park
- Bernardo O’Higgins National Park
- Queulat National Park
- Patagonia National Park
Torres del Paine National Park
- Name of National Park: Torres del Paine National Park
- Highlights: Mirador Las Torres and Grey Glacier
- Location: Magallanes Region, Chile
- Closest Town: Puerto Natales (50 miles/80 km)
- Size: 448,284 acres (181414 ha)
- Popular Activities: Cruise to Glacier Grey, Hiking, Climbing, Kayaking
- Popular Hiking Trails: W-trek, O-circuit, Many Day Hikes
Torres del Paine National Park is probably the most famous national park in Patagonia and gets its name from three massive granite peaks of the Paine mountain range, The Torres del Paine (Torres in Spanish mean “towers”). The park is truly spectacular and seeing the jaw dropping Mirador Las Torres and Grey Glacier is high on my top things to do in South America.
The distinguished park is known for its dramatic Patagonian landscape, bizarre rock formation, massive glacier, and numerous turquoise lakes. Torres del Paine was established in 1959 and has a total area of 181 400 ha. About 300 000 people visit this popular park every year.
Torres del Paine is a famous national park with incredible scenery and amazing hiking trails. Thousands of people come here for trekking every year. The park has good infrastructure; well-marked trails, designated campsites and a variety of shops, restaurants and hotels.
Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
The W-trek is the biggest attraction in the park and takes hikers to all highlights of the National Park including the Mirador Las Torres, Grey Glacier, and Pehoé Lake. The trek is a 100 km/62 miles linear trek that takes 4 or 5 days to complete.
The O-circuit trek is a 120 km/74 miles circular hiking route around the Cordillera del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park and require 7 to 8 days to complete. The route includes the W trek and a remote route through the backside of the park. Having to carry all food and gear for the entire duration of the hike is part of the challenge. I loved this hiking trail, definitely one of our favorite trails in the world.
If you prefer shorter hikes you can come to the park as a day visitor to Torres del Paine.
Pumalin National Park
- Name of National Park: Pumalin National Park
- Highlights: the Reñihué and Comau Fjords
- Location: Los Lagos Region, Chile
- Closest Town: Chaitén
- Size: : 161874 acres (400,000 ha)
- Popular Activities: Road trip -Carretera Austral, kayak trip -Puerto Varas, Cruise the fjords
- Popular Hiking Trails: The Cascadas (waterfalls) trail from Rio Gonzalo campsite
Pumalin National Park located on the Carretera Austral in northern Patagonia is a spectacular park with several hiking trails and in-nature campsites. This national park was a private reserve, it belonged to the founder of North Face gear company Douglas Tompkins. He donated the park to the Chilean state and it became a part of the National park – the largest park in South America with a total area of 400 000 ha.
Hiking in Pumalin National Park
The main activities in Pumalin National Park are hiking and observing nature. There are several day hiking trails varying between 3 km and 28 km in length. The trails all start near the campsites, just choose which one you want to hike and set up camp in the closest camping. In the western part of the park we enjoyed the Cascadas (waterfalls) trail from Rio Gonzalo campsite a nice 5,6 km return hike, 3 hours. The Volcano Michinmahuida trail from Lago Blanco campsite – 24 km return, 8-10 hours. In the southern part of the park we liked the Darwin’s frog trail from Carlos Cuevas campsite – 2,5 km, 1h30min.
Drive or Hitchhike the Carretera Austral
The Carretera Austral (Chile’s Route 7) is a 1200 km/745 mi. long gravel road starting in Puerto Montt, a beautiful town in the Lake District in southern Chile and ending in Villa O’Higgins, a small town in the Aysen Region of Chilean Patagonia. The road goes past several national parks and hiking trails which can be done on the way. Driving or hitchhiking the Carretera Austral is a popular adventure, exploring Chilean Patagonia on the way. We did plenty of amazing multi day treks hitchhiking and camping on Route 7 for a month.
Queulat National Park
- Name of National Park: Queulat National Park
- Highlights: Mirrador Ventisquero Colgante (hanging glacier)
- Location: Aysen Region, Chile
- Closest Town: Puyuhuapi
- Size: 370658 acres (150 000 ha)
- Popular Activities: Boat ride on the Laguna Tempanos,
- Popular Hiking Trails: Ventisquero Colgante trail
The Queulat National Park is located in the Aysen Region of Patagonia offering spectacular scenery, fantastic hiking routes, unique wildlife and great campsites. The large park spans over 1500 km2 of beautiful forest. The highlights to see in the park are the hanging glacier on the Alto Nevado peak and the spectacular turquoise Tempanos Lagoon. Queulat National Park has a beautiful landscape with jagged peaks, glaciers, rivers, waterfalls, and high-altitude lakes. The park hosts a temperate rainforest with variety of rare plants, wildflowers and unique animals.
Hiking in Queulat National Park
There are 4 hiking trails in Queulat National Park ranging from a 20 minute walk to a challenging 5 hour hike. Don’t miss the Ventisquero Colgante trail. The trail starts at the car park of the Ventisquero entrance of Queulat National Park and finishes at the spectacular Mirrador Ventisquero Colgante viewpoint, a breathtaking view of the beautiful hanging glacier. It is a relatively easy 5.6 km hike taking to 2h30 min to 3 hours to complete the hike.
Patagonia National Park (Parque Patagonia)
- Name of National Park: Patagonia National Park
- Location: Chile, Aysén region
- Closest Town: Cochrane
- Size: 441577 acres (178700 ha)
- Popular Hiking Trails: Lagunas Altas “High Lagoons” trail
For a new national park to open nowadays is a rare thing. The brand new Patagonia National Park, in southern Chile’s Aysen region, opened in 2018. Kristine Tompkins, American conservationist and president of Tompkins Conservation bought and donated land to establish this park to the Chilean government. Kristine is widow of Douglas Tompkins founder of ‘The North Face’ outdoor brand, they also donated the land to establish Pumalin National Park.
Parque Patagonia (over 700,000 acres) is located at the foot of the Andes mountains, around the Chacabuco River Valley. The spectacular park offers a unique mix of plains, wetlands and mountains, with plenty of water coming from glacier fed streams and large lakes. Hosting a huge variety of wildlife including; guanaco, the rare huemul deer, puma (cougars), Andean condors and a large variety of birds the park is a bucket list item for nature lovers.
Hiking in Patagonia National Park
With a variety of beautiful landscapes and rich diversity in wildlife this massive park is filled with excellent hiking trails ranging from short walks to multi-day treks.
The most popular trail in the park is the 23 km Lagunas Altas “High Lagoons” trail with expansive views of the Chacabuco Valley, Jeinemeni, and the northern Patagonian ice field. Prepare for an 8 hour hike starting at the trailhead at the Westwind Camping site (near the visitor center). For a challenging multi day hike in Parque Patagonia try the 96 km (60 miles) Avilés to Jeinemeni trek. Starting at the Casa Piedra Campground this trail from Chacabuco Valley to Jeinemeni National Reserve is a true isolated adventure through spectacular landscapes.
National Parks in Argentina Patagonia
- Los Glaciares National Park (El Chalten and Perito Moreno)
- Tierra del Fuigo
- Nahuel Huapi National Park, San Carlos de Bariloche
Los Glaciares National Park
Perito Moreno and El Chalten are two amazing places to visit, both located in Los Glaciares National Park
- Name of National Park: Los Glaciares National Park
- Highlights: viewpoint of Mount Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno Glacier
- Location: Santa Cruz, Argentina
- Closest Town: El Chalten, El Calafate (Perito Moreno)
- Size: 1796275 acres (726 927 ha)
- Popular Activities: Glacier hike Perito Moreno, hike to Laguna de Los Tres and camp in El Chalten
- Popular Hiking Trails: Laguna De los Tres, boardwalks Perito Moreno
El Chalten (Los Glaciares National Park)
El Chalten is a village located in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. The settlement is very popular for walking and climbing and many long distance cyclists and overlanders stay here. Called the trekking capital of Argentina Patagonia there are spectacular hiking trails for all fitness levels. There are many campsites in El Chalten that is popular to stay and a great place to meet other travelers and outdoor enthusiasts.
Trekking in El Chalten
The highlights of hiking in El Chalten are the amazing views of the two most prominent peaks, Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre
The Fitz Roy trail (Laguna De los Tres) is the most popular day hike you can do from El Chalten and is an iconic hike in Patagonia. This 21 kilometer trail to the viewpoint of Mount Fitz Roy towering above the glacial lakes can be done over two days with campsites along the way in the park.
Perito Moreno (Los Glaciares National Park)
Perito Moreno is the biggest glacier in the world accessible by land and one of the most spectacular sites in South America. Visiting Perito Moreno is probably the the closest you will get to a glacier in Patagonia.
A series of boardwalks bring you within a few hundred meters of this incredible glacier. One of the highlights is to see huge chunks break off the face of the glacier and falling into the water with an incredible splash. The easiest way to visit this natural wonder is to take a Perito Moreno Tour from El Calafate.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
- Name of National Park: Tierra del Fuego National Park
- Location: Tierra del Fuego Province, Argentina
- Closest Town: Ushuaia
- Size: acres 155676 acres (63 000 ha)
- Popular Activities: hiking, skiing, and sailing
- Popular Hiking Trails: Laguna Esmeralda
Tierra del Fuego National Park (Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego) is the southernmost national park in Argentina. The park is known for subantarctic forest and coastal scenery. It is located near the most southern city in the world, Ushuaia.
Tierra del Fuego translates to Land of Fire and is also known as ‘The End of the World. Shared by Argentina and Chile, this is an archipelago comprising several islands and covers an area of about 70,000 square kilometers. The archipelago offers fantastic hiking, skiing, and sailing.
Hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park
Hiking in the subantarctic forest of the rugged Tierra del Fuego National Park there are a variety of trails, short day hikes to challenging multi day treks, with views over snowcapped mountains, forests, lakes, lagoons and beaches. Laguna Esmeralda is probably the most popular of the day hikes in Ushuaia. It takes 4 to 5 hours to complete this 9 km hike. For a multi day hike consider the Torres del Río Chico Basecamp Trek, a challenging 3-day trek from sea-level near Ushuaia up to a high Andean plateau.
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Name of National Park: Nahuel Huapi National Park
Location: Lake District Argentina
Closest Town: Bariloche
Size: 1759999 acres
Popular Activities: Hiking, swimming, kayak, standup paddleboard, canoe, fly fishing
Popular Hiking Trails: Refugion Frey
Located near the city of Bariloche in Argentina’s Lake District, Nahuel Huapi was established in 1934 and is the oldest and second-largest national park in Argentina. The park is 1759999 acres (712246 ha) and is covered in lakes and forest. Water activities like swimming, kayak, standup paddleboard, canoe, fly fishing and sailing is very popular in Nahuel Huapi with more than 60 lakes and lagoons.
Hiking in Nahuel Huapi National Park
There are plenty of day hikes in Nahuel Huapi National Park. Two hiking routes to Refugio Frey are popular day hikes, both rated as difficult hikes. The trailheads for Refugio Frey are Cerro Cathedral 11.6 miles (19 km) one way or Villa Los Coihues 7.3 miles (12 km) one way.
Many of the huts in Nahuel Huapi National park are connected by a series of trails making it possible to do multi day hikes and stay over in the huts. Hiking first to Refugion Frey and then continue to other huts several hut to hut hiking options are possible.
The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.