Pumalin Park or Pumalin Douglas Tompkins National Park in the Palena Province of Chile is a stunning area that offers great hiking and camping opportunities for outdoor lovers. It’s one of the last additions to the list of National Parks in Patagonia. The park offers beautiful hiking trails and in-nature campsites. The scenery in Pumalin is truly spectacular: crystal clear rivers, lush green indigenous forest, unique flora, and fauna. Pumalin Park is situated along the famous Carretera Austral (the Southern Road) that starts in Puerto Montt and finishes in Villa O’Higgins. It’s a hidden gem of Chilean Patagonia that is yet to be discovered by tourists.
History of Pumalín Park
The park used to be a private reserve that belonged to the founder of the North Face gear company Douglas Tompkins and his wife Kristine Tompkins. In the early 1990s, Tompkins bought a large piece of land in southern Chile from the Chilean government. The businessman and avid mountaineer Tompkins visited Patagonia multiple times before making the purchase. His idea was to protect the indigenous Valdivian forest from possible exploration in the future. The Conservation Land Trust was created. Pumalin Park became a part of the Tompkins Conservation Project dedicated to preserving the diverse populations of indigenous flora and threatened species.
Until 2017 Parque Pumalín was the largest private park in Chile. In 2018 after the sudden death of Douglas Tompkins the land was gifted to the Chilean state and became Pumalin Douglas Tompkins National Park. A couple of years later became a part of the Patagonia National Park, South America’s largest National Park with a total area of 4 000 000 ha.
When is the best time to visit Pumalin?
The weather in Northern Patagonia is not as extreme as in the south of the region. Summer temperatures are around 16-20°C, and in winter it rarely goes down below 0°C. The summer months are nice and comfortable for hiking and camping. It’s warm during the day and fresh at night time.
Rainfalls in Patagonia can happen at any time and sometimes it can rain for a couple of days. In general, the summer months are the driest months of the year though it rains quite a bit in December. Fall months in particular April see a lot of rain it’s not the ideal time for hiking and camping. You might be lucky and get very little to no rain or unlucky and get precipitation every day. If you’re planning to explore more of Patagonia and visit Perito Moreno Glacier or Torres del Paine National Park summer months are definitely the best time to travel.
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Where is Pumalin National Park?
The National Park is located in the Palena Province in southern Chile; 250 km south of Puerto Montt and 24 km north of Chaitén, the closest town. It’s one of the highlights of Chilean Patagonia and the Carretera Austral.
How to get to Pumalin Park?
Getting to Pumalin (Caleta Gonzalo) from Puerto Montt
The easiest way of getting to the northern entrance of the Pumalin National Park is by bus. There are direct buses from the Puerto Montt bus terminal. The journey is a combination of bus and ferry. You can get off at Caleta Gonzalo at the Visitor Centers of the park. Buses depart from Puerto Montt on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 7 am. The timetable can change I’d suggest confirming the departure time at the bus station. The journey takes 9 hours, the price is CLP 20 000/US$23.
There is a ferry from Puerto Montt to Chaiten. Ferries depart 5 times per week. On Mondays at 12 pm. On Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 23.00. The boat ride takes 9 hours. You can purchase tickets and check the current timetable online.
Step 1. From Puerto Montt drive south on the Carretera Austral to Caleta Arena.
Step 2. From Caleta Arena catch a ferry to Caleta Puelche. It’s a short ride around 20 min. Ferries depart every 30 min. The price is CLP 800/US$1 per person. No need to book in advance.
Step 3. From Peluche drive to the small town of Hornopirén, around 60 km.
Step 4. From Hornopirén catch a ferry to Caleta Gonzalo. Ferries depart daily at 10.00. It’s a 5-hour trip with one switch at Leptepu. The route is following; ferry Hornopirén – Leptepu (3h30min.), drive Leptepu – Fiordo Largo (10 min.), ferry Fiordo Largo – Caleta Gonzalo (40 min.). You get off the first ferry at Leptepu, drive 10 minutes to Fiordo Largo, and embark on another ferry to Caleta Gonzalo. It’s important to book both ferries in advance. It’s important to book your tickets for this trip in advance. You can buy tickets online.
The ferries can accommodate 50 cars and 300 passengers. They are big and comfortable. You can buy some food; sandwiches, pastries, 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.
Getting to Pumalin (sector Amarillo) from Chaitén
To get to the southern entrance of Pumalin Park you have to take a bus from Chaiten towards Futaleufu and get off at the El Amarillo entrance. There are two daily buses at 12.00pm and 5.00pm. Departure times might change. The buses stop near the park entrance (ask the driver). From the entrance, you have to hitchhike or walk to one of the two campsites: Campsite Grande is around 5 km away and Ventisquero Campsite is 10 km away.
It’s possible to hitchhike from Chaiten to the park if for some reason you can get on a bus.
Do you need a guide for hiking in the park?
No, Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park can be visited independently. No guide or special permits are required. You can hike and camp inside the park for as long as you want. The hiking trails in Pumalin Park are well-marked and easy to follow. You don’t need GPS for finding the route. The entrance to the park is free. If you come here for a day you don’t pay anything. If you’re going to camp in the park you pay CLP 6000/US$7 per person per night.
Campsites in Pumalin Park
Visitors are allowed to camp inside the park only at designated campsites. Wild camping is not allowed. There are 7 designated campsites in Pumalin Park all have similar facilities. All campsites have toilets, some have cold showers and shelters with tables and benches where you can hide from the rain, and cook. The cost of camping is CLP 6000/US$7 per person.
Designated campsites in Pumalin Park
|Rio Caleta Gonzalo
*There used to be two more campsites in the southern part of the park Carlos Cuevas and Vuelta del Rio but currently, it’s not allowed to camp there. Both places are exclusively for picnicking and resting. You still find both places mentioned as campsites on Google.maps and on some maps inside the park.
Lodge Caleta Gonzalo is the only indoor accommodation inside Pumalin Park. The lodge is situated next to Caleta Gonzalo pier. It offers wooden cabins that can accommodate 2 to 5 people. The cabins are beautiful and cozy with private bathrooms, heating, and parking. There is a restaurant at the lodge.
Hiking trails in Pumalin Park
The main activities in the park are hiking and observing nature. There are several day hiking trails of different lengths and difficulties, all trails start near the campsites, just choose which one you want to hike and stay in the closest camping. In my opinion, the trails in Pumalin Park are some of the best hikes in Patagonia.
The park is divided into two parts; the southern and the northern part. The main access to the northern part is through Caleta Gonzalo. This part can be accessed from Chaiten, the entrance is around 13 km north of the town. The access to the southern part is through the El Amarillo entrance, 25 km south of Chaiten. There are 11 hiking trails in Pumalin Park. 8 trails in the northern part and 3 trails in the southern part.
We spent more time in the northern part of the park and enjoyed it more. Especially the Caleta Gonzalo with its lush green forest, a beautiful fjord, and many rivers and waterfalls. If you want to stay for a couple of days in a tranquil in-nature place it’s the perfect option.
1. Cascadas Trail
Currently closed for maintenance!
- Distance – 5,6 km/3,4 mi return
- Time – 2-3 hours
- Starting point – Caleta Gonzalo pier
- Nearest accommodation – Lodge Caleta Gonzalo
The Cascada Trail is one of the most popular trails in the northern part of Pumalin. The route goes through the beautiful lush forest. A footpath with small wooden bridges goes through the lush rainforest, along the river, and ends at an impressive waterfall. When it rains a lot it can be difficult to get there, you need to cross a river. It can be quite strong with deep parts, but it’s usually possible to cross you just need to find the right spot. The path is very clear and easy to follow, even if you don’t get all the way to the waterfall it’s worth doing the hike.
2. Laguna Tronador Trail
- Distance – 4,8 km/3 mi return
- Time – 3-4 hours
- Nearest campsite – Cascadas Escondidas campsite
- Starting point – Tronador Bridge, 11 km south of Caleta Gonzalo (on the way to Chaiten)
It’s a challenging trail with steep ascents and subsequent descents mostly on wooden stairs and ladders. It’s not the best route to do on a rainy day. The trail goes through the rainforest with many smallish waterfalls along the route. There are several lookout points but in some of them, the vegetation is so dense that you can barely see anything.
3. Los Alerces Trail
- Distance – 1,4 km/0,9 mi return
- Time – 30-40 minutes
- Nearest campsite – Cascadas Escondidas campsite
- Starting point – 12,5 km south of Caleta Gonzalo
It’s one of the easiest trails in Pumalin Park. The route goes through the Alerce Forest offering a close look at millennial Alerce trees. Some of them are over 3 000 years old. The Alerce forests are the second oldest living trees in the world. Access to the starting point is not that easy if you don’t have a car. If you stay at Cascadas Escondidas campsite you can walk from there to the starting point, which is about 1,5 km north. The walk is easy on the gravel road. The return walk adds 3 km to the total distance of the trail.
4. Cascadas Escondidas
- Distance – 3,5 km/2,2 mi return
- Time – 2 hours
- Nearest campsite – Cascadas Escondidas campsite
- Starting point – Cascadas Escondidas campsite, 14 km south of Caleta Gonzalo
The Cascadas Escondidas Trail is an easy walk through the forest. Cascadas means waterfalls in Spanish so you can guess that the trail leads to several beautiful waterfalls in the forest. There are 3 waterfalls along the route. The first one is after about 20 minutes of walking. The other two are close to the end of the trail. It’s an easy hike suitable for anybody.
5. Lago Negro (Punta del Lago)
- Distance – 1,6 km/1 mi return
- Time – 30 minutes
- Nearest campsite – Lago Negro campsite
- Starting point – Lago Negro campsite
It’s a very easy and short trail basically from the campsite to a lookout on the shore of the lake and back. The lookout is a good spot for watching birds. I wouldn’t recommend coming here just for the hike but if you stay at the campsite it’s a nice walk to the lake and back.
6. Volcano Michinmahuida Trail
- Distance – 24 km/15 mi
- Time – 8-9 hours return
- Nearest campsite – Lago Blanco campsite
- Starting point – Carol Urzúa bridge, 28 km south of Caleta Gonzalo, halfway to Chaiten
It’s a very long and quite challenging hike to do in one day. It’s more about getting tired and challenging yourself than about great views. If you like trail running and feel that you don’t get enough cardio training during traveling this trail is exactly what you need.
7. Interpretive Trail
- Distance – 3 km/2,2 mi loop
- Time – 1 hour
- Nearest campsite – El Volcan campsite
- Starting point – El Volcan campsite
It’s an easy loop through the Alerce forest. It basically goes around El Volcan campsite. Along the route, you can see massive trees, indigenous plants, and some endemic species. It’s a nice walk in the forest that you can do if you stay at the campsite.
8. Volcan Chaiten Trail
- Distance – 4,4 km/2,7 mi return
- Time – 2h30min.
- Nearest campsite – Volcan campsite
- Starting point – 5 km south of the Volcan campsite
It’s a challenging trail that starts with a steep and long ascent all the way to the top of the volcano. It’s pretty much a long up-and-down hike. The volcano erupted in 2008 and the forest around hasn’t completely recovered yet. On the way, you still can see some burned trees and bare land. The scenery on this route 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.
9. Darwin’s Frog Trail
- Distance – 2,5 km/1,5 mi
- Time – 1h30min.
- Nearest campsite – Grande campsite
- Starting point – 1,5 km north of Carlos Cuevas picnic area
It’s a short hike with some insignificant ascents and descents. It’s the easiest trail on the southern part of Pumalin Park. The route goes through the beautiful rainforest, past small waterfalls and creeks. There are two nice viewpoints. If you’re lucky you can spot the shy Darwin’s frog.
10. El Mirador Trail
- Distance – 6 km/4 mi loop
- Time – 2 hours
- Nearest campsite – Ventisquero Campsite
- Starting point – 2 km south of the Ventisquero Campsite
The topography of the trail is quite similar to the Volcan Chaiten Trail. Most of the route is a steep ascent (and the subsequent descent) to the top of the mountain. There are two lookout points on the top both offer stunning views of the park and the valley. One viewpoint overlooks Amarillo Glacier. For the views, it was one of our favorite trails in Pumalin Park.
11. El Ventisquero Trail
- Distance – 20 km/12,4 mi return
- Time – 6 hours
- Nearest campsite – Ventisquero campsite
- Starting point – Ventisquero campsite
It’s the only trail in Pumalin Park that allows you to get very close to the Ventisquero El Amarillo Glacier in fact so close that you can touch it. It’s a beautiful route with nice views of the glacier and Machinmahuida Volcano. There are no steep ascents or descents the distance is the main challenge here.
The trail starts 10 km north of the entrance. You’ll need a car to get there. You can hitchhike as well. As an option, you can walk to the Ventisquero campsite and stay there overnight, and the next day hike to the glacier and back.
After exploring Pumalin Park you can continue your journey south and do some hikes in Queulat National Park or Cerro Castillo National Park.
What to pack for Pumalin Park?
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If you’re planning to stay in the park you’ll need camping gear. Lodge Caleta Gonzalo is the only place in Pumalin Park where you can rent a cabin if you don’t want to camp.
You can find more details on what gear to pack for hiking and camping in the region for men and women in our Patagonia packing list.
Where to stay near Pumalin Park?
Chaitén – the nearest town to Pumalin Park. It is 58 km south of 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, and not all places accept credit cards – make sure you have enough cash.
Accommodation in Chaiten
- Middle price | Chucao Bosque y Cabañas | Cabaña marteo | Paraiso Patagonico |
- High-end | Hostal La Minga | Fío Fío Patagonia |
Recommended books and guidebooks
- Lonely Planet Chile and Easter Island, Travel Guide. Kindle and paperback.
- Patagonia on a budget by Matthew Morgante. How to travel Patagonia on US$30 a day. Kindle.
- Walking Patagonia by Caspian Ray. Don’t expect a hiking guide, it’s a fiction story about a young guy who went to Patagonia in search of adventure and love.
- Enduring Patagonia by Gregory Crouch. Kindle and paperback.
- In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin. Kindle, audiobook and paperback.
The pretty half of Stingy Nomads, responsible for all our land adventures (hiking, climbing, walking the Camino) and following them write-ups. Alya loves walking since she was a child, she prefers to walk 1000 km with a backpack rather than to do a 10 000 km road trip (actually any road trip). Alya is a big fan of Latin America, the Spanish language, and dancing. Every time we go away she desperately misses our dog Chile.