Hiking, birding, spotting a penguin colony, or stumbling upon prehistoric cave drawings or fossilized dinosaur tracks—all of these activities and more await you in Argentina's diverse national parks. You can choose which kind of adventure you want to have, whether you head somewhere isolated or popular, or opt for a desert or an ice field. Argentina's national parks offer a huge array of options for outdoor explorers.
Nahuel Huapi National Park
Surrounding the mountain town of Bariloche in Patagonia’s Rio Negro province, Nahuel Huapi National Park contains some of Argentina’s most famous hikes, like forested Frey trek or the path to Mount Tronador’s hanging glaciers. Its seven lakes offer cold, clean water perfect for a chilly dip after a long day of rock climbing. Other activities here include camping in refugios (mountain huts), tent camping by Colonia Suiza, rafting, kite surfing, snowboarding, and skiing. Day hikers can enjoy the 360-degree panoramic view at the top of Cerro Campanero, which showcases the vast area and beauty of the park’s lakes, peninsulas, and forests.
Los Glaciares National Park
Visitors to Los Glaciares National Park come to see and trek on the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the second largest ice field in the Southern Hemisphere. Every two to four years, large crowds gather here to watch chunks of the Perito Moreno Glacier crash into Lago Argentina. The park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, also contains treks to two of the most famous mountains in the country: Mount Fitz Roy and Mount Torre. Home to huemuls (Patagonian deer), condors, black-chested buzzard eagles, rheas, guanacos, and pumas, the park encompasses subarctic forests as well as mammoth mountains. Stay in nearby El Calafate if you want to see the glaciers, or El Chalten is a better base for hiking.
Tierra del Fuego National Park
Tierra del Fuego translates into “Land of Fire,” so named by Ferdinand Magellan and his men in 1520 whey they saw the bonfires of indigenous tribes in the region. Spread over a vast archipelago, the national park comprises subpolar forests, marine coastline, lakes, lagoons, peat bogs, and snow-capped mountains. Hikers trek its 25 miles of trails, sometimes encountering guanacos, or Fuegian foxes. Two popular trails are the Coastal Path which runs parallel to the Beagle Channel and Milestone XXIV, an easy hike to the border with Chile. Tierra del Fuego is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, full of austral parakeets, sea gulls, kingfishers, condors, king penguins, owls, and fire crown hummingbirds. The city of Ushuaia is only seven and a half miles away, but for those who want to immerse themselves in experiencing the park’s flora and fauna, camping is available.
Jaramillo Petrified Forest National Park
High on the Patagonian steppe lies a forest of stone older than the Andes themselves: the Petrified Forest of Jaramillo. Now extinct, these petrified trees, ancient evergreens called “Araucaria mirabilis,” dot the arid, windy landscape. Large, flightless birds (both rheas and ostriches), guanacos, and foxes scurry among shrubs along with scientists who consider this one of the most important fossil sites in the country. Take a guided tour with the park rangers or visit the onsite museum where you can learn how volcanic activity began turning these trees to rocks around 150 million years ago. The nearby Estancia La Paloma offers food, fire pits, overnight camping, and two of the largest petrified trees in the world. Located in Santa Cruz province, the closest village is Jaramillo.
Golfo San Jorge National Park
The largest colony of Magellanic penguins in South America roost here each year, half a million from September to March. Find the penguins waddling and nesting in the Punta Tombo Provincial Reserve, part of the larger Golfo San Jorge National Park. Bird enthusiast also try to spot kelp gulls, dolphin gulls, skuas, king cormorant, snowy sheathbills, and many other varieties of birds. Whales and dolphins can bee seen swimming in the gulf as well. Located, in Chubut province, it can be easily reached from the cities of Puerto Madryn (a famous whale-watching spot in its own right) or Trelew.
Chaco National Park
Only 3.5 miles away from the town of Capitán Solari in the province of Chaco, Chaco National Park comprises part of the Argentine Gran Chaco, replete with warm lowlands and large red and white quebracho (axe-breaker) trees. The park contains savanna, swamps, and lakes, and several trails on which you might see capybaras, caimans, or armadillos. More than 340 species of bird call the park home, making bird-watching the other major activity besides hiking. One of the best spots to do both is on the trail to Panza de Cabra lake, a major water source for most of the wildlife in the area. Indigenous communities of the Mocoví and Toba also live within the park.
Sierra de las Quijadas National Park
Red desert canyons give way to the Desaguadero River and tall sandstone pillars in this remote national park in San Luis province. Fossils and dinosaur tracks crisscross the landscape, and condors and black-chested buzzard-eagles fly above herds of prancing guanacos. Visitors come for hiking, serenity, and wildlife viewing. Booking a local hiking guide through the park's headquarters is recommended as flash flooding can occur, especially in the summer. The park and main road leading to it do not have stores. Visitors should bring whatever water and provisions they plan on using while in the park.
Iguazu Falls National Park
Hear the crash and feel the mist of the largest waterfall system in the world at Cataracas de Iguazu (Iguazu Falls) Parque Nacional. The 275 waterfalls create a natural border between Puerto Iguazu, Argentina, and Foz de Iguazu, Brazil. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Argentine side of the park offers a more interactive experience in which visitors can hike around the top and bottom of the falls, and get close to the highest and most majestic waterfall of them all: the Devil’s Throat, a giant cascade of water from 262 feet above a massive basin of mist. Other than climbing around the falls, visitors can watch for wild coatis, jaguars, and toucans, and take a boat ride which dips in and out of the falls.
Los Cardones National Park
Large groves of massive, proud-standing candelabra cactus, high desert peaks, and the Enchanted Valley—this once was the land of the Incas. See condors, eagles, vicuna, wild donkeys, and foxes soar and roam in Los Cardones National Park’s arid mountain ranges and cool ravines. Located in the province of Salta, the closest city to the park is Salta (the capital of the same name), about 60 miles away. Visitors can enjoy hiking through four different types of ecological regions, bird-watching (more than 100 varieties nest here), and seeing cave drawings and fossilized dinosaur tracks. Visitors should bring their own supplies, as the park doesn’t have amenities.
Laguna Blanca National Park
White Lake National Park derives its name from its most famous inhabitant: the black-necked swan. When the swans float on the lake, the white feathers on their bodies make the lake appear to those seeing it from afar as if it was covered in snow. Birding is the most popular activity here, as 100 species of ducks, coots, geese, and flamingos call the park home. Located only a few miles from the city of Zapala in the Neuquén province, the park also features the Salamanca Cave with rock paintings, the endangered Patagonia frog, and multiple hiking trails.