Nahuel Huapi National Park: The Complete Guide

Partial view of Lake Nahuel Huapi in Bariloche.
Image taken by Luiz Felipe Sahd / Getty Images
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Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi

Address
Río Negro, Argentina
Phone +54 294 442-3111

The oldest and second-largest national park in Argentina, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi (Nahuel Huapi National Park) is 2,750 square miles of shimmering lakes, red-barked arrayan groves, and mountains dotted with trekkers hunching under the weight of their packs. Given the size of the park, you’ll often need a bus or car to access certain points of it. Much of it can and should be seen on foot though, by hiking and camping along the refugio (mountain hut) routes in the summer, or skiing and snowboarding its slopes in the winter.

Located near the city of Bariloche in Argentina's Lake District, Nahuel Huapi was formed in 1934 as a result of a large donation of land by Dr. Francisco Pascasio Moreno, an explorer and museum curator from Buenos Aires. The park’s name comes from Mapudungun, the language of the indigenous Mapuche people, in which “nahuel” means “puma” and “huapi” means “island.” Mapuche communities still live in the park, as do pumas, and possibly even a Loch Ness-like monster, Nahuelito, in the depths of Lake Nahuel Huapi.

While access to the park is free at most points, some points require a permit fee of 1,300 pesos (around $13). If you plan on trekking and camping, you must register your trek prior to beginning, as well as book a bed or campsite at a refugio. Information on all bookings can be found on the park’s official website.

Things to Do

With more than 60 lakes and lagoons in the park, you'll have your pick of spots to swim, kayak, standup paddleboard, canoe, and sail. Lakes also feature as the main attraction on the park's famous road trip route: La Ruta de Siete Lagos, which links scenic viewpoints of seven lakes from Bariloche to San Martin de los Andes. Go flyfishing in the park's rivers to catch brown and rainbow trout, or mountain bike on one of its mountain paths. Multi-day hikes and kayak trips can be done in the summer months, while winter offers snow sports like skiing, sledding, and snowboarding. Road biking different circuits throughout the park allows you to see some of the area’s most famous natural wonders and historical settlements, and if you like rock climbing, you'll love the many accessible routes in the area.

Best Hikes & Trails

Nahuel Huapi National Park has slews of day hikes, through hikes, and short hikes under an hour. If you plan on doing an overnight hike, the park requires you to register your trek prior to embarking. If you plan on sleeping in a refugio or camping, you will also need to book with the refugio via Club Andino.

  • Cerro Campanario: This is an easy 1.3-mile out and back trail with 360-degree views of the surrounding lakes, mountains, and points of interest, like Colonia Suiza. Located outside of Bariloche on Kilometer 17.5 on Avenida Exequiel Bustillo, it has a chair lift and bathrooms.
  • Refugio Frey: A popular day hike option, Frey can be accessed by two routes: from Cerro Cathedral (11.6 miles one way) or Villa Los Coihues (7.3 miles one way). Both rated as hard, the trails go through rivers, forests, and rocky landscapes. Food and drinks can be purchased at the refugio and a dip in the cold lagoon will refresh your muscles for the return trek.
  • Cerro Tronador: The largest mountain in Nahual Huapi, two of Cerro Tronador’s peaks can be accessed from Refugio Otto Meiling, located at Tronador’s base. The trail to the refugio can be done on your own, though walking the glaciers to the top will require a certified mountain guide. Book with a tourist agency in town or organize directly with the refugio. Take a chartered bus to Pampa Linda, then hike the 8.6-mile moderate trail to reach the refugio.
  • Hut to Hut Hikes: Many of the huts in Nahuel Huapi connect to each other through a series of trails, allowing for through hikes of several days. One of the most common routes is from Refugio Frey to Refugio Jakob to Refugio Laguna Negra to Refugio Lopez, which generally takes from two to four days. The starting point is the same for hiking Frey, and the stopping point is Arroyo Lopez, beneath Cerro Lopez. If you start from Cerro Cathedral, expect a moderate to difficult route of about 38.5 miles.

Read more about the 15 Places to Go Hiking in Argentina.

Rock Climbing

Nahuel Huapi has hundreds of routes and climbing terrain, including: wall, slab, crack, and overhang. Frey, Cerro Lopez, and Piedras Blancas are some of the most popular spots, and none require a permit. Just outside of the park in Barlioche, the Virgin de Las Nieves area
has bouldering and top rop climbing.

Biking

One of the most famous biking routes is Circuito Chico, a 37-mile route that passes by ports, lakes, Colonia Suiza, scenic mountain viewpoints, and the Patagonia Brewery. Both paved and dirt, it’s an all-day activity that can easily be done on your own or with a tour. There’s also plenty of mountain biking at Cerro Cathedral Bike Park and forest trails on Victoria Island.

Winter Sports

Nahueal Huapi offers skiing, snowboarding, sledding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Cerro Cathedral is the most popular option, with 75 miles of slopes to speed down, while cat skiers go to Baguales Mountain Reserve. Piedras Blancas has ski schools and runs for the whole family, and spooky snowshoeing await those who journey to Refugio Extremo Encantado.

Read more about the Best Places to Go Skiing in Argentina.

Where to Camp

  • Refugio Emilio Frey: Located on the shores of Laguna Toncek at an elevation of 5,577 feet, Refugio Frey can only be reached by a four-hour trek. Open year-round, it offers a basic canteen, free camping, and beds for a fee.
  • Refugio Laguna Negra: Also known as “Refugio Italia,” this refugio is open September to April and perches right on the shores of a black mountaintop lagoon. Several treks lead there, varying in elevation from 2,716 to 5,323 feet. Both camping and staying in the refugio cost a fee. The treks lead through valleys, scree fields, mountain paths, and rocky outcrops with wild berries and large Coihues trees along the route. There's a canteen which also rents sleeping bags.
  • Lago Gutiérrez: This well-equipped campground lies on the shores of Gutiérrez Lake, and can be easily driven to from Bariloche. Several short, nearby hikes are just steps away from the entrance, and showers, a grocery store, a restaurant, and kayak rental are all on-site. Only cash is accepted.
  • Trail from Pampa Linda to Colonia Suiza: This is the only trail in the park along which wild camping is allowed. Usually only accessible from January to April, you must register your trek with the park office. Plan for four to five days of trekking over the 31-mile-long trail, and bring everything you need as provisions on the trail can only be purchased in Pampa Linda or Refugio Lopez.
  • Pichi Traful: Located just under 9 miles from Villa Traful, this campground stretches along the shores of Lake Traful. Easy to drive to, it’s popular for fly fishing and trekking through the Ñivinco Waterfalls. A well-maintained campground with a general store, it has hot-water showers, bathrooms, and wide, sandy beaches. There’s a small fee to camp. Call 2944-411-607 for reservations.

Where to Stay Nearby

  •  Llao Llao Resort, Golf Spa: A historic hotel just off Circuito Chico, the Llao Llao offers five restaurants, high tea, spa services, a complete golf course, and over 200 rooms overlooking Nahuel Huapi Lake.
  • Green House Hostel: A two-story hostel just above Nahuel Huapi Lake, Green House has dorm beds, a few private rooms, a communal kitchen, an inviting lounge, Wi-Fi, and a ski school. A supermarket, bus stop, and restaurants are within walking distance.
  • Correntoso Lake River Hotel: In Villa La Angostura on the shore of the Correntoso River,
    this hotel offers sleek, wood-paneled rooms and suites with views of Nahuel Huapi Lake, as well as beachfront access, swimming pools, room service, a library, and a game room.

How to Get There

Nahuel Huapi National Park has many entrances, but the most popular way to get there is by driving from the city of Bariloche. Flights from Buenos Aires to Bariloche depart daily. From Neuquén, drive RN 237. From San Antonio Oeste, drive RN 23, and from El Bolsón, take RN 40. Many trailheads and campgrounds can be driven to, while others can be reached with the Bariloche public buses. Some trailheads in the park require self-driving or a charter bus to reach, such as Pampa Linda. As the park is so vast, it’s best to figure out where you want to go first, and research if that particular trailhead or campground can be reached via public bus by using Moovit. If not, you can call a remis (like Remises Bariloche at 0294 443-3400) or buy a charter bus ticket.

Accessibility

While Argentina continues to make improvements towards inclusive travel, not all of the activities in Nahuel Huapi National Park are accessible to those with limited mobility or sight. However, there are still quite a few activities that can be enjoyed regardless, and the tour company Travel Xperience specializes in wheelchair-accessible trips in the region. Catamaran boats that tour around Puerto Panuelo, Puerto Blest, and Lago Frias have wheelchair lifts and/or ramps. Some trails, like those around Victoria Island, have wheelchair-friendly boardwalks. Circuito Chico can be driven by car instead of biked, and several of the famous mountains in and near the park have chairlifts or gondolas to the top, including Cerro Cathedral, Cerro Campanario, and Cerro Otto. Park signs do not have braille.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Most refugios are open from October/November to April/May.
  • Take all the gear you need. Buying gear in the surrounding areas like Bariloche is expensive, due to Argentina’s high import taxes.
  • Pets are not allowed in the park, as they can destroy fragile native fauna.
  • You can buy some chocolates or locally brewed beer at one of the many chocolate shops or microbreweries in the nearby city of Bariloche.
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Nahuel Huapi National Park: The Complete Guide