Previous – Section 21: Lago Todos Los Santos

During this section, the Regular Hiking Route follows a heavy use trail to a well known climbing destination, La Junta. Due to the popularity of this hiking route, there is some necessary planning as well as rules and regulations that hikers must be aware of before embarking on this section. First of all, the trail to La Junta is not public. All hikers are required to register at the trailhead and the guards generally require proof that you made reservations to camp at La Junta in advance. To register, use this link: Prices vary during the season but expect to pay 5.000 CLP to 6.000 CLP per night. The website states reservations should be made well in advance because of the camp’s popularity and to allow time to receive a confirmation email.

The route follows the paved highway, V-69, out of Cochamó until the turnoff onto the Cochamó-Paso El León dirt road. The La Junta trailhead is about 10.5 km from Cochamó. Keep in mind, NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO BEGIN HIKING ON THE TRAIL AFTER 15:00. There are two camps located at the trailhead which will host hikers for 5.000 CLP per night.

The trail to La Junta is obvious, but braided and muddy. Also, expect it to be crowded with other hikers heading to and from the popular camp. La Junta is located in a beautiful meadow with great views of the surrounding granite faces. This area is called the “Chilean Yosemite” for a good reason.

Granite views from La Junta.
As you can see, the trail from Cochamó to La Junta has clear evidence of trail work…
…but much of it has eroded into muddy chaos.

After La Junta, the trail ascends along the Río Cochamó. It remains obvious, but is still braided and muddy. There are several small areas to camp in the trees, and a few open fields. There is a decent place to camp is in a field south of the El Arco refugio. The trail to the field breaks off to the right just before the El Arco refugio, while the main trail passes very near to the refugio. The trail remains generally muddy until the descent to Lago Vidal Gormaz. There is a decent place to camp on the north side of the lake, but if you can make it to the south side, you’re in for a treat.

Early morning view of Lago Vidal Gormaz.

On the south side of the lake lives a lovely couple, Louisa and Mickey, who offer several services:  boat transportation across the lake, camping (2.000 CLP/night), fishing, hot meals, and food to-go. As hungry hikers, we were not disappointed with the dinner Louisa served us. Most of the food was from the farm, and it cost only 4.000 CLP per plate.

The trail heading south from Louisa and Mickey’s place is mostly dry and there are several small areas to camp. Along Río Manso, about 8 km from Louisa and Mickey’s house, the trail alternates between sharp ascents and descents and is notably challenging. Locals with horses are common along the track since that is their only means of transportation to town.

There are several places to camp before reaching the gravel road about 3 km out from El Manso, but much of the area surrounding the road is private. There is advertised camping and a small store before the intersection with the larger gravel road (Lago Tagua Tagua—Llanada Grande) but both were closed when we passed through. At the intersection, there is another small store that offers snack foods, drinks, and some produce at reasonable prices. There is a hostel called El Monso with cabañas and camping options approximately 1 km down the road from the intersection.

A big feature on this section are three river crossings:  two crossing of the Río Puelo and one of the Río Traidor. To reach the first Río Puelo crossing, turn off the main road (Lago Tagua-Tagua—Llanada Grande) at Señora Oco’s place (there is a sign and a gate). It is possible to arrange a ferry crossing with her. The river flows at the edge of her property, and can be reached by following a small trail. The current is strong, but ferrying across is straightforward.

The trail after the river crossing is muddy at times, but easy to follow. The Río Traidor crossing is about 9 km after the first Río Puelo crossing and is a much shorter and easier. Where the GPS route shows to cross over Río Traidor just before the confluence with Río Puelo requires hikers to climb over two barbed wire fences. About ½ km from the crossing is a farm belonging to Nancy and Chindo. They were very friendly and invited us in. They offer transportation across Río Traidor and I believe they may run a hospedaje out of their house as well.

Heading east toward Argentina.

The trail climbs after Nancy and Chindo’s house. It remains obvious, but is generally overgrown. There are areas where the forest opens up and camping is possible. Eventually the land completely opens up and the trail begins to travel through farmland. The trail is harder to follow through this area because it crosses other natural trails made by animal traffic and frequently becomes faint. There are many small stream crossings and swampy areas. Camping is plentiful in the open meadows, but this may put you in close range to the freely roaming livestock.

At the final crossing of Río Puelo, put in at a dirt boat ramp. Across the river, which is wide and has a strong current, there is a gravel boat ramp which leads up to a parking lot. The route continues on a dirt road that peels off the parking lot and climbs up to the east of the private residence (not the driveway at the south end of the lot). The route continues to follow a 4WD track, which reduces to an overgrown single track for about 7 km. The route then joins a dirt road, Camino Primer Corral—Llanada Grande.

After traveling down the road for about 200 m, the GPS track shows a sudden turn off to the east. However, when we asked the owner of the house located at the turnoff, she told us to continue east along the main road for 2.5 km, turn south on the smaller dirt road, and follow this for 2 km to rejoin the trail.

Eventually you’ll come across several signs indicating private property. The route continues past these signs but be sure to stay on the road. Follow the sign that says “Puerto Guala” onto a trail that curves to the west side of Lago de Las Rocas. There is a small dock located at the packrafting put-in. There is also a small campsite located a few hundred meters down the trail from here.

Yes, the Rio Puelo is turquoise.

At this point, the route begins to head towards Argentina. The Chilean border control is located 1 km from the south bank of Lago de Las Rocas. In order to legally make it into Argentina, the control requires the dates on your exit stamp from Chile and your entrance stamp into Argentina to be the same. Since this is the case, the Chilean border control will not give you an exit stamp if it is late in the day since the Argentine border control station is about 12 km to the east. If you arrive late, it is possible to camp at the Chilean border control station.

The trail between the two border control stations is well maintained. The Argentine border control station is located about 4.5 km after the border. There is a nice camp spot here with a fire ring, toilets, and water.

The route continues along a trail which becomes faint and then disappears as you near Río Azul. This river crossing is substantial and should not be underestimated. The river is wide and crossing could be dangerous at high water levels.

Town: Lago Puelo/El Bolson

There is a popular campsite called Delta Del Azul with all necessary amenities on the north end of Lago Puelo. Camping here is nice but expensive. There are many camping options along RP16 towards Lago Puelo and El Bolson. Generally, campsite prices become less expensive the closer you get to El Bolson. The town of Lago Puelo offers several restaurants, places to stay, and good resupply options. There is also a bank with an ATM to withdraw Argentine Pesos from, but it does not seem to work for many foreign cards. If you find your options limited or are looking for cheaper prices, El Bolson is a quick 20 minute car ride north. This larger town has more options and several big grocery stores for easy resupply.    

Next – Section 23: Parque Nacional Lago Puelo