Epic Adventures Uncategorised

Trekking to Patagonia National Park

For me, the wilderness of Chile’s Aysen region contains some of the most exciting and untamed places in Patagonia. Having access to its rugged landscapes is a major reason why I made my home here. Whenever I have the opportunity, I grab my backpack and hit the trail. Most recently I’ve been exploring the hiking trails south of Chile Chico, completing a hike through both Lake Jeinimeni and Patagonia National Parks. This is my favourite kind of adventure, where you feel as if you have the whole of Patagonia to yourself. 

One of the most appealing aspects of this trek for me was the idea of completing a journey – not just hiking a circular trek, but seeing the landscape transition as you walk from its starting point to the finish. Beginning in Jeinimeni National Park, your surroundings are vibrant and green, with forests and mountains adorned in lush vegetation. Streams feed into Lake Jeinimeni, pouring turquoise glacial run-off into its waters, changing its colour from hour to hour.

The shore of Lake Jeinemini in Aysen
The shore of Lake Jeinimeni

Moving forward, you enter dramatic valleys with wide flat riverbeds flanked by towering peaks. The glacial valleys carve U and V shapes, the trail markers (a line of wooden posts or sometimes just simple pink ribbons on poles) guide you through the rocky and flat terrain. The landscape is mostly flat until you climb for a short while to the Gloria Pass, ascending and then descending through forest, crossing an intricate network of rivers and creeks.

However, as the trek progresses, the landscape undergoes a really significant transformation. The terrain suddenly becomes dry, marked by vivid red hues and mineral-rich formations, signalling your entry into Aviles Valley and Patagonia National Park. The windswept bushes and a lack of towering trees remind me a lot of the Magellanes region in southern Patagonia, albeit one dotted with herds of guanacos. 

The view over Jeinemeni Lake from Gloria Pass in Aysen
The view over Jeinemeni Lake from Gloria Pass

So that’s the setting, what about the trek itself?

As the landscape suggests, this isn’t a technical trek. There’s just a single mountain pass to cross. The wide open landscapes of the valley are the big attraction, but the one thing the valleys bring is water. A lot of water. There were so many rivers to ford that I now describe this as a semi-aquatic trek. 

Most of the crossings were easily manageable, wading through water that was up to my knees or thighs (I’m shorter than most people). A couple were deeper – I’m an experienced hiker but was still thankful for my guide who knew the best and safest crossing places. 

Following the Aviles river valley
Rivers braiding the Aviles Valley

The first few crossings were slow affairs as I stopped to take off my boots before entering the water, but I pretty quickly learned just to launch myself forward and trust that my boots would dry out on the trail. 

On the first day I walked around 16 kilometres (10 miles), meandering along Jeinimeni Lake until the uphill push to the Gloria Pass. Eventually, I arrived at the Valle Hermoso opening, where I had to traverse a few more rivers before venturing through the bush that led me to the cosy Refugio Hermoso, where I spent the night.

Wooden cabin of Refugio Hermoso

After the many rivers and a healthy dose of Patagonian rain, I quickly changed into dry clothes and relished the opportunity to warm up. Alongside four other adventures also staying in the refugio, I warmed myself by the fire. 

Refugio Hermoso is just a tiny wooden cabin tucked in the forest but it was a delightful home from home. Dinner was a steaming bowl of lentil soup with sausage, followed by a breakfast the next morning of eggs, bacon and pancakes. The perfect fuel for hiking, topped up with DIY lunch sandwiches and snacks for the trail. 

Daybreak on the second day greeted me with a frigid but breath-taking white scene. I quickly ran out to the river and saw the mountains covered with a fresh fall of white snow. It was a perfect moment to splash some glacier water on my face to wake up and prepare for the day. 

A dusting of snow in the Hermoso Valley
A dusting of snow in the Hermoso Valley

The day commenced with more river crossings, always following the simple marker poles tied with pink ribbons that spelled out the trail. After an hour or so I eventually entered the forest and embarked on a gradual ascent. Soon enough, I reached an extraordinary viewpoint that led into the magnificent Avilés Valley. Thankfully there was barely a breath of wind, and I had the freshly fallen snow, the mountains and the trail all to just my guide and myself. I expressed my gratitude to Pachamama (Mother Earth) for this precious gift and continued along the path. The forest section of the trail also revealed the enchanting presence of Magellanic Woodpeckers, and I managed to capture a few videos to share with fellow adventurers. Fallen trees occasionally obstructed the path but the trail was remarkably well-marked. I walked for about seven hours with several siestas interspersed along the way, and got to my campsite by around five in the afternoon. 

The second campsite is more of a wild camping experience. My guide had a spot in mind and sent the porters ahead to pitch the tents, and a simple tarp for shelter and cooking under. This is the sort of camping I love best, with only a piece of canvas between you and the wilderness. There are no bathrooms of course, so be prepared to use a small shovel to dig a hole when you have to answer nature’s call. 

Trail view through the forests of Aysen's Jeinemeni National Park
Descending from Refugio Hermoso

The final day of the trek led through the Aviles Valley and into Patagonia National Park proper. The initial part involved alternating ascents and descents along the Aviles river until presented with a choice: to cross a suspension bridge and continue on the opposite side of the river or remain on the same bank. Based on the advice of a park ranger in Jeinimeni, we opted to stay on the side we were, and embarking on a journey of continuous ups and downs until we finally reached a second bridge where the two trails joined and led to the Stonehouse Campground, managed by the park rangers. This leg of the trek was a much drier landscape, with the valley adorned with vibrant shades of red, orange, and tan.

This is where I saw the guanacos, who are thriving in the national park. My guide told me that there were plenty of pumas as well. We didn’t see one but I wondered if I’d been captured by one of the camera traps that are used to monitor their population. 

Crossing into the Aviles Valley, Aysen
Crossing into the Aviles Valley

That night I opted to stay at the West Wind Campsite, so I could have a hot (well, warm) shower and be set up for one last day hike – the Laguna Atlas trail. 

It was more than worth it. It was a seven-hour round hike for views of the Jeinimeni mountains and the entire Chacabuco Valley – a summation of all the places I’d walked in the previous days, with strange moon-like rock formations along the way. 

View from Laguna Atlas trail in Patagonia National Park
The view from the top of the Laguna Atlas trail

The day finished at the town of Cochrane – a long way from my starting point at Chile Chico. In just a few short days I felt like I’d walked through such a variety of landscapes that I’d experienced Patagonia in microcosm, from vibrant forests and glacial lakes to dramatic valleys and vast expanses of dry scrub. And rivers, lots of rivers. Next time I’m packing an extra two pairs of dry socks. 


Swoop Patagonia’s Trekking to the Patagonia National Park: Jeinimeni to Aviles trip includes all you need to explore this part of Aysen. For more information or for help planning your own Patagonia adventure, get in touch today.

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Sarah Schneider

Swoop Patagonia Specialist

Born and raised in the United States, Sarah came to Chile in 2011 for 'one year'. Almost 10 years later, she has travelled extensively throughout South America and Chile, is now fluent in Spanish and has found her home in Chilean Patagonia.