Hiking in the Chilean Lake District: the basics

The Chilean Lake District is a fantastically diverse region, offering easy access to seven national parks for hiking. There are myriad opportunities to get on the trail, or from your own lodge base tucked into the wilderness.

  • Day hikes Hike by day with a day pack and return in the evening to a warm bed, hot shower and privacy, there are a number of options with different levels of comfort and service.
  • Multi-day hikes Whether  staying in a refuge hut, with a local family or camping, there are hikes ranging over several days, through lush temperate rainforests, past conical volcanoes or under the shadow of huge granite walls.
  • Volcano hikes Strap on your crampons and climbs the peaks of Osorno or Villarrica, two of the most beautiful volcanoes in Chile. 
  • Multi-activity hikes It's possible to combine your hiking with a range of other activities. The Chilean Lakes offer whitewater rafting, horse riding, hiking, kayaking and mountain biking.

Types of Hiking in the Chilean Lake District

Day hikes from Puero Varas

Alerce Andino National Park, Puerto Varas, Chilean Lake District, Chile

Alerce Andino National Park

Puerto Varas offers easy access to day hikes in three very different national parks.

The most popularly visited is Vicente Pérez National Park, for hikes around the perfect cone of Osorno Volcano and the shores of Lake Llanquihue. The Paso Desolacion trail takes in both, with an option to include the sparking waterfalls of Saltos de Petrohué.

To the south, Alerce Andino National Park offers a contrasting experience with its thick temperate rainforest and ancient alerce trees that can live for more than 3000 years. The appropriately-named Alerce Milenario trail is one of the loveliest day hikes, along with the seasonal summer Triángulo trail around a series of tiny mountain lakes.

Hornopirén National Park is the least visited of the parks near Puerto Varas, due to its lack of established trekking circuits, but its wild hikes through alerce forest to lakes and volcano viewpoints are a hidden delight.

Slightly farther afield, the epic wild landscapes of Pumalín Douglas Tompkins National Park offers glaciers, volcanoes, rainforest and access to the famous Carretera Austral highway, but day hikes from here are better if you stay in a lodge in nearby Caleta Gonzalo. 

Day hikes from Pucón

View from Villarrica Volcano near Pucón, Chile

View from Villarrica Volcano

Pucón sits on the doorstep of two stunning national parks threaded with trails for day hikes.

Villarrica National Park has trails around the base of the base of the still-active volcano that gives the park its name, but some of the best hikes to be found around neighbouring Quetrupillán volcano, through thick forest with amazing views when you climb above the tree line, including to majestic Lanín volcano on the Argentine border.

Huerquehue National Park is braided with rivers, jewel-like lakes and stands of the prehistoric araucaria (monkey puzzle) tree, making for a very varied hiking experience. The Sendero Quinchol and Sendero San Sebastián trails here are the two best in the park

A little further to the north but still accessible from Pucón is Conguíllo National Park, where parts of the landscape still bear the dramatic scars of recent activity from twin-peaked Llaima volcano. Here, the Sierra Nevada trail offers sweeping views from glacier-capped mountains and beautiful ancient forest.

Multi-day hikes

Beautiful scenery in Tagua Tagua Park, Chile

Beautiful scenery in Tagua Tagua Park

National parks in the Chilean Lake District have a variety of camp sites and refugios for multi-day hikes. Huerquehue and Conguíllo probably have the best number of campsites. with options more limited in parks like Alerce Andino. In Vicenté Perez National Park it can be possible to arrange homestays with local families as you pass through their farmland. One option here is to make a three-day trek passing the needlepoint of the Puntiagudo Volcano.

One of our favourite hut to hut hikes is actually outside the national parks around Lake Tagua Tagua. This private park, accessible by boat, is covered with temperate rainforest, tiny lakes and well-marked hiking trails. Staying in simple refugios allows you to truly explore this near-pristine wilderness.

Volcano Hikes

Climbing Villarrica Volcano, Pucón, Chilean Lake District, Chile

Climbing Villarrica Volcano

More than 2,000 volcanoes run down the spine of Chile, and the Lake District has some of the most spectacular, including Osorno near Puerto Varas and smouldering Villarrica closer to Pucón. There are many trails offering brilliant day hikes on the slopes of the Lake District's volcanoes but it's also possible to climb to the peaks of the region's two most famous cones.

Villarrica (2860m) is the most popular to climb, as it offers the rare opportunity to gaze down into the lava-filled crater of a still active volcano. The ascent requires good level of physical fitness, but crampons and ice-aces are needed – your guide will provide instruction at the start of the hike.

For those interested in more technical climbs, the ascent of Osorno (2652m) overlooking Lake Llanquihue is a rewarding challenge, best tackled by spending a night at the refugio on its slopes. The final glacier approach is particularly steep and tricky, and requires some mountaineering experience, but the reward of the view at the summit make it all worthwhile. .

Swoop Says background image

Sally Dodge says

For me, the beauty of the Lake District is really its incredible wealth of plants and birds. From the delicate thumbnail sized transparent ferns to the vibrantly green, glistening hummingbirds, it really is a mesmerising, spell-binding place to hike.

Swoop Expert

FAQs about Hiking in the Chilean Lake District

  • When is the best time to hike in the Chilean Lake District?

    The Chilean Lake District is a year-round destination, but with a landscape rich in temperate rainforest you'll want to pack for rain whatever time of year you visit. January to February are the driest months with the clearest skies. In the southern hemisphere winter, some trails may be closed for maintenance or (at higher altitudes) because of snowfall. 

  • Are the hiking trails in the Chilean Lake District well marked?

    Trails in the national parks in the Chilean Lake District are generally very well-marked, with good signposting at trailheads and easy tracks to follow once; you're on the way. It's still worth considering taking a guide though, as their explanations of the landscape, flora and fauna and culture of the region adds greatly to the experience. 

  • How much hiking experience do I need?

    There are trails for all abilities in the Chilean Lake District from short walks to longer and more strenuous hikes: we'll help pick out the best ones for you. Volcano hikes like Villarrica are non-technical but do require a good level of fitness; instructions on the use of crampon and ice-axe technique are given at the start of the hike. 

  • How do I get to the Chilean Lake District from Santiago?

    The Chilean Lake District is very well-connected to Santiago. There around 10 flights a day from Chile's capital to Puerto Montt, a 30-minute drive from Puerto Varas, the gateway to the southern Lake District. Around three daily flights connect Santiago to Temuco, a 90-minute drive to Pucón, for the northern Lake District. There's also a daily flight between Santiago and Castro, on Chiloé island. 

  • Can I combine the Chilean Lake District with Torres del Paine?

    Yes. Daily flights between Punta Arenas (the gateway city for Torres del Paine) and Puerto Montt means that it's easy to add the Lake District on to time in southern Patagonia. For the adventurous, the four-day Navimag ferry sails once a week along Chilean fjords from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt.

  • Can I get to the Chilean Lake District from Argentina?

    Yes. There are direct buses from Bariloche, the main hub for the Argentine Lake District, to Puerto Varas (7hrs), and from San Martín de los Andes to Pucón (5hrs). If you want to make a day trip of it, try the spectacular Cruce Andino route, which takes a series of ferries along the lakes to cross the Andes by boat between Bariloche and Puerto Varas. 

You may also be interested in...

Hiking in Patagonia

Patagonia offers a huge range of day hikes and multi-day treks through a variety of spectacular landscapes. As well as the famous National Parks of Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares, there's also remote Tierra del Fuego, The Chilean Lake District in the north and miles of lesser-known trails across the region.


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