Encountering true wilderness is not just a possibility when visiting Chile – it’s an absolute must. Few visitors can resist the charms of the mysterious, untouched terrains of any one of its 36 remote national parks. But trekking Chile is not for the faint at heart. While world-renowned hiking destination, Torres del Paine has a number of established trails, national parks found further afield rarely lay claim to having well-marked routes. As a result, exploring this country on foot requires outdoor experience and a truly adventurous spirit.
Choosing a national park for trekking Chile
The payoffs of trekking Chile are huge – once you get past the main limitation: transportation. While hiking has definitely grown in popularity with local tourists (aided, no doubt by the flourishing reputation of Torres del Paine as a global hiking hot spot) trekking remains a pastime mostly enacted by foreign tourists.
As a result, few hiking trails are found in national parks and access is limited to using your own vehicle or hiring a local guide because of poor public transport. That said, the effort of organising a trip to the glorious national parks or reserves listed below – or any other for that matter – is rewarded two-fold. Expect sensational views and unique flora and fauna as you explore parts of Chile that, in all likelihood, have hardly been trekked before.
Huerquehue National Park
A short distance from adventure tourism capital Pucón, Huerquehue National Park might only cover 48 sq.-miles (125km²), but what it lacks in size it makes up for in a dazzling array of picturesque lagoons, groves of ancient araucaria trees and staggering views of nearby Villarrica Volcano.
The best treks in Huerquehue National Park:
Sendero Los Lagos – A steep 4,200 ft. (1300m) climb passes the park’s most stunning lakes – Toro, Chico and Verde – two waterfalls and guarantees clear views of the stately bulk of the volcano.
Distance: 8.5-miles (14km) return from the park administration office.
Sendero Los Huerquenes – This trail can be picked up from the end of the previous hike and finishes in Termas de San Sebastián (hot springs) where there are exceptional views of the lakes from the Renahue viewpoint.
Distance: 14-miles (23 km) one-way from the park administration office.
Radal Siete Tazas National Reserve
49-miles (78km) from Curicó in Chile’s central valley lies the volcanic landscape of Radal Siete Tazas National Reserve. A protected area filled with rich, dense forests of native coigüe and radal trees, you’ll also find an abundance of thundering waterfalls that plunge from huge heights into shimmering bodies of water.
Accessible only via unpaved road, this national reserve feels a world away from urban life, and its combination of excellent hiking trails and viewpoints of the seven “cups” or tazas that the Río Claro has carved into the basalt rock (and which give the park its name) make it a top trekking Chile destination.
The best treks in Radal Siete Tazas National Reserve:
Sendero Los Chiquillanes: This short circuit loops from Camping Los Roblés in Parque Inglés and includes spectacular views of Valle del Indio.
Distance: 4-miles (7km) return.
El Bolson Route: Again starting in Parque Inglés, this hike has 2200 ft. (680m) of ascent before arriving at a small refugio where you can expect astounding panorams of Colmillo del Diablo Mountain.
Distance: 5.5-miles (9km) one-way.
Important considerations for hiking in Chile
- Always bring enough water with you, or carry a water purification system to make river water potable.
- Remember that the sun’s rays can be fierce, so bring a wide-brimmed sunhat and sunblock to provide ample UV protection.
- During spring, fall and winter, parts of Chile can be very wet. A waterproof jacket is an essential piece of gear.
- Ensure you sign in at park administration or CONAF offices where appropriate.
- Take all of your rubbish with you when you leave the trail.