Parque Patagonia is one of our favourite national parks with its sweeping views, wonderful hikes and pretty luxurious camping facilities. Originally a Douglas Tompkins park, it’s easy to see why Tompkins made his second home here. In 2020 the park was in the process of being transferred from the Tompkins Trust to Conaf (Chile’s park service). The lodge, restaurant and museum will continue to be operational.
(Note: we did not travel during COVID or quarantine, but took this trip Jan. 2020)
We left our campsite in Jeinimeni and drove around General Carrera lake to the Parque Patagonia road entrance. With a stop off in Chile Chico for groceries and gas, the trip took about four hours of driving on mostly gravel, washboard twisty roads. After you enter the park entrance about 30 minutes later you arrive at the park ranger buildings, museum, lodge and hotel facilities which are perfectly constructed with slate and stone making you wonder if Hemingway is going to make an appearance. If you go to both Jeinimeni and Parque Patagonia save your camping receipts as the entrance fee was only charged once.
We drove behind the main buildings and headed for West Wind campsite. A large field with views of the hills, each site has a wooden dining hut with picnic tables and benches. We would soon discover the campsite was home to visitors including rabbits, guanacos, skunk families and, in the evening, mini annoying bugs on the rare occasion there wasn’t a wind in the campsite. West Winds bathrooms have washing-up sinks, potable water and showers, which if you are lucky are sometimes warm! There are wooden wheelbarrows available to take your gear to your site (as some are a fair trek across the long meadow). Campervans stayed in the parking lot by the bathroom block as they aren’t allowed on the camping field. No electricity. Park rangers come morning and evening to check on you and collect cash fees.
West Winds campsite
West Winds is perfectly located next to the Las Lagunas trail which goes up along an escarpment through miniature forests, along lakes and over the cliff. We did this trail in March 2019 — it’s an easy day hike or long half day hike. The ascent and descent is steep so good shoes are recommended and you might want hiking sticks too. We heard a puma when we were on the trail!
View of Las Lagunas from our tent in West Winds, a lake on the plateau of the trail, map and view from the escarpment.
Our second day we drove to Alto Valle — a beautiful view through the park (4×4 vehicle required to make it to the top parking lot) and to the Alto Valle campsite. This is a secluded car camping site and we would have loved to camped here but it is about two hours from the main road and with young children and grandparents we felt it was a bit too isolated. It is a well thought out site with dining huts and views down the gorge.
We had lunch there and then drove up the road to the last parking lot and then walked up to Mirador Douglas Tompkins with breathtaking views of Lago Cochrane. It was only about 2-3 km but it was nice through meadows, high on the hill, views of the lake and back through the woods. It is a perfect little hike for young children and with bird’s eye views of mountains and lakes. It is very windy so take a windbreaker!
The following day my husband and I did the Aviles loop hike which is 17 km and starts out at Casa de Piedra campsite. There is parking at the campsite but the access is over a bridge. The site is situated around the stone house where a park ranger lives. The house has dining rooms, electricity and basic kitchen facilities (sink and counter) and hot water.
To start the hike, you start behind the stone house and go across a wide empty river bed, up a canyon wall, along the top of the gorge to a swinging suspension bridge and back. You can park at the campsite, check in with the ranger and head out.
As you walk across the dried massive river bed look out for families of guanaco searching for small bits of green to munch on. We chose to hike to the right, but it doesn’t really matter which side you choose to go on. You climb up and up and then walk along the top of the gorge looking down to the foamy green river below carving through the rocks. At the suspension bridge (which I just shut my eyes and walked across as it was very high and moved a lot and only one person allowed at a time) we turned and walked back the way we came.
The Aviles trail as it goes along the right side of the river towards the bridge.
It was a wide plain on this side with beautiful views and the odd rushing river we had to jump across. You end back at the campsite which has on-demand super hot showers from the park ranger’s wood fired stove which heats all the water. Delighted, we went to the car and grabbed our soap and towels which by luck were in the car. After an amazingly hot shower we drove back to the main lodge to meet the rest of the family and we ended the day with a delicious buffet supper at the main lodge — a real treat!
While we were away my in-laws took the children to see La Confluencia — which is a merging of the vibrantly turquoise Baker River and the creamy coloured Neff River. You can park by the wooden fence and then walk down through the trees to see the rivers up close (it’s about 1 km return). I would also recommend driving further down the road (past the parking lot and walk entrance) as about a kilometre on the right is another lay-by where you have a bird’s eye view of the rivers merging together with hills and mountains in the back ground. To access this Confluencia when leaving Parque Patagonia head towards Puerto Bertrand // Puerto Rio Tranquilo and after about 17km on highway 7, you will see signs for it on the left. You can read more about in the Carretera Austral post.
I really love the town of Cochrane and as we needed some more fresh supplies, the next day we drove into town for lunch and to wander through my favourite shop, Supermercado Melero. Supermercado Melero has everything from a deli and wine selection to boxes of nails and tires and a candy counter. A great place to re-stock! It was a really warm day so we asked at the local gas station in Cochrane where would be a good place to swim and he told us about this secluded beach on the shores of Lake Cochrane. You follow the road south out of Cochrane on the X899 following signs for Lago Cochrane, when you see the road X897 to Playa Vidal you take that road to the beach. It is about 12 km out of town. We then drove over a river bed (bridge was out) so high clearance and a 4×4 are recommended. (ok, so maybe with signs on the side road saying “Playa Vidal”it’s not that secluded! But had we not asked we never would have found it and we had it to ourselves all afternoon!) The water was frigid but a few brave souls in our group went in.
On the way back into the campsite we destroyed a tire. There is a long dramatic story of lost keys, getting locked out of a car rental that can drive without keys (who knew?!) and relying on the kindness of strangers. It all worked out in the end, but just a note that 4×4 is necessary, make sure you have at least one spare tire (locals travel with two or more) and make sure your plans are flexible enough timewise, foodwise, cashwise and gasoline in the tankwise to handle any little hiccups!
For our final full day my husband wanted to get a proper replacement for our spare tire as we had more Careterra Austral to go and he knew the conditions from the last time we were here! So he and the boys went back to Cochrane to get an actual tire and have lunch. My mother-in-law and my daughter and I walked the La Vega trail behind West Winds campsite and into the lodge for tea and cake (about 5 km). It is a wandering trail through scrub with nice views of the park and we really enjoyed it. Perfect for trail running or a hike if you have little ones.
On our final day we left in the morning and drove an hour and a half to Puerto Rio Tranquilo to cabins we had booked to end our journey with a visit to the Marble Caves.
Parque Patagonia Tips
No garbage facilities so pack up your garbage and dispose of your rubbish en route or in the next town
Cash only in Chilean pesos, fees are collected by park rangers morning and evening
The museum is well worth a visit to see what inspired the Tompkins’ to move to Patagonia
Here is our camping packing list:
Two tents (we split up the kids and adults between a 2 and 3-person tent and it worked really well as some sites can be small and not accommodate a 4 or 6-person tent)
Lawn chairs (but all sites come with picnic tables so not entirely necessary)
Sports (rope to make toggles, frisbee, football, sling shots)
Clothes including long underwear, swim suits, rain gear, toques/hats and mitts, scarves
Sunscreen and bug dope, first aid kit, toilet paper and small soap in ziplock bag x2 (as inevitably as soon as one adult goes with a child another child needs to go with the second adult!)
Kitchen camping box (we had a dishpan we used to carry dishes to the communal wash up sink that all the campsites had)
We took hiking shoes but only hiking boots for the children as we adults wouldn’t be carrying any heavy packs we wanted shoes that we could wear all the time to save on space.