As spring rises in the northern hemisphere, so autumn settles over the southern. I look back over Her Odyssey's first year walking across Patagonia and all the forests, rivers and peaks it afforded. These are three of the most striking National Parks we hiked through; each offers a variety of exploration options, from routes for drive-bys and picnics to multi-day treks.
1) Torres del Paine, Chile
Ever since Lady Florence Dixie came through in 1879, tourism has flourished around this striking massif. Today the crown jewel of Chile's National Park system attracts over 150,000 tourists from around the globe each summer season (December-March). The park has everything from driving tour options and luxury lodges to the O circuit. The most popular multi-day trekking route is referred to as the W, which explores the face of the massive formations. It is beautiful and also, essentially, a pedestrian highway. The O gives a much broader grasp of not only the famous towers but the geology around it.
To get a good understanding and fully appreciate the park I recommend you visit Erratic Rock Hostel in Puerto Natales, where they provide informational gatherings and maps to help you prepare for the trek, rent gear, store your town goods, and serve up a mean burrito.
2) Los Glaciares, Argentina
Home to the infamous Fitz Roy spires just outside of the tourist town El Chalten, the largest national park in Argentina was established in 1937 to protect the vast natural water resources of the Southern Patagonia Icefield. The trails around the spires are well traveled and marked, The hike up to Laguna de los Tres offers spectacular views of the most iconic peaks.
Another option in this area which escapes the crowds is to head out north of El Chalten to Laguna del Desierto. There you can hike a trail along the beautiful lake or cross on a ferry to where the Argentine Gendarmeria, the border patrol, spend most of their day fishing. The camp at their base affords a beautiful view of the towers across the water.
For those of an adventurous spirit you can then walk the path (on the Argentine side) which becomes a road at the marker into Chile, or take a number of side trails which branch out to the Chilean frontier at Candelario Mancilla, where you stamp into Chile and then take the boat across Lago O'Higgins to our favorite, quiet southern town of Villa O'Higgins, at the end of the Carretera Austral.
3) Nahuel Huapi, Argentina
This vast park surrounding San Carlos de Bariloche is truly astounding. From hulking peaks such as glacier-clad Tronador to azure rivers across pampas, the landscape is as varied as the activities it affords. A cable car takes you to the top of Cerro Otto, where there is a restaurant and overlook affording beautiful views of the lakeside city and expansive waters of the massive lake for which the park is named.
The huts circuit is the most popular multi-day way to explore the peaks, both in the summer and on backcountry skis in the winter. The rocks afford world class climbing and downhill mountain biking, and the lakes are great for kayaking; the options go on. Many of the trails at the southern reaches of the national park are little explored so the further you get from Bariloche, the more isolated an experience you will have.
The high season for exploring these parks is the Patagonian summer, between November and March. Nahuel Huapi has a ski resort worth a visit if you happen down here in the winter. However and whenever you do it, a trip to Patagonia should be on your life list, and any and all of these parks are a good place to start. So pack some good socks and a sense of adventure!