“The mountains are calling & I must go“, said naturalist John Muir while fighting to protect Yosemite in North America. Well, we’re confident that he would have said the same if he had paid a visit to the fantastic Lake District of Argentina. In the northern part of the Argentine Patagonia, this area reveals a string of lakes cheekily tickling a mountain background. It’s an ongoing source of outdoors activities for active travellers; but still, trekking Bariloche is the one pastime that just never gets old. Do you travel to Argentina to seek beauty? So make sure you add in a few hikes in Bariloche, Patagonia, to your South America itinerary!
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When to visit Bariloche | How to prepare
1-day Bariloche hikes:
Circuito Chico | Colonia Suiza | Cerro Campanario | Lake Gutiérrez | Refugio Frey | Cerro Catedral
Multi-day Bariloche treks:
Laguna Negra | Paso de las Nubes | Refugio Otto Meiling | Nahuel Huapi Traverse
“Amazing”, “fantastic”, “jaw-dropping” – a few lines into this post and you’re already 3 adjectives the richer. Be ready to see more of those because the Lake District around Bariloche is a land of superlatives.
And yet, I have to tell you: it wasn’t on our travel route until the very last moment. We took off for South America planning to skip traveling in Patagonia altogether; we wanted to cross from Mendoza to Santiago de Chile, and from there make our way north. It’s only in Mendoza, before leaving to see the Aconcagua, that our host Franco convinced us to make the detour. He certainly found the right words, and how grateful we are that he did!
Where is Bariloche
Patagonia is that tongue of land at the end of the world that licks the ice of Antarctica. It’s remote, wild, and a wind of adventure sweeps through it. It spreads from coast to coast over Argentina and Chile; but while Chileans consider that Patagonia only starts under Puerto Montt, the one in Argentina goes up to include the province of Neuquén.
Well, before reaching the ice and the fjords, before losing yourself in the immensity, visit the Lake District of Argentina. That (unofficial) region flanks the mighty Andes, in the mid-west of the country.
It can be easily reached with a night bus from Neuquén, Osorno in Chile; or with a half-a-day journey from Puerto Madryn, on the Atlantic coast. So of course, it’s a tad busier than Tierra del Fuego; but you will hear here about off-the-beaten-path paths (what?) where you could well end up alone and happy.
San Carlos de Bariloche stretches on the shore of Lake Nahuel Huapi, and on the edge of the beautiful Nahuel Huapi National Park, the oldest national park in Argentina. It is dominated by snowy mountains, glacier lakes and extensive pine tree forests. That’s the kind of disgusting landscape you can expect when trekking in Bariloche.
Sure enough, there are many jaw-dropping places in Argentina, but Bariloche really blew our minds! One of its advantages is to be more easily accessible than the deep South and to have more infrastructures, therefore welcoming all levels of hikers. And really, you’ll see from the below list that most of the hikes in Bariloche are on easy level!
Start planning: Bariloche is part of our 3-week Argentina itinerary.
Where to trek and when you should go
Another thing about the Lake District is that you’re not coming all this way only for a couple of hikes. That’s what puts off many travellers about the Perito Moreno glacier for instance; “Should I really travel that far for one glacier, as beautiful as it may be?”
There’s not such dilemma here and Bariloche could keep you trekking for weeks. Most visitors go hiking in the Nahuel Huapi National Park but there are many other areas nearby.
Some of the trails (typically the day hikes) are open all year round; others at higher altitudes (the multi-day hikes) can be closed for the winter or on severe weather conditions.
In general, the best time to go trekking around Bariloche is in the summer months, January-March. That’s when the trails are more likely to be open; but that’s also the tourist season when prices are the highest and places the most crowded. You could also consider the shoulder season, in April-May, with a slight risk of rain and bad weather.
For sure, backpacking Bariloche in winter is a beautiful sight; go for it if you’re not afraid of the cold or if you would like to try skiing in Argentina!
Now put on your hiking shoes and choose a comfy hiking backpack! I’m listing below the best one-day and multi-day trekking options around Bariloche.
1-day treks around Bariloche
Llao Llao peninsula
The number one trekking place in Bariloche is Llao Llao (pronounce: ‘zhao zhao‘ in Argentine Spanish). It’s a rugged peninsula shredded at the western tip of town, on the Nahuel Huapi Lake.
You can easily get there by bus, or hitchhiking – just follow Avenida Exequiel Bustillo until the end. You could spend a full day there, although it’s possible to do it in 4-5 hrs. The duration of the trek will depend on the number of places you want to stop at. We took our time to really enjoy the environment and stayed there all day.
Llao Llao offers a circular hiking route called Circuito Chico, the ‘short trail’. (You guessed right, there’s also a ‘long trail’: it’s a road trip going through Villa Traful and Villa La Angostura.)
Circuito Chico leads you to beautiful lookouts on crystal-clear lakes, wild forests, and that precious laguna landscape which is the reason why hikers come to Bariloche. Places of interest start at km 23 and are scattered on either side of the road. The landmarks that you should look out for are:
- Llao Llao hotel (nice views at the beginning of the trail)
- Puerto Pañuelo
- Punta Verde
- Cerro Llao Llao
- the trail to the hidden beach
- the other trail to the window-size viewpoint
From km 30 follow the road again to Villa Tacul, then continue to Lago Escondido (the ‘hidden lake’) and at km 33 to the Bahía López area. Don’t miss the outstanding panoramic view near the end of the loop, possibly after a brew at the local Patagonia brewery.
The trails that you should follow are marked as Cerro Llao Llao and Sendero de los Arrayanes. At km 40 you’ll find an amazing viewpoint overlooking the Lago Perito Moreno (nothing to do with the glacier) and the Llao Llao peninsula.
At km 42 comes your chance for the detour to the peaceful Colonia Suiza, the “Swiss colony”; a glance at the wooden chalets and you quickly understand why they named it so. More about it in a minute.
How to trek the Circuito Chico
We found the best Bariloche hiking trails map on the free Maps.me app, much more precise than Google Maps; so we recommend that for finding trail heads and points of interest.
Although we did a mix of trekking and hitchhiking, there’s the option to do the loop by bike. Bike rentals are available on the way to Llao Llao, around km 18. The bikes seem to be in fair condition, and they provide helmet and high-viz jacket. There’s very little traffic, so by fair weather, it’s a real treat. We’ve seen many people cycling their way on Llao Llao, with the wind of freedom blowing through their curls…
If you don’t feel like multi-day or long hikes, Llao Llao is the ideal place to go hiking in Bariloche.
|Hike duration||From 4-5 hrs to all day to do the loop|
It’s surely not among the most exhausting hikes in Bariloche, more like a cute little place to get back slowly into civilisation. The whole Lake District was first colonised by Swiss immigrants in the early 19th century and they set their first stone precisely here.
Visit small farms and sip a nice cup of tea. Or if you are hungry for more nature, head in the direction of Refugio Laguna Negra and enjoy forest views, pristine rivers and chilling pick-nick spots by the lake. But don’t decide to take on the Refugio Laguna Negra hike on a whim, because it’s a full-day trek.
Now, make sure that you make it to the top of Cerro Campanario. This is THE best-ultimate-definitive viewpoint in the Bariloche area.
It lies at km 17, so most hikers visit it on the same day as Llao Llao. You can either climb it with a hardcore 30-min ascend for free, or take the chairlift for 500 ARS (as prices rapidly change in Argentina, check the official website for the current price).
Enjoy the truly breathtaking panoramic view from the top on a constructed lookout with a cafe and bathrooms. Call us misanthropist if you will, but we recommend you go after 6 pm, when most people have already taken the last chairlift down.
|Hike duration||30 mins uphill, 10 downhill + the time you spend at the top|
The Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi has some more precious scenery in stock for you. Going in the southern direction from Bariloche, you’ll find other trails leading through native forests and clear waters. You’ll reach untouched lakeside beaches where you can relax and meditate.
Trails are well marked and signposted. Trekking from Bariloche towards Lago Gutiérrez, you’ll first get to Los Duendes Waterfall which has 2 falls. Follow the trail to climb to hilltops and enjoy a view of the lake enclosed by 3 mountains: Cerro Otto, Cerro Catedral, and Cerro de la Ventana.
After a seemingly never-ending trail among bushes, you’ll reach the Gutiérrez lake and the beaches, like at Villa Los Coihues. It’s the warmest lake as the water doesn’t come from melted snow, as opposed to other lakes in the area. So it’s perfect for water sports when the weather is warm. Take your swimming suit and a picnic!
|Hike duration||5 hours return|
Refugio Frey hike
This is one of the most popular day hikes around Bariloche since it’s accessible and offers amazing views. The hike starts in Villa Catedral (you can get there with public bus) and in 4 hours you’ll reach the refuge.
The trail will lead you through a rocky landscape and in the end you’ll admire some of the most stunning views over the area. If you want to hike more than one day, continue the trek to Refugio Jakob. It’s common to stay overnight in the Refugio Frey, but you need to book your bed a few days ahead. Find more info and book on the refuge’s website (es).
|Hike duration||8 hours return (6 more hours if continuing to Refugio Jakob)|
Although Cerro Catedral is mainly known as a ski resort, trekking is also possible in the summer months (Jan-Mar). There’s a beautiful view on the surrounding area; the Nahuel Huapi and the Gutiérrez Lakes, the Andes and the majestic Cerro Tronador, in the direction of Puerto Blest and the Chilean border.
|Hike duration||7 hours return|
|Difficulty||Medium (due to terrain)|
Multi-day hikes around Bariloche
Looking for more adventure? For the feeling of exhaustion and the pleasure of the first hot shower in days? Hiking in Bariloche, Patagonia can bring you there. Here’s a selection of long hikes that you can do self-guided.
As usual, when you plan on camping and trekking the national parks, make sure you follow the rules displayed at every entrance.
Refugio Laguna Negra
2-day trek with a potential extension to 4 days
If you’ve come to trek in Bariloche for longer distances, the hike to Refugio Laguna Negra might be for you. Laguna Negra (the “Black lake”) is in the direction of Llao Llao, in the west of Bariloche. The trail leads through lush forests in the valley; then after a zigzag climb out of the trees, you’ll reach the refuge on the lakeside of Laguna Negra.
The trek to Laguna Negra takes at least 5 hours, so consider staying overnight. The refuge can accommodate up to 60 people, and you have the possibility to shower and cook. It even serves dinner! Camping is free or donation-based. Check the refuge’s website for more info.
The best thing about this trek is that it doesn’t end here! There’s a possibility to continue on to the Refugio López or Refugio Jakob treks.
|Hike duration||5-6 hours one way, 2 days return|
Paso de las Nubes trek
Between Puerto Frias and Pampa Linda is this 2-day, medium-difficulty hike leading through amazing viewpoints on the Frias glacier, the Frias River valley and the Valdivian rain forest. Yes, a real –although temperate– rainforest.
It’s better to start the trek from Pampa Linda and sleep in the authorised camping spot at the Refugio Rocca. The “Path of the Clouds” really is a beautiful trail. Count with a hike of 6 hours until Refugio Rocca, then 6 more hours the next day until Puerto Frias.
Check the national park’s brochure (in English and Spanish) for technical info and check ahead if the trail is open; it can be closed due to weather conditions.
|Hike duration||5-6 hours one way, 2 days return|
Refugio Otto Meiling
2-day trek with a potential extension to 4 days or 6 days
This beautiful trek will bring you to the glaciers and since it starts in Pampa Linda as well, it can be combined with the Paso de las Nubes trek. From Pampa Linda it’s a 5-7 hour trek to Refugio Otto Meiling, where you can stay overnight. Read the national park’s brochure (es) for more info.
|Hike duration||5-7 hours one way, 2 days return|
Nahuel Huapi Traverse
The ultimate 5-day trek
Is city-hopping your thing? No, we guessed so. Then try refuge-hopping! If you’re up for a challenge, consider the ultimate multi-day hut trek around Bariloche, which links all the refuges listed above. This 5-day hike will surely leave you tired but happy and the views are well worth the effort.
So the trail goes like this:
Villa Catedral (trail head) > Refugio Frey > Refugio Jakob > Refugio Laguna Negra > Refugio López > and back to civilisation at Arroyo López.
|Hike duration||5 days return|
|Difficulty||Medium / difficult|
How to prepare to go trekking in Bariloche
There’s really something for everyone who goes trekking in Bariloche, from casual hikers to adventure seekers. However, to enjoy even the shortest hikes, you have to prepare well.
Keep in mind that the weather is constantly on the chilly side, even in the summer months. So bring some comfy jumper and thick socks. Of course, what to bring on the treks will largely depend on the length and difficulty of your hikes. But for every trek, we highly recommend that you bring:
- Hiking shoes
- Comfortable hiking gear: technical T-shirt, hiking trousers, fleece to put on at breaks, rain jacket
- Hat or head scarf against the sun
- Sunscreen, even on cloudy days
- Picnic food, and a bag to collect your rubbish
- Refillable water bottle
- Camera, and a good online map
Hold on a second! Before starting your multi-day hike, check whether you need to bring your own warm sleeping bag. Most of the refuges don’t offer bedding, so a good sleeping bag is essential. If you don’t have a suitable one, rent one downtown.
In case you wish to cook in the refuge, bring your own food. Most of the refuges have bathrooms but showers are not hot. You can refill your bottle with clean water, but if you want to get water on the trail, better use a water filter.
Camping in your own tent is also possible at the refuge, and most of the time for free!
Trekking trails around Bariloche
The hiking trails are marked surprisingly well and small maps are even displayed at trail heads and crossroads. On some of the most popular trails, information boards tell hikers about the flora and fauna of the area. The paths are clean, with bins provided.
We promise that you can do all the treks in this post independently, self-guided, without the need for a mountain guide. But if you’d rather go in a group, choose among the Bariloche hiking tours that many tour operators offer downtown.
What else to do in Bariloche
While there’s enough trekking around Bariloche to keep you busy for a while, there are many other outdoor activities. In fact, the town and the whole area are famous nationwide for being an outdoors play field. Whatever water sport you could invent is surely already an attraction in Bariloche. Skiing, canyoning, kayaking, kite surfing, rafting, SUP, via ferrata, lake tours, you name it!
Besides the nature, Bariloche town is also worth a visit. The architecture is clearly European influenced (check out the main square for example), unsurprisingly, as many European immigrants settled in the area.
The area charms always more people from the province of Buenos Aires, who move here to live and to work. The town has a lively nightlife scene, restaurants, bars and clubs. If you like craft beer, try a pint of Patagonia (wheat beer, ales and IPA styles); the brewery is a few kms from Bariloche, on the Circuito Chico.
Where else to go in the Lake District of Argentina
We won’t tire of singing the praise of Argentina’s Lake District; it’s probably one of the best places to spend time for nature lovers. Unless you really don’t want to travel that far south in South America, it’s a must-visit place.
Together with San Martín de los Andes, Villa Angostura and El Bolsón, Bariloche forms the backbone of the Lake District, and is the biggest town in the area. We spent 1.5 weeks visiting the region –mainly hitchhiking– and revelled in amazing landscapes!
Start dreaming: What to see in the Argentine Lake District
Those few last meters were a nasty climb and you’re out of breath. You sit down on a rock that is just casually overlooking a fantastic scenery of clear blue waters surrounded by ancient snow-topped mountains. The little breath you had left is going in a cloud of fog; you need time to take in the beauty of what’s in front of you. Maybe the blue marble should give us a fragment of its eternity so we can fully appreciate it. And what if you never left Bariloche? Las montañas están llamando y tengo que ir.
What sort of hikes do you like the most?
Tell us your opinion about these hikes in Bariloche, or about your expectations!
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