For our last full day in the Lake District we ventured south to Alerce Andino National Park to visit a couple of waterfalls and scenic lake overviews. Unfortunately, this was also our most frustrating day of the trip due to weirdly early park closures and volcanic washouts.
See below for an interactive map of our hikes in Alerce Andino National Park.
Our first stop of the day, Salto Rio Blanco, was inaccessible because of a volcanic eruption in 2015. This information wasn’t easily found online before we left and recent photos of the falls appeared to be taken by people who ignored the “Closed to the Public” signage. We took some (zoomed in) photos near where the road ended but didn’t feel like pushing too far.
For the Huillifotem overlook hike we drove south past some small farms and parked across from the ranger station at the Puente Rio Sector Correntoso entrance to the park. Eric took some photos of the small cascade flowing under a bridge while I checked out the trail map and tried to find a bathroom. A park ranger eventually came out and through pantomime (and Google translate) we discovered we needed to sign a register, including passport number (again) before we could start the hike. He didn’t ask us for payment at this entrance.
There were decent views from the top, but not sure it was worth the mostly uphill climb.
It was worth getting a silly photo with this sign however.
This is where things got interesting… we continued down the (unpaved, of course) road to the Sargazo gate with the intention of hiking to the lake (5km RT) then driving down the coast to the Chaicas gate for an 8km RT waterfall hike. After signing the register book — but before handing over payment — I made conversation in my best Spanglish with the park ranger to ask how long it would take us to make the drive to the southern gate. He insisted that we couldn’t do this hike AND the waterfall hike because the last entry time for both was 3:00pm. Considering it was just after 1:00pm, we decided to skip the lake hike and try to make the cut off for the waterfall hike, which is the hike we really wanted to do. The sun sets at 9:00pm and the trails close at 3pm?!? Really?!?
We made decent time to the Chaicas guardhouse, enjoying some pretty coastal views along the way. At one point, Google insisted we try a ‘shortcut’ up a single lane track littered with huge rocks, but I vetoed that and turned us back toward the main road. Still, the 7km gravel road to the parking area was probably the worst of the trip, with lots of rocks and potholes to avoid which made for a slow-going, stressful journey. When all was said and done, we made it to the entrance by 2:45pm and found… no one at the check-in booth.
There was a woman knitting in a parked car nearby who noticed my distress so she gestured to one of the buildings nearby and I went in search of a park ranger. Success! We got ourselves into the register book and, as a bonus, were never asked to pay the 5,000 CLP per person fee. We needed to be off the trail by 5pm but figured 2 hours was plenty of time to complete the hike.
The 4 km trek to the falls was over rocky ground (surprise, surprise – considering the road!) but stayed relatively flat until the staircases near the falls. Along the trail we passed through lots of lush plant life (ferns, flowers, etc) and crossed several wooden bridges. After about 50 minutes, we arrived at Saltos Rio Chaicas, which was quite powerful; there was a bonus falls to the left side as well.
A staircase to the left of the waterfall, past a group of men working on repairing the trail, lead up to the massive millennial tree. Photos do not do this specimen justice – it was enormous.
We hustled back to the parking area before the (likely unenforced) deadline and began the drive back to Puerto Varas. It’s too bad the trails close so early when there are no direct roads to connect the northern and southern sections of the park. We (wrongly) assumed the park would be open during the daylight hours like TDP, and would have needed to get a much earlier start (and skipped the Salto Rio Blanco detour altogether) to even have a chance at completing all the hiking we had planned on – and it still would have felt rushed.