NAHUEL HUAPI NATIONAL PARK
In Nahuel Huapi National Park the Andean forest flows into the steppe and produces a transition area between the lush green forest environment and the golden undulating grassy plains.
The generous donation of land made by Perito Francisco Pascasio Moreno on November 6, 1903 was the nucleus of the future Nahuel Huapi National Park, created in 1934.
That was the year that Argentina's authorities decided to protect this natural area with the intention of maintaining the varied wildlife of the place together with the recorded testimony of its original inhabitants for the benefit of future generations.
The park, for reasons of ecological and scenic value, preserves an extensive and representative area of the Andean region of north Patagonia.
It is located in the south western portion of the Neuquén Province and west of the Río Negro Province, covering an extension of 705000 hectares.
Modeled by different geological processes over a timespan of millions of years, up to 10,000 years ago, it was blanketed by glaciers, rivers of ice that deepened and widened the previously existing valleys.
When the climate changed, producing increases in temperature, the snows began to melt, forming lakes on these valley bottoms, like Nahuel Huapi, a typically glacial lake with deep, abruptly cut off arms.
The highest peaks are in the Andean massif that establishes the borderline with Chile, notably Mt Tronador or "Thunder Hill" (3.554 meters above sea level), so named because of the thundering reports caused by the gigantic snow and ice falls. Other major peaks are Mt Crespo, Cuyín Manzano, Campana, Millaqueo, Capilla, López and Catedral, with heights ranging between 1.800 and 2.400 meters above sea level.
Deep valleys and canyons known as "passes", enable one to cross over to Chile. The best known of these are Puyehue, Pérez Rosales and De los Vuriloches, the latter once used by the natives, and giving its Tehuelche tribal denomination to San Carlos de Bariloche.
Towards the west appear Mt Otto, Ventana, Cordón del Ñirihuau and others, that gradually decrease in height towards the Patagonian plateau. Encantado Valley (Enchanted Valley) displays interesting cases of rocks eroded by rain and wind into fantastic shapes: "El Dedo de Dios" (God's Finger), "El Castillo" (The Castle), "El Penitente" (The Penitent).
The main features of this area are glacial lakes and rushing rivers that flow into the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Of the 705,000 hectares in the Park, 55,700 are covered by the waters of Nahuel Huapi, the largest of a series of interconnected lakes that, using the Limay river, empty into the Atlantic. Leaving for Anchorena port on Victoria Island from the ports of San Carlos or Pañuelo, you can enjoy a walk through a native forest of coihues and ñires.
FEATURES OF THE PARK
The Nahuel Huapi National Park protects samples of three different natural environments: high Andean, Andean-Patagonian Forest (including sectors of the Valdivian forest) and the Patagonian steppe.
At over 1,600 meters above sea level one finds the high Andean environment with its sparse vegetation, consisting mainly of small herbaceous plants that have adapted to the rigors of cold weather, snow and wind.
The low areas of the mountains and the valleys in this Park are covered to a large extent by huge Andean-Patagonian forests. According to altitude, this is composed of different trees, such as lengas, coihues and ñires.
During spring, these forests offer one of the most colorful wooded landscapes in Argentina. At that time of year, framed by mountains and lakes, one finds native plants like the notro, with its beautiful red flowers, the mutisia vine, an orange-flowered creeper, the virreina, similar to the former but with lilac flowers, and the amancay, that blankets the forest floor with its yellow blooms.
In the Puerto Blest area, on the border with Chile, where rainfall averages around 4,000 mm a year, one finds the Valdivian forest, with its own vegetable species, such as the ciprés de las guaitecas, the maniú (male and female), and the fuinque.
To the east of the Andean-Patagonian forests extends a transition environment leading into the Patagonian steppe. Here one finds open forests of Cordillera Cypresses together with radales, ñires and maitenes. The most impressive species here is the cypress, whose elegant conical shape is silhouetted on the rocky hillsides, as may be appreciated in Encantado Valley, a place of impressive scenic beauty.
Continuing eastwards, the gradually diminishing rainfall produces a countryside of semi-arid canyons and plateaus, distinctive features of the Patagonian steppe. This is the kingdom of yellow and orange-hued wild grasses that are typical of the western, more humid part of the steppe. Foxes, pumas and guanacos, together with birds of prey like the cinereous harrier and the American Kestrel, are typical of the fauna of this area.
EXCURSIONS WITHIN THE PARK
The Park offers a wide range of land and lake excursions, as well as chances to do trekking, horse riding treks and mountain climbing, among other recreational sports.
You shouldn't miss the Victoria Island / Arrayanes Forest and the Villa la Angostura boat excursions, nor the Mt Tronador, Encantado Valley and the Seven Lakes Route land excursions.
Within the protected area we will find many areas for free and organized camping activity, as well as hotels, hostelries and cabins. From November through April you have the sport fishing season for the introduced varieties such as river and brown trout and salmon (see the annual fishing regulations).
You can also practice water sports like kayaking, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing and rafting.
A large number of trails enable you to go walking, biking or horseback riding, as well as mountain climbing. Some of the alternatives, about which you can get further information at the National Parks offices, are:
Pampa Linda is the starting point of long and short excursions. Some of them are:
- Crossing from Frey Refuge to General San Martín Refuge, going along the crest of Mt Catedral, Rucaco Valley and the crest of Mt Brecha Negra. It is medium difficulty level and the trek takes 8 hours.
- Descent from General San Martín Refuge, along the Casalata river, towards the area of Hotel Tronador: you go through the Schweitzer pass. Medium difficulty level and the trek lasts 8 hours.
- Route linking the Segre and López refuges with La Carne lake, descending to Pampa Linda in the Mt Tronador area. You go by the CAB, Mallín de las Vueltas and Cretón lakes. Medium difficulty level and the trek lasts two and a half days.
- From the Hotel Tronador area to Cretón lake, where it links to the previous circuit, going by Azul lake. Up to Azul lake it is low difficulty level. From Azul to Cretón lake it is medium difficulty level. Duration: three hours.
- From the water divide to the Hotel Tronador area, at the mouth of the Manso Superior, going by Llum Lagoon and the crest of Mt Mora. The last part links to the descent from Casalata Stream. Low difficulty level. Duration: one and a half days.
- Circuit linking the Segre and López refuges. You go along the crest of Mt López, Mallín del Goye and Mt Bailey Willis. High difficulty level. Duration: five hours.
- Circuit linking the General San Martín and Segre refuges. It is very high difficulty level, requiring the company of a mountain guide. Duration: twelve hours.
- Descent from La Carne Lagoon to Pampa Linda. Low difficulty level. Duration: three hours.
- Excursion to the bottom of the Castaño Overo valley. Low difficulty level. Duration: three hours.
- Circuit joining the Pampa Linda area with Lake Frías. You go through De las Nubes Pass. Low difficulty level. Duration: two days total.
All National Parks offices give full information on these and other trekking options.
- Trail to Saltillo de las Nalcas: it starts 500 meters from the Park Rangers' Cabin, on the way to Mt Tronador. Duration: half an hour.
- Trail to Ventisquero Negro: it starts 7 km from the Park Rangers' Cabin, on the road to the foot of Mt Tronador. You arrive at the Ventisquero Negro lookout point.
- Trail to the foot of Mt Tronador: it starts at the end of the vehicle road, where one can see the Garganta del Diablo waterfall.
- Trail to Llon Lagoon: it starts 300 meters from the Park Rangers' Cabin. You continue on the path to the Otto Meiling refuge, turning right at the sign-posted sidetrack. It is a 6-hour climb.
- Track to the Otto Meiling Refuge (Club Andino Bariloche): you leave from the Park Rangers' Cabin heading to the Castaño Overo river. After crossing it, you go up to the gravel pit. It is a 5-hour climb.
- De las Nubes Pass excursion: it starts on the ravine leading to the Otto Meiling refuge. This is a high mountain trek, enabling one to see condors. It ends in the Valdivian forest at Lake Frías and Puerto Blest. Duration is 2 days.
The lake excursion services give one the history, natural environment and traditions of the Park. Trips to Victoria Island, Los Arrayanes National Park, Puerto Blest and Lake Mascardi are some of the options offered by the tourism agencies in the area.
There are over 500 kilometers of roads crossing the Park, enabling vehicle access to the main tourism attractions:
Other activities in the area (from Bariloche):
- In the northern area there are different circuits. One leads to the confluence point of the Limay and Traful rivers, and to the fascinating Encantado Valley, that shows amazing geological formations. Another option is the Seven Lakes Route, with some stages inside Lanín National Park, where one can see varied and magnificent forest and lake scenery.
- In the southern area, from Bariloche, paved Route N° 258 will get us to Lake Mascardi. There we will find the start of a consolidated dirt road forking at the Manso River rapids, one fork leading to Lake Roca and Los Alerces waterfall, and the other to Mt Tronador and its glaciers. On the way to El Bolsón you will come across Lake Guillelmo. On the right side of the road there is a descending path that leads to Lake Steffen, and a few kilometers from this fork you will go along the shores of Hualahue Lagoon, a venue for waterfowl.
- Rafting: near San Martín de los Andes (170 km along the Seven Lakes Route; 150 km through the Córdoba mountain pass; 250 km along Route Nº 237).
- Thermal springs: fishing and horseback riding in Puyehue, Chile (120 km).
LAKE NAHUEL HUAPI
The most important basin is that of Lake Nahuel Huapi, featuring Victoria Island, 31 square kilometers in surface area, and other smaller ones such as Fray Menéndez, Huemul and Centinela.
Its winding shoreline offers important peninsulas such as that of Quetrihué, where one finds the famous Arrayanes Forest and others like Llao Llao, San Pedro and Huemul, as well as deep lake arms such as Ultima Esperanza, Rincón, Machete, Blest, Tristeza, Angostura and others.
From the ports of San Carlos or Pañuelo, excursions arriving at Puerto Anchorena on Victoria Island will take you to a section of the native forest with specimens of coihues and ñires. Another option is visiting the former forest plant nursery that contains specimens of trees from other places that were planted at the beginning of last century.
On disembarking in the south of Quetrihue peninsula, you enter Los Arrayanes National Park. The reason it was created in 1974, was to preserve a dense, almost pure forest of arrayán trees. This tree, easily distinguishable by its cinnamon-colored smooth bark, can reach 15 meters in height.
LAKE FLORA AND FAUNA
There are numerous lakes scattered among the forests. The main one is Nahuel Huapi, with a surface area of something less than 560 km2 and a depth of about 454 meters. Other smaller lakes are Traful, Gutiérrez, Mascardi and Guillelmo.
The shores of these lakes and the river banks are populated with trees preferring wet environments such as myrtle and linden. On the cliffs of some of the Nahuel Huapi islands one can find colonies of Imperial Cormorants. This is a strange phenomenon, since this is a species that is almost exclusively a marine one. One also frequently sees common seagulls following the boats on the lake.
One of the typical fauna species in the area is the huillín (Chilean otter), a carnivorous mammal that has its main Argentine colonies in this Park. This is a native otter that populates the shores of lakes and the banks of rivers and streams. Its long body is covered with a chestnut-colored and red or orange tinged coat, and it has short legs and a long tail.
Another interesting species is the tuco-tuco colonial. This is a rodent that lives in complex underground burrows and is restricted to the Nahuel Huapi National Park area.