NAHUEL HUAPI NATIONAL PARK
The generous donation of land by Francisco P. Moreno on 6th November 1903 is the nucleus on which this park was created in 1934. It's ecological and landscape values are representative of the Northern Andean Patagonian region. The 705,000 hectares of the park are distributed in SW Neuquén and NW Río Negro provinces.
Nahuel Huapi National Park protects samples of three natural habitats: the high Andean, the Patagonian Andes woods (including bits of Valdivian rainforest) and the Patagonian steppe.
Above 1600m the high mountain vegetation is sparse and composed of small plants adapted to the rigors of cold, snow and wind.
The lower slopes and valleys are mostly mantled by extensive woodlands. At different elevations different species of tree dominate: three species of Nothofagus Southern Beech (Lenga, Coihue and Ñire). In spring these woods provide one of the most colourful sights in the country. At that time of the year, and framed by mountains and lakes, plants like the Chilean firebush with its brilliant scarlet flowers, and two Mutisias climbers with orange or pinkish flowers, the Alstromeria lily covering the ground with its yellow flowers.
Around Puerto Blest, almost on the border with Chile, where the annual precipitation is around the 4000 mm mark, the Valdivian rainforest grows with its own special cypress, two podocarps and fuinque (Lomatia Ferruginea).
Many lakes lie in the bottom of these once-glaciated valleys. The most noteworthy is the Nahuel Huapi, with its 560 sq km, and a depth of 454 m. Other lesser lakes are Traful, Gutierrez, Mascardi and Guillelmo. On the shores of these lakes a vegetation more suited to such humidity grows - Arrayanes and Pataguas, two myrtles of the genus Myrceugenella.
On cliffs of some of the islands can be seen small colonies of blue-eyed cormorants, a curiosity since this a salt-water species usually associated with the Antarctic. The kelp gull is often found following tour boats.
One of the typical species of the mammal fauna is the Andean otter; the small population is a remnant of former times, it hardly exists out of protected areas. Another interesting species is the colonial tuco-tuco, an underground rodent that is exclusively found within the park - an endemic species.
Towards the east the Andean woods give way to a narrow transition zone. There the open woods are of the Cordilleran Cypress with Radal, another Lomatia, Ñires and Maitenus trees. This vegetation is best seen in the beautiful Valle Encantado.
Further east the marked drop in rainfall because of the Andean rain shadow produces the semi-arid Patagonian steppe, where yellow and golden grasses are typical of this less extreme habitat. Foxes, pumas and guanacos, together with birds of prey such as the cinereous harrier, and the American kestrel are typical fauna of this zone.
How to get there
The city of San Carlos de Bariloche is reached overland from the north by routes 234 and 231, the roads known as the Seven Lakes circuit.
Another road, which links Bariloche to San Martín de los Andes, is route 63.
From Neuquén one uses route 237. Southwards stretches route 258.
There is an important airport with many flights daily, increasing frequencies during the season.
There are two passes over the mountains to Chile: one over Puyehue pass on route 231, the other over lakes and stretches of connecting road over the Perez Rosales pass.
Of interest to the visitor
Parks´ headquarters are in Bariloche, a city of over 100,000 inhabitants on the south shore of lake Nahuel Huapi. There are two other settlements in the park where tourist infrastructure and services are available, Villa Angostura and Villa Traful.
Within the park there are all manner of camping areas, hotels, cabins for rent.
The fishing season extends from November to April, fishing for the introduced salmonids - brook, rainbow and brown trout and a landlocked salmon. Please consult the yearly regulations. Other watersports include kayaking, canoeing, sailing, windsurf and rafting.
Many trails give access to the park, for bicycles, for hikers, for horse riding or for mountaineering. Some of the possibilities are mentioned below but more adequate information should be sought at the park HQ or ranger stations.
- Crossing between Frey and San Martin refuges along Cerro Cathedral's crest, the Rucaco valley and the crest of Cerro Brecha Negra. This takes some 8 hours and presents some slight difficulties.
- Descent from San Martin refuge along the Casalata River to the hotel at Tronador, over Schweitzer pass; a slightly difficult 8-hour walk.
- Trail from Segre and Lopez refuges to Laguna La Carne where it descends to Pampa Linda in the Tronador area; it passes by CAB lagoon, the Las Vueltas bog and Lake Creton. It takes two and a half days and is somewhat difficult.
- From Tronador to Creton lake, by lagoon Azul to join up with the trail mentioned above - an easy three-hour walk. From lagoon Azul to Creton lake is another three hours, slightly more difficult.
- From the watershed at Tronador Hotel to the mouth of the upper Río Manso via lagoon Llum and the crest of Cerro Mora. The last stretch joins the descent along Casalata stream. Easy, day-and-a-half hike.
- A crossing linking Segre and Lopez refuges along the crest of Cerro Lopez, Goye bog and Mt. Bayley Willis. A difficult hike taking 5 hours.
- A crossing from San Martin to Segre refuges - very difficult twelve-hour hike, which requires a mountain, guide.
- Descent from Laguna La Carne to Pampa Linda; an easy three-hour hike.
- A walk around the upper Castaño Overo valley - easy, three hours.
- From Pampa Linda to Lake Frias over Paso de las Nubes - two days, but easy walking.
Pampa Linda is the starting point for hikes of varying lengths, some of which are:
- Trail to the Las Nalcas small waterfall; starts 500 m from the ranger station on the trail to the base of Tronador. Half an hour.
- Trail to the Ventisquero Negro (Black Glacier): starts 7 km from the Ranger Station along the road to Tronador, and leads to a viewing point.
- The trail to the base of Tronador starts at the end of the road where one can see the Garganta del Diablo waterfall.
- Trail to Ilon lake: Starts 300 metres from the Ranger Station. It heads towards Otto Meiling refuge, till the turn off right, which is marked. The climb takes about six hours.
- Trail to the Otto Meiling refuge (Club Andino Bariloche): leaving from the ranger station towards the Castano Overo river. Crossing it one climbs to the rock area. Five hours to the refuge.
- Paso de las Nubes pass: Starting from the Otto Meiling trail. It is a high mountain pass where condors can be seen. It ends at Lake Frias near Puerto Blest in the Valdivian rainforests. Two days.
National parks offer more detailed information on these and other alternatives.
Lake excursions tell of the nature, cultures and traditions of the park through the guides. Trips to Island Victoria, Los Arrayanes National Park, Puerto Blest, and Lake Mascardi are all part of the offers to be had from the tour operators in the region.
There are more than 500km of roads, which criss-cross the park and allow for pleasant drives and outings to see the main attractions.
One in the northern part of the park leads to the confluence of the Limay and Traful rivers along the captivating Valle Encantado (Enchanted valley) with its spectacular rock formations. An alternative is the Siete Lagos circuit, part of it in neighbouring Lanín National Park, with its magnificent and varied mountain and lake scenery.
In the southern part of the park route 258 leads to Mascardi and lateral roads from it to the rapids on Rio Manso, Lake Roca and Los Alerces waterfall, and another to Tronador and its glaciers. On the way to Bolson is Lake Guillelmo. Turn right for lake Steffen; a few kilometers away is lake Hualahue, a good place to view water birds.