Trekking in El Bolsón (years 2008, 2011, 2012)
The same as Chaltén is worldwide known as the capital for trekkers, El Bolsón is known as an excellent region for doing a huge variety of hikes. The trails and shelters are surrounded by mountains, thick forests and colorful rivers.
We have been to this area on 3 different years, and what we like the most are the many trails that have been developed connecting several mountain shelters. Some of them are more accessible than others. Some shelters can be visited for only one day, others require to stay at least one night to keep walking on the next day. There are plenty of options that adapt to each visitor. For those who prefer to spend many days walking through the mountains without returning every day to civilization, there also are very interesting circuits to be done. Below I´m describing one of those circuits I consider the best. The schedule can be changed according to your wishes, physical condition and expectations.
Important: if you visit this region it is important you get informed about the Hanta Virus and take precautions. You will find information in the internet, in the town or at the Club Andino (mountain club).
How to get to El Bolsón:
- By bus from Buenos Aires (23 hours ride!)
- By plane to Bariloche or Esquel and from there take a public bus to Bolson. If you take this option I would guess flying to Bariloche instead of Esquel as Bariloche has more flight frequency.
Public buses take around 2 hours to get from Bariloche to Bolsón.
Usually we spend our first day in Bolsón looking for information about the trails. Although there is a lot of information in the web and trekking guides, they do not inform about the latest news, like for example, if any trail has been closed to the public. That´s why we suggest passing by the Club Andino Piltriquitrón for updating. There they will also request you to register the circuit you intend to do and the dates you will be back in town. Just in case anything happens…. they will know where to start looking for you. That´s why it is also important to notify your return.
BOLSÓN – HIELO AZUL SHELTER
The trail to the Hielo Azul shelter starts at a place called Doña Rosa. We took a taxi to get there. Every taxi driver knows this location so there is no way you get lost. From Doña Rosa we walked 40 minutes to cross a precarious footbridge that led us to the beginning of the trail indicated by a big sign with a map on it.
It was a rainy day, and although the trail goes through a high and thick forest, we got pretty wet and the views were covered by thick grey clouds. Despite all this it was a very mild rain, no storm, so we enjoyed it very much. Because of the rain the smell of wet soil and humus gets stronger than usual and the air feels like purer.
We reached the shelter in the afternoon, entirely wet to the bones. Shelters are heated by a wood-burner, so we could dry our clothes and ourselves!.
The Hielo Azul shelter is very picturesque. It has 2 levels. On the ground level there is the kitchen and a wide dining room with long tables and benches. You can buy dinner at the shelter or you can cook your own (with your cooking set) and have it in this area. The superior level is like a big sleeping room with mattresses on the floor for the trekkers to sleep on them (you have to take your own sleeping bag with you). The people in charge of this shelter were very friendly. You can buy home-made food and bread.
We spent the first night inside the shelter and camped the second night. The camping area is located aside the shelter in the middle of the forest.
From this shelter you can do a trekking to the glacier Hielo Azul that may take you 3 or 4 hours. And if you are more experienced on mountaineering you may try to get to the top of the mountains Hielo Azul and Barda Negra.
So you can stay only 1 day or many more, depending on your interests. We stayed 2 days as we tried to reach the glacier Hielo Azul, but because of bad climate conditions (it started snowing on the previous night), we had to cancel our ascent.
HIELO AZUL – CAJÓN DEL AZUL SHELTER
These 2 shelters can be connected by a trail that also leads to the Natación shelter, located beside the Natación lagoon. Close to the Hielo Azul shelter we crossed the Teno river and took a trail heading up a slope inside the forest.
At the beginning it gets steep but afterwards the ground gets more flat. As it snowed the night before (it was April), the trail could not be seen clearly so we had to pay attention. After a short stop at the Natación shelter for a delicious hot chocolate (!!)
We continued our way. This time the trail went down the slope, that was also very steep and at some parts it got difficult to move with a backpack. This is why this trail is suggested to be done from Hielo Azul to Cajón shelter and not the other way. This trail end up at the main road that leads to Cajón del Azul shelter.
In my opinion, this is the most emblematic shelter of this area. It is located in the valley of the Río Azul, at the southern base of Dedo Gordo hill. As it is easily reached from Wharton area, it gets very crowded in summer as lot of people arrive to spend only one day. If you prefer to avoid a crowded place like this we suggest to avoid this shelter during January and February. The shelter is held by a man called Don Atilio, who lives there permanently. It is his home so you will find a friendly face there around the entire year. All other shelters of the area remain open but empty from May to September (more or less). Cajón del Azul shelter looks like a big cabin. On the ground floor there is again the kitchen, the dining room and 2 bathrooms with its shower with warm water. Showers with warm water are a luxury and this shelter is the only one to have them. They have to be paid separately and the water is heated by a wood-heater, so showers have to be very short. On the upper level there is a big sleeping room with mattresses on the floor. This shelter provides breakfast and dinner and off course home-made beer. Aside the shelter there is a garden that provides the vegetables for the meals they serve. This is also not common to find. At the back of the shelter is the camping area inside the forest.
Several short hikes can be done around this shelter. And the trail that leads to El Retamal and Los Laguitos shelters also starts here.
CAJÓN DEL AZUL – RETAMAL SHELTER
Retamal is only 1 hour walk away from Cajón del Azul. The trail goes always through the forest, following first the Azul river and then another small river (which name I forgot) until it leads to the Retamal shelter.
Retamal is quite rustic and much smaller than Cajón del Azul. During our last visit we could see it has been enlarged. Now the area for visitors (the new part) has been separated from the living area for the shelter keeper (that time it was Mariano Monasterio). The same as Cajón, Retamal has a dining area with a wood-heater on the ground level and a sleeping room on the upper level. It also has a vegetable garden and a large camping area that has 2 or 3 “dormis”. It also offers meals.
Several trails to a viewpoint on the Azul valley and to the top of the Dedo Gordo hill depart from this shelter.
RETAMAL – LOS LAGUITOS SHELTERS
This trail can be started at Cajón del Azul or Retamal shelters. This is one of the longest trails. It took us 7 hours. We knew it was going to be a very long day, so we started early in the morning, walked slowly and did several stops.
The first part of this trail passed through different kind of forests, with moderate ups and downs, until we got to the Mallín de los Chanchos. This is a wide reed bed, partly flooded, we had to go through. Locals say wild pigs use to dig the soil up looking for food in this area. Fortunately we had no encounter with any of them. We lost the trail several times. Once we stepped out of this reed bed we entered the last part of this trail, that is the most steep one. Finally we reached the shelter Los Laguitos, that is located aside the Lahuán lake. Although it is a very small shelter (it can lodge only 10 persons inside for sleep), you can get a basic dinner! We camped on the shore of the lake for two nights.
The following day we hiked to the Soberanía lake. This is a 6 hour hike (roundtrip). Unfortunately it rained the entire day. The trail runs mostly through big reed beds, making it sometimes difficult to walk. It seemed to us that this was not a very visited place, as the reeds invaded part of the trail. The Soberanía lake is located at the border with Chile. It is a big lake but it was covered with clouds, so we could not appreciate all its extension. Despite de rain we spend some time there for lunch. It is a very quite place.
The trail to this shelter starts close to Lago Puelo town.
It is also a very long walk, so we started very early in the morning. It took us 6 and a half hours.
From El Bolsón we took a public bus to the walkway “La Pasarela” on the Azul river. From here we had to walk. After crossing the walkway we entered a settlement that belongs to a mapuche family called Motoco. Right after leaving this settlement we entered the Valdivian Forest (jungle like).
The trail runs through the valley of the Motoco river and it is quite steep.
We crossed this river twice using precarious walkways, using it 1 person at a time. The planks were frozen (we went in April) and therefore slippery.
This valley is much more deeper than the valley of the Azul river. That´s why the sun can shine in only after midday. So in the morning it feels freezing cold. On the tree leaves we could also see some snow laying. The second half of the trail runs through a forest of Coihue trees and reeds. As it is a bit higher we had some sun, and climate was a bit warmer
The Motoco shelter is quite small (not so small than Los Laguitos) and it was not in a very good condition. The sleeping room on the first floor had several leaks and the roof was patched with plastic bags. But the landscape of the surroundings was breathtaking. It has a big camping area located aside the river. From here we walked up the river to a forest of aged larch trees. We wanted to reach the Laguna Grande, but as it had snowed it was really freezing cold. We did not expected to have such a cold in April. It surprised us. In my opinion I think this shelter is worth a visit and a stay of at least 2 days to enjoy the surroundings. The trail is a highlight itself and the views are beautiful also. It is a good destination for those walkers that look for tranquility and nature.