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Parque Nacional Hornopirén

The adventure along the Carretera Austral is well underway. After arriving in Caleta La Arena, you’ve crossed by ferry to the second leg of the highway, which follows the coast around a peninsula to Río Negro Horopirén at the head of a fjord. The geologic face of the land is beginning to change into the Pacific Patagonian Ranges. This geology is part of the reason for Parque Nacional Hornopirén’s existence.

Established in 1988, Hornopirén National Park protects 48,232 hectares of evergreen forests in an important transition zone. Not only do the Cordilleras Patagónicas del Pacífico begin here, with the landscape sculpted by volcanoes, glaciers and plate tectonics into sudden mountains, narrow valleys and fjords, but the park is also where another geologic transition occurs. The Active Volcanic Range (Cordillera Volcánica Activa, in Spanish), whose denizens include Villarrica and Llaima volcanoes, begins to end. The transition, however, isn’t abrupt. The zone southward is the Volcanic-Glacial Plain. Three more cones loom: Chaitén, presenting a surprising eruption after ±9400 years of dormancy, its resting neighbor Michinmahuida and, across Chaitén Sound, Corcovado. The lava and ash of the eruption of the park’s volcanoes Yates (2187 meters / 7108 feet), Hornopirén (1572 meters / 5109 feet) and Apagoado (1210 meters / 3933 feet) during the Pleistocene Epoch have since been worn by glaciers. Approximately 3000 hectares of ventisqueros (hanging glaciers) gleam within Parque Nacional Hornopirén’s boundaries.

This is a rocky, watery landscape covered with forest of alerce (Patagonian cypress, Fitzroya cupressoides), coigüe de Chiloé (Nothofagus nitida), coigüe de Magallanes (Magellan's beech, Nothofagus betuloides), tepa (Laurelia philippiana), ulmo (Eucryphia cordifolia) and lenga (lenga beech, Nothofagus pumilio). Through the narrow valleys flow four important rivers whose headwaters are within the park. Río Negro begins its journeys from Lago Pinto Concha to Canal Hornopirén. Río Blanco is fed by snowmelts and Lago Inexplorado. The other two rivers take a different route. The Traídor y del Este run eastward, to join the Río Puelo and Puelo Chico.

Two hiking trails exist in the park. The first begins from the ranger station near Chaqueihua Alto to Lago Pinto within the park (Difficulty: low-medium, Distance: 9.7 kilometers / six miles, Duration: five hours one way). The sendero is divided into three legs:

  • Part 1 (2.5 kilometers / 1.5 miles) – Goes through private lands with free access. This is an old logging road with steep climbs through a much-eroded landscape.

  • Part 2 (4.3 kilometers / 2.6 miles) – Also through private property, the trail is now more level and surrounded by evergreen forest.

  • Part 3 (2.9 kilometers / 1.75 miles) – Now entering the national park itself, the path gently climbs through pure alerce forest. Cordillera del Tigre fringes the horizon.

The trail ends at the guardaparque (ranger) post at Lago Pinto Concha. There is rustic camping here.

The second trail, to the south foot of Volcán Yates, is an off-shoot of the above (Difficulty: low-medium, Distance: 3.65 kilometers / 2.2 miles, Duration: one hour one way). It passes through alerce and lenga woods. Vistas are of Lago Pinto Concha, mountains and snowy volcanoes.

The best time to hike in Parque Nacional Hornopirén is November to March. Be prepared for mud and low temperatures. Pack in your food and fuel supplies. Check with Conaf in Río Negro Hornopirén about trail conditions (Bernardo O'Higgins s/n, E-mail: Entry into the park and camping are free.


Other places nearby Parque Nacional Hornopirén: Hornopirén Village, Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael , Villa O'Higgins, Coyhaique, Villa Cerro Castillo, Reserva Nacional Coyhaique, Reserva Nacional Jeínemeni, Reserva Nacional Futaleufú, Chaitén and Puerto Bertrand.

By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

20 Dec 2011

Top Places in Parque Nacional Hornopirén

Hornopirén Village

Area code: 65, Population: 1200, Volcano: 1572m In the Los Lagos region of Chile, Patagonia’s Palena province, is the small town of Hornopirén, 109 km south of Puerto Montt, known by its ...
Hornopirén Village, Parque Nacional Hornopirén, Chile
View Parque Nacional Hornopirén Map

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