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Hiking Futaleufú

posted Oct 10, 2011, 3:23 PM by Paul Gareau
Futaleufú, in Chilean Patagonia, is known for being one of the best whitewater rafting destinations in the world. Most people come for an average of 2.2 days (according to the tourism department) and then continue on to other places, missing out on the other opportunities that Futaluefú has to offer. It would be hard not to notice the incredible surroundings here, and because of the town's location in the mountains there is very accessible and scenic hiking in the area. Don't pass through this town without doing at least one!

La Bandera
A good starter hike is to Mirador "La Bandera". To find this trail, follow the street Pedro Aguirre Cerda to the western side of town, in the direction of Sector Noroeste. The road will bend to the right, descend and cross a bridge on a curve to the left before climbing again with another bend to the right. At the top of the hill, on the right, you'll see a sign for "Cabalgatas" and you'll want to follow that road to the trail. The trail isn't marked in any way and there are other trails around, but I found it easy enough to get to the top just by staying with what seemed to be the "right" trail, which was generally the widest and the one that was going up. You'll come around from the northeastern side of the hill, then you'll want to pass the small pond to get to the flag. The view is incredible, especially when there is still snow on the mountain tops, and it will definitely get you motivated to do more hiking in the area!

El Espolón Trek
This is an excellent and easily accessible short trek. I took a bus to Lago Espolón, which cost 300 pesos, and then a ferry to the port for El Espolón, which cost 2000 pesos. It may be possible to hike to El Espolón, since the tourism map shows a trail following Lago Espolón on it's eastern side, and Google Maps shows a trail on the western side. Looking from the boat, it is hard to believe that there is a trail on either side. From the port where the boat stops, you can follow the only road to El Espolón until you reach the school, then look for the switchback trail that goes over the hill behind the school. Don't underestimate the climb, it may take longer than you think. In general, you want to keep the fence and the small river on your left, and continue walking in the same direction as the fence. From the clearing at the top you will pass through a gate and then down through a dense forest before coming out into a large open area with a small house on the left. If you take the 3PM ferry and want to do the trek in two days this would be a good place to camp, but the farther you can go, the better. Next you continue towards the house on the left, but follow the path through the woods instead of walking towards the house. You'll come to a small farm next, with a house and some farm buildings. Follow the grassy area towards the mountains on the left (north east) until you reach the path next to the mountains. You will cross a log mud bridge, then ascend the side of the mountain. The path follows the side of the mountain until after Lago Las Rosas to avoid the lake, wetlands and thick forest. (The tourist cartoon map shows the trail on the other side - it's wrong!). The hiking is pretty easy between Lago Las Rosas and Lago Noroeste. When you look at the mountains on either side of Noroeste, it will seem impossible that there is a trail on either side - but there is! From the house on the north side of the lake, you want to stay on the right side of the lake (western side) and follow the trail into the mountains. The trail from here along the lake will go up and down for a while and you will never arrive at the south end of the lake. Instead you'll descend through the forest and follow power lines to a road. At the road take a LEFT over the bridge, following the power lines. If you take a right you'll come out at a farm and the end of the road. Continue following that road until it ends and meets another road, then turn left again and continue back to town.

If I could do this trek again, I would do it in a total of three days and two nights. The first would be the afternoon ferry and hike to El Espolón, camping there and exploring the dead end road north into the mountains. On the second I would do the pass behind the school, and the mountain section that goes next to Lago Las Rosas, camping at the old farm on the other side of the lake. On the third day I would do the mountain section next to Lago Noroeste (the hardest section) and finish in Futaleufú. This schedule would let you take your time, enjoy the scenery and not rush too much.