As much as we love smog, traffic, and overpriced beers, it was time to get out of the city and hike. After ten busy days taking Spanish lessons and eating empanadas in the vast, concrete wonderland of Buenos Aires, Peter and I headed to Bariloche, the gateway to northern Patagonia. We were ready to take to the trails for some fresh air, trees, and postcard-worthy vistas (okay, and a few microbrews too). These Bariloche day hikes answered the bell.
Many travelers come to Bariloche to begin longer overnight treks into the Andes, but multi-day adventures require camping equipment and warmer clothing, which we didn’t have. Fortunately there are several excellent day-hikes around Parque Nahuel Huapi, all accessible by public bus.
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Bariloche day hikes: Cerro Llao Llao
When asked about day hikes, most locals will probably direct tourists to the top of Cerro Llao Llao (cerro means hill in Spanish) since it’s one of the most easily accessible day hikes. Hotel Llao Llao gets a lot of attention as an attraction [check availability at Hotel Llao Llao].
But instead of $8 coffee in a posh dining room, the park offers trails with jaw-dropping views of the surrounding nature. We got off the bus at the hotel, just to take a quick look and then headed down the hill to find Parque Llao Llao.
After a short walk along the road we found the path that led through the forest to the trail that led up the hill. At one point in the dense forest, a growling sound stopped us in our tracks. Puma? Local dog? Bending trees? We continued hastily, whistling and conversing loudly just in case.
As we climbed the steep hill we savored little tastes of what we were in for. Viewpoints along the way opened up to stunning panoramas of the Andes and the shimmering blue lakes.
At the top of the hill we interrupted two locals. A pair of Southern Crested Caracaras were perched at the viewpoint. They didn’t put up with us for too long, and took off while we stood speechless from the view.
After our descent we headed lakeside to catch the scenery from the shore of Lago Nahuel Huapi.
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Take the bus 20 to Hotel Llao Llao (final stop), head down the hill and take a left. There is a small ranger station where they will direct you further up the road until you reach the sign for the trail on the right. On the way back down, it’s worth to detour to the beach but then head back the same way you came through the forest or take the main road, which is part of Circuito Chico.
Bariloche day hikes: Refugio Frey
The mountains surrounding Bariloche have a great network of refugios, much like Slovakia’s High Tatra chata‘s (chalets), but even a bit more rustic. Day-hikers can access a few of them, including Refugio Frey.
The rolling path curved around the mountain side and then dropped into a forest of lenga beech trees (found only in this part of the world), brushed with autumn oranges and browns.
Not too far into the forest we arrived at a small refugio built into the bottom of a large boulder, with a plaque dedicated to a Slovenian mountaineer. It was abandoned, musty, and blackened with smoke in the inside. Creepy.
The tranquil sloping forest path ended abruptly and the steep ascent to Frey began, the taunting clouds revealing glimpses of mountain peaks, including Cerro Catedral, towering above.
Refugio Frey appeared finally after 750 m uphill and the altitude became noticable as the chill penetrated our several layers. It didn’t help that we had sweated during the climb.
We were the among the first to reach the refugio, enjoying a hot tea in the mostly vacant dining area, and lingered to dry our clothes before a throng of school kids arrived. We said goodbye to the Refugio, now too busy to even notice us, and stole one last glimpse of the dark blue tarn before we headed back down the way we came.
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Take the Catedral bus (no number) from Bariloche to Cerro Catedral, a ski resort area and the final stop. The trail begins to the left of the bus stop in the large parking area and is clearly marked. You also have the option of starting or ending at Los Coihues (bus number 50), but the trail begins at Camping Lago Gutierrez, an extra 2 km from the bus stop.
Bariloche day hikes: Cerro Otto
The trail to Cerro Otto (the long version) headed straight up through a pine forest and spit out on a gravel road which wound through a few ski parks, abandoned during the snowless autumn.
We had asked our hostel host about visiting Refugio Berghof, hoping to stop for a refreshment along the way, but our hostel host claimed it had burnt down. However, the Abierto sign hung proudly as we passed. A beautiful wooden refugio with fire roaring in its huge stone fireplace welcomed us. It almost felt like fate that they had local microbrews on tap.
After nursing our beers long enough to warm up by the fire, we continued on the gravel road to Cerro Otto. But we didn’t actually climb Cerro Otto. It’s a privately owned cerro, meaning they charge for you to even enter the property by their teleferico (gondola) for the privilege of spending even more money at their restaurant.
Not being ones for over-priced, privatized views, we walked around and parked on the rocks to the side of Cerro Otto for a perfectly acceptable and free view of Lago Nahuel Huapi and Bariloche below.
The brutally steep trek back down from Cerro Otto below the teleferico did a job on our knees, but the beer rewards at La Cruz Cerveceria were worth it.
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You can walk from Bariloche along Los Pioneros until the gas station, or take bus 50 to the gas station (approximately 2 km from the center). Head up the trail across the street. For the short up-and-down, ask the bus driver to let you off at Cerro Otto (but you’ll miss Refugio Berghof).
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Fantastic shots guys! We’ve been lumps but have thoroughly enjoyed our time here in Bariloche!
Wow, Bariloche is beautiful. We are headed to Argentina later in the year and have only just started planning. It seems that every page we read we discover somewhere else wonderful to add to the list. Now Bariloche is on it, thanks for including details like bus numbers and trail head markers.
It’s a huge country, and we barely scratched the surface. But Bariloche is easily our favorite place.
Wow, really beautiful vistas from every corner! We are not hikers (physical limitations on my part) but we did do a little tour in Patagonia which was in a bus but allowed us to get off and do short walks in a few different places. We were there in order to board a ship cruise to Antarctica from Ushuaia but we also combined it with a stay in Buenos Aires at the end, which we loved. I have friends who aren’t much into camping but do love hiking so your suggestion of one day treks would suit them really well, I’ll pass this on.
We’d have camped but we didn’t have the gear. Tours are a good way to cover a lot of ground without having to walk it. The scenery is worth it.
The views from those Bariloche hikes are indeed stunning. I’ve visited the Chilean side of Patagonia and I was completely blown away by the scenery. It looks like the Argentina side is just as lovely.
A different side of the same coin.
These look like some great hikes. I like that there are three different ones to try. Look like a lot of fun whichever you choose
Wow, Bariloche looks amazing. i was in Argentina last year, but didnt have a chance to go to Bariloche. Your post make me want to return to see more.
We highly recommend it. Bariloche is our favorite place in Argentina, we want to go live there for a few months.
Yay! I just got back from Peru and experiencing The Andes! I fell in love and would love to explore more of the South American mountain ranges. Haven’t been brave enough to do a trek yet!
You’ve painted such a beautiful picture of each of the hikes that I can almost envision myself walking with you. Love the Southern Crested Caracaras you encountered.
I absolutely adore hiking. These all look so beautiful with such incredible scenery! It would be so hard to choose just one, so I’d have to slowly tackle all of them. Bariloche looks amazing!
Patagonia and the Argentinan mountains are like a dream landscape for photographers. They seem so vast and uncrowded. I’d be torn as to which season to visit. Spring and Fall would offer some beautiful colours, Winter would offer a chance to ski, while Summer would provide the best weather.
Fantastic helpful article on Bariloche. We were there for four days and managed to do a few of these hikes. But it was definitely one of my favourite places in Patagonia!
great article and amazing photos! I hiked refugio frey also, but the noise from the highway below got in the way of enjoying the beautiful nature. I just returned from trekking around Bariloche and wrote a hiking guide to more treks in the area in case any other travelers are curious. Happy Travels!