Los Alerces National Park

By Audrey

What is Los Alerces National Park? 

Los Alerces National Park is situated in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia, Argentina. It borders Chile along its western boundary.

This national park is one of Patagonia’s gems with crystalline lakes that shift from emerald to turquoise, rocky mountain peaks with hanging glaciers, and forests that are home to the second-longest-living tree species in the world – the Alerce tree which gives the park its name!

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Text: Los Alerces National Park, Argentina. Images: above, a river through forest; below, a boat at a dock in a lake with mountains behind it.
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You can access Los Alerces National Park via different points in the north, east and south. Once you’re there, you can enjoy the natural beauty of the place by hiking, kayaking, or by joining a full-day or half-day guided tour. 

Why is Los Alerces National Park a UNESCO World Heritage site? 

Los Alerces National Park became a national park in 1937 in order to protect its ancient alerce forest which is the largest in Argentina.

It became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017 because it contains undisturbed areas of Patagonian Forest. Specifically, it has sections of Valdivian Temperate Forest, which is a priority ecoregion for biodiversity conservation worldwide. The forests, lakes and rivers are beautiful and retain “a high degree of naturalness providing a profound visitor experience.”

The most treasured tree within this forest is the Alerce Milenario or Grandfather Alerce, which is 2,700 years old and stands 60 meters tall. It can only be reached by boat as part of a tour that disembarks at Puerto Sagrario on the northern end of Lake Menéndez. All visitors must be accompanied by a guide. 

A view at the shore of a lake, with cloud-topped mountains on the opposite shore.

What can you expect on a visit to Los Alerces National Park? 

Los Alerces is a massive park, so depending on which area you visit, you can enjoy different experiences. 

If you’re visiting the main part of the park (the area in and around Pasarela Rio Arrayanes), you have several activities to choose from. The tour operator Glaxiar offers two popular excursions: one is a boat tour of Lake Menéndez followed by a hike to go see the ancient Alerce trees. The other is a trek to the base of the Torrecillas Glacier. You can also join a kayaking tour with Kayak Soul, who offer both day excursions as well as longer kayaking expeditions.

We opted for the boat tour to visit the Alerce Forest. It was a beautiful journey that started with a 20-minute hike to Puerto Chucao. Next we enjoyed a scenic boat tour to the northern arm of Lake Menéndez, where we cruised past the Torrecillas Glacier. The last phase was a 2.2-kilometre (1.4 mi) walk through the Alerce Forest, where we saw the old giant itself.

A motorboat moored at a wooden dock. On the opposite shore mountains rise from the lake, forested below, sheer rock above.

Alternatively, you can explore this part of the park independently, hike some of the trails, and even spend the night at one of the lodges or campsites. 

If you’re visiting the southern part of the park, you can drive a loop, making stops at Mirador de los Pozones, a popular swimming hole; Presa Futaleufú, the hydroelectric dam; and Bahía de los Troncos, a bay covered in tree trunks and branches from the creation of the dam.

Is Los Alerces National Park worth visiting? 

Yes, if you enjoy nature and the outdoors, Los Alerces is worth adding to your list. Esquel is the main gateway destination to the park, so it makes a lot of sense to visit from there. Out of all the day trips from Esquel we went on, this was our personal favourite. We’ve been back to the park three more times since our initial visit, so I think that says a lot!

Forest on the shore of a lake, with mountains behind.

What sorts of travelers would like Los Alerces? 

Los Alerces is an ideal destination for outdoorsy travellers who are looking to travel Patagonia off the beaten path. 

Because this park isn’t close to the main tourist destinations in Patagonia (think Bariloche and El Chaltén), you mostly get domestic travellers and in fewer numbers than you might encounter elsewhere in Patagonia. This means you can often enjoy stretches of the park all to yourself. 

This park would appeal to hikers, kayakers, and campers – basically anyone who loves nature and the outdoors. 

A narrow river winds out of sight between forested shores, mountains in the background.

Tips for visiting Los Alerces National Park  

Rent a car in Esquel for greater mobility as this will allow you to explore the park in depth. 

If you want to see the Alerce Milenario, book a guided tour and do so in advance. This is the only way to reach this part of the park. Only a small number of visitors are allowed access each day. 

There are accommodations inside the park ranging from lodges to campsites as well as in towns like Esquel. Staying in the park is worth considering if you want to spend less time driving to the park and more time exploring. Use the map below to explore the available accommodations:

Wear sturdy hiking shoes and dress in layers as the climate in Patagonia is ever-changing. You can experience multiple seasons in a day. 

Where is Los Alerces National Park? 

The park is situated in the Chubut Province in northern Patagonia. It can be accessed from three different points. 

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From Esquel, you’ll want to take Ruta Nacional 259 to Ruta Provincial 71 and continue heading north towards the park. It’s a 30-minute drive to the entrance of the park. However, you’ll have to drive an additional hour to reach the centre of the park (the area around Pasarela Rio Arrayanes), which is the starting point for many tours and attractions.

From El Bolsón, you’ll drive down Ruta Nacional 40 and turn off at Ruta Provincial 71 heading south. This road eventually turns to gravel and can sometimes be in rough shape. (We got a flat tire along here. It’s a road with very little traffic, so you’ve been warned to carry a spare!) It’s a 2-hour drive from El Bolsón to Pasarela Rio Arrayanes inside the park. 

From Trevelin, you can access the southern part of the park by taking Ruta Provincial 71 via Aldea Escolar. It’s just a 17-minute drive outside of town so it’s very accessible. 

If you don’t plan to rent a car, your best bet is to join a guided tour from Esquel or to book a round-trip bus ticket at the Esquel Bus Terminal. During low season, there is only one daily bus departure to and from the park. You need to prebook your seat for the way back so they save you a spot. (We met travellers who didn’t do so. Because the bus was full, they had to hitchhike to get back into town.)

There are no buses from Trevelin, so the only option is to hire a remis (private car with a driver) to take you on a sightseeing tour of the southern loop of the park. This is what we did and our driver let us get off at all the scenic spots along the way. It was also a very affordable option. 

For more information about Los Alerces National Park, its opening hours and admission fees, see its official website.

Text and photos provided by Audrey of Che Argentina Travel. Audrey splits her time between the Sierras Cordobesas in Argentina and the Rocky Mountains in Canada. When she’s not writing about travel, she enjoys spending time in nature, small gatherings with friends, and sharing a home-cooked meal and a bottle of Malbec with her husband. 

Have you been to Los Alerces? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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