Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

The Cerro Castillo Trek might be the best trek in Patagonia you’ve never heard of.  It rivals drama and beauty of the Torres del Paine W Trek, yet has far less visitors. Why? Well, it just hasn’t been “discovered” yet. The Aysén Region is Chile’s third largest region but also its least populated. Because of this you’ll see far fewer people on the Cerro Castillo Trek than hikes of similar beauty and stature in other areas of Patagonia — like the Torres del Paine Trek, or the Fitz Roy Trek in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park. As such, the Cerro Castillo Trek is a fabulous place for adventurers looking for the trail less traveled, and a stunning one at that!

The following is a complete trip guide. It gives a complete route description, distances, hiking times — all the essential information you need to do the trek safely and efficiently. In addition, it has downloadable maps, a GPX file with trails, campsites, and key features, and elevation profiles for each day.

Lead photo above: Cerro Castillo (Castle Peak), the gem of this trek,  is a stunning, “ultra-prominent” mountain in the Southern Andes of Patagonia.

Cerro Castillo Trek

View up Rio Turbio near camp at the end of Day 1. The pass for the next day, El Penon Pass, is the obvious notch center-left.

Trek Details

Highlights – Iconic view at the base of Cerro Castillo competes with the best in Patagonia (e.g. Torres Del Paine). High mountains, glaciers, rain forest, deep mountain valleys, grasslands and an amazing variety of terrain and ecosystems.

Duration – 3 to 4 Days. Moderately fit hikers can easily do this in 3 days.

Distance – 34 miles (54 km) classic route [with a shorter option for 25 miles (40 km)]

Level of Difficulty – Moderate

Route Finding – Easy. Almost entirely on trail. Well signed. Only a few sections over rock where you need to pay attention.

Location – Aysén Region of Chile. Nearest large City is Coyhaique.

Challenges: River wading, log, rock and other sketchy river crossings in high water conditions; brief snow travel (sometimes icy), and the usual Patagonia weather and winds.

Camping – There are designated campsites where you pitch your own tent. Some have picnic tables. There is usually an outhouse (toilet). There are no shelters anywhere on the trek.

Water and Food – Water is plentiful along the trail and in camps but there is no treated water. There is no food or other services available along this route.

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

The start of the climb from Laguna Castillo on the morning of Day 3.

The New Patagonia National Park Trek a Nearby Companion Trek

Also see our companion trek in the same region of Chile, the New Patagonia National Park Trek, another best trek in Patagonia you’ve never heard of. Combined with the New Patagonia National Park Trek you have almost two weeks of fantastic trekking in a much less traveled but exciting region of Patagonia. Chile’s New Patagonia National Park may well become the “Yellowstone of South America” due to its rich diversity. The new Park has it all — the high glaciated peaks of the Southern Andes, wide valleys with ice cold glacial rivers, forests of southern beech hanging with moss, and startlingly green glacial lakes.

Where is Cerrro Castillo?

Cerro Castillo is in Northern Patagonia. It’s in Chile about 840 miles (1350 km) south of Santiago.

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide MapMap of Patagonia showing the location of the Cerro Castillo Trek in relation to other well known treks — Torres del Paine Trek (also in Chile) and the Fitz Roy (Cerro Torre) Trek in Argentina.

Maps and GPX files for the Cerro Castillo Trek

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide Map

Our custom map of the Cerro Castillo Trek (click on map to enlarge)

We spent a fair amount of time creating a custom map of the Cerro Castillo Trek and a companion GPX file with trails & campsites, etc. You can download the map and print it out on a home printer or at Kinkos. The GPX file is best used with the Gaia GPS Navigation App for iPhone and Android — it’s what we use (read more here…). But it will work just fine with other smartphone navigation apps and handheld GPS units like Garmin.


Note: Our map and .gpx files above are provided free for your personal use. We are happy for you to use them! But please respect our work and copyright and don’t republish or distribute them to others. Thanks!

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide Map

Map of the Cerro Castillo Trek provided at the ranger-staffed entrance station to the park. (click on map to enlarge)

Link to download PDF of CONAF’s map of the Cerro Castillo Trek (82 Mb)

Key Gear for the Trek

We’ve logged a lot of time in Patagonia over the past 14 years — torrential rain, snow and 70 mph winds, we’ve seen it all. As such, we think we’ve got our gear well tuned for Patagonia. So, at the end of this guide we’ve listed some of the key gear that make our trips warm, safe and most important fun!

As you’ll notice in our photos, it rained a fair amount on this trip. That’s Patagonia — it rains! But rain doesn’t mean you need to be cold, wet and miserable. With good gear choices you can be warm, safe and have a crapload fun — even in the rain. And our packs with all our gear and food for this trek were under 17 pounds (8 kg). Those light packs are a big help when you are navigating wet rocks on a steep Patagonian riverbed.

Cerro Castillo Trek Gear

Alan is grinning, mostly dry, and very happy —  even on a day with pouring rain. The key is light but excellent rainwear. This breathable and extremely comfortable rain jacket and pants weigh less than a pound (450 g) combined!

GETTING TO TREK START

From Santiago, Chile Airport to Coyhaique

From the Santiago Airport fly into Balmaceda, (BBA). There are two airlines that go to BBA, LATAM and Sky Airlines. Sky Airlines is cheaper, but has fewer flights than LATAM. For both, it pays to book earlier than later.

When you arrive Balmaceda airport, as of this writing, you have three choices for getting to Coyhaique—the three shuttles are lined up at the baggage claim and, as far as we can tell, all do the same thing. We went with T&T as they dropped us at our hotel (the others may do the same, just ask).

Coyhaique is the biggest city in Aysen with many local outfitters as well as a Patagonia and North Face store downtown. The one downside of the town is the supermarket. There is just one (UNIMARC) for a population of 50,000+ which means lines in the grocery store can take 20-30 minutes. There is talk of building a second grocery store, let’s hope they do. Lodging in Coyhaique is diverse. We had no problem finding a place to stay—although during high season, best to book ahead. There is also a CONAF Office in Coyhaique that you can get maps and information for the trek.

Cerro Castillo Trek

Coming down the far side of El Penon Pass with spectacular waterfalls streaming down from hanging glaciers of the high mountains all around us!

From Coyhaique to Las Horquetas (trek start)

There are two options to get to the Cerro Castillo trailhead from Coyhaique: take the bus or have a driver take you. The bus (Buses Sao Paulo) leaves at 9:00am from the terminal and is about a one hour drive costing 5,000 CLP to Las Horquetas (the trek start). If the bus doesn’t work for your schedule, a personal shuttle costs 80,000 CLP. The trailhead for Las Horquetas is in a parking lot, tell the bus driver where you want to go and he will drop you at the lot.

Day by Day Guide to the Cerro Castillo Trek

Trip Start – Las Horquetas
Trip End – Villa Cerro Castillo

Day 1 – Las Horquetas to Segundo (2º) Camping

16.2 km (10.1 miles), 4.5 hours to Segundo Camping
[14.0 km (8.7 miles), 3.7 hours to Primero Camping also called Puesto El Turbio camping]

Cerro Castillo Trek - elevation profile

Cerro Castillo Trek

Much of day 1 is an easy walk up along an old roadbed in this beautiful valley with mountains all around you. There are some wet sections and a few stream wades so don’t expect to keep your feet dry or free of mud.

The trek starts at a nondescript gravel parking lot at “Las Horquetas” along the Carreterra Austral. There are no buildings, information kiosks or other infrastructure to indicate that it’s the start of a major hike. The trail to Cerro Castillo goes through an unsigned wooden gate on a gravel road heading out of the parking lot. You quickly cross a stream and in short distance you arrive at a park entry hut with a ranger. Here you pay the park entrance fee (5,000 CHP per person), and if you don’t have a park map, the Ranger will let you take a photo of the current park map on your cell phone.

Cerro Castillo Trek

Near the end of the day you start to get glimpses of the high mountains and glaciers you’ll travel though the next day.

From here you ascend gently up the grassy and wooded valley of Estero La Lima. This mostly is on an old dirt road for much of its length. You get frequent views of the higher, glaciated peaks as you head up the valley. There are a number of stream crossings and muddy sections, so don’t expect to keep your feet dry. There is cattle in the area and you are well advised to treat any water you collect. After going up and over a turnstile at approximately 13 km, you reach your first possible campsite for the day, Primero Camping (Puesto El Turbio). This is the most popular campsite for the first day. There is a ranger station here and it’s nicely tucked in the woods and protected from the wind.

Cerro Castillo Trek

View up Rio Turbio just below Segundo (2º) Camping. Your pass for the next day, El Penon Pass, is the obvious notch center-left. Segundo (2º) Camping is in the dark trees below the central mountain.

We preferred hiking on to Segundo (2º) Camping, just a short walk up the riverbed of the massive Rio Turbio. Segundo Camping has a number of advantages. The views along the Rio Turbio are spectacular, it gives you an earlier start to go over El Penon Pass, and it has an option to do a day hike up a nearby side valley (assuming you can cross the Rio Turbio).

Typical campsite on the Cerro Castillo Trek

This is a typical campsite with a shared picnic table and nearby tent sites. You can see Rio Turbio peeking through the trees on the upper left. An outhouse for the campground is just a few minutes walk. And yes, it’s started to rain. Welcome to Patagonia!

Day 2 – Segundo (2º) Camping to La Tetera Camping (below Cerro Torre)

14 km (8.7 miles), ~5 hours to La Tetera Camping
[11.0 km (6.8 miles), ~4 hours El Bosque camping]

Cerro Castillo Trek elevation profile

Walking up the gravel bed of Rio Turbo and heading towards El Penon Pass center left in the photo. You can see weather starting to build. It was raining hard by the time we descended the far side of the pass.

From camp, walk for a while along river bed of Rio Turbio following the footpath and steel post/markers. Once you leave the riverbed follow the well signed/cairned path up and to the left. For the first 45 minutes, you have a gentle climb on good trail gaining 500 ft. After that you climb steeply up the additional 1,700 ft to El Penon Pass (~1  hour). This section of trail is quite rocky and is not well signed in some areas. When in doubt stay near the bottom of the drainage the trail follows.

Cerro Castillo Trek

The rocky section of the climb up to El Penon Pass. Route markers are painted rocks like this or steel stakes.

At the top of the pass, there is permanent snow pack on both sides although far more on the south side. This snow can be icy, hard and slippery. Hikers not familiar with hard-snow/glacier travel may wish to bring some snow/ice traction device (Microspikes, Yaktrax, etc.) along with trekking poles. We just walked carefully across the snowpack with our trekking poles but on the south side we passed a young man who was struggling in just boots.

Cerro Castillo Trek

The top of the large snowfield on the south side of the pass. Even tho the snow was very hard, we easily descended this in running shoes and trekking poles making use of embedded rocks and surface irregularities.

Once off the snow, its still fairly steep and rocky (sometimes loose) with switchbacks (again, clearly signed). At the base of the descent there is a flat and wide valley. On the right side, steep rock cliffs rise up to waterfalls coming off hanging glaciers. This is an excellent place for photos.

Cerro Castillo Trek

The descent down the other side of the pass is also rocky. You can see the end of the snowfield just peeking out on the middle-left.


Cerro Castillo Trek

By the time we started to descend the pass, it had started raining in earnest. The upside were spectacular waterfalls streaming down from the hanging glaciers in the high mountains. You can see one hanging glacier just peeking out in the upper right of the photo.

Walk to the end of the flat valley and then drop down to the right into a valley. Follow this valley down to Arroyo El Bosque. You start on the left side and cross the stream once to the right bank on a narrow plank and over rocks (no-trivial crossing in high water). Once at Arroyo El Bosque it’s a short climb up to El Bosque camping. There are no views at El Bosque but its well protected in the woods and deep in a canyon. There is a side trail out of camp that goes up for a better views. There are toilets and tables at the campground.

Cerro Castillo Trek

When it’s raining hard, take care crossing the narrow briges as you head up from Camping El Bosque to Camping La Teterra.

From El Bosque, there is a step climb to the next site, Camping La Tetera — another 1000 ft (300 m) elevation gain and another 2.5 miles. Note: during high rains be careful on this climb when crossing wet and narrow “bridges” which can have high, fast water running under them and again on a number of rocky areas where the “trail” follows the beds of small and large streams.

La Tetera has a number of advantages over El Bosque. Being only 10-15 minutes away from Cerro Torre, its sets you up for both evening and morning pictures (highly recommend). And it makes for a short and easy last day out if you choose to take the optional Sendero de Emergencia out (it’s all downhill!). There are no tables, toilets or other amenities. Water is a short walk down to Arroyo El Bosque. Campsites are limited, and fairly exposed in sparse trees at the top of the canyon. A sturdy tent/shelter is recommended to camp here.

Day 3 – Camping La Tetera to Camping Neozelandes

9.7 km (6.0 miles), ~3.5 hours

Cerro Castillo Trek elevation profile

From Camping La Tetera it’s only a few minutes walk up to Lago Castillo with the impressive Cerro Castillo (Castle Peak) rising high above it. As we mentioned earlier, if you have time, go up to take photos at both sunset and dawn. Note: it’s a wade across the outlet stream for the best place to take photos on the far, south side.

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

Cerro Castillo towers over the waters of Laguna Castillo at sunrise.

Once you are done with photos in the AM, follow the trail as it angles SW and uphill above Lago Castillo. The “trail” is rocky with some large talus (boulders) you will need to navigate. Although the route is well signed (usually steel posts), you need to pay attention as you traverse the talus above Laguna Castillo. When you get to the plateau above the lago make sure you take the time walk around and take in the great views of Cerro Castillo at almost eye level. From here you have two route choices.

  1. The first option (described below) is to continue on the classic trek to Campamento Neozelandes for the night.
  2. The second, is an early out that should get you to the trip end in Villa Cerro Castillo around lunchtime. To do this take the Sendero de Emergencia which drops directly down to Villa Cerro Castillo. This trail gets you down in a hurry and has non-stop views all the way.  Link to Optional Day 3, Sendero de Emergenica exit.
Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

The start of the climb to the plateau above Laguna Castillo.

Taking option 1, do the classic trek: from the plateau travel almost due west to the “pass” (really a shoulder/bench) 0.8 miles WSW of Cerro Castillo.  Like the trail up from Cerro Castillo it is steep and rocky and if the wind is up, the going can be a bit challenging. Go over the pass and head down more rock (trail marked with steel stakes) and into the wooded valley where you come to a river (Estero Parada) with your first camping option, Camping Los Porteadores (with tables and a toilet). You could camp here and day hike up the valley without a pack for glacier and mountain views. But our recommendation is to keep going another hour or so to the less crowded Camping Neozelandes, where the glacier views are an easy amble out of camp. An added benefit for Neozelandes is that it puts you within easy striking distance of Laguna Duff (2.5 km, 1.6 miles).

Day 4 Camping Neozelandes to Villa Cerro Castillo

14.3 km (8.9 miles), ~3.5 to 4 hours

Cerro Castillo Trek elevation profile

Retrace your steps to Camping Los Porteadores. From there continue straight and downhill for ~2.5 miles (4 km) until you meet the dirt road, “Cruce Ruta 7 (Villa Castillo) – Arroyo El Bosque.” Turn left and head east on the road for fast and easy walking into Villa Cerro Castillo. From there you join the road it’s ~3.4 miles (5.5 km) to the park entrance station on the left (and junction with Sendero de Emergencia). Just after this the road makes a hard right turn and crosses a large bridge over Arroyo El Bosque. From here it’s a short downhill walk (less than a mile) into Villa Cerro Castillo.

Cerro Castillo is indeed castle-like as it looms over the small village of Villa Cerro Castillo.

The town of Villa Cerro Castillo is small with limited services. There are a few small food stores and some restaurants. If you stay overnight, it may be easiest to stay in one of the campsites in town (there are several). Senderos Patagonias at the far western edge of town seemed nice. There a few cabanas and a few hostels but we don’t have enough information to recommend any.

Villa Cerro Castillo has a newly built Information Center just a block off the Carreterra Austral. The folks there speak halting English and can assist you with transportation options out of town or finding a room for the night.

GETTING BACK TO COYHAIQUE

Once arriving in Villa Cerro Castillo your options will depend on the time of day. While Villa Cerro Castillo is on the Carreterra Austral, it is not a well-traveled section. The best time to catch a bus is approximately noon to 4:00pm. As of writing we know of three buses a day going from Cochrane to Coyhaique that pass through V. Cerro Castillo. Two on Sunday. (Note that buses may be full by the time they reach V. Cerro Castillo). What they do have in Villa Cerro Castillo is a newly built Information Center. The folks there speak halting English and can assist you with options for your next destination.

The second option is to hitch. While many have reported good hitching luck, we found it to be competitive with other hitchhikers and didn’t have the patience to wait. If you arrive in late in the day, you may need to stay overnight.

Your third option is to pre-arrange a private shuttle before you leave Coyahique that will pick you up and take you back to Coyahique or the Airport. While this certainly the most expensive option, it might also be the most reliable for people on a tight schedule.

Connecting with the New Patagonia National Park Trek

The easiest access to the New Patagonia National Park Trek is from the town of Chile Chico. There are two connections you need to make to get to Chile Chico:

  1. The minibus in Villa Cerro Castillo to Puerto Ibanez which leads you to
  2. The Ferry at Puerto Ibanez

Luckily, they work in conjunction with one another. There is only one boat a day in each direction (except Tuesday-NO BOAT to Chile Chico on Tuesday) and on Wednesday there are two boats to Chile Chico. Check the latest schedules on their website. The minibus in Villa Cerro Castillo goes to Puerto Ibanez at 8:00am and 16:00 (MWThF—no weekend minibus service, although the boat still runs). The minibus leaves in front of the Information/Visitor’s Center. Cost of minibus is 800 CLP, buy your ticket on the bus, cost of boat is 2,200 CLP, buy your ticket at the office.

If you want to hitch: the Carretera Austral in Villa Cerro Castillo is not very busy and the hitching competition was fierce. In addition, if you hitch, you may need to find two rides—one to take you east on the Carretera Austral to the intersection with X-65, and another to take you down the X-65 to Puerto Ibanez. (Note: the big buses that go thru Villa Cerro Castillo are all heading to Coyhaique not Puerto Ibanez.) However, if the buses have space they might drop you at the intersection and you could hitch from there—but really, the mini bus is what you want.

The ferry is a 2-hour trip and arrives in Chile Chico at night so this may be one case where you want to have your lodging set up ahead of time. Getting into town at 21:00 or 22:00 is a bit late. Chile Chico has plenty of cabanas (Air B&B) for rent as well as other options. They also have at least two (maybe more) well stocked supermarkets for your resupply for the next part of your trek. If you take some layover time in Chile Chico, you can fly fish or go visit the Marble Caves or just rest up for the next leg. It’s a nice town to layover in.

From here follow our Patagonia National Park Trek a Guide to a New World Class Trek.

Optional Day 3 – Camping to La Tetera to Villa Cerro Castillo (via Sendero de Emergencia)

9.7 km (6 miles), ~3.5 to 4 hours

Cerro Castillo Trek elevation profile

Follow the directions in “standard Day 3” to the plateau above Cerro Castillo. From the plateau head SE over a small ridge. From here the Sendero de Emergencia heading SE should be obvious, and you’ll have your first spectacular view of the huge valley below. This trail gets you down to Villa Cerro Castillo in a hurry! It also has non-stop views all the way. Although quite steep, the trail has been recently maintained and is in excellent shape. The total descent is 3600 ft (1,080m) in just 4 miles (6.5 km). Keep your entrance ticket as people have reported being asked for their ticket as they exit the park.  From the park entrance turn left (east) on a dirt road.  Almost immediately take a hard right turn and the road crosses a large bridge over Arroyo El Bosque. From here it’s a short downhill walk (less than a mile) into Villa Cerro Castillo.

Cerro Castillo Trek

View from the top of Sendero de Emergencia. Villa Cerro Castillo is 3600 ft (1,080m) below (about the middle of the photo).

Once in Villa Cerro Castillo consult the text in Day 4 for what to do.

Our Gear for Patagonia Trekking (and most trips worldwide)

A light pack is huge contributor to a fun trip! Selecting the right gear will make your trip safe and most important more enjoyable.

Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist

Again, we’ve logged a lot of time in Patagonia over the past 14 years . As such, we think we’ve got our gear well tuned for Patagonia. Most of the gear on this list is contained in our highly ranked 9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist, This is the gear checklist list we use to pack for all our trips worldwide. This gear is very light but will work everywhere from Patagonia to Alaska to New Zealand and the Southwest Deserts of the US.  


Gear Highlights for the Cerro Castillo Trek

The following three pieces of gear: shoes, trekking poles and snow/ice traction devices for your shoes are recommended to safely traverse over the year-round snow on the El Penon Pass of Day 2. (Hikers used to some snow travel could likely skip the snow/ice traction devices like the YackTrax.)

Altra Lone Peak & Altra Superior (trail/hiking shoes)

Forget your boots! Trail runners are the only shoes we’ve used in Patagonia (except when technical climbing in crampons). Currently, Altra Lone Peaks and Superiors are Alison’s and my favorite backpacking and hiking shoes. That is, they are the most comfortable shoe after a long day on the trail. One key is the massive toe room that is so kind to trail-swollen feet at the end of the day. They are light to put a spring in your step, and have a zero drop heel for a more natural stride. Specifically, for Patagonia, they drain well after river wading and have enough grip for the terrain. Finally, these trail runner’s more flexible soles give you better tactile feedback on foot placement equaling better traction than boots.

On this trip we used two models: Alan used the more cushioned and deeper lugged Lone Peak which is Altra’s most popular shoe and a darling of lightweight and ultralight hikers. Alison used the the less cushioned, and shallower lugged, award winning Altra Superior shoes

 

Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles – $45

At 1/3 to 1/2 the price of many comparable trekking poles, these carbon fiber trekking poles give up nothing in features and performance. They are light, nearly indestructable and travel friendly. They have cork handles and flick locks like the more expensive Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles, but cost 1/3 as much! That’s bang for the buck!

Yaktrax Pro Traction System (or similar light snow/ice traction device)

These will provide peace of mind to those that are apprehensive about snow travel. They are light, work well with trail running shoes (or light boots). The snow-fields on El Penon pass aren’t all that long or steep, so in combination with trekking poles, these should provide sufficient traction to get up and down safely.

Gear To Deal with the Patagonia Weather

Weather conditions in Patagonia are notoriously difficult to predict. Localized, glacier and mountain influenced microclimates along with moisture flow from the nearby Pacific Ocean can interact to create strong weather of all sorts. Be prepared for high winds, rain and even snow, along with sunshine and calm. Many times in the same day. Or you could get an entire day of rain.

Rain Jacket and Rain Pants
Cerro Castillo Trek Gear

Our choice for this trip Outdoor Research Interstellar Rain Jacket and Zpacks Vertice Rain Pants (3.6 oz, 100g). Unfortunately the award wining (for good reason) Outdoor Research Interstellar Rain Jacket is a victim of its popularity and therefore in limited supply. Hopefully it will be in full stock soon. But until then you can look at our Best Lightweight Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking. In particular I would focus on the Lightweight and Durable 3-Layer Rain Jackets section.

Backpacks

HMG Southwest Pack 2400 cu. in (or 3400 cu. in. model) light durable and perfect for the wet Patagonia climate. Alison and I both carried the 2400 cu. in. version, but our guess is that most people’s gear would fit better in the 3400 Pack.

This is one of the best and most versatile lightweight packs out there—and it’s virtually waterproof! It has a lightweight internal frame to comfortably distribute and carry loads from a few pounds to over 30 lbs, something that most ultralight packs struggle with. Hyperlite Mountain Gear builds all its packs from lightweight, waterproof, tough Dyneema composite fabric (formerly Cuben Fiber). The expandable rear pocket on the Southwest pack and zippered hip pockets give you room for snacks and gear on the go, while the main contents of your pack stay safely below a roll-top closure to keep rain, sleet, and snow away from your gear. Choose a volume – the 2400 cubic inch pack will be plenty for most summer ventures. Longer treks, carrying a bear canister and/or more puffy gear for shoulder seasons make the 3400 a great choice as well.

Lower cost and better alternative to a pack rain cover: While you seem them everywhere in Patagonia, pack rain covers are heavy, awkward to use and don’t do a great job of keeping your pack contents dry. While we prefer the lightness, simplicity and convenience of the HMG packs, a better alternative to a traditional pack rain cover is to line your pack with a Kitchen Trash Compactor Bag. This is lighter and will keep your gear drier than a pack rain cover. An even lighter and more durable option are Gossamer Gear Pack Liners.

Light Tents for Patagonia

On this Trek and for the last 5 years around the world in the harshest conditions we have used our 16 oz (450 g) Mountain Laurel Designs Pyramid Shelter. It is more than up to all the rain and wind Patagonia can dish out.

A good “tent” is important in Patagonia both for all the rain and for the wind. We prefer light Pyramid Shelters from HyperLite Mountain Gear or Pyramid Shelters from Mountain Laurel Designs. They are roomier, lighter and more wind and snow worthy than conventional tents that weigh 3 or 4 times as much!

 


Conventional Tents: We are well aware that most people are unlikely to take the plunge and use pyramid shelter. So, if want a conventional tent, then get something light like Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent or Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 Tent. These are far lighter than mountaineering-level, four-season tents that many recommend for Patagonia. Weighing between 2 to 3 pounds (900g to 1.3 kg) they work well so long as you camp in a reasonably protected area. And most campsites in Patagonia are protected. See more below.

 

Selecting a good campsite is likely more important than your tent: Most treks in Patagonia have campgrounds in the woods and well protected from wind. We strongly advise you use them or find your own well-protected campsite! While these campsites are not as sexy as an open meadow or in the rocks on a lakeshore, camping in the woods makes a lot more sense Patagonia where fierce winds can blow up unexpectedly at any time. And on many treks you are only allowed to camp in designated campsites.

Disclaimer

This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a small portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

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34 replies
  1. Ben Sherman
    Ben Sherman says:

    Thank you for the great feedback and info Alan! That is super helpful. As you suggested, I think I’ll just plan on CT and adding Neozelandes. We will also take your suggestion and do the private shuttle to save on the hassle. That said, if you had to chose between CT and PNP if you only had 5 days…would you go with CT, or do you now prefer PNP now that you have seen both?

    A couple of more questions regarding gear:
    Your gear list seems to be extensive and cover different parts of the world and seasons. If you were to go to Patagonia in December just for a week like we are, are there particular clothing items that you would plan for? Also, did I understand you correctly that you pretty much just bring one set of clothes that you wear the entire trek??

    Thanks again,
    Ben

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Ben, if you are going to be going out of Chile Chico and have only 5 days then Cerro Castillo is likely your only doable option. It will take a whole day each way via bus to get to PNP, so the trek is not possibly in 5 days from Coyhaique. As to key gear, I think we have laid most of that out at the end of the guide. Good rainwear that you can have on for a long time is key. A windproof rain proof shelter, we prefer Pyramid Shelters but understand that people don’t understand them and are fearful that they won’t stay dry in them. So a regular lightweight tent will be fine – just heavier and smaller than a ‘Mid. You can always put a trash compactor bag in a regular pack to keep the contents dry.

      We really like a warm down jacket for use at rest stops and particularly in camp. See our “Guide to Lightweight Down Jackets. Also good gloves are must if you are out all day in cold rain. And yes, we do only bring just one set of clothes with us. If it’s a long day in the rain then clothes under the rainwear will be damp to moderately wet (no such thing as hiking the rain all day and having dry clothes underneath – a complete myth that this is even possible). When in camp, if you keep your clothing on under the down jacket it will likely be dry’ish by bedtime and completely dry in the morning. Yes, you wear the damp clothes to bed with you. Vs. two sets of clothes this saves you the extreme discomfort of changing out of your dry clothes and putting icy cold and wet clothes in the morning brrr…

      Hope this helps, and wishing you a great trek, warmest -alan & alison

      Reply
  2. Ben Sherman
    Ben Sherman says:

    Hi Alan,
    Thank you for the great info! My son and I are planning to be in Chile/Patagonia from December 4-10th – traveling from Wisconsin. We will fly in on Tuesday the 4th and can start heading out for our hike on Wednesday the 5th out of Coyhaique. We need to fly out on Monday the 10th so essentially we can hike 5 days total (having to be back in Coyhaique the end of day 5 on Sunday evening). We are relatively strong hikers and were planning to do CT in that time. Would you suggest dragging out our time on the CT hike in to a 4-5 day time frame or try to do it very fast (2.5 days) and somehow try to squeeze in a 1-2 days around PNP? Logistically I’m not sure if this is possible if we want to be back in Coyhaique end of Day 5. If you would not suggest this, then what would you suggest we do on Day 4 and Day 5 if we wanted to maximize our time there?
    Also, just to confirm, we don’t need to apply for any hiking permits prior to our planned CT hike? We can just show up?

    Thanks again for all of the great info!

    Ben

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Ben, and great to hear that you are doing to do the Cerro Castillo Trek! Given your tight schedule I think that you will just have time to do the CCT and nothing more*. I would suggest that you do the trek in four days. That will give you time to go up to Neozelandes. And if you hit a bit of bad weather or are hiking slowly you can always take the Sendero Emergencia from Cerro Castillo directly into Villa Cerro Castillo as a backup plan. Please note that it is not all that easy to get from Villa CT back to Coyahique (or the Airport) and you will want to have a plan to make that happen. See more on this in the “GETTING BACK TO COYHAIQUE” section near the end of the guide.

      You might seriously consider pre-arranging a private shuttle before you leave Coyahique — one that will pick you up at the end of your trek and take you back to Coyahique or the Airport. While this is certainly the most expensive option, it might also be the most reliable for people on a tight schedule. Wishing you a great trek in this fantastic area, warmest -alan & alison

      * It would take a huge amount of travel time to get to PNP at least a whole day in either direction to/from Coyahique (with no possible hiking those days).

      Reply
  3. Jesse
    Jesse says:

    Hi Alan! Thanks for your posts – these are incredibly helpful! We are trying to plan a Patagonia trip for January and deciding between Cerro Castillo, Cerro Castillo + Patagonia National Park, or Torres Del Paine (having the typical difficulty booking campsites). Just had a few questions:

    1. How do you compare between the 3 in terms of difficulty, scenery / landscape, crowds, etc.? TDP obviously gets the most hype, and probably for good reason, but trying to understand the benefits of each.
    2. For Cerro Castillo, is camping at very designated areas or just recommended at certain spots?
    3. For combing Cerro Castillo and Patagonia Park, would you need to do 8-9 days for the combined hike or is there a recommendation on just parts of each (e.g. 3 days on CC / 3 on PNP) that work best? The travel between the two seems relatively intuitive, but is it easy to make the limited timing work?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Jesse, some good Q’s.
      1) Hard to compare the scenery/landscape of one of these treks to another. Best suggestion, is to read the descriptions and look at the photos to come to your own conclusion. Each has something different to offer. In terms of traffic and reservation hassle, TdP is in a league of its own. Cerro Castillo is far less crowded. And parts of PNP are pretty much deserted. In terms of technical difficulty, TdP is the easiest. CT and PNP both have some navigational challenges and some wading that can be difficult in high water. Wading is the hardest and most dangerous in PNP (and if the water is high and your wading skill level low the Ranger may ask you to wait until Rio Jeinimeni comes down). But there is the small snowfield in CT to contend with if you are not comfortable with travel on hard snow.
      2) I belive but don’t know for 100% sure that you are required to camp in specific areas. It seems that way both from the Official Park map and how people actually camp on the trek. And Leave No Trace would also indicate that you should use established campsites to reduce impact on the park and so that your tent is not in the middle of a beautiful place like on the lakeshore of Lago Castillo.
      3) The timing between CT and PNP is not difficult or long. If you get to Villa Cerro Castillo by mid-afternoon you can catch a 4p shuttle in time to make the evening Ferry to Chile. As long as you have a ride arranged for the next morning you could be hiking in PNP mid-morning with plenty of time to make the fist hut.

      As to the hiking time for each trek… without knowing your fitness, how light your packs are, how fast you hike with a pack on, and/or your % of time stopped vs. actually hiking during the day; I can’t even begin to hazard a guess as tp whether you can or can not do a specific daily itinerary trek duration.

      To help you self-determine if your itinerary is feasible, below are some more specifics to better estimate how long it might take you do do your trek:

      1. As to a great training regimen and to figure out how far you’ll hike each day… look no further than my highly regarded (and highly ranked) Quick and Efficient Training for Backpacking and Hiking. It will get you in great shape for the TdP. And will give you good info to estimate how far you’ll be able to hike each day.
      2. As to the Q “can I do a trek in x amount of time?:” In breif, you’ll need to determine that for yourself on long day hikes carrying the amount of weight you intend to carry on the Trek. And you’ll need to know how efficient you are. I.e. how much time you spend walking vs. how much time stopped.
      3. Also note that you’ll usually take an additional loss in hiking speed (vs. your training day hikes) when on a real multi-day backpacking trip.
      4. And you might want to add one or two possible weather delay days into your trek. It is Patagonia.

      Hope this helps and wising you some great treks in Patagonia. Warmest, -alan & alison

      Reply
      • Jesse
        Jesse says:

        Super helpful – thank you Alan and Alison! And makes sense on the days / speed – in similar treks in the past we’ve typically been more than fine on the guidelines for days, I guess my question was more 1) for CT if you were going to do it in 3, which days would you say are best to combine?; 2) if you do the Sendero de Emergencia on day 3 for CT, I assume you are just cutting out day 4?; and 3) for PNP is the 5-6 day the only way to really do the trek or are there options to make that 3-4 (sounds like could do 4 by fast hiking, but also wondering if there are routes recommended for shorter versions)? Thanks again!

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          Yes cut out day 4 of CT. On Day 3 just exit from Lago Castillo to Villa Cerro Castillo via Emergenicia. As for PNP. You could conceivably do it in 3 days. You could get to upper Valle Avilles on Day 1 (there are a few camps there — but again you are not going to get an early start if you are staying in Chile Chico the night before). Go to stone house on Day 2 and shuttle to Camping west winds that day if you are lucky with hitching. And you could likely do Camping Westwinds to Cochrane in a long day 3. That would require some very fast and dedicated hiking to do everything in 3 days. But if you did it in January timeframe you would also have very long days (assuming your legs have the endurance to hike that long). Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan & alison

          Reply
  4. Igor Santos
    Igor Santos says:

    Hi,
    If I want to do the Circuit in 3 days (not getting the emergency exit), I would have to do 2 days in 1. So is it better to go from Las Horquedas to La Tetera in 1 day, or go from Segundo Camping to Neozelandes or from La Tetera->Neo Zelandês->Villa Cerro Castillo?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Igor, those would be some very long days. It will take some time to go from Segundo Camping to El Bosque as that section has a lot of rock, and some travel over snow. As such I think it would take one solid day from Las Horquetas to Segundo Camping (I do not think it would be possible to get to C. El Bosque on day 1). One long day to C. Segundo to camping La Tetera. And one very long day to C. Los Portadores, (drop packs here to see Neozelandes) and then from there hike back to Portadores to pick up packs and hike out. It is very possibly that you will be hiking the road to Villa Cerro Castillo in the dark before you get to town –but at least it is dirt road and not trail so travel in the dark would be easier. Finally, you would need to be fit, have a light pack and travel fast in order to make this happen. And even that assumes good weather. Add some rain, whiteout etc. and you may travel slower. Again, four days would be better if you intend to include Neozelandes. But if you fell short for some reason you would have the Emergency exit trail as an option). Wishing you a great trek. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Ben, Thanks for your interest in the Cerro Castillo Trek. The reverse direction would work fine as well altho, it is a very steep climb up from the Emergency Trail to Cerro Castillo — longer but not as hard if you go via Camping Neozelandes. And again depending on where you start and where you want to go after the trek, the logistics may work better one way vs. the other. But if you want to pair this with the Patagonia National Park Trek then going ending in Villa Cerro Castillo works better.

      Hope this helps and wishing you a great trek. -alan & alison

      Reply
  5. Louis S.
    Louis S. says:

    Thank you for the great post! My wife and I are planning to do the trek the last week of December this year and would love to get your advice. What were the most challenging parts and any advice on navigating those parts? If you knew what you know now about the trek, what would you have done / packed differently? What did you do about water? We are not very experienced with having to trek with all the camping gear so any suggestions are much appreciated! Thank you!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Louis, glad you are planning on doing this great trek. The most challenging part will be going over the permanent snow field on El Penon Pass, which will likely have a fair amount of snow in December. If you are unfamiliar navigating on snow I would definitely get Yaktrax or something similar. We described this gear in the trip guide. Also the trek up from Lago Castillio is not exceptionally well signed. That being said if you pay good attention you should be able to follow the path up to the plateau above the lake and gain the trail to Campamento Neozelandes or to take the shorter Ruta de Emergencia down to Villa Cerro Castillo. As to water treatment, I would recommend treating all water with a purification chemicals like AquaMira. Just follow the instructions. Note this is especially true or the start of the trek, where is cattle in the area. Wishing you a great trek. Warmest, -alan & Alison

      Reply
      • Louis S.
        Louis S. says:

        Alan,
        Thank you for the quick response. As for cooking gear, what do you recommend for this hike? We are looking into a Jetboil to just heat water for freeze dried food. Do you know if compatible canisters could be easily purchased in Coyhaique?
        Thank you for your time and all the info. Much appreciated!
        Matt

        Reply
  6. Igor Santos
    Igor Santos says:

    Hi, Nice post. Thanks. I will go there in 2 months. I will sure use your gpx and map. i missed the North indication in your map.
    I will wear Asics Trail Runners. Do you think I should buy this Yaktrax Pro Traction System (or similar light snow/ice traction device) ?
    I am from Brazil, I don´t have it and I will have a hard time to find it.
    Best,

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Igor, your trail runners should be fine just so long as you are used to hiking in them. If you are unfamiliar navigating on snow I would definitely get Yaktrax or something similar. North on the map in straight up. That is if you are holding it so the text is upright N is straight up. Wishing you a great trek. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
      • Igor Santos
        Igor Santos says:

        Hi, Thank you for your fast answer. I am familiar with the shoes but not with the snow. :)
        Another question: We are used to walk long distances and adventure races. Do you think we can do the Trekking (including Neozelandes Camp_ in 3 days, and move to Chile Chico to do Jeinimani – Parque Patagonia in 3 more days?
        We have only 6 full days. We would do only Cerro Castillo, but after read your post I would like to do both.
        Regards

        Reply
        • Alan Dixon
          Alan Dixon says:

          I think you can do Cerro Castillo in 3 days. Probably need to take the Emergency exit Trail (skip Neolandes) so you can catch the 4:00 bus for the ferry to Chile Chico. Then you would need to get to Jeinemeni the next morning. If you made it to Upper Valle Aviles on day 1. Then you could be down to Stone House in time to hitch to Westwinds Camping. From there it is not too difficult to go to Cochrane the next day. You might be even be able to catch a late bus from Cochrane back to Coyhaique (you’ll need to check schedules tho). So possible in 6 days if you are fast and everythign goes exactly to plan, e.g. no bad weather. Hope this helps. Warmest, -alan

          Reply
  7. Nagesh
    Nagesh says:

    Thanks a lot Alan. I know your guide is incredibly detailed for a person to go by themselves. However, I was debating to go with a tour company called trekking hero who are offering 5 day W circuit for 1985 USD or 7 day big circuit for 2500 USD. Wondering(according to ur expert opinion) if this is an overkill or something I can opt as an option for an amateur hiker like me

    Nagesh

    Reply
  8. Nagesh
    Nagesh says:

    Thanks for a great write up Alan. This is incredibly informative. I am planning to visit Patagonia this Dec end 2018 and was wondering if that’s a good time? If not when would you recommend

    Thanks
    Nagesh

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Hi Nagesh, December would be an excellent time to go. Since it is early season, I would definitely recommend trekking poles and some type of snow traction device. Both are described in the Guide. Wishing you a great trek. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  9. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    This is absolutely amazing info! Thank you so much for taking the time to put together such a comprehensive report on Patagonia National Park. I’ve looked all over for info on the Park–and I believe you’re right–you’re the only person that’s compiled anything useful and up-to-date. When I first read about PNP, I believed it would be more up my and my husband’s alley rather than TdP (due to crowds), but once I couldn’t find any information on it, I was discouraged. Thank you again! :-)

    Reply
  10. Sarah Kennedy
    Sarah Kennedy says:

    I’m so glad that I ran across your write-up on this trek. I’ve seen it referenced a few times, but without the comprehensive information you provided. My husband and I are extremely avid hikers and are thinking about traveling to Patagonia in March 2019, but we’re both a bit hesitant in light of the reported crowds at TdP. We tend to pick hikes and treks based on remoteness. Thus, while the scenery of Patagonia looks incredible, the increase in visitors to the area is making us reconsider visiting. However, if you believe that the scenery on this trek rivals that of TdP, then we may be able to find what suits us in Patagonia after all.

    Reply
      • Alan Dixon
        Alan Dixon says:

        Sarah, the new post is up Patagonia National Park Trek – Guide to a New World Class Trek. Chile’s new Patagonia National Park may well become the “Yellowstone of South America” due to its rich diversity. The new Park has it all — the high glaciated peaks of the Southern Andes, wide valleys with ice cold glacial rivers, forests of southern beech hanging with moss, and startlingly green glacial lakes. Fairly unique to the park is its expansive grasslands supporting a vast array of wildlife. It’s easy to see herds of guanacos, condors, flamingos, armadillos and more. And while a puma sighting is extremely rare in the more famous Torres del Paine, we had a puma saunter through our camp one night!

        The new Park is a trekker’s paradise. It rivals the trekking of more well known areas of Patagonia — like Chile’s Torres del Paine Trek, or Argentina’s Fitz Roy Trek in Los Glaciares National Park. The new Patagonia National Park is big! It’s about the same size as the the vast Yosemite National Park in the US and about 1.5x the size of Torres del Paine National Park. But there are far less people. So, it’s not surprising we saw only a few other hikers on our trek from end to end though the new park. As such, Patagonia National Park is the perfect place to trek in glorious Patagonia and skip the crowds.

        Reply
  11. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Thank you very much for this helpful description! I am currently planning a trip to Patagonia for April 2019 and think this might be the better alternative over TdP.

    Question, what would you recommend for the next leg of my trip after finishing in Villa Cerro Castillo? Are there other hidden gems nearby or accessible by bus/ferry? I’d be very curious to hear your insight.

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      Andrew,
      Yes, it would be a great alliterative to TdP and a lot less hassle than the booking shenanigans for TdP. Stay tuned, as Alison and I busy writing up a guide to an awesome “gem’ companion hike in the same region. Warmest, -alan

      Reply
  12. José Huerta
    José Huerta says:

    Great description of this hike. I did it in summer 2015 and it had just a few people on the trail. It was just awesome. From the pics I assume you guys hike this trail in spring or autumn?. My wife and I agree that this rivals Torres del Paine, for me it’s just better.

    Great post!

    Reply
    • Alan Dixon
      Alan Dixon says:

      José, thanks for the kind words. I too would agree it’s better than TdP. Less people, more challenging hiking, and the scenery is as good or better. Wishing you a great year of trekking. Warmest, -alan

      Reply

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