El Parque Pumalín (ThePumalín Park) is located in Patagonia on the Chilean side, just East of El Chaitén. The Park was created by Douglas Tompkins, founder of the North Face brand, to protect the local area back in 1991 and has now being granted a Nature Sanctuary status. By hiking through the Pumalín park, you’ll be able to reach the bottom of the Michinmahuida Glacier and even touch it.
– Hike type: Point to Point
– Packing: (2 / 3) Regular Backpack (~50L)
– Hike length: (3.5 / 5) – 36km / 22miles roundtrip. Doable in 2 days
– Hike elevation: (3.5 / 5) 450m / 1,475ft – 1.25% overall steepness
– Accessibility: (2.5 / 5) – Use of bus or personal vehicle required
– Overall difficulty: (2 / 5) – Nothing technical, just a bit lengthy
Note: The first half of the hike is done on a gravel road. Meaning that if you have your own vehicle, you can save yourself a full day and only do this walk as a day-hike.
The hike up to the Michinmahuida glacier requires to cross a river a couple times and will go through narrow paths in the jungle. I recommend wearing hiking boots with trousers that can easily rolled up to your knees.
You’ll also notice that in the area, everything is green. There’s a reason behind that: it rains all the time. Be ready and grab your best waterproof gear with yourself.
If you plan on camping, know that campsites 3 and 4 have tiny wooden structures under which you can set up a one to two person tent. It comes in handy when you want to keep your tent dry.
Depending on the time of the year you come, you might be required to pay a fee to enter the park or to camp (most likely during January and February).
Doubting about what you should wear? Read this article about Appropriate Hiking Gear.
GPS coordinates : -43.009080, -72.478423
The start of the Michinmahuida Glacier hike starts at the South entry of the Pumalin Park, right by the small town of Amarillo, a few miles East of El Chaitén.
To get there from El Chaitén, you can either take a bus or hitchhike. If you take the bus, talk with the people at the bus station. There should be one or two buses going towards Futaleufú per day run by Buses Cárdenas (one at noon and one at 5:30pm). Expect to pay between $200CLP and $500CLP.
If you hitchhike, be extremely patient. Cars driving in the area are rare, unless if you’re lucky and hit the ferry time.
Remember to plan your exit! Ask the bus company at what time they drive the other way around.
To reach El Chaitén, you can either take the 10h long bus from Puerto Montt (Buses Kermel – daily at 7am for $10,000CLP) or take the Ferry from Puerto Montt (as of now Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays only – prices around $20,000CLP).
If you drive from Puerto Montt using the Route #7 (Carretera Austral), just know you’ll have to take at least 2 ferries. Check their schedule before leaving because they only run once a day.
It should still be cheaper than taking a ferry straight from Puerto Montt.
Prices and times may have changed since I wrote this guide. Check my article about Traveling in Chile to find all the links to Buses and Ferries in the area
The Pumalin Park and The Michinmahuida Glacier Hike
The hike until campground 4 (El Ventisquero Camping) is done on a gravel road and thus can be driven on. If you have a car, feel free to drive until camp 3 or 4. Explanations are below.
The hike starts right after crossing the bridge, just outside the Eastern part of the Amarillo village. You’ll come across a sign on your right along with a Ranger’s cabin.
Turn left right after the cabin and follow the gravel road in-between what seems to be an airfield for very small aircrafts.
After just 2km you’ll reach the Carlos Cuevas campground. Keep walking, use the bridge to cross the river and after another 1.5km you’ll reach the second campground called Vuelta del Rio.
Stay on the road as very quickly you’ll see a trail going left. Disregard it and maybe fill up a water bottle as the river will be hard to reach until campground 3.
Keep walking on what is a relatively flat road until you reach a small parking area before entering the forest.
On your left is the exit of the trail you didn’t take just earlier. In front of you are 2 paths leading to campground 3. Just stay on the gravel road.
Eventually you’ll reach another parking area with the gravel road going either straight or left.
IF YOU’RE DRIVING, take the road going left. Even though it is stated to be only for 4×4, there is nothing on this road that should prevent you from taking it. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so, park here and keep on reading.
If walking, keep going straight to reach campground 3 (Camping Grande) just a few hundred meters away.
Walk through the campground going straight North and keep on the gravel road that has been blocked for cars with a chain. From there you are 2.7km and 240m of elevation away from the last campground. It will be the only seriously steep part of the hike.
Upon reaching the Camping Ventisquero (Camping 4), find a good spot and set up your tent.
There are cold showers, bathrooms and running water for you.
Once you’re at the Ventisquero campground, you’re 10km away from the Michinmahuida Glacier (20km loop) with 180m of positive elevation. Consider it as a day hike.
The path towards the Glacier starts by going slightly North-West. Follow it and you’ll quickly be thrown in a dense forest.
Just follow the obvious path and within minutes you’ll find yourself completely out of the shades. No trees on your way, just a few streams here and there, sand, and the glacier already easy to see.
You cannot really get lost. Just follow the East flank of the valley for most of the time. Twice the path will lead you towards the forest as the river gets too close yet is still too big to get crossed.
Eventually, after roughly 5km, you’ll reach a large stream that will have to be crossed (it is not the river in itself, just a branch) and there is no other solution but to take off your shoes. You might even have to take your pants off.
There’s no clear indication on where to cross exactly but you’ll see posts appear in the background indicating you have no other choice but to cross.
After another few km of walking, you’ll see the soil starting to get darker and darker. You’re no far away from the Glacier anymore.
There is no real ending to the path. It is up to you to decide how far away from the Michinmahuida Glacier your want to stop. I advise against walking too far up the Glacier.
I also do not recommend getting too close to the Glacier because or constant rock and ice falling. If you do go and touch it, be careful where you walk as there’s no clear path, and be aware of your surroundings.
Once you’re done with the Glacier, just turn around and walk back the same way.
Depending on if you’re walking or driving, you can spend another night at the campsite.
If you’re walking, make sure to check at what time the bus is supposed to pass by the town of Amarillo.