Parque Nacional La Campana
Although not one of Chile’s more fashionable national parks, La Campana is a hidden gem. Split by two cerros in the middle of the park, the northern side is sun-baked while the southern side lies in the shade, giving rise to two utterly contrasting ecosystems: a day hike across the park from the northern entrance at Ocoa to Granizo in the south is like seeing Chile in microcosm. The northern half is arid semi-desert, dotted with cacti and Chilean palms, but cross the pass to the southern side and you will be surrounded by temperate forest. Spend the next day tackling the summit of Cerro La Campana, a stiff day hike with one of Chile’s finest panoramic views as a reward.
The Sierra Nevada, Parque Nacional Conguillio
Conguillio is the most picturesque of the Lake District’s national parks. It has several well-marked trails, but the six-hour return trek to the foot of the Sierra Nevada stands out. The path climbs through dense forests of lenga and coigue, passing a series of lookouts with ever more spectacular views and down to the azure Lago Conguillio with smoking Volcán Llaima behind and the cone of still-active Volcán Villarrica in the distance. The forest then opens to reveal an otherworldly landscape of araucaria trees with the snow-covered Sierra Nevada as a backdrop. Condors can often be seen close up. Experienced climbers can continue over the Sierra Nevada and out of the park to the thermal springs at Malalcahuello to the north.
Volcán Villarrica, Parque Nacional Villarrica
Ever wanted to climb an active volcano? The Volcán Villarrica hike is probably the most popular trek in Chile and for good reason. This snow-covered perfect cone of a mountain is a steep half-day trek with ice axe and crampons. No previous experience is required but you do need to be reasonably fit, and because eruption is a distinct possibility, guides need to check the conditions beforehand. On still days you can peer from the summit into the crater and see molten lava bubbling away, while in the distance half a dozen other volcanoes loom up from lakes and forests. The best part is still to come; forget walking back down, simply lie back and slide, toboggan style.
The ‘W’, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine
Enjoy multi-day trekking through some of the most spectacular scenery in Patagonia, among iceberg-filled lakes, valleys, waterfalls and glaciers, with the landscape all the time dominated by the imposing giant granite plugs of the Paine Massif. You’ll experience four seasons in a few hours and have a warm bed and a cooked meal at the end of your arduous day’s trekking. If you’d rather get away from the crowds for a real Patagonian wilderness experience pack your tent and head off around the north side of the massif on the week-long circuit trek.
Dientes de Navarino
Named after the teeth-like chain of mountains around which the trail leads, this three- to five-day fully self-contained route is only for hardy, dedicated trekkers. The southernmost trekking route on Earth winds through the Patagonian wilds where trees grow up at a 45-degree angle, sculpted by the shattering westerly winds, and where the paths often have a gradient to match. The route will take you past semi-frozen lakes and fast-flowing rivers replete with beaver dams. The stunning views from the passes to the thick forests below and to the Beagle Channel in the north, with the outline of Tierra del Fuego in the distance, will leave you speechless. This is trekking at the end of the world.