Parque Nacional Los Alerces
Parque Nacional Los Alerces owes its existence and name to Fitzroya cupressoides, the coniferous monarch of the humid Valdivian forests, also known as false larch or Patagonian cypress.
Easily western Chubut’s most popular attraction, the park draws campers and fishing aficionados to its forests and finger lakes.
Despite a magnificent setting, with snowy Andean summits to the west, hikers find it frustrating because the scant trail network often forces them to walk the shoulders of dusty roads with heavy auto traffic.
Geography and Climate
About 45 kilometers west of Esquel via RN 259 and RP 71, Los Alerces is a 263,000-hectare unit on the eastern Andean slope. Its highest point is 2,253-meter Cerro Torrecillas, but Pacific storms that penetrate the lower cordillera here make it wetter than most of Argentine Patagonia.
Past glaciations have left navigable finger lakes that provide access to some of the park’s finest sights. Summers are mild, with temperatures reaching 24°C with cool nights, but winters average barely 2°C and see ample snowfall.
Most destinations within the park are described with reference to La Villa, the village-like cluster of services at Lago Futalaufquen’s south end.
Flora and Fauna
Besides the alerce, the park’s other conifers include the Chilean incense cedar and the Guaiteca cypress, both with limited geographical distribution. Most of the rest of the forest consists of the broadleaf southern beeches coihue, lenga, and ñire. The arrayán nears the southern limit of its range here.
For hikers, one of the worst plagues is the colihue, a solid bamboo that forms impassable thickets. The aggressive exotic Rosa moschata, a European introduction, is displacing native plants.
In this dense forest, Los Alerces’s fauna is less conspicuous, but the huemul (Andean deer) is present, along with its miniature distant relative the pudú. Birds include the chucao (a common songbird), the austral parakeet, and the Patagonian woodpecker.
Sights and Recreation
On the Río Desaguadero, east of RP 71 at the south end of Lago Futalaufquen, the Sendero del Poblamiento Prehistórico is an easy 500-meter nature trail that passes a natural overhang with fading pre-Columbian rock art, some of it clearly geometrical; it then climbs through forest to an overlook with expansive panoramas to the north.
Register with rangers to hike the steep route to the 1,916-meter summit of Cerro Alto El Dedal, reached by a trailhead from Puerto Bustillo, two kilometers north of La Villa; figure about six hours round-trip to complete the hike. From the same trailhead, Cinco Saltos is a shorter and easier hike to a series of waterfalls.
From Puerto Limonao, four kilometers north of La Villa, the 25-kilometer Sendero Lago Krüger follows Lago Futalaufquen’s south shore to the smaller Lago Krüger, which has a campground and a lodge; register with rangers before beginning the hike, which has only one authorized campsite, at Playa Blanca, between the trailhead and the lodge. Daily boat service to Lago Krüger costs about US$20 pp.
Colloquially known as La Villa, Villa Futalaufquen is the park headquarters. The APN’s Museo y Centro de Informes (tel. 02945/47-1015, ext. 14, infoalerces [at] apn [dot] gov [dot] ar, 8 a.m.–9 p.m. daily mid-Dec.–Apr., 9 a.m.–8 p.m. daily the rest of the year) is both a museum, with history and natural history exhibits, and a helpful ranger information center.
At both the northern Lago Rivadavia and eastern La Portada entrances, rangers collect a US$7 pp admission charge, which is valid for a week and includes other area parks. After 9 p.m., when the tollbooths close, there’s no one to collect the charge, but they check on the way out.
In addition to the APN headquarters, La Villa also has a grocery, public telephones, and a first-aid station.
Transportes Esquel buses between Esquel and Lago Puelo pick up and drop off passengers along RP 71 within the park; some northbound buses go only to Lago Rivadavia before returning to Esquel. Puelo-bound passengers can disembark and reboard another day as long as they do not reverse direction.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition