Northwest of Coyhaique , midway to Puerto Chacabuco , paved Ruta 240 passes through the Río Simpson valley, flanked by the steep walls and canyons that form this accessible 41,634-hectare forest reserve.
Altitudes are about 100 meters along the river but rise to 1,878 meters in the cordillera. Because it’s mostly lower than Reserva Nacional Coyhaique , the weather is milder (averaging 15–17°C in summer), but it’s also wetter, as Pacific storms drop up to 2,500 millimeters of precipitation en route inland.
As in Reserva Nacional Coyhaique , Río Simpson’s forests are mostly native southern beeches (Nothofagus species), but the rainfall fosters verdant undergrowth of ferns, fuchsias, and similar species. Huemul are found in the more remote areas, as are puma and pudú. Bird species, which include the Andean condor, diminish in autumn and winter, returning in spring.
Opposite the visitors center, at kilometer 37, look for the Cascada La Virgen, a waterfall that plunges vertically through intense greenery on the highway’s north side. At the center itself, a trail descends to the beach, where both swimming and fishing are possible.
Five kilometers east of park headquarters, Conaf’s eight-site Camping San Sebastián (Ruta 240, Km 32, US$13 for up to eight persons) has bathrooms with hot showers.
Conaf’s Centro de Información Ambiental (Ruta 240, Km 37) boasts a small natural-history museum (admission US$1) and botanical garden, open 8:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily. It’s due to move to a new location at Las Chimeneas (Km 30), but progress has been slow.
From Coyhaique , Don Carlos or Suray buses will drop passengers at the campground, museum, or anywhere along the route.