Cerro Castillo is one of the rare multi-day backpacking (trekking) opportunities that is well established along the Carretera Austral. We had tentative plans to do just that, but lingering health issues and the logistics in planning a point to point backpacking trek that would rely on hitchhiking or buses when we didn’t speak Spanish brought us to the alternative day hike options. In the end, I don’t feel like I missed out and at the same time, I look forward to returning to do the trek.
This is part 5 of my Patagonia and Carretera Austral trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
This part of the trip report details our adventures on day 10 of our travels on Ruta 40 and the Carretera Austral. For the complete summary of the road trip, see part 3 of the trip report.
- Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo
- gps track – alltrails wikiloc
- type: in & out
- distance: 8.5 miles (13.68 km)
- elevation change: 3608 ft. ascent & descent (1100 m)
- time: 5:42 hours (4:16 hours moving)
- location: Villa Castillo, Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo, Aysén, Chile near Coyhaique (google maps)
Hikers and other websites compare the mountain of Cerro Castillo to the likes of Fitz Roy and the three peaks of Torres del Paine. However, it is also said that Cerro Castillo is lesser known and thus less trafficked than the other famous peaks of Patagonia.
There are several different ways you can see Cerro Castillo. We opted for the in and out day hike option, which is also the quickest and shorted one. Lingering health reasons, our laziness in trying to hitch or time a bus ride for a point to point backpacking trek, our desire to do a greater variety of hikes, and our overall lack of knowledge regarding the area lead us to the decision of the day hike.
For the day hike, the fee is CLP$10000 per person (CLP$20000 for 2, estimated USD$29.18) for foreign adult visitors collected at the trailhead.
alternative route & multiday trekking options
For those that are looking for a more extensive day hike, there is 14.5 mile loop (purple route indicated above, wikiloc) starting from the same trailhead as the in and out day hike just outside Villa Cerro Castillo (google maps) and includes the entirety of that trail. In addition, it involves the pass west of Cerro Castillo, the Laguna Duff drainage and Estero Parada river, and a road walk down a dirt road between Casas Particulares that recommended for only all wheel drive vehicles. Talking to the locals manning the booth at the trailhead, the fees associated with this hike is higher at CLP$31500 since it passes through multiple landowner areas.
The loop day hike can be extended to a 2 to 3 day backpacking trek (alltrails) by including Laguna Duff. Only stay at designated campsites when you are backpacking at Cerro Castillo. For updated campsites, inquire with the locals manning the booth at the trailhead.
The traditional multiday trek is the point to point hike between Las Horquetas from the east on the Carretera Austral to Villa Cerro Castillo (pink route indicated on the map above, wikiloc tracks). According to the locals manning the booth at the trailhead, the cost is CLP$33000 per person, though the signs at Las Horquetas specify slightly different numbers. I think this is due to separate fees for the Nacional Cerro Castillo and trails through private properties. See links at the end for guides and hike reports available online.
Lastly, there is another hikes in the area called Balboa Pass (wikiexplora, wikiloc). It is considered a route with much higher technical aspects such as river crossings and repelling descents.
We reached the trailhead just outside of Villa Cerro Castillo just before 8:30 am. There were a couple of cars already in the parking lot since the trail opens at 7:30 am. The latest you can start on the trail is 1:30 am since the signs estimate 7 to 8 hours for the hike.
The first 2/3 miles goes through a camping area with picnic tables gaining elevation right away at about a mild 7.7% grade until a side trail toward some cascades.
We continued on through a section of open pasture field and a wooded area through the rest of the first mile going over a livestock fence.
Then the work started as the trail aggressively climbs out of the forest onto a ridge at a 18.9% grade until mile 1.8. From here, you can see Arroyo El Bosque running through the canyon below.
There sign indicating Mirador Cerro Peñon a little further up.
Then the trail flattens out a little bit given you the chance to catch your breath as it continues through a pass of sorts and enters the National Park proper. There are several worn path through this section, but they all lead to the same place.
At mile 2.3, the steep ascent picks up once again at a consistent 20.1% grade for the next mile. After entering the park, there is a rest area to the left of the trail with the first view of the valley and villa below. I recall water available here and a places to tie up horses.
As we look forward out of the treeline, the work ahead of us becomes clear.
While the climb can seem a tedious task, there are several places where you can find streams for water.
If you get tired and need to stop, there is plenty to stare at with a 180 view of Río Ibáñez snaking through the valley below.
At 3.3 miles, the elevation gain becomes a bit steeper at 25.8% grade for the final 2/3 mile push to the pass. There is one more opportunity for water in the form of a small stream at te 3.5 mile mark during a turn in a switchback. Should you need water to cook lunch, this is your best option unless you want to make your way downhills to Laguna Cerro Castillo from the viewpoint.
This steep section can be a bit sandy, but never do you have to scramble up any parts since it’s a pretty uniform uphills. There are chains at sections with any rocks or exposure.
Pretty soon, the jagged peaks of Cerro Castillo starts to poke up behind the mountain.
About 4 miles into the hike, we reached the pass and a junction.
The trail to the west and left headed up to the pass toward the Estero Parada and Laguna Duff drainage while the trail straight ahead continues toward Mirador Laguna Cerro Castillo. So we continued ahead.
The viewpoint was 4.14 miles from the trailhead. The deep blue Laguna Cerro Castillo provides the perfect contrast with the rock face and glacier hanging under Cerro Castillo. The grandness of Cerro Castillo makes it difficult to capture everything in one shot.
We had lunch here at the viewpoint as did a few other groups. A local dog jumped between the groups looking for scraps and was rewarded. I thought it belonged to one of the hikers here, but apparently it was just a local that joined hikers as they hiked.
From the viewpoint here, you can also see the trail heading east and down to the edge of the lake where it was draining. This is part of the point to point multiday backpacking trek and there is a campsite just beyond the lake. We could see backpackers on a trail below the viewpoint heading directly toward the pass to our west.
After an hour lunch break, we decided to start heading down as more people were gathering at the viewpoint. The local dog decided to join us for the rest of the hike.
We were glad that we brought our hiking sticks for the downhill here. The trail was steep and consisted of sandy and rocky terrain requiring plenty of concentration.
All the while, the fantastic view of the valley is spread out in front of you.
As we returned to the trail paralleling Arroyo El Bosque, we thought about heading down the side trail to the Cascada at the first junction. But we decided against it having had enough elevation gain for the day.
ratings (range: 1-5; click link for detailed breakdown)
view: 4. Cerro Castillo and Laguna Cerro Castillo below it are indeed a magnificent sight. I thought the most impressive aspect of the viewpoint was how grand Cerro Castillo was, it was very difficult to capture the motif in one picture. Additionally, the contrast of the deep blue lake, hanging glacier, gray rock face, and jagged was spectacular as well. I don’t think I agree that Cerro Castillo is as impressive or unique as Fitz Roy or Torres del Paine peaks even though I did enjoy the view here. Other than the peak, I think a underappreciated aspect of the trail was the continuous 180 degrees view of the valley below with Villa Cerro Castillo and Río Ibáñez spanning the distance from Lago Gral Carrera in the east to the mountains in the west. I do want to return to hike the multiday backpacking trek here perhaps on a future trip covering the Carretera Austral south from here.
difficulty: 3. The day hike was a fairly steep uphill with some exposure. It is definitely a continue grind based on the amount of elevation gained, near 3500 feet. It was also very dusty at sections. With wind or rain, the trail can turn quite ugly and muddy. Trekking poles were useful on the hike overall because of the steepness.
technical: 2. This hike could very easily rated at a 1 in terms of technical skills needed as most of the steepness fall in the difficulty category from being just a grind. Perhaps I’m putting a 2 here mainly for the exposure and just the natural technicality from steepness. There were no areas where you needed to use your hands even though the trail was steep. The rangers did a good job in creating and maintaining this hike to keep it very accessible. Again it is steep enough that I was glad we had our hiking sticks on the hike. The trail is well marked so no additional navigation skills are needed for the majority of it. The rocky area around the pass to the outlook can be a little tricky, but there are signs.