Before our trip, I had heard that one of the best white water rivers was in Patagonia. While Río Futaleufú and the town named after the river are not on the Carretera Austral, it was a well worth sidetrip to see and experience this magnificent river.
This is part 7 of my Patagonia and Carretera Austral trip report series. You can navigate to the other parts in the index below as they are posted.
Río Futaleufú (also known as the Fu or Futa for short) is an world renowned white water rafting river (National Geographics, oars.com, Outside). It was first ran by kayakers in 1985 and the first successful raft attempt was in 1991 (wikipedia). While the river is dammed at its headwaters in Argentina, it is free flowing through its entirety in Chile until Lago Yelcho. This aspect helped to gain the river more recognition through the conservation documentary “Fighting for Futaleufú” (vimeo) aimed to preserve this free flowing stretch from a large scale daming project in 2013. It was more imperative after kayakers and rafters saw the results of damming of the Biobío River in the 1980s, which destroyed the world renowned white water features on there (wikipedia).
As the documentary describes, Río Futaleufú is known as the Everest of the rafting and kayaking world and many travel from around the world to ride the white waters here.
For the typical backpacker or traveler on the Carretera Austral, standard day tour is the Bridge to Bridge section of the Futa. It put in is at a Zapata swinging bridge and the take out is where Ruta 231 crosses the Futa (see guide on exchile). The local rafting guide at our hotel offered a tour that extended section that included one more rapid after the bridge to bridge section.
After asking around town without much luck, we randomly walked into Chris Spelius’s rafting company Expediciones Chile (exchile.com) just down the street from our hotel. He was the pioneer recreation kayak on the Fu and was the first to successful raft it in 1991). They were down to run the Middle and Lower sections of the Futa the next day and the cost was CLP$80000 per person (CLP$160000 for 2, USD$238.54 equivalent at the time of purchase).
After breakfast the next day, we walked over to the rafting where we met up with our guides and the crew taking us on the wild ride. The owner Chris Spelius briefly talked to us and excitedly said we should do the upper section the next day as well. Unfortunately, his crew informed us later he might have gotten ahead of himself as they had a big group pre-booked with them the following day. But for this random Thursday, we were the only rafters patroning their services giving us effectively a private tour. We would be in a pontoon like raft run by our Spanish guide, who’s name I had forgotten.
Accompanying us through part of the middle section of the Futa were a couple of novice kayakers and their instructor/guide and another support raft.
While I tried my best in this report to show the rapids, I would recommend checking out our video companion on Futaleufú for a more indepth representation of the experience.
Our put in was at the confluence with the Río Azul on private property owned by Expediciones Chile. The kayaker group’s put in was from the opposite bank.
We started down the middle section of the Futa by first going through the class III School House rapid. After a stretch of flat water, we ran the class IV Asleep at the Wheel rapid.
After another stretch for flat water and some interesting bluffs, we came to the Terminator section which begins with the class III Pillow Rock and then the class IV Terminator Wave. The novice kayakers pulled off the river here as the next stretch is some of the most intense. It is hard to imagine how big the rapids must look here in a kayak.
Before we can run the class V+ Terminator rapid, the guide took us to scout it.
The Terminator rapid was indeed an exhilarating ride, my second favorite on this rafting trip.
Immediately after the Terminator, it was the class IV rapid called Son of Terminator (also known as Lower Terminator).
The novice Kayakers rejoined us for the a class IV Khyber Pass and a class III+ Himalayas to finish up the middle section of the Futa, before we stopped for lunch. Further down from our lunch stop is the put in for the lower section of the Futa and the beginning of the Bridge to Bridge tour marked by the Zapata swinging bridge.
The two novice kayakers would leave us here for the rest of the day and we’d continue on as 2 rafts and a kayak. This was feeling very much like a private tour now since the guides outnumber us.
The rapids of the Bridge to Bridge section is much closer together, which is why this is the most commercially run section. We begin with the class IV+ Entrada
then the Lower Entrada, class IV-, right away, which split the river into 2. We take the right channel called Toboggan.
At the next turn is the class IV+ Pillow, which entail running off the pillow formed by a rock in the middle of the river.
The Futa next curves into a canyon of sorts and the winds pick up as the river and are funneled through a smaller slot. After a relatively small class III S-Turn, we pass under the Face of the Indian (Cara Del Indio) on a rock face river left. Another turn in the river was then followed by the class IV rapid also named Cara Del Indio.
Up next came the most intense rapid of the Bridge to Bridge section in the class V- Mundaca.
The next rapids are the class III Dos Rocas Dos Hoyos, the class III Puma, and the class IV Last Wave is a Rock, which is very descriptively named. These rapids weren’t too memorable by themselves at this point of our ride in comparison as they were pretty straight forward. So was the next class IV Cazuela other than me getting knocked on my butt by a wall of water. The waves that got me might have been the largest of rapid called Pepper.
The class III+ Condor is next followed by the impressionable class IV Tiburon. It is an imposing aesthetically pleasing rapid with the rock wall contrasting the green river pushing it to the right.
The major hazard here is a big undercut under than wall, which the main current pushes you toward.
Two smaller rapids in the class III Home Free and the class II Postre are left in this section before we arrive at the Ruta 231 bridge that marks the end of the Bridge to Bridge section. However for us, 2 major rapids are still ahead as we look to complete the lower section.
The next is the second largest of the lower section named Más o Menos, a class V-. Our line for the long stretch of rapids was scooting down the river left side before pushing back toward the middle on the second half.
The next rapid was the class IV Right Turn, which was small in comparison to Más o Menos and what came next. The interesting thing about this rapid was the big hole that our guide got stuck in on the river right in a kayak recently.
Our last major rapid of the day was next in the class V Casa de Piedra and signified by the large boulder in the middle of the river. We pull over so the guides could scout the rapid before heading into it. It was the most technical of the rapids we did on the day as we had to skirt around the many boulders. This was probably our favorite just edging out the Terminator.
After that, it was an easy ride down the El Macal section of the Futa which consisted of many class III rapids. They were in order, Isla, Surf Wave, Z-Turn, Avalanche, Rodeo Hole, Freighter Rock, and El Macal. These are great for beginner kayakers and provided us a nice relaxing end to our exciting day.
After a final left turn in the Futa, we were at our takeout.
It was another hour or so ride back to town and we were starving. We thanked our guide with a tip and were off to the local burger joint. We would have gladly gone with them down the upper section of the Futa the next day, but they were already booked out. So that will have to wait until next time.
views: 5. Riding down the Futa was one the best experiences of our trip. The teal and green colors of the river cutting through the rocky mountains is always such a treat. The water is so clear that you can see all the rocks at the bottom during the shallow sections.
At certain points, the iconic Cerro Tres Monjas loom over the river to add to the grandness of the ride.
This is all before taking in the thrilling experience of the white water. Our favorite among the rapids was the technical class V Casa de Piedra of the lower section and the powerful class V Terminator of the middle section.
These are the reasons I would recommend to look for a excursion beyond the typical Bridge to Bridge section. The Futa would be the center of any future trips that takes me to Patagonia again and I can’t wait til I get a chance to raft the upper section of the river.
Since we weren’t able to raft the upper section of the Futa on our last day out of town, we decided to go for some hiking. Our main goal was to hike to views of the Futa, but there seemed to be less options than we thought. Most of the trails here seem to be either dirt roads or through private property and are only in the starting stages of any hiking infrastructure. Local web pages (fundeencantado), wikitravel, and wikiloc and the information center in town are probably your best bets to navigate the infant hiking potentials here.
We spent some time driving around the upper sections of the Futa for some overlooks and saw indications of mountain bike routes. But much of the access to the Futa are in private property.
Then we headed for most well known hike in the area called Piedra del Aguila just west of town.
- gps track – alltrails wikiloc
- type: in & out
- distance: 2.7 miles (4.3 km)
- elevation change: 1248 ft. ascent & descent
- time: 1:36 hours (1:13 hours moving)
- location: Futaleufú, Los Lagos, Chile
The trail is on private property so you’ll need to bring CLP$1000 per person in cash (as of Jan 2019).
Google Maps doesn’t have the exact routing, it is better to have the OSM gps to see the dirt roads leading up to the trailhead.
The direction to the trail head starts from town and head west on Pedro Aguirre Cedra street and it will leave town on a dirt road W-915. W-195 will follow Río Espolon. Once you cross a bridge over a stream flowing into Río Espolon, there is a intersection with a dirt road turning off to the right, we saw signs for the trailhead here. Continuing on the dirt road, there is a splitting of the dirt road to the right with another crossing of the same stream over a wooden bridge. Taking this dirt road, we ender a wooded area before arriving at the trailhead.
The hike itself to the viewpoint was a bit grueling as you are just on a dirt road with an even gradient of about 19.8% for the entirety of the 1.25 mile or so uphill. To add to the misery, the lack of cover from the sun becomes more prominent as you head further up and fresh cow pies everywhere, it’s not a pleasant uphill. You end up hopping from shade to shade to catch your breath.
After a couple more gates, the trail goes through a farm or pasture area before branching off to the right away from the dirt road. There is a stand here to collect fees. There was no one here on this day.
We continued now on a single track trail and the views started to reveal themselves. We could see the Eagle Rock ahead of us and the pasture below us to the right all set to the snow covered peaks.
Near the top, the trail branched at a junction with the right one heading on top of the Eagle Rock. A couple alpine lakes start to make their appearance here.
From the Eagle Rock, we could see all the way down the Río Espolon drainage all the way out to Lago Espolon with many unnamed peaks and lakes.
Going up the other side of the junction, there is a bench to relax on with a view out toward the Eagle Rock.
After a snack here, we headed down the knee jarring dirt road back to the trailhead.
view: 3. The views from the Eagle Rock of the many peaks, alpine lakes, and the valley pushes this hike to a near 4 rating for the aesthetics. It is definitely worth spending a couple hours to hike up here. However other than the view point at the top, the rest of the hike was pretty boring mostly on a dirt road without much views.
difficulty: 2. While the uphill is pretty consistent, it is still 1248 feet in just over a mile. The sparse shade and smell from the fresh cow pies can make it grueling on a hot summer day. Add in the loose dirt of the road, it can be a bit difficult.
technical: 1. There is no technical aspects to this hike and it is well signed through the private property to the view point. It was almost harder to find the trailhead than to navigate on the trail.