In this ultimate Bariloche hiking itinerary, we will precisely review all the necessary information needed to conquer the best Bariloche day hikes and also the best multi day hike – Cerro Tronador. We will discuss also Refugio Frey, Cerro Campanario and Cerro Llao Llao day hikes in thorough detail.
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Bariloche | 4 Day Hiking Itinerary
Did you know that San Carlos de Bariloche is known for many things? Firstly, the town serves as the main hub for visiting the Nahuel Huapí National Park. This area is considered the Argentinean Lake District. It is where all your amazing hikes will take place.
Secondly, Bariloche is known as the ‘gateway of Patagonia’. So it could be the starting location of your Patagonia adventure. For us though, it was our final destination after travelling for a month upwards from Ushuaia. Thirdly, Bariloche is considered the ‘Chocolate capital’. There is an abundance of delicious kilojoules close by to help fuel your activities here!
Last but not least, being known as the ‘Switzerland of Argentina’ is overtly apparent with the chalet style architecture. It makes Bariloche a very unique town of Patagonia. So, with all the interesting construction and mouth watering chocolate to enjoy, let’s not forget about the beautiful hikes. Although not as well known as the multi day W Trek, the multi day Cerro Tronador hike in Bariloche was easily on par and much quieter. Here’s a guide on how to experience the best Bariloche hiking over 4 days.
1. Refugio Frey
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 22km
- Time: 5.5-7 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 750m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Cerro Catedral Ski Resort.
All trails in this guide are rated by the Nahuel Huapi National Park
Getting to Refugio Frey
Catch Bus 55: You will alight from the bus at the final stop which is a huge car park at the base of the Cerro Catedral ski resort; the largest in South America. Then, walk across the car park and look for a wooden sign labelled FREY to begin the trail. Admittedly, we got a little lost wondering around this huge and empty car park. We should have just followed the locals!
Refugio Frey trail: This is a 22km return hike and takes anywhere between 5.5-7 hours. You will begin to steadily rise up a dirt trail. Be aware that all of the trails we encountered in Bariloche were quite dusty so we would recommend a summer neck gaiter. This is essential for anyone with respiratory conditions. Overall, the trail isn’t technical at all and is very easy to follow.
Soon enough, you will have great views of gorgeous lakes. There will be more forest type landscape as you continue a slight ascent. Just prior to reaching Refugio Frey is a final upwards push. But otherwise the hike isn’t too steep or physically demanding. What awaits you is a quaint pristine lagoon with jagged mountainous tops afar. At a decent pace, the hike up will take 3-4 hours.
You could spend the night in the Refugio, and perhaps this is a good idea as part of a longer trek that passes by. However, we thought considering there was already one overnight hike on this Bariloche hiking itinerary, that we would do this hike as a day trip.
The return hike is much quicker, for us 2.5 hours. You will get the same No. 55 bus back to town.
2. Cerro Campanario
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 5km
- Time: 1 hour
- Accumulated elevation gain: 240m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Cerro Campanario Chairlifts
Getting to Cerro Campanario
Catch Bus 20: As part of the ulitmate Bariloche hiking itinerary, we recommend doing both Cerro Campanario and Cerro Llao Llao day hikes on the same day. This is because they are near one another on the Circuit Chico; a popular and scenic, traditionally driven loop. The bus will head towards Llao Llao, which is the final stop around the 24km mark from town. This is where you will head to later. However, for the first hike you will alight at 17.5km at the bottom of the chair lifts up to Cerro Campanario. See Google MyMaps here.
Although we asked the driver to stop at Campanario, we mistakenly were not ready in time. We had to track back about 1.5km so make sure you’re more alert than we were! Find the bus 20 timetable link provided.
Cerro Campanario Hike
Cerro Campanario: This is a 5km return hike, only taking around an hour. Get here as early as possible as the tour groups start to arrive around 10am. They get the chairlifts! The short 2.5km ascent to the top gains about 250m elevation, so it’s a solid 30 minute workout. But is not technical at all. Essentially, it’s a walk up a dusty trail. Once at the top, there are many different viewpoints of the amazing lakes. The lookout from the cafe is stunning!
Getting to Cerro Llao Llao from Cerro Campanario
Cerro Campanario to Cerro Llao Llao: Once you’ve finished your coffee atop Cerro Campanario, you will then trace your steps back to the bus stop and wait for Bus 20. If you were really in the mood for walking, you could hypothetically walk the approximate 7.5km to Llao Llao. But I would save your energy and time for the Llao Llao hike.
3. Cerro Llao Llao
- Type: Loop
- Distance: 15km
- Time: 4 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 294m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Puerto Pañuelo
Cerro Llao Llao Hike
Cerro Llao Llao: This is a 15km loop and takes around 4 hours. Again, this is a very easy walk with no technical sections. To get there, alight at the final stop at Puerto Pañuelo. From here, follow the Circuito Chico road with the lake to your right. The road will turn into a forested area. After 10 minutes or so, you will reach the Sendero de los Arrayanes trailhead on your left. It’s possible to start the loop here but this is actually where we finished. We followed the road another few minutes until reaching Sendero Villa Tacul on our right.
From here to the main Cerro Llao Llao lookout is about 3km. The start of the hike is quite flat until you reach the actual turnoff to the summit of Cerro Llao Llao. This is a steep zigzag affair with 230m of elevation that takes around 20-30 minutes. Here, the panoramic views of the lakes are breathtaking. A great spot for lunch.
Where to After the Cerro Llao Llao Lookout?
Cerro Llao Llao loop: Now, if you are satisfied with this, we don’t blame you. There’s no one stopping you from returning back to Puerto Pañuelo from here to get the bus back to town. However, the day was still young for us, so we decided to complete the entire loop.
Head back down the zig zag path and continue on to Villa Tacul; a beach with views to Lago Nahuel Huapí. We were blessed with a beautiful blue sky. This made for exceptional views and temptation to even go for a dip!
Using Maps.me to help coordinate the route, we then headed to Mirador del Tacul. To complete the loop, we made our way through the peaceful Sendero de los Arryanes trail passing by Mirador Lago Moreno.
You will get the same No. 20 bus back, from a bus stop opposite to Puerto Pañuelo. See Google Maps above for the exact location.
4. Cerro Tronador
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 40km
- Time: 9-12 hours (w/overnight camp)
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,050m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Refugio Otto Meiling
We’ve left the best to last in this ultimate Bariloche hiking itinerary. An overnight hike to Reugio Otto Meiling which is located at the base of Cerro Tronador. This is where you’ll stay the night! Over the 2 days, you will cover 36km plus an additional walk adding another 4km. Read below for an overview of the distances/duration.
- Day 1 – 18km one way – 5-7 hours: Pampa Linda (starting point of the hike) to Refugio Otto Meiling at Cerro Tronador. The hike up is steep so it taks much longer going up than coming down!
- Day 2 – 18km one way (+4km return hike) – 4-5 hours: Refugio Otto Meiling at Cerro Tronador to Pampa Linda . There is an optional 4km return hike to the base of Castaño Overo (Hanging Glacier Falls).
This hike begins at a fork intersection roughly 5.5km away from Pampa Linda. It heads back in the direction of Cerro Tronador (where you’ve just come from) on a separate flat path. So when you reach the base, you are then 7.5km away from Pampa Linda (the finish line!)
Getting to Cerro Tronador
Shuttle bus: There is no public transport. But there are tour companies in town all offering the minivan return service for the same price. Essentially they all depart from town around 8:30am. The arrive at Pampa Linda around 11am. They then return from the same spot at 5pm the following day, arriving back in Bariloche around 7:30pm. It is $1500ARS ($24USD) return. They also offer one way for 900ARS ($14USD), but you need to return anyway so book the return ticket. We booked in town with Travel Light, 2 days in advance. They were really nice to deal with and spoke English.
Refugio Accommodation Options at Cerro Tronador
Otto Meiling Refugio: In 2020, sleeping in the actual refugio for 1 night is $1500ARS ($24USD)/person. Upstairs is a room full of mattresses. So you will just need to take a sleeping bag or rent one there for $400ARS ($6USD). The other option is camping, which is $500ARS ($8USD)/person. Although you can hire a sleeping bag, you will need to take all other camping equipment (tent, sleeping mats, etc.). Bear in mind, it gets very windy up there! Downstairs in the refugio is a bar, kitchen (only dishwashing available) and seating area. This is available to everyone who have paid to stay the night, whether camping or staying in the refugio.
Renting Camping Gear for Cerro Tronador
Renting camping gear: We were very lucky in that our awesome Airbnb host lent us his camping gear free of charge! Otherwise there are some camping rental places in town. Del Cruce Outdoor Shop & Rental have good reviews. Overall, you will have to weigh up the costs for hiring camping equipment for 2 days versus sleeping in the Refugio for 1 night.
Better yet, you may have your own camping gear! For those wanting to travel with very compact gear, we can highly recommend the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Inflatable Pillow. It’s amazing how small this inflatable pillow is when deflated and packed away. Additionally, for other useful tips on the most multi day hiking friendly camping gear, read 66 Items You Must Travel With.
The Hike – Day 1
Day 1: Today will be much tougher than Day 2. The initial sections to get to Cerro Tronador are fairly mundane on dirt trail in the forest. After that, the middle sections have some really steep switchbacks that start to take you from forest to exposed rocky areas. You will first start to see the glaciers including the stunning hanging glacier (Castaño Overo) falls. Be careful on the rocky terrain. It begins to get very windy, particularly as you get closer to the refugio. But there is no technical hiking. Here, not only will you have incredible 360 degree panoramic views of the Andes, but you will be standing at the base of Cerro Tronador and in between 2 glaciers!
The Hike – Day 2
Day 2: Make sure you are awake for sunrise at Cerro Tronador. This is certainly a highlight of the entire adventure – a fleeting moment where Cerro Tronador will be covered in an amazing orange glow. Heading back down the trail is much easier and less time consuming so you can take your time with breakfast after watching the sunrise.
STORY TIME: We actually had a unique experience in that the Argentinean army was also camping at the time at Cerro Tronador. They were friendly enough. But it was super annoying when we were trying to pack up our camping gear with the gust of dirt and rocks flying our way when their men were continuously practicing landing their helicopter on a nearby helipad!
Although there is no need to rush back, we did find that the best time of day for photography of Castaño Overo from above was around 9-10am so aim to be there then!
After descending the switchbacks from Cerro Tronador, it is time for the 4km return hike to the base of the falls. Keep it mind, it is absolutely possible to do this on day 1. But because day 2 is much easier, you will have more time to enjoy the walk. The views from below the falls were awe inspiring. We even had the place to ourselves for lunch! We found our way back to Pampa Linda by 3pm.
Luckily, we were able to book the same Airbnb in Bariloche to stay the night. This option also allowed for luggage storage during the overnight hike which was very useful.
Where to Buy Supplies in Bariloche
Desserts: On days 1 and 2 of this Bariloche hiking itinerary, you should have at least a few hours in the mid-late afternoon to explore the town itself and all its delicious chocolate stores and cafes. If you like chocolate as we do, we can confirm that Mamuschka is heaven for chocolate lovers.
They have mouth watering options at the café and a huge shop inside. Also, for the supposed best alfajores in Argentina, we headed to Havana and were not disappointed. There is also a chocolate museum here! Make sure that you don’t feel guilty about indulging in these treats. All of the hiking you are doing means you have earned those extra kilojoules. That’s how we justify it anyway! Plus, you’re on holiday! So splurging on chocolate and treats is a must.
For general groceries, we went to Carrefour Hipermercado which was conveniently close to our Airbnb.
Bariloche 4 Day Hiking Itinerary Recap
Four days spent hiking in Bariloche is four days very well spent. This northern Argentinian portion of Patagonia is made up of picturesque lake and mountainous landscape. Throw on top of that, fantastic food in town, and you have the perfect combination for a great time. Hiking and chocolate, the dream!
Getting to Bariloche
Bus: We had finished the Chilean portion of our Patagonia trip in Puerto Montt. Flying to Bariloche would be too expensive so we caught a bus. Using Busbud, we booked in advance with Andesmar for $18USD/person. The bus departed 7am, arriving around 3:15pm. This was despite the arrival time on the ticket being 2 hours earlier! This was thanks to a lengthy border crossing and roadwork.
If you are starting your Patagonia trip in Bariloche, flying from Buenos Aires is the best option. The flight duration is 2 hours 20 minutes and costs as little as $50USD. This will depend on checked in baggage and how far in advance you book. Otherwise, a +24 hour bus journey for $47USD awaits you! At only a slightly cheaper price but a vastly different travel time, it seems a no brainer to me! Beck and I are big believers of smart travelling. This means considering cheaper alternatives to keep travel affordable but not if it compromises quality or comfort significantly. So in this case, we chose to fly.
Accommodation in Bariloche
Airbnb: We stayed at an Airbnb in town for $18USD/night. It was a private room in a flat with a private bathroom. The host was very kind and welcoming, plus the kitchen was well stocked and the dining area spacious. We thought it was great value! The options on Booking.com were expensive by comparison.
Getting Around Bariloche
Local bus: All of the day hikes that you will do as part of this itinerary are easily reached by using the local bus – MiBus. However, you will need a SUBE card to be able to use this service. We initially bought our SUBE cards at Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza International Airport for $100ARS ($1.55USD). This allowed us to catch the bus from there to the city centre. If you do not already have a SUBE card upon arrival in Bariloche, they are easy to find. They’re sold at nearly every mini market. You will also need to add money onto the card. This can be easily completed in the same transaction as when you buy the card itself. So, how much money do you need to put on the card?
Unpredictable costs: Due to the economic crisis in Argentina, bus prices can fluctuate. What we paid in February 2020 for each trip was higher than the $60ARS ($0.95USD) quoted in recent blogs. For us, a single trip was $78ARS ($1.20USD). We felt it would be annoying to either not have enough funds on the SUBE card and hypothetically be unable to get the bus back from a hike, or put too much money on the card and for those funds to then be inaccessible. Although not exactly breaking the bank, perhaps budget for single bus trips to be around 80ARS ($1.25USD), for the time being anyway.
Where to Catch the Bus
Read the local bus timetable: Luckily enough, all of the buses we needed for day trips departed from a bus stop right outside our Airbnb! In any other case, all of the buses required can be caught from the city centre opposite the Intendencia Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapí administration building on San Martín Road. See Google Maps below.
The only exception is bus 55 for the Refugio Frey day hike that has an alternating bus stop every hour. Buses that depart Avenida Bustillo will leave from opposite the national park administration building bus stop at 7:15am, 9:15, 11:15am etc., and buses departing Avenida Pioneros depart at 8:15am, 10:15am, 12:15pm etc., from a bus stop found opposite the Blest Cervecería bar. Please find the bus 55 timetable in the link provided.
Getting Out of Bariloche
Bus: Our next destination post Patagonia was Santiago. So we needed to do the reverse bus journey ($18USD/person) back to Puerto Montt with the bus company – Via Bariloche, departing 7am and arriving around 2:00pm. Again, we booked through Busbud. Booking with them is reliable and easy to use. Bariloche was our final destination in Patagonia. If Bariloche is the start of your Patagonia trip, you may also follow this same route if you will begin exploring the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia!
From Puerto Montt, we had booked a flight 2 months in advance through Trip.com using Skyscanner. We flew with Sky Airlines for $53USD/person including checked in baggage at 6:57pm. We were able to fly on the same day we caught the bus from Bariloche to Puerto Montt.
- SUBE Card: $100ARS/person ($1.55USD).
- Bus to Bariloche: $13,800CLP/person ($18USD).
- Local buses: around $430ARS/person ($6USD) for 4 trips.
- Accommodation: $5,100ARS ($72USD) for 2 people.
- Refugio camping: $500ARS/person ($8USD).
- Minivan transfer to/from Pampa Linda: $1500ARS/person ($24USD).
- Bus out of Bariloche: $1,300ARS/person ($18USD).
- Food: $2,150ARS/person ($30USD).
= $10,050ARS/person ($140USD) over 5 nights / 4 days.
Five Hiking Essentials For Bariloche
- Merrell Moab 2 Mid Goretex hiking boots – some of the switchbacks are quite steep, so you’ll want hiking boots with decent traction.
- The North Face TKA Glacier snap fleece jacket – it’s very cold atop Refugio Otto Meiling, so you’ll need layers.
- The North Face Venture 2 waterproof/windproof jacket – it’s also very windy at the top of Cerro Tronador!
- Lightweight down jacket – you’ll need this at the top if you’re hanging around outside the Refugio.
- Columbia water repellent convertible hiking trousers – just in case the weather turns bad!
Five Camping Essentials For Bariloche
We were lucky enough to borrow some camping gear from our awesome Airbnb host. However, if you are taking your own camping gear, here is a list to help you pack the camping essentials.
- Vango Banshee Pro Tent 300 – an affordable, lightweight and high quality 2 person tent. Great for multi-day hiking.
- Vango Ultralite Pro 200 sleeping bag – a very warm mummy-style sleeping bag, great for Cerro Tronador.
- Sea to Summit Anti-Insect Mummy Style CoolMax Adaptor sleeping bag liner – for hygiene purposes.
- Sea to Summit Aeros Premium inflatable pillow – a luxury but necessary for a comfortable nights sleep.
- HIKENTURE inflatable sleeping mat – you’ll set up camp on rocky terrain so you’ll want a decent sleeping mat.
To be fully prepared, consider downloading a GPS guided map before you set out. We recommend Wikiloc or AllTrails. For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.
- Pack your own food: The meals on offer at Refugio Otto Meiling were pricey and didn’t look extraordinary. So you should stock up at a supermercado and take your own food for the overnight hike.
- Airbnb: Our host was incredible! As we already mentioned, he let us borrow his camping gear free of charge. So doing some research into your accommodation can pay off in unexpected ways!
- Pack layers: you’ll start the hike quite warm, but by the top, you’ll need many layers to stay warm.
Register Online for All Bariloche Hiking
There is a compulsory registration form you must complete each time you go hiking in the Nahuel Huapí National Park. The information provided helps the National Park office collate statistics and is also essential in case of any accidents in the mountains. But you won’t be checked for this on the day hikes.
We had forgotten to do it for the overnight hike and were asked about it by a National Park ranger at the Pampa Linda office. Thankfully, they were happy to help us fill in a hard copy form there. But it would have been quicker if we had just done the right thing in the first place and completed the form online.
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