Patagonia: a wild place of lakes, rivers, mountains and endless sky at the bottom of the world. Bolt searched far and wide for a far-flung adventure, distinct from the more trafficked parks in the region. We found it - and are excited to share this horse-supported expedition into Aysén and Chile’s newest National Parks, created after 30 years of determined advocacy for conservation.
We are excited to partner with our friends at Chulengo Expeditions for this nine day combination of backpacking, exploration of Gaucho (loosely, Patagonian cowboy) culture, traditional Chilean cooking, and a drive on the Carretera Austral, often called one of the world’s great road trips. This trip immerses curious wilderness travelers in spectacular landscapes, Patagonia’s rich natural and human history, in the urgency and complexity of land conservation, and in the enduring value of living simply and in community.
Our horse-supported trekking expedition moves through the farms and mountains adjacent to Patagonia National Park, using these strong pack animals to lighten our loads and brighten our camps. This isn’t a glamping trip; instead, we’ll offer “lightweight guiding”, teaching outdoor skills and natural history, organize logistics, manage risk, and facilitate community, but also asking each participant to contribute to the work of outdoor travel and communal living. Expect to carry a day pack of 15-20lbs. Around camp, we’ll rely on you to set up and take down tents, pack packs, and contribute to cooking shared meals.
This 8 day journey through the Aysén region of Patagonia is rooted in more than 30 years of determined conservation advocacy. In 1990, The North Face founders Kris and Doug Tompkins created Tompkins Conservation, and began acquiring large tracts of land in northern Chile. Their vision? To set aside big, secure, wild landscapes where native plants and animals could thrive in harmony with nearby human communities, with their economic vitality would be linked to the vibrant good health of the natural world surrounding them. To date, the Tompkins Conservation has purchased more than 2 million acres of land, with the intention of ultimately donating all of the lands the foundations have acquired to the Chilean and Argentinean National Park systems.
Some call Chile’s Aysén Region “Unknown Patagonia,” but word is starting to get out about this spectacular, rugged area. Chile’s least populated region, Aysén is wild, remote, and less traveled, with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants and over half of its area protected in national parks. At a time when quarter of a million people walk the trails of Torres del Paine National Park every year, this expedition will immerse you in some of Aysén’s most spectacular, remote national parks.
Land at Balmaceda Airport and make your way by 45 minute taxi or bus to our expedition base, Patagonia House in Coyhaique, a relaxing boutique hotel set just outside of town. We’ll meet up in the evening for dinner, including time with the guide for any last minute gear questions.
An early start from Patagonia House to pack the bus and head south. We drive roughly 2 hours to Puerto Ibanez, transitioning from the lush temperate rainforest into the arid Patagonian steppe. Via ferry, we cross the immense glacial-blue Lago General Carrera, South America’s second largest lake. After crossing the lake, we drive a final 1.5 hours along the shores of the lake to a family ranch, where we’ll spend the first night getting oriented. That afternoon, we’ll talk through systems for horsepacking and backcountry living: setting up camp, cooking and meal prep, backcountry hygiene. To shake off our travels, we’ll take a walk around the ranch; those who want to swim in the clear waters of Lago General Carrera are encouraged to do so! After a meal prepared for us at the ranch, we’ll gather to share our goals for the trip, pour over maps, and come together as a team for the next week of exploration.
After a hearty breakfast at the ranch, we’ll pack up and head into the mountains. We meet the local families who will support our trek, as well as their horses! After dividing and organizing food and gear for the horses to carry, we’ll set off on our trek. We start off winding through a traditional Patagonian campo before heading higher into the mountains. The uphill makes us grateful to the horses! Our campsite is a spectacular perch overlooking the Jeinimeni mountains, where we have the opportunity to spend time with an experienced gaucho tending sheep in the high mountains. In the evening, we’ll gather around a fire for conversation about Patagonian history and culture.
Distance: 5 miles Elevation gain: 2500 ft.
After breakfast and morning reflections, we begin our day climbing higher on a dramatic plateau, which, on a clear day, affords sweeping views down to Lago General Carrera, across to the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. We spend most of the day hiking above treeline, through strange colored rock formations, before descending to our idyllic camp in a lush valley, surrounded by hanging glaciers. The horses meet us here to deliver our supplies, and we set up a base camp for the next two nights. In the evening, we’ll gather to learn more about the establishment of nearby Patagonia National Park.
Distance: 8 miles Elevation gain: 1200 feet
Time for a day hike! We leave the big backpacks behind for day explorations of surrounding area. One option is to hike toward the toe of a nearby glacier; another is to gain a higher plateau for broad views into the park and beyond. Back at camp, we’ll share dinner and reflections on our own wilderness experiences and ethics.
Distance: 5- 10 miles (depending on day hike option) Elevation gain: 800 - 3,000 feet
Our final day of horse-supported hiking takes us through beautiful southern beech forest and glacial valleys as we make our way back toward Lago General Carrera. As we near our pick-up point, we return to the land of Patagonian campos. With our longest day of hiking complete, we return to the lakeside ranch where we spent the first night, for a celebratory dinner, a big traditional asado al palo.
Distance: 10 miles Elevation gain: 100 feet
We’ll depart early for the Chacabuco Valley, the center of the newly-created Patagonia National Park, where expansive grasslands are home to a unique diversity of native species, including guanacos, Andean condors, pumas, vizcachas, and Chilean flamingos. Those motivated to hike more can tackle the spectacular 12-mile Lagunas Altas loop, the park’s flagship hike with spectacular panoramic views. A more moderate option is the 3-mile La Vega loop through the valley. The park’s new Visitor Center and Museum is a must-see, highlighting natural and human history as well as the broader context for conservation and park creation. We’ll camp at the park’s elegant frontcountry campsite in the evening.
Distance: options from 3 to 12 miles
Based on which trails the group hiked on Day 6, we’ll have options to hike the Aviles Trail, (9 miles) halfway east in the Chacabuco Valley toward Argentina, or take on either of the trails from the previous day. We’ll dine at the park’s beautiful, delicious restaurant as a grand farewell to the expedition.
Distance: options from 3 to 12 miles
We wake early to head north up the Carretera Austral, or “Southern Highway,” often called one of the world’s great road trips. We’ll drive along the turquoise Baker River, and then near the eastern border of the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. We’ll reach Balmaceda airport in time for the last flight of the day (4:00pm), reflecting on the expedition, saying our goodbyes, and making plans for the next adventure.
This trip features “lightweight guiding:” you’ll be taught outdoor skills and natural history, and our team will organize logistics, manage risk, and facilitate community. We ask each participant to contribute to the work of outdoor travel and communal living. Expect to carry a day pack of 15-20lbs. Around camp, we’ll rely on you to set up and take down tents, pack packs, and contribute to cooking shared meals. Whether through spearheading a stretching session, making space for meditation, or facilitating a conversation, members will come together to share their gifts. Our hope is that this expedition combines the best parts of traveling with friends with the best parts of an organized expedition, with space for learning, reflection, honest conversation and laughter.
Please make sure to read through the day by day description for a full understanding of distances climbed, and elevation gained. This trip doesn’t require camping experience (we’re happy to welcome first time campers!). If you have any questions about the fitness required, please reach out directly - we’re here to help!
This 10 day Experience is designed to deliver a safe, fulfilling, challenging wilderness expedition, alongside cultural experiences, delicious food, and great company. Expect to be uncomfortable at times, with the chance of encountering unexpected obstacles. Patagonia’s weather is notoriously quick to change, and can be severe at times, requiring adjustments to the stated itinerary.
Flights to Balmaceda, Chile are available from select major US and European cities via connection in Santiago.
Sign up here and we'll send you an email once in a blue moon with the latest experiences and tales of adventures past, present, and future.