There are hikes for everyone in this National Reserve, located just 3 km from Coyhaique. To get there, you can even walk or bike, but it’s a steep uphill climb so if you prefer a taxi, make your way to the Plaza where they are always ready for action. From there, you’ll head east on Condell to Baquedano and make a left, headed out of town toward the bridge over the Coyhaique River. Just past this bridge, (which is to the right at the intersection of Baquedano with the Carretera Austral), you’ll see the sign for the Reserve on the right. Follow the access road beside the sign for 1.5 km to the entrance and park ranger station.
Like many of the region’s National Reserves, this protected wildlife area was created to help avoid erosion after the many large-scale fires that ravaged the area around the city at the start of the colonization. That’s why you’ll encounter approximately 700 hectares of pine trees in the Reserve. They were planted to help shore up the side of the mountain in order to assist the area’s recovery and reduce the amount of sediments in the river below. As curious as it may sound, these introduced species played an important role in the protection of native species during the latter part of the twentieth century, and today, you’ll see an interesting mix of both in the Reserve.
Trails and Sites:
One of the greatest attractions of the Reserve is a mature lenga forest with specimens that are over 200 years old. The forest is in pristine condition without intervention, generating a great example of a semi shade ecosystem that allows seeds to germinate and naturally regenerate the forest. If you keep heading up the trails to 1100m you will find another important dynamic of Patagonian forests; here the lengas are also mature, however, due to harsh temperatures, winds and the weight of the snow in the winter, they grow much slower and develop much more stocky, almost like natural Patagonian bonsais.
One of the most visited places in the Reserve is Laguna Verde. On the way up to the Lagoon area, you will see a sign directing you to the right, to the “Casa de Brujas" (Witch’s House). Don't panic! Historically, in the times of colonization, pioneers would attempt to construct their houses rapidly in order to stake a claim over the land. To avoid being discovered, the houses were “prefabricated” and then secretly assembled during the night, giving the illusion that they had magically appeared from one day to the next, thus the name “witches’ houses”. The Witch’s House in the Reserve is a small museum, paying homage to that time.
At Laguna Verde there is a camping area with quinchos, barbecue grills, tables, toilets, showers, laundry and dishwasher. There is also a large barbecue area for special events. In the sector you can walk a quiet 800 meters trail that runs along the entire perimeter of the lagoon and count how many rainbow trout you can spot in the transparent waters, and how many different birds you can identify. There is also a wheelchair accessible trail that leads to a fantastic overlook of Coyhaique, far below.
If you enjoy hiking, one of the most challenging trails in the reserve is the one to the summit of the Cinchao peak. It’s a 4 km climb that can be hiked in about 3 hours, depending on your physical state, the amount of photos that you take on the way, and the wind. The first 2.5 km is along a gently sloping trail that winds between a forest of lenga, ñirre and coigüe. The next kilometer takes you above the tree line and has a markedly steeper slope, so make sure you protect yourself from the wind and walk with more caution. The gusts can be wicked! The last part is the most difficult, with a steep slope and a loose stone surface but if you tough it out, you’ll be rewarded with a spectacular view of the whole city and the surrounding mountains, including Mano Negra and Divisadero, when you reach the summit.