Formed in 1937, PARQUE NACIONAL LANÍN (wwww.parquenacionallanin.gov.ar) protects 420 square kilometres of Andean and sub-Andean habitat that ranges from barren, semi-arid steppe in the east to patches of temperate Valdivian rainforest pressed up against the Chilean border. To the south, it adjoins its sister park, Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi, while it also shares a boundary with Parque Nacional Villarrica in Chile.
The park’s raison d’être and geographical centrepiece – the cone of Volcán Lanín – rises to 3776m and dominates the entire landscape. The park’s other trump card is the araucaria, or monkey puzzle tree, which grows as far south as Lago Curruhue Grande, but is especially prevalent in the northern sector of the park, an area known as the Pehuenia region. As well as the araucaria, other tree species endemic to the park are the roble pellí and the raulí, both types of deciduous Nothofagus southern beech. Parque Lanín also protects notable forests of coihue and, in the drier areas, cypress. Flowers such as the arvejilla purple sweet pea and the introduced lupin abound in spring, as does the flame-red notro bush. Fuchsia bushes grow in some of the wetter regions.
As for fauna, the park is home to a population of huemule, a shy and rare deer. Pudú, the tiny native deer, and pumas are present, but rarely seen: you’re more likely to glimpse a coypu, a grey fox or two species introduced for hunting a century ago, the wild boar and the red deer, which roam the semi-arid steppes and hills of the east of the park. Birdwatchers will want to keep an eye out for the active White-throated Treerunner, a bizarre bird with an upturned bill adapted for removing beech nuts, while the acrobatic Thorn-tailed Rayadito is another regional speciality.
The whole park can be covered in snow from May to October, and it can snow in the higher mountain regions at almost any time of year. The best time to visit is in spring (especially Oct–Nov) or autumn (March to mid-May), when the deciduous trees adopt a spectacular palette, particularly in the Pehuenia area. Trekking is possible between late October and early May, although the season for some of the higher treks is shorter, usually from December to March. January and February see an influx of Argentine holidaymakers, but in general it is less crowded than Nahuel Huapi even in high season. If you want to hike and can read Spanish, the Guía Sendas & Bosques de Lanín y Nahuel Huapi is very useful. Two reasonably reliable maps (1:200,000) accompany the guide.
The volcano, and the central sector of the park around lakes Huechulafquen, Paimún and Tromen are best accessed from Junín de los Andes, while the park’s southernmost reaches, already touched on in the box on the Siete Lagos route, and the area around Lago Lácar are best visited from San Martín – or, indeed, as part of the Siete Lagos circuit.Read More
Trekking in Parque Nacional Lanín
Trekking in Parque Nacional Lanín
Before planning treks in the park you should check thoroughly with park officials in Junín or San Martín. Make sure your map is new – this is an area of active volcanoes, and trails and refuges change constantly. Do not attempt to climb Volcán Lanin without a guide, especially if you are not an experienced mountaineer. Before trekking, remember that it is obligatory to fill out a registro de trekking, which must be presented at the guardaparque post before departure and on your return.
One of the most popular of many trekking possibilities within striking distance of Junín is the four-hour hike to Cerro del Chivo, which starts opposite Camping Bahía Cañicul. It’s a steep climb and you’ll need to concentrate not to lose the trail above the tree-line, but the views are spectacular. From the guardaparque in Puerto Canoa there’s another good, if somewhat arduous, day-hike to the base of Volcán Lanín. The last forty minutes are steep and there’s no water source for the final hour. You can take a short detour to the waterfall at Cascada El Saltillo from Camping Piedra Mala at Km64, where there’s space to pitch a tent. Beyond is the Río Paimún, which is currently the furthest point you can hike before you’ll have to back-track to Puerto Canoa.
An excellent two-day option for losing the crowds is to cross the narrows linking the two lakes at La Unión near Puerto Canoa (there’s normally a rowing-boat service) and head along the south shore of Lago Paimún. Initially, you strike inland skirting round the southern slopes of Cerro Huemules (1841m) before reaching the lake again mid-way along its length at Don Aila, where you can camp.
Volcán Lanín (3776m) – meaning “choked himself to death” in Mapudungun – is now believed to be extinct. It is a good mountain to climb: easy to access, it also retains the balance between being possible for non-expert climbers to ascend while still representing a real physical challenge. The most straightforward route is from Lago Tromen; the heavily glaciated south face is a much fiercer option that’s suitable only for experienced climbers. For more information, consult the national park office in Junín.
The route from Lago Tromen takes two to three days in good weather. There is a slight danger of altitude sickness towards the top (see Puna (altitude sickness)) and you must have a fairly good level of fitness to attempt the climb, especially if you go for the two-day option, which involves a very tiring second day that includes the summit push and a complete descent. Group climbing through an agency is possible: a good one to book with is Alquimia in Junín, or else the park offices (e[email protected]) can email you a list of authorized guides. They also rent out all the essential mountaineering gear: good boots, waterproof clothing, helmet, ice axe, crampons, torch (or, better still, a miner’s headlamp) and cooker. UV sunglasses, high-factor sunblock, matches and an alarm clock are likewise essential. Optional items are gaiters (especially in late summer when you have to negotiate volcanic scree), black bin liners (for melting snow in sunny weather), candles, a two-way radio and emergency whistle. You are unlikely to need a compass or climbing rope, but an incense stick will help to counter pungent refuge odours. La Guía Verde (on sale locally) comes with a reasonable map and an aerial photo with the climbing route superimposed.
You’ll need to register for the climb at the Lago Tromen guardaparque’s office (daily 8am–6pm), and the guardaparque will check that you have all the equipment listed above. If permission is granted you’ll need to start the climb by 1pm at the latest. It will be necessary to acclimatize for a night in one of the three refuges on the mountain. The guardaparque will assign one to you, and will try to accommodate your preference. In high season, get to Tromen early, as all refuges might otherwise be full (about fifty people in total). The first refuge that you reach following the main trail is, Refugio RIM, which sleeps fifteen to twenty people, though it is not the lowest altitudinally. Its big advantage is that it has meltwater close by (Jan & Feb; if climbing outside high summer, you’ll need to melt snow for water anyway). You may prefer to try for the CAJA, further up the slope, especially if you plan to make the final ascent and total descent in one day, as this saves you half an hour’s climb in the early morning. CAJA sleeps six comfortably and up to ten at a squeeze. The BIM refuge, down from RIM via a second path, has pleasant tables and chairs, but is the lowest down the slope. It’s also the largest of the three, sleeping up to thirty people.