Established in 1937, the huge PARQUE NACIONAL LOS ALERCES in Chubut Province protects some of the most biologically important habitats and scenic landscapes in the region. Its superb lakes are famous for both their rich colours and their fishing, while most have a backdrop of sumptuous forests that quilt the surrounding mountain slopes. In the northeast of the park these lakes form a network centred on lagos Rivadavia, Menéndez and Futalaufquen, whose waters drain south to the dammed reservoir of Embalse Amutui Quimei, and from here into the Río Futaleufú (also called Río Grande). The western two-thirds of the park up against the Andes are off-limits, being designated a “strict scientific reserve”.
The vegetation changes considerably as you move east from the Chilean frontier into the area affected by the rain shadow cast by the cordillera. Near the border, rainfall exceeds 3000mm a year, enough to support the growth of dense Valdivian temperate rainforest (selva valdiviana) and, most interestingly, the species for which the park is named: the alerce. The ground is dominated by bamboo-like caña colihue, while two species of flower are everywhere: the orange or white-and-violet mutisias, with delicate spatula-like petals, and the amancay, a golden-yellow lily growing on stems 50cm to 1m high. In contrast, the eastern margin of the park is much drier. Cypress woodland and ñire scrub mark the transitional zone here between the wet forests and the arid steppe near Esquel.
The northeastern section of the park is the most interesting for the visitor, especially around the area of the beautiful but small Lago Verde. The transcendental Río Arrayanes drains Lago Verde and a suspension bridge gives access to a delightful hour-long loop walk that takes you along the riverbank to Puerto Chucao. For most visitors the highlight is the trip from Puerto Chucao across Menéndez to see El Abuelo, the ancient alerce.