March 10, 2018
It rained most of the night with heavy downpours at times. We woke to a crystal clear day, the air scrubbed clean and as the clouds hanging in the valleys burned off they revealed a perfect blue sky. Still, some clouds were persistently clinging to the peaks leaving me to wonder if I would see the Llaima Volcano today.
The Sierra Nevada trail is touted in Lonely Planet as “one of Chile’s finest short hikes”. With fresh snow on the peaks but iffy cloud conditions we would see if the hike would live up to the claim.
We arrived at the trailhead at 10:45 and there were only two other cars in the parking lot. It was a cold 8° Celcius when we started and probably colder at the top, but a beautiful day for a hike.
The first half of the 6K hike up 600 meters is through forest. Although a pleasant forest, I found the trees not as large and the fairly dense bamboo forest not as attractive as the more open forest on the two hikes we did in Huerquehue National Park. The bamboo here, however, was still green making a pretty forest walk but not allowing many opportunities for views.
The trail is well graded, with some roots but not so many that they inhibit the climb. I made much better time on this trail than on the Cerro San Sebastian hike. The trail is also well marked. Sign posts numbered 1 through 15 note the distance completed and remaining as well as the elevation.
When you reach about half way the bamboo disappears leaving just the mature trees and a more open forest. A little way further there is a steeper climb but then as you reach the ridge the trail climbs more moderately.
Here the views of the ridge in front of you (unfortunately into the sun) and the volcano to your left open up. For us the ridge was exceptionally scenic with a fresh dusting of snow. The volcano, on the other hand, was cloaked in clouds at the moment but the cloud cover seemed to be thinning.
The trail then opens onto a fairly flat section of crushed lava with views of the volcano still hidden.
Some snow remained on the ground and in the trees from the previous night’s event.
Past this flattish section it looks like the trail splits with the more obvious track bending around to the right at the base of the ridge. The main trail really goes to the left under low trees, today dripping wet from the melting snow.
Once past the trees it’s just a short way to the mirador with fabulous views of the volcano towering above the lake and the araucaria (Monkey Puzzle) trees in the foreground. The trail actually continues on another 100 meters up to a non-descript point without better views.
At the end point we met some locals who were gobbling up the native berries found here.
We lucked out and the clouds thinned for an hour or two. We ate lunch at the mirador and then headed down the trail. Amazing views with the fresh snow and blue skies.
Is this trail one of the Chile’s best? It has a lot of pluses, especially if you have great weather. It’s an overall pleasant trail with a well graded climb.
While the views along the first half are mostly non-existent except for the two miradors with views of the lake, the second half is quite open with views of both the volcano and the mountain ridge above you. I found the forest in Huerquehue National Park prettier with more impressive moss covered trees. The views from Cerro San Sabastian are more expansive but require tackling a harder, steeper trail to reach them. Certainly this is a very worthwhile trail if you are traveling through the Lake District of Chile.
Drive to the Trailhead
The drive to Conquillío National Park from Suizandina takes just over an hour, 25 minutes back to Curacautín and then 40 minutes on a dirt road to the park. On our way back to Suizandina we took the road recommended by Google Maps that bypasses Caracautín. The bridge was under construction but otherwise the road was in decent enough condition for a regular car.
It looks like they are in the process of paving the road into the park. At the time of writing it had been widened and regraded, making it perfectly passable in the summer season for regular cars. A short distance before the park entrance the road narrows but still we had no difficulties all the way to the Sierra Nevada trailhead.
At the park entrance the road is blocked where you have to pay the entrance fee of 6,000CLP($9USD)/ person for foreigners.
From the entrance it is Conanother 20-30 minutes to the trailhead at the end of Lake Conguillío. The first part of the drive passes through lava fields with views of the Llaima Volcano. The road then traverses a deep, dark forest. The trailhead is well marked and has a new railing around a small parking lot. You can’t miss it.