Hike to Cráter de Navidad, Malalcahuello National Reserve, Lake District, Chile

The forests in the Lake District have been wonderful; beautiful old growth forest with giant beech and araucaria (monkey puzzle ) trees. But after three forest hikes in four days we were keen on doing something different. I stumbled on the Cráter de Navidad hike recommended in Lonely Planet. Although listed as a short two hour, 1.5K hike, we liked the idea of walking beneath the Lonquimay Volcano through a volcanic landscape to the top of the crater.

For this hike to be truly spectacular with views of the volcanoes you do need good weather. It could still be interesting in low clouds but it would considerably change the character of this hike.

While there is a trail that climbs higher towards the volcano, it isn’t a better route and it is best to stick to the marked trail (blue sticks) along the bottom of the valley.

This first part of the trail is through volcanic dunes of sorts with vistas of the Tolhuaca Volcano in the distance and views of the Lonquimay Volcano to the west.

Once you reach the crater the trail continues up the cone. It’s very steep and slow going but it’s only a 190 meter climb.

Once at the top you have views looking into the crater with the volcano behind it.

There is also a lava tube. Try throwing a rock in it and listen for it to hit bottom. It doesn’t.

The trail continues up and around. We sat at the edge and watched the clouds dance around the peak hoping they would clear, but a watched volcano top never clears. It gets close and then disappoints.

Once we were on our way back down, of course, it cleared and we had fabulous views of cloud free peaks along the road and at the Volcanoes viewpoint further down the road.

At the viewpoint you can see a number of volcanoes in the area. A handy map names them for you.

Drive to the Trailhead

The Cráter de Navidad trail is reached from the east entrance of the Malalcahuello Reserve (not the one just outside the town of Malalcahuello). From Malalcahuello town, continue east on 181 for 3 kilometers. Turn north onto route 89 and continue 4K to the turnoff for the Lonquimay volcano (left). The park entrance is another couple of kilometers up this road towards the ski center.

From the park entrance drive 1K and take the road to the right, then continue on another 5-6 kilometers to the sign that points to the Cráter Navidad. This is actually before you see the crater.

There is no real parking lot here but you can park just off the road. The trail can be seen by looking over the edge towards the volcano.

One thing the guide books miss, both Lonely Planet and Rough Guide, is the great scenic drive from the east park entrance to the Volcanoes Viewpoint. If you don’t want to do the hike it is still worthwhile to drive out to the mirador (viewpoint) a few kilometers past the trailhead. The road is cut into the lava sand and has wide open views of the volcano.

Paso de las Raíces

Taking advantage of our clear day we followed the Rough Guide recommendation and drove to the top of the Los Raíces pass on the way to Lonquimay, not to be confused with the tunnel road, route 181. Route 89 spits off before the tunnel and winds over the mountains (see map above).

The well maintained dirt road – don’t take it if there is snow – was a fairly easy drive to the top. Although scenic it was not as stunning as the guide book suggested and I preferred the drive to the volcano viewpoint mentioned above.

March 11, 2018

For links to the posts in this series visit the Lake District and Chiloé page.

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