Argentina’s Lake District is one of Argentina’s prime tourist destinations. The famous Ruta de Los Siete Lagos (7 lakes) connects the bigger towns Bariloche and San Martin de Los Andes. This blog however mainly describes alternative less-traveled cycling routes in and around Argentina’s lake district: Paso Carirrine through the heart of national park Lanin, the Patagonia beer trail, and our experiences on the Sendero Huella Andina bikepacking route.
Being in Patagonia in January, the number of cyclists we meet on the road has increased exponentially. There are sooo, many, cyclists! The locals don’t look up anymore when we pass by on our bike; a cyclist is as common as any other type of traveler in this part of the world.
There is a good reason why there are so many of us; the lake district is a beautiful region with intense blue lakes and vivid green mountains. There is good infrastructure for cyclists and gradients of the roads gentle. Cycling in this part of the world is, therefore, rightfully so on many cyclists’ bucket list. But by following the main roads, the feeling of cycling in remote and wild places was a bit gone for us. When we cycled part of the Siete Lagos route in the high season we experienced it as a very busy road with lots of annoying traffic. Luckily we found some nice alternative cycling routes. All Beautiful roads, with impressive scenery and superb camp spots. But above all, off the beaten track with fewer tourists and less traffic.
Cycling Paso Carirriñe
We crossed the border from Chile to Argentina via Paso Carirriñe. A beautiful route that goes right through the heart of national park Lanin.
Paso Carirriñe connects Chile’s lake district with Argentina’s lake district. The route consists of mainly gravel roads. It has one long climb, with a few steep sections just before the border crossing. In particular, the Argentina’s side through park Lanin left a big impression on us. With the sound of the birds chirping on the background, and the wind blowing through the trees, we experienced it as a beautiful and peaceful ride.
Note: There are three passes to cross the border from Villarrica/Pucon (Chile) to San Martin de Los Andes (Argentina). You can check if the passes are open via the app ‘fronteras argentinas‘ or check the status on twitter.
- Paso Mamuil Malal – relatively quiet and paved road (10 km unpaved on Argentina’s side)
- Paso Carirriñe – very quiet following mostly dirt roads. It goes right through the heart of park Lanin
- Paso Hua Hum – little traffic, requires to take a ferry in Chile and mostly ripio road in Argentina
Cycling the Patagonia beer trail
The Patagonia beer trail from bikepacking.com provides a good alternative to the Siete Lagos route. Our experiences with routes from bikepacking.com so far have never disappointed us, and also this route kept up to its promise.
The scenery on the Patagonia beer trail is vastly different from the famous Siete Lagos route. Even though the Patagonia Beer trail is located only slightly more eastwards, it is located in the transition zone between two climate zones. From green mountains to the Argentian steppe landscapes. Via a rural gravel road, the route gradually climbs to an altitude of 1400 meters at Paso Cordoba. On both sides of the road, you will find incredible rock formations eroded by water and wind. The wild camping spots on this route were perfect with clear turquoise colored rivers filled with trout.
Riding this route right in the middle of the high season there were more cars than we expected, resulting in some very dusty roads. Luckily, a river or lake was always nearby for a refreshing dive or to wash off all the dust at the end of the day.
The name of the Patagonia beer trail might suggest here are a lot of breweries on this trail, but actually there aren’t. You have to go into the larger towns of San Martin de Los Andes, Bariloche or El Bolson to try one of the artisanal beers from the region. It was not our original plan to ride into Bariloche, but we quite spontaneously decided that morning to ride into Bariloche for a rest day and cut the Patagonia beer trail in half.
Bariloche is beautifully situated on the shore of the Nahuel Huapi lake. It is built on a mountainside with views on the lake and surrounding mountains. The busy road to get into Bariloche was far from cyclist friendly with aggressive drivers and traffic sheering by. It might even have been one of the worst experiences in terms of traffic we encountered in the whole of South America.
The touristic town of Bariloche was a nice surprise. Before we knew we were having beers with 7 other long-distance cyclists, including Kyle who we met earlier in Cusco. He invited us to join him to explore some hiking trails in the region by bike…
Without hesitation, we dropped our plan to cycle the second part of the Patagonia beer trail. The next day, we repacked our panniers and send a whopping 27 kilos (!) of luggage ahead to El Bolson. We wanted to go as light as possible and only kept what we needed to cycle the Huella Andina.
Bikepacking the Huella Andina trail
The Huella Andina is a long-distance hiking trail (564 km) through Patagonia. The route has been developed in 2008 as one of the first thru-hikes of Argentina. It crosses 3 provinces (Neuquén, Río Negro and Chubut) and goes through multiple national parks including Park Lanín, Nahuel Huapi, Los Arrayanes, Lago Puelo, and Los Alerces.
The Huella Andina trail is marked, including signposts and there is route information available online. However, the trail is hardly used, not by cyclists nor by hikers. The national parks have therefore stopped maintenance of the trails about 3 years ago (2017).
The branches and fallen trees on the trail made it quite a struggle to actually ride the trails; there were quite a few hike-a-biking was involved. The original idea was to document this route in detail for other cyclists looking for bikepacking routes in this region. However, after completing the route, we can’t really recommend the Huella Andina as a proper ‘bikepacking route’. There are relatively a lot of unrideable sections. Instead of developing a detailed route description, we leave it to mention on this blog and a really fun experience. If interested, you could contact Patagonia Bike trips. They are developing routes in this region and know all the ins and outs of cycling the Huella Andina.
But we did have so much fun and a really good time on this trail. We left Bariloche full of enthusiasm and with only the bare necessities. For us it felt like a new start: cycling with a very light setup, crossing rivers, pushing our boundaries, lifting our bikes over fallen trees, and bushwhacking our way through overgrown trails. In the end, it was all part of the fun and experience.
Cycling through Park Los Alerces
Once we had our share of adventure (and scratches) on the Huella Andina trail, we found our way back to the main road. We made fast progress on the perfectly paved Ruta 40 and arrived in El Bolson earlier than anticipated. We collected our 27 kg of luggage and had to put all our gear back on the bike. We even added a bit more luggage: Pim bought a fly fishing rod for the true Patagonia experience!
We continued southwards via national park Los Alerces. We crossed the border at Futaleufú into Chile for our long-awaited dream: cycling the Carretera Austral.