Hiking

Trekking El Bolsón: Cerro Piltriquitrón day hike

The pretty Argentine town of El Bolsón is renowned as a chilled hangout place for hippies and artists. For hikers, it’s also home to some spectacular trails in the nearby Andes mountains.

Torres Del Paine, Tierra Del Fuego, El Chaltén and Bariloche are Patagonia’s most visited locations for trekking. El Bolsón is a great off-the-beaten-path alternative to these busy spots on the regular tourist trail.

The town is located in the thick of the Andean mountains some 100 kilometres south of Bariloche, the main city of northern Patagonia.

During our visit to El Bolsón, we took a return day-hike to Cerro Piltriquitrón, a majestic mountain that looms over the town from the east. This guide details our route and essential information for tackling it.

Cerro Piltriquitrón: a brief overview

Cerro Piltriquitrón translates to “hanging from the sky” in the indigenous Mapuche language. Known affectionately as ‘el Piltri’ by the locals, it stands 2,260m above sea level and is one of the striking features on the horizon view from El Bolsón.

The mountain’s summit provides incredible views of the town and Andean scenery around it. In good weather conditions it is a moderate-difficulty day hike that begins at an official trailhead around 11km east of the town.

While the standard trail is around 11km return with an elevation gain of approximately 1,000 metres, there are different ways it can be done. We stayed at a hostel about halfway between the town and the trailhead, and walked the additional section.

Some hikers even tackle the entire distance by foot from town, stopping overnight at Refugio Piltriquitrón, around 3.5km from the summit.

You can use this guide to consider which approach to the trail will work best for you according to your ability and the weather conditions during your visit.

Trekking El Bolsón: enjoying the view outside Refugio Piltriquitrón
Trekking El Bolsón: enjoying the view outside Refugio Piltriquitrón

Where to stay for the Cerro Piltriquitrón trail

We stayed at El Mirador hostel, a homely place around 4 kilometres’ walk from the town centre. It’s run by a young couple called Magdalena and Mario who welcomed us warmly, and helped out with lots of information about local trails and places to eat. 

The hostel has great kitchen facilities and huge gardens, with a viewing point just 100 metres away. This is a lovely spot to sit on the bench and look out over the town and its surroundings. There are two very friendly family dogs at the hostel too.

As the hostel is part-way between the town and the official trailhead for Cerro Piltriquitrón, we found its location perfect. We decided to extend the day hike by walking the 7 kilometres from the hostel up to the trailhead.

If you want to extend your hike overnight, you can stay at Refugio Piltriquitrón for around 300 Argentine pesos a night. It’s not possible to book in advance, and places are available on a first-come first-served basis.

If you plan to stay at the refugio, it’s best to let the Tourist Information Office in El Bolsón know your intentions. They can give advice on likely availability and updated information on the latest prices, as the Argentine peso has experienced frequent fluctuations.

The family dogs at El Mirador hostel in El Bolsón are friendly and fun
The family dogs at El Mirador hostel in El Bolsón are friendly and fun

How to get to the Cerro Piltriquitrón trail

If you’re starting from town, you can take a taxi either to the official trailhead, or the winding gravel road near El Mirador Hostel. Taxis tend to be expensive – we were quoted around 30 US dollars from town to the trailhead.

If you’re feeling fit and adventurous, you can reach the trailhead by foot from El Bolsón. Follow Avenida Belgrano to the east of town, then turn left onto Subida al Cerro Piltriquitrón (or cut across from Subida del Marquez). At the top of Subida al Cerro Piltriquitrón you will find the gravel track leading to the trailhead.

Looking back down the zig-zagging gravel path that leads from El Mirador hostel to the trailhead
Looking back down the zig-zagging gravel path that leads from El Mirador hostel to the trailhead

Part 1: El Mirador hostel to the trailhead

  • Distance: 7 kilometres
  • Hiking time: 2 hours

This first section is optional, and is based on starting from El Mirador hostel. Walk around to the top of Subida al Cerro Piltriquitrón and find the gravel track to the trailhead. It’s easy to spot, with a large signpost to Cerro Piltriquitrón and El Bosque Tallado.

From here, the gravel track zig-zags gently all the way up to the trailhead at Mirador Plataforma Piltriquitroni. The gradient isn’t too steep and is fairly consistent all the way up. It took us around two hours with regular stops for water and snacks.

You will probably want to stop occasionally to admire the scenery and take pictures, but be assured, the best views are yet to come.

Stopping to admire the view of El Bolsón near the official trailhead
Stopping to admire the view of El Bolsón near the official trailhead

Part 2: El Bosque Tallado (the Carved Forest)

  • Distance: 1 kilometre
  • Hiking time: 20–30 mins

At the trailhead, you will see a clearly marked path signposted to El Bosque Tallado. This section is a little steeper than the gravel track, but it’s made easy to pace by the regular distance marker posts.

On this short path up to El Bosque Tallado there are various places to stop, sit down and admire the emerging views of the valley and mountains.

El Bosque itself, or the ‘Carved Forest’ as it translates, is a testament to the artistic spirit of El Bolsón. In 1978, this section of the mountains was ravaged by a forest fire that left blackened stumps in its wake.

After this happened, a group of local artists launched a project to revive the forest through sculpture. They brought in artists from all over the country to create beautiful carvings from the charred remains of the trees.

When you reach El Bosque Tallado, you can turn off to the left and wander through the various carvings that represent the spirit of the forest, its wildlife and people. There’s also a fantastic view of El Bolsón and the Andes.

In El Bosque Tallado (the Carved Forest) you can walk among sculptures made from charred trees
In El Bosque Tallado (the Carved Forest) you can walk among sculptures made from charred trees

Part 3: continue to Refugio Piltriquitrón

  • Distance: 1 kilometre
  • Hiking time: 15 – 60 mins (depending on conditions)

This path from El Bosque Tallado up to Refugio Piltriquitrón can be a doddle or a toil, depending on how the weather treats you.

Our visit to El Bolsón was in mid-September, right at the start of the hiking season. From El Bosque Tallado upwards on the trail, there was still a lot of snow on the ground.

We had to really take our time and watch our footing as we made our way up the path. It was even trickier coming back down, as the build-up of footsteps throughout the day turned the snow into sludge and ice. Both of us slipped over a couple of times. At one point I even chose to slide down a section rather than walk it.

The main wooden hut of the refugio is waiting at the top to give you a warm welcome. We took a seat on the wooden benches inside and ordered some pizza and mugs of hot chocolate. It wasn’t took expensive either – our bill was around 18 US dollars.

There are toilets a few metres’ walk from the refugio hut. If there’s snow on the ground, be careful as it’s surprisingly deep in places.

Whether you are continuing to the summit or turning back here, you will want to take some time to appreciate the view and capture some pictures. From either the wooden platform outside the hut or a large protruding rock a few metres away, there is a breathtaking panorama of the town and the surrounding landscapes.

The view of El Bolsón and the surrounding valley from Refugio Piltriquitrón
The view of El Bolsón and the surrounding valley from Refugio Piltriquitrón

Part 4: ascend to Cerro Piltriquitrón (optional)

  • Distance: 3.5 kilometres
  • Hiking time: 1.5–2.5 hours  (depending on conditions)

With the hour growing a late and the conditions looking a little dicy, we decided to turn around at Refugio Piltriquitrón and head back to the hostel. We were satisfied with the day’s hiking and we’d already absorbed some incredibly rewarding views.

Our full return hike route was around 18 kilometres. Continuing to the summit would make it 25 kilometres, and quite difficult to manage in a day unless you start very early.

To complete the full return route to the summit, it’s best to either start at the trailhead, or hike it in the height of summer (December–February) for optimal weather conditions.

The final stretch up to the summit is the most difficult. The last kilometre gets steep, and the terrain of gravel, mud and snow can make it a strenuous ascent.

At the top, though, you will be greeted by a stunning scenic view even more impressive than those on the way up. Of course, there’s also the sense of achievement that comes with completing a challenging hike.

The path continues on behind Refugio Piltriquitrón up to the mountain's summit
The path continues on behind Refugio Piltriquitrón up to the mountain’s summit

Cerro Piltriquitrón hiking trail map

The map below shows all sections of the trail from El Bolsón all the way up to Cerro Piltriquitrón:

  • A: starting point in the town
  • B: El Mirador hostel (recommended starting point for return hike to Refugio Piltriquitrón)
  • C: Trailhead at Mirador Plataforma Piltriquitroni (recommended starting point for return hike to the summit)
  • D: Refugio Piltriquitrón
  • E: Cerro Piltriquitrón summit

What to pack for your Cerro Piltriquitrón trek

As I have described, the conditions for hiking to Cerro Piltriquitrón can be challenging, and it’s important to have good gear. In particular, sturdy hiking boots are a must, and in snowy conditions walking poles are also essential.

Take a look at our Patagonia packing list for our recommendations on hiking clothes and equipment in detail.

This quick checklist covers the basics:

  • Good hiking boots
  • Waterproof and windproof jacket
  • A small hiking rucksack
  • Walking poles
  • Waterproof hiking trousers
  • Warm, weather-resistant gloves
  • Food pack-up for the day (you can find two supermarkets – La Anónima and Todo – on Avenida Belgrano in El Bolsón)
Walking poles are essential for the return hike to Cerro Piltriquitrón when snow is on the ground
Walking poles are essential for the return hike to Cerro Piltriquitrón when snow is on the ground

Trekking El Bolsón: other hiking trails

While Cerro Piltriquitrón is perhaps the most rewarding hiking trail near El Bolsón, there are other routes for exploring the landscapes around the town.

Río Azul and Cajon Azul

Similar to Cerro Piltriquitrón, this popular hike can be achieved in a day or stretched over two with an overnight stop.

The trail begins at Wharton, around 13 kilometres north of El Bolsón, which can be reached by bus or taxi from the town. From here the trail weaves west, ending at the mesmerising blue-green waters of Cajon Azul.

Cascada Escondida

This short half-day hike on the north-west side of El Bolsón takes you to cascading waterfalls on Río Quemquemtreu.

It’s a gentle route on even terrain that passes through countryside and farms. Before reaching Cascada Escondida, you will also pass another waterfall, Cascada del Mallín.

If you want to stay overnight, Camping La Cascada campsite is located right next to the waterfall at Cascada Escondida.

Cerro Amigo

If you aren’t in the mood for a long hike but still want to capture some beautiful views of El Bolsón from above, Cerro Amigo is a short and gentle walk from the town centre.

The top of the hill is just 2.5 kilometres by foot from Plaza Pagano. Looking over the town from the east, it’s a brilliant spot for watching the sun set. If you want to camp out, Camping Refugio Patagónico is located right at the foot of the hill.

El Bolsón is growing in popularity and gaining renown for its laid-back artistic community feel
El Bolsón is growing in popularity and gaining renown for its laid-back artistic community feel

Transport between El Bolsón and Bariloche

Unless you have a car at your disposal, the best way to get to El Bolsón is by bus from Bariloche.

Via Bariloche runs several buses a day on the route. The journey takes around 2 hours and 15 minutes, and typically costs 195 Argentine pesos. You can either buy your tickets online in advance or at the main bus station in Bariloche. 

If you’re spending some time in Bariloche before visiting El Bolsón, take a look at our recommendations on things to do in the city. We also put together a guide to hiking the Cerro Llao Llao trail.

Are you taking on the Torres Del Paine W Trek while in Patagonia? Check out our complete guide for first-timers. You might also like our guide to hiking in El Chaltén.

Have you been to El Bolsón and done some trekking? Please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Love it? Pin it!

El Bolsón, Argentina, is a great off-the-beaten-path alternative to the busy hiking spots in Patagonia. The chilled-out little town is the starting point for the stunning Cerro Piltriquitrón trail. Here's our guide to some of the best trekking El Bolsón has to offer.

3 comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.