Chile - Parque Nacional Queulat - Bridge

Carretera Austral

En route to El Chaltén, I journeyed for three days on the Carretera Austral. The Carretera Austral, or Ruta 7, is the only highway that runs through the northern stretch of Chilean Patagonia. Before the road construction was complete in 2000, travelers crossed this stretch of Chile on ferries. The nearly 800-mile highway is unpaved and poorly maintained for long stretches, passing through a sparsely populated region of Patagonia with only small frontier villages. The wilderness road passes snow-capped mountains, glaciers, turquoise rivers, and barely-touched forests. Driving the Carretera Austral is one of the world’s ultimate road trips.

My favorite moments of the road trip were unplanned activities, not big adventures: soaking in a wood-fired hot tub in Futaleufú; playing cricket with other travelers at a campsite near Parque Nacional Queulat; and trail running in Parque Nacional Cerro Castillo. My only disappointment was not seeing Vestisquero Colgante, also known as the Hanging Glacier, at Parque Nacional Queulat. Wedged between two mountains, the glacier appears to be hanging over a sheer rock face. Two waterfalls fed by the glacier plummet down the rock face into Laguna de Los Tempanos. I hiked to a lookout on the lake, but clouds obscured the view of the Hanging Glacier.

My Carretera Austral road trip ended when crossing the border into Argentinian Patagonia, where I continued my journey south to El Chaltén on Ruta 40.