Nearby Pucón is Huerquehue National Park (pronounced something like “were-que-weh,” though I haven’t heard anyone say the actual name out loud yet). No companies mention it or offer tours to go there, presumably because they can’t make any money from it. But the park is very easy to get to via bus, and from an online search I saw that there are a couple of good hikes.
There is only one bus that goes out to Huerquehue, with the first trip at 8:30pm. I found bus information on this site, and made my way there in the morning.
The bus took about an hour and dropped us off at the front gate of the park, where we paid the entrance fee (5000 pesos, or $8 for foreigners). There were two rangers there to help explain the trails in the park. The two most popular ones are the Los Lagos Trail and the San Sebastian trail, but unfortunately the top part of Los Lagos and the entire San Sebastián trail were closed because of snow. Thankfully the bottom loop of Los Lagos, which took an estimated 5 hours, was still open.
The first half of the trail ran along a lake and though an area with some campsites, services, and other construction for an hour or so. Then it goes upward into the forest, where you reach a second “Welcome to Huerquehue” gate with an empty ranger station and a bathroom.
This is where the climb starts, about an hour and a half of zig zagging up the mountain.
Along the way are viewpoints of Volcan Villarrica in the distance:
And there are two waterfalls that are both about 15 minutes out of the way down into a nearby valley, but are definitely worth the side trip. They also splatter you with cold mist if you need cooling down!
Finally, the trail reaches the first lake, Lago Chico. It’s crystal clear and looks extremely inviting…
And apparently it is, as a stray friend tested out.
The trail flattens out from there, and leads to the two other lakes:
Lago Verde, where I sat and had lunch by the water.
And Lago Torro, a beautiful view that I was loathe to leave behind.
I had to start down fairly quickly, though. There are only two return buses in the afternoon until they add a third, later bus in December (and I just happened to go on November 30, go figure): one at 2:10pm and one at 5:10pm. The one at 2:10pm seemed a little tight, but then waiting another 3 hours for. 5:10pm seemed like a long time… I had made great time going up, so I figured I would shoot for the first one.
I left the top at 12:30pm and planned to leisurely make my way down. This worked quite well, until I got to the 2nd ranger station with 20 minutes left to spare and the realization that I had severely underestimated the length of the first half of the hike before the climb started. I half ran down part of it, and then finally resolved that I would rather miss the bus than risk injury.
2:10pm came and went, and what little hope I was holding onto that the bus might have perhaps waited was dashed when I heard a loud engine in the distance at 2:16pm. Surely that was the bus leaving, and I was so close! I arrived at the entrance at 2:25pm, just 15 minutes after the bus departure time.
But lo and behold, I saw a bus sitting just beyond the gate. Could it be the 2:10pm bus, or just the next bus waiting to leave at 5:10pm? I approached the bus and asked the driver what time he was going to leave, and he replied, “right now.” I couldn’t believe my luck!
“Not many people on the 2 o’clock bus, huh?” I asked, and he said “nadie.” Why, I wondered, did they have this bus then? I guessed because the bus needs to make the return trip. But as we wound down the road, I started to understand. Locals stood by the side of the road waiting for the bus, and they all personally greeted the driver and the other passengers when they came onboard. This first afternoon bus must be a key part of the daily life and schedule of the locals that live near the national park.
20 minutes later, I was passed out. When I opened my eyes again, we were back at the bus station in Pucón – I must have been much more tired than I thought. I made it back early, but it was definitely a rushed hike. There’s a reason no one aims for the 2:10pm bus. I learned my lesson: leave plenty of time, and you’d rather wait at the bus station (or, better yet, up at the amazing view) than rush to try to make an earlier bus.