Hiking the epic Cerro Castillo in one day

An adventure into the unknown
The great Cerro Castillo laguna top

Mother natures castle, Cerro Castillo, towers 2,675m high across the Aysén landscape of Chile. Somewhat an aperitif before venturing into Patagonia and certainly an unexpected taste of what is to come.

How to hike Cerro Castillo in one day

We read really good things about hiking Cerro Castillo but mostly around the popular four-day hike, which sounded great but we just didn’t have time. It took a bit of effort to try and establish you could do this in one day by yourself but still we had no concrete information. “Oh well, let’s go and work it out”. Not an unfamiliar statement in camp Sling, as working out how to do things is all part of the fun!

We travelled via Coyhaique after picking up our Padron (the proof of ownership for the car we bought). From a blog we read, we knew the Cerro Castillo day hike started from Villa Cerro Castillo. We drove for about one hour and twenty minutes before we saw the mighty structure of Cerro Castillo’s towers loom over the surrounding landscape.

Cerro Castillo

Our approach to Villa Cerro Castillo from Coyhaique.

Finding the Cerro Castillo National Park Entrance

After doing a quick lap of this very small village, we decided to find the base of Cerro Castillo, scout out the starting point and set-up a place to camp. We had a few issues finding the turn-off. It’s not a paved road, just a muddy path that slips off the road rather than having a distinctive turn-off, so it’s really hard to see. Afterwards, we realised there are some signs but we completely missed them because it just didn’t look like a road. It’s funny how obvious it looks after the fact but at the time we drove up and down a few times before speaking to a local for directions.

Cerro Castillo Turn-off

A map showing the Cerro Castillo turn-off.

We continued down the path to arrive at a small parking area for the Cerro Castillo National Park entrance. There was a little hut up a hill which provided information about access times and costs to hike Cerro Castillo for a day. Comfortable we were now where we needed to be, we looked for a camp spot. Not far from the entrance there were a few sections of grass next to a running river which had obviously been used for camping before. Here was the perfect place to wild camp for the night!

Cerro Castillo Wild Camp

Our wild camp by the lake near the entrance of the Cerro Castillo day hike.

Starting the Cerro Castillo Hike

The day hike was estimated at 8 hours, so we wanted to start early. After moving ‘La Bestia’ (our car) underneath the protection of the trees, at our camp spot, we arrived at the hut at 8 am just in time to watch the ranger speed down the path from town and roll out of this car half dressed. “Bienvenidos,” he said whilst buttoning his shirt as if he had just walked out of the hut. After some polite exchange and a rundown of the safety requirements for hiking Cerro Castillo, we paid our dues and excitedly walk through the gate into the great unknown. It is worth mentioning now that Cerro Castillo has a very expensive access fee for entering (CLP 10,000 per adult) but don’t let this stop you from doing the hike because it is truly rewarding.

Clocking us in at the start of the Cerro Castillo day hike.

Starting out on an open path through paddocks and fields we were passed by some locals on an early morning run! “There are three ahead of you,” they told us as they cheerily jaunted passed. We both thought, what an epic place for trail running and yet we had only just started our journey. Then the more we ventured into Cerro Castillo, the more we realised this statement to be true.

Cerro Castillo hike forest

Ascending into the enchanting forest.

The journey to the Cerro Castillo glacial lake

We started to ascend as we entered a thick and enchanting forest. Contrary to what we had researched, the signage within the national park was clear and probably new. We can only assume that they have realised there is an interest in doing the day visit and have started to maintain the path for hikers. The red markers are the indicators of the right track and these come in particularly handy as you enter the bushier part of the hike.

Cerro Castillo Signage

The new clear signage along the route.

Cerro Penon Mirador

The mirador to Cerro Penon on the Cerro Castillo hike.

Cerro Castillo Cascada

Cerro Castillo Cascada

One thing I loved about this hike, which made it so much fun, was the constantly changing terrain. We have previously done the 6 day Overland Track in Tasmania. If you have done this before, you will know this is 80km of changing terrain and amazing views across valleys and mountains. Well, Cerro Castillo felt like that but in just one day – quite incredible!

Cerro Castillo Terrains

A range of terrains from carved out paths to sand, snow and rocks.

Cerro Castillo Heathland

Warren hiking through the bushy heathland of the Cerro Castillo hike.

Cerro Castillo Rocky Terrain

Climbing the steep rocky terrain of a section on Cerro Castillo.

Arriving at the Cerro Castillo glacial lake

After clambering across a steep snowy ridge on a sloping edge of the mountain, we started to approach the summit of the glacial lake. The lake is surrounded by the towers of the castle containing small glaciers dropping icebergs into the deep aqua lake. We had finally made it to one of the most beautiful places in the world. It was time to sit down, appreciate its glory and have some lunch.

Cerro Castillo Glacial Lake

The top of the hike where you arrive at the beautiful aqua glacial lake.

Erin on Cerro Castillo

Taking a moment to appreciate this enormous beauty.

Cerro Castillo Peaks & Clouds

The clouds dancing around Cerro Castillo peaks.

The return to base

The journey down was as fun as the journey up. Somehow everything looked different again. There was more time to appreciate the views across the valley and play in the winding paths that had been carved out by previous adventurers. We also felt so good after witnessing something so beautiful, we definitely had a sprint in our step. There was a positive energy on Cerro Castillo that was contagious.

Erin and the Cerro Castillo Valley

Feeling amazing as we ramble down the mountains from our invigorating hike.

This is definitely not only one of my favourites hikes but also one of my most memorable summit finishes. It can take up to 8 hours return depending on the track and weather conditions but we have long legs and the weather treated us well, so it only ended up taking us 6 hours. Another reason for a big hi-five and smiles all around at the end of the hike.

Cerro Castillo is located near Villa Cerro Castillo, a small village near Coyhaique on the Carretera Austral. We travelled through here on our way to the Chile Chico border crossing into Argentina. If you find yourself near there or heading that way, I would definitely recommend you do this hike. It’s an experience you won’t forget or regret doing!

Grab yourself some awesome empanadas

If you are not planning on stopping in Coyhaique or have no reason to stop, I have one for you right now. Some of the best empanadas we had in Chile were from this local food cart outside the Unimarc in town, located on the corner of Arturo Prat and Lautaro. They are like a warm hug packed with lots of filling and flavour, and the dough is just perfect – I still get excited thinking about them now! And of course being made and sold on the streets of Coyhaique, they are ridiculously cheap. So support the local Chileans and your belly, don’t miss this as a stop on your journey along the Carretera Austral.

Coyhaique Empanada Food Cart

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On a mission to enjoy life as much as possible. I adventure. I explore. I play with small fluffy animals and I get hangry. I believe that smiling is one of the most significant things you can do in this life.

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27 October 2018 10:09 am

Cerro Castillo looks wonderful in your pics. Thanks for the post. I hiked round there in the early 1990s but only glimpsed the top. So much rain! I pitched tent by the glacier lake first night. Second night I made the mistake of camping in what seemed a novel and perfect spot – a flat pool of pumice stone gravel lying on rock. It was perfectly dry, a big deal in southern Chile. There were lots of them. Mount Hudson erupted a couple of years earlier and volcanic debris was strewn across Patagonia. And that night it started raining. Chilean… Read more »

Reply to  silverdarling
29 October 2018 1:10 pm

Thank you! Your trip sounds eventful and wonderful. One of those classics where at the time it feels quite tough but afterwards you can always look back with fondness. You were obviously a trail blazer, early 90’s in Chile would’ve been even more of an adventure! I love it 🙂

Reply to  silverdarling
20 November 2018 8:06 pm

Sounds like a very trailblazing trip you did back in the 90’s. Weather is just as unpredictable these days! We were fortunate for sunny skies but the weather can change quick at the top.

22 January 2019 4:04 am

Hi! Thank you for sharing! i’m going to do the same trek in 1 month and wanted to ask if there is a need for 4*4 car to go from Blmaceda totrekking’s starting point?

Reply to  Renata
22 January 2019 12:03 pm

Hi Renata, The road from Balmaceda to Villa Cerro Castillo is almost all sealed roads. It is only after Cerro Castillo that the road is a little rougher. But still, this is all possible in a 2WD. There is free camping right at the trailhead if you need to. Enjoy the hike!

24 March 2019 7:02 am

Hi, great informative article for an area that has little official info online. Thank you! We are planning to do this hike in the next few days.

Was this starting point definitely the National Park run by CONAF, or was it the private trail?

Reply to  Richard
24 March 2019 6:42 pm

Thanks Richard ? I think this is technically private access (hence the high cost) but then it obviously goes onto the National Park CONAF managed trails. We did this one because we only had enough time for one day. As I understand it, the cheaper CONAF entrance takes a couple of more days to reach the laguna. It’s an epic hike, I would absolutely recommend it!

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