Rio Azul loop, 3 day trek around El Bolson

Is it the fresh air of the mountains and the tasty water from the glaciers that makes people from El Bolson so happy? Guidebooks have described El Bolson as a hippie community, and if not all wear dreadlocks, you have to admit that these people seems to know how to live! The good news is that the mountains around El Bolson offer infinite possibilities for hiking, a good chance to check it by yourself, for example with this beautiful 3 days trek.

Why go hiking around El Bolson?


Is it the Shire? No, it’s Argentina!


  • A less known trek than the others of Patagonia that guarantee you less crowds than the patagonian’s ones, with still scenic mountains, glaciers and an impressive turquoise canyon.
  • A reasonable distance to cover each day, which will leave you time to enjoy the nature.
  • With no entrance fee and low price for camping, this is one of the cheapest trek you can do in Patagonia.
  • The trail is easily accessible: a short cab ride away from the center of El Bolson.
  • The refuges make this trek possible even for the ones who do not have camping equipment.


The trek around El Bolson, day by day

Day 1: 15km, 6h Today it’s only up hill! The ascent is regular and the forest will protect you from too strong heat or rain. Make sure you bring enough water for the all hike as there are no water points.

Add one more day to go to the glacier: from Refugio Hielo Azul, 3h one way. Only recommended if good weather.

Day 2: 15km, 5h. Start with a steep ascent of around 1h until reaching Refugio Natacion. From there it’s all downhill. Be carefull as some parts are very steep. By clear weather, enjoy beautiful views of El Bolson. Once down, the reward: the beautiful Rio Azul!

Day 3: 10km, 4h. Make sure you take the path heading straight once you get out of the refuge. Keep strengths for the last part after you crossed the river: it’s all uphill until you reach Wharton.

You can of course trek the loop the other way, but I usually prefer to finish with the most scenic part (the Canjon, in this case).



All refuges are cozy wooden cabañas with welcoming owners.

After a long day of hike, the reward: hanging by the fire

After a long day of hike, the reward: hanging by the fire

Refuges charge AR$40 per person to camp, the price gives you access to bathroom and a sheltered place to cook. You can even pick wood to make a campfire in designated areas.

Those who don’t have a tent can stay in the basic dorm for AR$150, bring your sleeping bag (hostel Casa de Odile can rent some to their guests). Shower (hot) is always charged separately.

Refuges also sell food (around AR$100), cakes (AR$25), home made beer and bread.



The tourist office has basic but handy maps, sufficient for the trek. The trail is well marked with red and yellow dots.

Start of the trek: Get a cab from town to Doña Rosa (AR$80-100). After following the river for 30-45min, you will see a suspended bridge, you register with the ranger located there before crossing and starting your ascent. This is not a national park, therefore there are no entrance fees.

End of the trek: in Wharton, the refuge can call you a cab back to town (AR$120) or you can wait for the buses – there aren’t many though…

When to trek: November to March is the best season, with all refuges open and less risk of snow. Refugio Cajon de Azul is open all year around. (Check with the tourist office before going)


Hiking alternatives around El Bolson

wpid-Photo-20150111231413122.jpgOnly one day? Enjoy the most scenic part: get to Wharton and reach Refugio Canjon Azul for a lunch break before coming back the same way.

Do it in 2 days: it’s an ambitious program, that can be completed by experience hikers or hikers that do not carry so much load (sleeping in refuges). Leave early on the first day so that you can make it to Refugio Natacion, it’s a 7h up hill hike! On day 2, hike down to Canjon Azul (4h) where you can have your lunch break by the river. You can start walking in the direction of Wharton and stop at Refugio Playita for lunch (15 min). From there it’s 4 more hours to finish the trek.

Good to know: if the weather gets really bad you can take a short cut from Natacion to go back directly to Wharton (3h). You will miss the beautiful canyon though.

There are other refuges around Cerro Dedo Gordon which allow you to create even more alternatives and longer treks.


Where to recover after the trek – El Bolson

Peaceful Hostel la Casona de Odile is the best hostel we had in South America. Friendly staff and guests, great common areas that make you feel home and a fantastic 2 hectares garden with hammocks, lavender field and mini beach to relax. In the tradition of El Bolson, they brew their own beer on site.

Also enjoy the handicraft market and the organic food. Have an ice cream at Jauja.

Getting to El Bolson

Company Taqsa – Marge links Bariloche to El Calafate with direct bus every second day, making El Bolson 3h away from Bariloche, 3h from Esquel, 10h to Perito Moreno town, 22h El Chalten and 25h to El Calafate.

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