Chile’s long and skinny geography leads to a wide variety of flora and fauna, housed in 44 fantastic national parks spread across the country. From the iconic rock formations of Torres del Paine to Easter Island’s Rapa Nui statues or the majestic Saltos del Petrohué waterfalls, untold are wonders waiting for you in Chile’s national parks.
This guide will help you plan a trip to some of the best national parks in Chile, focusing on bucket list highlights as well as the more private, lesser-visited options.
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- South American National Parks for Your Bucket List
- Chile Travel Guide For Backpackers
- Incredible Hikes in Chile
Best National Parks in Chile
Torres del Paine and Bernardo O’Higgins National Parks
Starting our list with a two-for-one! Together, these two national parks cover over 90% of the Chilean side of the Patagonia region, shared with neighboring Argentina. If you’re spending a few days here, you can do the two parks together.
Torres del Paine is one of the world’s most famous parks, and for good reason – the iconic gray towers framed over an electric blue lake are a must-see, and hikes such as the W Trek are among the most popular with trekkers in South America.
For those seeking an easier day hike, Mirador Las Torres gives you the highlights in an 8-10 hour trek. Entrance to the park should be booked online in advance, and it costs about $25USD for non-Chileans to enter. Campsites and refugios fill up really fast, too, and should also be booked in advance.
Bernardo O’Higgins is the largest national park in Chile, protecting a vast region of fjords, glaciers, and volcanoes. It’s considered the largest conservation area in South America and is fiercely protected by the indigenous Kawéskar people who live there.
This area is utterly pristine and only accessible by boat. While there, don’t miss the Balmaceda hanging glacier, as well as the Tyndall and Serrano glaciers, both visible from trails and walks.
Note that the Chilean side of the Patagonia region is a bit more rustic than the Argentine side. As such, if you’re planning to do any day hikes or a multi-day trek, a summer or shoulder-season visit is essential. Most trails and even roads are closed and/or inaccessible in the wintertime, and volatile weather can make a winter visit dangerous.
Bonus: Queulat National Park
If you have time to spare in southern Chile, consider tacking on Queulat to your Patagonia itinerary. Also located in the Patagonia area, in Chile’s Aysén region, it’s home to the breathtaking Queulat hanging glacier, as well as vast temperate rainforests, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains. The park is easily accessible from the Carretera Austral, which runs part of the way through it.
Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park
Chile’s oldest national park, Vicente Pérez Rosales is another great option for those visiting the country’s Lake District. Located very close to Argentina’s Nahuel Huapi National Park, consider combining the two parks for a breathtaking visit, particularly if you’re interested in hiking Mount Tronador, which straddles the Argentine-Chilean border. However, don’t fret if you can’t – there are plenty of things to do here as a standalone visit as well!
In particular, Lake Todos los Santos and nearby Petrohué Waterfalls are absolute musts, as is the Osorno volcano, the unofficial starting point of the Chilean side of the Patagonia region and a great hiking excursion. Note that a permit and a guide are mandatory to do this trek.
In addition to Osorno and Tronador, there are 30 other peaks in the park to choose from, as well as wildflower valleys along the El Solitario trail or an up-close view of six volcanoes at Mirador Cerro la Picada.
Rapa Nui National Park
Located about 3,800 kilometers from the Chilean mainland, Rapa Nui National Park (located on Easter Island) offers a totally different experience from other national parks.
Considered one of the most secluded inhabited places on earth, it can be a bit tricky to get there. Regular flights only operate from Santiago or Tahiti, and tickets can get expensive fast. However, it is totally worth it for fans of history, archaeology, hiking, diving, or mountain biking.
The island is a UNESCO World Heritage site, whose three volcanoes, 900 mysterious Moai statues, and numerous hidden cave paintings and archaeological sites can be explored on foot, ATV, or via horseback via guided tours. Afterwards, relax on one of the island’s untouched beaches and enjoy the pristine surroundings.
Lauca National Park
Located just across the border with Bolivia’s Sajama National Park, Lauca is Chile’s northernmost national park, in the heart of the Andes mountains. The tiny town of Parinacota inside the park is home to a quaint 17th-century colonial church, and the park features volcanoes, lava fields, hot springs, and one of the world’s highest-altitude lakes, Lake Chungará.
You can hike several volcanoes, including Parinacota and Pomerate, or visit the K’isi K’isini volcano area, a disputed territory between Chile and Bolivia. There are ample opportunities for wildlife sightings, particularly ultra-cute llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and chinchillas, as well as 130 types of birds, like flamingos and rheas.
Note that this far north, both the altitude and the temperature can be a concern. Be sure to let your body acclimatize in the days beforehand prior to doing any hikes, and bring lots of layers to keep your body temperature warm.
Cabo de Hornos National Park
The only place on earth where the Pacific and Atlantic oceans meet, Cape Horn (Cabo de Hornos) National Park is the world’s southernmost national park and a truly one-of-a-kind place. Encompassing the Wollaston Archipelago and Hermite Islands, it is only accessible in austral summer (October to April) and is located a slightly-daunting 12-hour voyage by boat from Puerto Williams.
This is definitely not the most accessible place to visit but is considered worth it for its untouched wilderness, dramatic landscapes, and unique, ‘sub-Antarctic’ terrain.
Home to Magellanic and Antarctic penguins, as well as seals, otters, dolphins, and majestic humpback whales, wildlife-watching is one of the top things to do here. Nature walks and hikes are also popular, particularly the Cerro Bandera hike, offering views of Isla Navarino and the Beagle Channel.
Note: If you choose to stay in the vicinity of Puerto Williams instead, there are a variety of outdoor pursuits that take off from there – particularly the Dientes de Navarino trek, a grueling, multi-day hike of Isla Navarino known as the ‘southernmost trek on Earth’. You’ll have lots of views of Cape Horn and the Strait of Magellan from this trek as well.
La Campana National Park
Located conveniently close to both Santiago and Valparaíso, La Campana may be small, but it protects something mighty – one of the last forests of the Chilean palm, a beautiful type of tree rapidly nearing extinction that can be explored on the Salto La Cortadera trail.
In addition to the forest, there are ample hiking opportunities, including the Sendero el Andinista up the Cerro La Campana mountain, hiked by Charles Darwin himself on his second trip with the HMS Beagle. On a clear day, you can see the Pacific Ocean and panoramic vistas of the Andes from its peak, and it’s a popular destination for mountaineering and climbing as well as hiking.
While La Campana is the park’s most famous peak, Cerro El Roble is its tallest and is also popular with hikers. Alternatively, to visit the three distinct sections of the park without ascending the peaks, check out the Sendero Los Peumos trail, which is less difficult but gives you a great summary of what the park has to offer.
Conguillío National Park
Located in the heart of the Andean Araucanía region in Chile’s Lake District is Conguillío National Park. It’s home to the Llaima and Sierra Nevada volcanoes, as well as stunning forests of evergreen, beech, and monkey puzzle trees, which gave the area its nickname of ‘Los Paraguas’, or ‘The Umbrellas’ for their neat shape.
The picturesque lakes lend themselves to swimming, kayaking, or fishing, but one of the most popular things to do in the park is hiking the volcanoes. Despite Llaima being one of the region’s most active volcanoes, it is possible (though challenging!) to climb, but a guide is absolutely necessary.
Hiking Sierra Nevada is one of Chile’s most popular shorter treks and is easily doable as a self-guided day trip – you’ll be rewarded with absolutely stunning views and there’s lots of variation in what you see as the hike progresses.
National Parks in Chile: FAQs
Chile has 44 national parks, along with 45 nature preserves and 17 natural monuments.
Torres del Paine is considered Chile’s best-known national park.
La Campana National Park is located near both Santiago and Valparaíso.
Some national parks are free to visit, but the most popular ones, like Torres del Paine, charge an entrance fee.
Vicente Pérez Rosales National Park was created in 1926.
In October 2022, the Chilean government announced that parts of the Atacama Desert will become Chile’s newest national park.
Open fires are strictly prohibited due to the high wildfire risk throughout the country, as are any small fires, even as minor as lighting a cigarette. Read the individual rules for each park very carefully to see whether there are designated fire pits for campfires.
The stunning national parks in Chile are just begging to be explored. From Lauca to Cape Horn and everything in between, you could spend years trekking around the country and never run out of wonderful things to see.
Which of Chile’s national parks are you most eager to visit? We’d love to hear about your experiences, bucket list additions, or any favorite travel memories or recommendations in the comments.