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Parque Nacional Queulat

Parque Nacional Queulat is one of Chile's least-explored national parks, due to its dense concentration of virgin rainforest -- in fact, some areas of this park remain practically unexplored. Yet you can drive through the heart of it, and there are several lookout points reached by car or in brief to moderate walks. Be sure to keep your eyes open for the pudú, a miniature Chilean deer that is timid but, with luck, can be seen poking its head out of the forest near the road.

The 154,093-hectare (380,610-acre) park has several access points but few paths and no backpacking trails. If entering from the north, you first pass a turnoff that heads to the shore of Lago Risopatrón, which is within the park, and a very attractive camping spot at Angostura that charges $9 (£6) per site ($1.50/£1 for firewood and $4/£2.70 for a short boat ride). There's a 5.8km (3.5-mile) round-trip trail here that leads trekkers through rainforest and past Lago Los Pumas (a 4-hr. hike). Continuing south of Puerto Puyuhuapi, visitors arrive at the park's star attraction, the Ventisquero Colgante, a tremendous U-shape river of ice suspended hundreds of feet above a sheer granite wall. From the glacier, two powerful cascades fall into Laguna Témpanos below. Visitors can drive straight to a short trail that takes them to the glacier's lookout point at no charge. To get closer, cross the hanging bridge and take the Sendero Mirador Ventisquero Colgante, a moderate 3- to 4-hour hike (3.5 km/2.25 miles) that takes you to the lake below the glacier. The park service Conaf offers boat rides in this lake for about $4 (£2.70) per person; the park station is open daily November through March from 8:30am to 9pm, and April through October from 8:30am to 5:30pm. To camp in this area, the park charges $9 (£6) per site. For more information, contact Conaf's offices in Coyhaique at tel. 67/212225 or 65/212142, or check the website at www.conaf.cl.

Farther south, the scenery becomes more rugged as the road takes visitors up the Cuesta de Queulat and to views of glacier-capped peaks, and then down again where the road passes the trail head to the Sendero Río Cascada. Even if you don't feel like walking the entire 1.7km (1-mile) trail, at least stop for a quick stroll through the enchanting forest. The trail leads to a granite amphitheater draped with braided waterfalls that fall into an ice-capped lake. Check with Conaf at the Ventisquero Colgante entrance for the status of a trail, or factor obstacles into your trip time. The station is open daily November through March from 8:30am to 9pm, and April through October from 8:30am to 5:30pm (tel. 67/212225 or 65/212142).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.