For pilgrims to the uttermost part of the earth, Mecca is Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego’s Bahía Lapataia, where RN 3 ends on the Beagle Channel’s north shore. About 18 kilometers west of Ushuaia, the park hugs the Chilean border as its 63,000 hectares stretch from the Beagle Channel north across Lago Fagnano (Kami). Elevations range from sea level to 1,450 meters on the summit of Monte Vinciguerra. It’s a worthy goal, but most visitors see only the area on and around the highway because most of the park’s mountainous interior, with its alpine lakes, limpid rivers, blue-tinged glaciers, and jagged summits, is closed to public access.
At the park entrance on RN 3, the APN collects a US$14 per person entry fee; Argentine residents get a 75 percent discount. Farther west, 700 meters from the shores of Lago Roca, the Centro de Visitantes Alakush (RN 3 Km 3057, tel. 02901/15-519727) contains exhibits on the park’s natural history and ethnography. It also has a restaurant, a bookstore, and a gift shop.
The park has a maritime climate, with frequent high winds. Rainfall is moderate, about 750 millimeters per year, but humidity is high, as cool temperatures inhibit evapotranspiration. The summer average is only about 10°C. The record maximum temperature is 31°C, while the minimum is a fairly mild -12°C. At sea level, snow rarely sticks, but higher elevations have permanent snowfields and glaciers.
Where freshwater Lago Roca drains into the sea at Bahía Lapataia, the park’s main sector has several short nature trails and a few longer ones. Most of the backcountry is off-limits to casual hikers. Slightly less than one kilometer long, the Senda Laguna Negra uses a boardwalk to negotiate boggy terrain studded with ferns, wildflowers, and other water-tolerant species. The 400-meter Senda de los Castores (Beaver Trail) winds among southern beeches gnawed to death to form dams and ponds where the beavers themselves occasionally peek out of their lodges.
The five-kilometer Senda Hito XXIV follows Lago Roca’s northeastern shore to a small obelisk that marks the Chilean border. If authorities can someday get it together, this would make an ideal entry point to Chile’s new Parque Nacional Yendegaia, but at present it’s illegal to continue beyond the marker. From a junction about one kilometer up the Hito XXIV trail, Senda Cerro Guanaco climbs four kilometers northeast up the Arroyo Guanaco to its namesake peak’s 970-meter summit.
From Bahía Ensenada, near the park’s southeastern edge, there are summer boat shuttles (10am-5pm daily in summer) to Isla Redonda (US$30 pp) and to Bahía Lapataia (US$35 pp).
Technically within park boundaries but also within walking distance of Ushuaia, the Glaciar Martial is the area’s best single hike, offering expansive views of the Beagle Channel and even the jagged peaks of Chile’s Isla Navarino. Reached by the zigzag Camino al Glaciar (also known as Luis Martial) which climbs northwest out of town, the trailhead begins at the Aerosilla del Glaciar, the ski area’s chairlift (10 a.m.–4:15 p.m. daily; $US10pp). The 1.2-kilometer lift reduces the two-hour climb to the glacier’s tongue to a mere 10 minutes. Transporte Lautaro (US$7 pp) runs one summer service at 10am to the chairlift, returning at 4pm, leaving from the corner of Avenida Maipú and Juana Fadul. Although the trail is easy to follow, it is steep—especially the middle segment—and the descent requires caution because of loose rocks and soil. There is no park admission charge here.
The majority of camping is rustic in the park, where there are free sites with little or no infrastructure at Camping Bahía Ensenada, Camping Río Pipo, Camping Las Bandurrias, and Camping Laguna Verde. While these are improving, they’re less tidy than the commercial Campamento Organizado Lago Roca (tel. 02901/15-412649, US$10 pp for foreigners plus US$5 per tent), which has hot showers, a grocery, a refugio (shelter) accommodating up to 20 people (US$13 pp), and the restaurant La Cabaña del Bosque.
In summer, from their Ushuaia staging point at Avenida Maipú and Juana Fadul, Transporte Lautaro (tel. 02901/444393) and Transporte Ushuaia (tel. 02901/15-608600) alternate hourly buses between 9am and 4pm to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego (US$18 pp round-trip). It’s normally possible to camp in the park and return on another day. Transporte Lautaro also runs one summer service at 10am to the chairlift at the Glaciar Martial (US$7 pp), returning at 4pm. It may add services in ski season.
Car rentals run US$60-210 per day for four-wheel-drive vehicles. Some agencies offer unlimited mileage within Tierra del Fuego province, but others limit mileage to as few as 100 kilometers per day. Verify mileage limits before signing any contract.
Rental agencies in Ushuaia include Budget (Gobernador Godoy 49, tel. 02901/437373, firstname.lastname@example.org), Hertz (San Martín 409, tel. 02901/437529, email@example.com), and Localiza (Sarmiento 81, tel. 02901/437780, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Patagonia.