Elongated Lago del Desierto, 37 kilometers north of El Chaltén , is a scenic end-of-the-road destination with hiking trails, boat excursions, and even a challenging border crossing to the Chilean settlement of Villa O’Higgins.
From the lake’s south end, a short trail winds west through dense southern beech forest to a vista point and the hanging glacier at Laguna Huemul; a longer route follows the eastern shore to the border, a 20-kilometer trek over gentle terrain. Every year, a few hundred people cross the Argentine-Chilean border in a zone that was once so contentious that a Chilean Carabinero even lost his life in a firefight with Argentine border guards in 1965.
Despite objections by a handful of Chilean nationalists, the matter is resolved, the border is peaceable, and determined hikers or even mountain bikers can readily reach Villa O’Higgins. Before attempting it, though, verify the latest details with Argentine’s Gendarmería (Border Patrol) in El Chaltén.
From El Chaltén, Transporte Las Lengas (Viedma 95, tel. 02962/49-3023, laslengaselchalten [at] yahoo [dot] com [dot] ar) minibuses go to El Pilar (US$10 pp) and Río Eléctrico (US$13) at 7 and 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily; the later two runs continue to Lago del Desierto (US$21 one-way or round-trip), returning at 2:30 and 8:30 p.m. Hitching is feasible, but vehicles are few and often full. At the lake itself, the Viedma 1 carries passengers to the north end and back (US$24 pp).