Native woodlands of araucarias and other species adorn the foothill slopes of Parque Nacional Tolhuaca, where the Río Malleco drains south-southwest into marshy Laguna Malleco before plunging into its lower course toward the coast. Improved access roads have increased visitation, especially in summer and on weekends, but most people stay in the immediate vicinity of Laguna Malleco—the rest of the park is still ideal for camping, hiking, and fishing.
As ash and other sediments from the surrounding ridges and peaks sluice into the river and downstream, water-loving reeds are colonizing the shoreline of 76-hectare Laguna Malleco, a glacial remnant where Conaf keeps a loaner rowboat for anglers and birders. It’s an easy walk from the campground, and swimming is possible in several pools en route.
From Laguna Malleco’s north shore, the 1,800-meter Sendero El Salto winds through thick native forest to Salto Malleco, a thunderous 50-meter cascade that plummets over rugged basalt into the river’s lower drainage. Even more copious foliage surrounds the continuing trail.
Also from Laguna Malleco, Sendero Prados de Mesacura switchbacks up the north shore to intersect the Sendero Lagunillas, which follows the contour east through nearly waterless araucaria woodlands—the porous volcanic soil absorbs almost all precipitation. From a spot about five kilometers east of Laguna Malleco, toward Termas de Tolhuaca , the eight-kilometer Sendero Laguna Verde skirts 1,606-meter Cerro Laguna Verde’s the southwestern slope to arrive at its namesake lake, covering 3.6 hectares.
At Laguna Malleco, Conaf’s shady Camping Inalaufquén (US$13 per site) has 25 sites with barbecue pits, picnic tables, running water, and clean bathrooms with flush toilets and cold showers. Single travelers can try asking for a discount if it’s not crowded. For visitors with their own vehicles and more money, Hotel Termas de Tolhuaca  is an option.
No supplies whatever are available at Laguna Malleco—bring everything you need.
Tolhuaca lacks a formal visitor center, but Conaf rangers at Laguna Malleco offer daily chats at the outdoor amphitheater. Park admission costs US$3 for adults, US$1 for children.
No public transportation goes directly to the park, but one bus daily (4 p.m.) goes from Victoria’s Terminal de Buses Rurales, 58 kilometers north of Temuco  on the Panamericana, to the hamlet of San Gregorio , on a decent gravel road that leads east from the village of Inspector Fernández. This, unfortunately, stops 20 kilometers short of Laguna Malleco, but the road is still a good alternative for hitchhikers, motorists, or mountain bikers.
From Curacautín , 87 kilometers northeast of Temuco  via Lautaro or 119 kilometers via Victoria, an improved gravel road reaches the hot-springs resort of Termas de Tolhuaca , 33 kilometers to the north.
From Termas de Tolhuaca , what was once a hazardous four-wheel-drive road to Laguna Malleco is now passable for ordinary vehicles, at least in summer. Taxi colectivos from Curacautín  go as far as Termas de Tolhuaca , but it’s another nine kilometers to Malleco.