Day Hiking Aconcagua National Park
Aconcagua (6,962m or 22,804 ft) sits on the border between Argentina and Chile. A spectacular pass from Santiago, Chile ascends to the border. The mountain is also easily accessed from Mendoza, Argentina where many of the guided treks to the summit begin.
Twelve miles from the Chilean border is the tiny community of Los Penitentes ( 2700m). We spent the night in the wonderful hostel there before beginning our hike the next day.
The park offers a landscape of mountains of immense proportions, with long and deep valleys that contain large open spaces and endless views that fade into the distance.
There are fast flowing rivers, and streams of white water running down the slopes feeding small meadows and wetlands called “Vegas”.
The different geological formations offer a variety of colored gray, brown, red, white, and veined rock walls. There are different mountains that flank the vast valleys. The mountain range has large gaps between the base and the distant lofty peaks. Walking through such a place made us feel very small.
Hiking Aconcagua National Park
Hiking for a day need not require any special planning or expertise. We hiked the stunning Vacas Valley Route from Punta de Vacas to the first camp called Pampa de Lenas (3000m), a distance about 12 kilometers one way.
In general, the ascent is very gradual, the valley wide open and then narrowing as it follows the Vacas River.
This is a fantastic day hike. Obviously, one can hike farther in and return as they wish in a day.
Rio Vacas carries little water in the late summer.
It is obvious, however, that large flows come down this valley and scour the gravel stream bed.
The Vacas Valley route is well known by Summit hikers to require multiple water crossings.
For those of us who do not trek to summits of big mountains, it’s an exciting feeling to reach a base camp site.
Hiking Aconcagua National Park on the Vacas Valley route without packs, took us 4 hours one way, so we still made a long day of it. Guess it must have been all the photo stops!
Pampa Lenas is the Ranger checkpoint for the park.
If you want to hike farther, you need a permit.
Pampa Lenas Camp is about 8000 feet. The summit of Aconcagua is 22,840 feet!
The average trekking expedition takes 10 days to summit from the Punta de Vacas trailhead.
The walk back down to the trail head is as scenic as the walk up valley. It’s all perspective.
Instead of viewing Aconcagua, a hiker can enjoy the fabulous changing colors of the Penitentes Range during the summer months.
In winter, the Penitentes Ski Area is in full swing.
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