Elevation gain: 700m
The one thing I absolutely needed to do for myself in Bariloche was to go on a hike. I cannot stand being so close to the moutains and not head up there to set foot in the Andes. So I planned a trek to one of the most well-known Refugio of the region – the Refugio Frey. Registration is mandatory either online through the National Park website or at the Club Andino near the city center. It is free but they need your information for safety reasons. The trailhead is located in the parking area of Cerro Catedral, one of the main ski center in Bariloche. The first part of the trail is quite flat, with some constant but easy elevation gain. It is better to do this hike on a day without a lot of wind, as the sand and the dust comes up very easily and you are exposed half of the time.
The first 2hrs of the trail are along the side of the mountain, to reach the entry of the valley. You will have a view of the surrounding mountains (a bit of a desert area) as well as the Lake Gutierrez just below. Eventually the trail head up in the valley and becomes covered in the forest. Just before the forest portion you will see an intersection going down closer to the lake to the Gutierrez campground. We took that trail on our way down to see something different, but I would not recommend it. It will add a good 3km to the trek to get to the bus stop, and it is mainly covered with no view.
The good thing is that the trail is very well marked and also tells you approximately who much time is left before you reach the summit. It took us 4hrs including a few breaks and lunch to get to the refugio. Towards the end, the trail opens up to a more rocky area with amazing views of the valley, and Cerro Catedral appearing on the left-hand side. There is a small lake at the top which makes the area perfect for overnights too. The refugio gets overcrowded but there are a few campsite spots available for those who don’t mind carrying extra gear. There is also toilets, a water fountain and a small restaurant-like area in the shelter. I think you can purchase food up there, but I would verify that information.
The trail is considered as an easy to medium difficulty – which I agree with in terms of terrain but not in terms of length. 20-23km total is a long trek for people who are not used to hiking, so I would make sure your partners are up for it before starting!