Trekking Refugio Frey – Complete Guide

by 22 Mar, 2019

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The trek from Catedral to Refugio Frey is hands down one of the most stunning hikes in Bariloche. And while it’s a little taxing in parts, it’s a walk that virtually anyone can enjoy.

Sure it’s got a few steep inclines, but you don’t have to be super fit or an experienced mountaineer. And in return for your effort you’ll be rewarded with some awesome views of the surrounding landscapes. Beautiful vistas back over the town of Bariloche and its surrounding lakes, plus a breathtaking surprise when you reach the summit.

So if you’re up for the challenge, get your daypack on and let’s go! Here’s everything you need to know about hiking to Refugio Frey Bariloche.

View from Picada Eslovena

Before Trekking to Refugio Frey

Before you get your stomp on to Refugio Frey there are a couple of important details you need to know.

Refugio Frey is located in the sprawling Nahuel Huapi National Park. It’s the largest in the region at around 2,720 square miles and straddles two provinces, Neuquén and Rio Negro. There is no fee whatsoever to enter.

Prior to undertaking any trekking activity in the Nahuel Huapi National Park you’re required to complete an online registration document. This has to be filled in no more than 48 hours before you’re intending to trek.

You should always check the weather on the morning of the day you’re intending to hike. This is particularly important if you’re planning on heading up there in winter.

Patagonia’s weather is famously changeable, and when it decides to get serious you’re in for heavy snowfall and high winds. Because of this, forecasts for the region are often subject to last minute revisions.

Best practice is to head into the National Park administration building on the morning of your trek to check the forecast. But at the very least look up a reputable source of weather forecast to be safe.

Though it’s open all year round, during autumn and winter, it can get pretty tricky to trek to Refugio Frey. Snow and ice mean that sometimes it requires specialist equipment like crampons. If you’re not experienced in walking in these conditions then don’t attempt it when the weather is bad.

How to Get to Catedral from Bariloche

Getting to Catedral from Bariloche is extremely simple and you can go by public transport. Local bus company Mi Bus runs a route right from the centre of Bariloche to Cerro Catedral. But it takes a little advanced organisation to avoid being caught out.

The first thing to know is that you can’t pay in cash on the local buses. Instead, to get on any of the Mi Bus buses you’ll need to have a SUBE card. It’s exactly the same system they use in Buenos Aires and some other cities in Argentina. So if you’ve already picked a SUBE up elsewhere you can use the same one here.

If you don’t have a SUBE card there are a few places across town where you can pick one up. Lots of the shops sell the cards and recharge them, look out for the blue SUBE logo in window fronts. You can also search this interactive map for local card sellers.

Number 55 Bus Details

Now that you’ve got your loaded SUBE card, the bus you need to catch is the number 55. The number 55 bus leaves the centre of Bariloche at quarter past the hour, every hour, starting at 7:15am. Unfortunately, finding the right stop gets a little complicated because the buses leave from alternating streets, changing each hour.

The buses at 7:15, 9:15, 11:15, 13:15, 15:15, 17:15, and 19:15 depart from Avenida Bustillo, opposite the National Park administration building.

The buses at 8:15,10:15, 12:15, 14:15, 16:15, 18:15, and 20:15 depart from Avenida Pioneros, opposite bars Manush and Blest Cerveceria.

number 55 bus from Bariloche to Catedral

The bus ride there takes around 30 minutes and costs 60 pesos. It drops you in the huge car park below Cerro Catedral. You’ll see the ski lift and slopes of Cerro Catedral up to your left. Directly ahead are a few shops if you need to pick up any snacks or water.

Cerro Catedral bus stop

Hiking Refugio Frey Route Options

There are a few different routes for trekking Refugio Frey. Which one you choose will depend on your interests, the time of year, and how adventurous you are.

If you want the simplest option then we’d suggest taking Route 1 up and back.

For a bit of variation our recommendation would be to take Route 1 up and Route 2 back down.

But perhaps you’re more daring/experienced and land on a clear, calm day during the summer months. Then you may want to hit Route 3 and return via route 1 or 2, or vice versa.

Refugio Frey Hiking Route 1 – Traditional Trail

Time to walk: 3-4 hours one way
Distance: 12 km, 7.5 miles one way
Difficulty rating: Easy

The traditional route up to Refugio Frey starts just beside the car park below Cerro Catedral.

Cerro Catedral car park

Directly across from where the number 55 bus drops you off you’ll find a wooden sign marking its beginning. Next to the “FREY” sign is a cute little wooden sculpture of a backpacker.

A short walk up a wide path away from Cerro Catedral takes you to the start of the trailhead proper. This is also signed so virtually impossible to go wrong.

Start of Refugio Frey hike

The first part of the hike runs parallel to the magnificent Lake Gutierrez with gorgeous views back over Bariloche. The picture postcard alpine scenery encompasses glimpses of the surrounding peaks and spectacular stretches of water.

It’s relatively flat and winds its way through the mountains along paths largely sheltered by forests. Along the way you’ll find waterfalls, wooden bridges straddling streams and metal walkways over steep drops.

metal bridge on Refugio Frey traditional route

After a couple of hours you’ll arrive at the Van Titter stream with its numerous pools and mini cascades. After walking alongside it for a short while there’s a metal bridge across.

The path then takes you up to the enchanting, unmanned Refugio Petericek (also known as Piedritas) about 15 minutes later. Its chocolate-box wooden structure is built directly under a giant rock making it look like something out of The Hobbit.

Refugio Piedritas

There are a few benches and tables outside Refugio Petericek and it’s a popular resting spot for weary walkers. If you’re at all tired then it’s worth having a sit down and a quick refuel. It’s after Refugio Petericek that the real ascent begins.

It weaves up along a somewhat steep, tree covered path before you begin to catch sight of the mountain peaks through the trees. Shortly afterwards the canopy clears and you’re out into an open, rocky climb.

You’ll spot the roof of Refugio Frey in the distance, then there’s a final rock-hop over the ultimate stream. Refugio Frey will be in front of you in all its glory.

Refugio Frey Hiking Route 2 – Picada Eslovena

Time to walk: 4-6 hours one way
Distance: 15 km, 9.3 miles (including road to bus stop) one way
Difficulty rating: Easy

Picada Eslovena begins at the banks of Lago Gutierrez next to a large campsite. The walk starts in the Bosque de Coihues, full of grand old trees that are centuries old. You’ll immediately come across signs pointing towards Playa Munoz and Refugio Frey. There’s also a slightly disconcerting notice stating that a puma has been observed in the area.

Sarah walking along Picada Eslovena

Not long into the hike there’s the option to take a couple of short detours. The first is to a less than impressive waterfall, Cascada de los Duendes. The second is to Mirador Lago Gutierrez. While it has nice views, it’s probably not worth the effort as you’ll see similar further along the route.

Burnt Coihue forest Picada Eslovena

This route takes you deeper into the forest of Coihues but this section is spectacular and distinct for regrettable reasons. Due to what must have been a huge fire, many of the older trees are dead and ashen.

The ghostly tree skeletons stand out starkly among the surrounding greenery that’s since developed. While it’s obviously a sad incident, the trees make a striking and slightly spooky spectacle.

sign about the fire in Bosque de Coihues Picada Eslovena

For the rest of the Picada Eslovena expect impressive views of the lake as well as the numerous overlooking peaks. About 2 hours into the hike the path joins up with the traditional route.

Refugio Frey Hiking Route 3 – Filo del Catedral

Time to walk: 4-6 hours one way
Distance: 10 km, 6.2 miles from end of cable car one way
Difficulty rating: Moderate

Filo means “ridge” in Latin American Spanish. And true to its name, this route takes you directly over the ridge of Mount Catedral.

The path starts at the top of the chairlift, not the car park like the traditional route. To get there from the car park you can either catch the chairlift, or make your way up by foot. Bear in mind that the chairlift doesn’t run over the summer months and you have to pay to hop on. Check latest opening times and prices here.

At the top of the chairlift you’ll find a sign pointing the way to the beginning of the trail. From here the path is marked with dots of red paint and you navigate by heading from one to the next. It’s rocky and loose terrain that can take a bit of scrambling over, so take your time and tread carefully.

Rocky terrain Refugio Frey hike

If you get lost at any stage don’t be afraid to retrace your steps to the last red marker. From there you’ll be able to take another shot at pinpointing the trail.

Along the way you’ll get distant views of Tronador.  After a couple of hours you arrive at an area called the Cancha de Futbol (football pitch). Here the path forks in two with the left hand route leading to Refugio Frey, and the other one to Refugio Jakob.

Taking the left hand path leads you to Laguna Schmoll down a slightly tricky descent where you’ll probably have to use your hands. After walking around the right hand side of the lake the path snakes down into a valley. You’ll be able to make out Laguna Toncek and the peaks that overshadow Refugio Frey from here.

Swimming in Laguna Toncek

Discovering this stunning body of water behind the Refugio building is one of the crowning moments of the hike. We had no idea there even was a lagoon at Refugio Frey before taking on the hike. So spotting the crystal clear turquoise waters of Laguna Toncek as we came over the crest was a magical moment.

We saw people sat around in swimming gear and one brave, shivering girl emerging from what looked like ice cold waters. A wave of emotions came over us followed by a spate of frenzied questions fired back and forth at each other:

“Do you think it’s cold?”

“Errrrrrr, yah. Did you bring your swimming stuff?”

“Sh*t, no. Did you?”

“Nah, there’s no way I’d go in anyway. Are you going in?”

“Definitely not. Maybe. I think I’ll regret it if I don’t. F*ck it, I’m going in.”

Conclusion? We both went in, one after the other. In our underwear. And yes, it was freezing.

But also one of the best experiences we’d had in a long time. It was incredibly refreshing and after a dusty 3 hours of hiking in blazing temperatures, exactly what the doctor ordered.

Sarah swimming in Lago Toncek

Had we not seen someone swimming when we arrived, I’m not sure we’d have even thought of doing it. And I’m pretty sure that some people who arrived after us missed out on going in for the same reason.

But taking a solo dip in the impossibly blue waters of that lagoon, surrounded by the picturesque jagged needles and towers was an experience I’ll remember ‘til I die. So do it if you dare, and don’t forget your swimming cozzie if you’re not comfortable in just your undies.

Staying Overnight at Refugio Frey

Many people opt to stay overnight at Refugio Frey, and some (usually climbers) stay there for several nights. There are two options for staying at Refugio Frey.

The first is to stay in the actual Refugio itself which has 35 beds and is arranged over two floors. Down below is the kitchen and dining room, and up above on the 2nd floor are the bedrooms. Unlike in some of the other refugios in the area, mattresses, blankets and pillows are provided.

Refugio Frey building

You must book ahead of time to reserve yourself a bed and you can do that here on the Refugio Frey website. There’s a kitchen that you can pay to use, or alternatively they cook meals which you can pay for individually.

Another possibility is to pay for full or half board. This will include dinner, your overnight stay and breakfast, or your overnight stay and breakfast respectively. For up to date info on costs check out this page with all the rates.

The second option is to camp at Refugio Frey. Camping is completely free, but obviously you need to schlep all of your camping gear up the mountain with you.

You can pay to use the refugio’s facilities (bathrooms, kitchen), and you can also purchase meals if you want. You still need to book in advance to camp, even though you don’t pay.

Getting Back to Bariloche

Depending on which route you’ve taken back down you’ll have two options for getting back.

From Catedral you take the number 55 bus from exactly the same spot it dropped you off in. Return times are at ten past the hour starting at 8:10 and running through to 21:10. Allow a little longer if you’re making the return journey mid-to-late afternoon as traffic into Bariloche can get quite busy.

If you’re returning from Lago Gutierrez then you need to catch the number 50 bus. Once you’ve left the Bosque de Coihues and passed the campground, it’s a 2.5km walk to the bus stop.

You’ll see a large white shop opposite you when the lane joins the road. Turn right here and you’ll see the wooden bus shelter to wait for the bus. It’s the beach-side you need, not the shop side.

The number 50 runs quite frequently at every 20 minutes, on the hour, at 20 past, and 40 past. The last return bus leaves at 00:40.

What to Pack for Trekking Refugio Frey

Whichever route you decide to take, it’s paramount that you’re properly prepared. Here’s a list of essentials to pack for your trek to Refugio Frey:

Don’t Go Without Travel Insurance

Bariloche is known as Argentina’s capital of adventure with plenty of opportunities to take part in exciting activities. Whether you’re coming to hike, ski, sail, zipline, or go horse riding, you need to make sure you’re insured.

Our go to travel insurance provider is World Nomads. They have a no bullshit approach to policy & are perfect for adventurous travellers like us. Get a no obligation quote here:

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