Last updated on March 1st, 2019
The Refugio Frey hike is a 10 km trail in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. The recommended time for this trek is 4 hours, one-way, and has a difficulty of easy to moderate.
I completed this journey in early December from San Carlos de Bariloche. I stayed overnight at the Refugio Frey campsite, right beside Laguna Toncek, with my own tent instead of sleeping inside the refugio (lodge). The main reason many people bring and sleep in their own tents is because the campsite is free, as opposed to pay-to-sleep inside the refugio which costs 700 pesos. This is also a great way of preparing for the 2-night Fitz Roy Trek in El Chalten.
There are a few more reasons you may want to sleep overnight at Refugio Frey: you want to continue to Refugio Jacob, you don’t want to trek back the same day, or you want to see the sunset, stars at night, and sunrise. And who doesn’t want to camp in Patagonia?
Whatever the reason may be, I’ll explain how I managed to hike and stay overnight at Refugio Frey.
The Best Time to Hike Refugio Frey
The best time to complete the Refugio Frey hike is during Patagonia’s austral summer, December through February, when the temperatures are warmest. In addition, less technical equipment and experience is required when there is little to no snowy terrain.
On the flipside, the southern spring and autumn seasons have smaller crowds but you’ll need to be prepared for harsh weather.
How to Get to Bariloche, Argentina
First, you need to be in town.
There are a few ways to get to Bariloche:
- Fly into Bariloche (BRC) via Teniente Luis Candelaria Airport. The only non-stop flights to Bariloche are within Argentina at the time of writing this.
- Take the bus to Bariloche within Argentina from Buenos Aires, El Chalten, El Calafate, Puerto Madryn, etc.
- Take the bus from Santiago, Chile, to Bariloche.
I chose to take the bus from Buenos Aires to Bariloche.
Now going back to the trek.
How to Do the Refugio Frey Overnight Camping Trek
- Make your free camping reservation with Club Andino.
- Register your trek with the Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi.
- Get your gear prepared the night before.
- Wake up early the day of your trek.
- Grab some snacks or food.
- Take bus 55 to Cerro Catedral (last stop) from Bariloche.
- Once at Catedral, look for the Frey sign.
- Now begin your trek.
- Once you reach Refugio Frey, provide them your reservation.
- They’ll provide you a token (campsite permit) with a 100 pesos deposit.
- Choose whichever campsite is available.
- Now setup camp and enjoy.
Club Andino Bariloche (refugio operator) and the Nahuel Huapi National Park office are both located at the centre of town within walking minutes of each other. I suggest you visit them both for more information on the Frey hike conditions.
I also walked around Bariloche looking for a backcountry equipment rental store in case I wanted to rent cooking equipment and get a gas canister. I couldn’t find any though I didn’t look very hard or for a long time. But there’s plenty of snow gear around town. Bariloche is known more for its winter and skiing than its trekking.
If you plan to stay a night in Bariloche before doing the Frey trek, make sure to get accommodation with luggage storage. I ended up staying at the Penthouse 1004 and kept some of my belongings that I didn’t need for the trek in storage.
More on the Frey Trek
The average time for the Refugio Frey hike is 4 hours and it reaches an altitude of about 1700 metres. I was able to manage it in 3.5 hours. To put my length of time in perspective, I don’t hike often and I’m in average shape with an average body. But I have done day hikes in higher altitudes in Peru and I did an overnight trek the Sumatran rainforest.
I brought a full 3 L water bladder. But I recommend only hiking with 1 or 1.5 L of water to reduce weight. There is plenty of water along the trail including a lake and stream right beside the refugio.
Put on sunblock even if there is an overcast: the sun can still be strong. Plus, the first 90 minutes and last 60 minutes of the hike have direct sun exposure.
I didn’t bring any insect repellent nor did I need any. But I did get some painful bites from a few flies which I believe were horse flies
The last 60 minutes of the trek is the hardest part. This is where the trail is the steepest and continually ascends.
I wasn’t planning to buy anything at the refugio but for some reason I had a craving for Coca-Cola. They didn’t have any and I settled with a Pepsi. It was the best Pepsi I ever had after the exhausting hike.
Originally, I thought the prices of food and drinks at Refugio Frey was overpriced. But after further examination, it’s priced similar to the restaurants in Bariloche. Also, keep in mind the transportation required to bring the food all the way up the path. I think it’s done by foot and not helicopter nor some cargo plane dropping supplies.
For reference, a pizza (can serve 2 people) costs 400 pesos and a can of soda costs 80 pesos.
I brought a few sandwiches and bananas from town, plus some cliff bars which I had from before. If I did this trek again, I would get rid of the sandwiches and just purchase something from the refugio. I’m just tired of sandwiches. I also brought a flask of whiskey
The extra hike. Once your camp is setup, you should consider hiking around the lake before dark. It’s peaceful especially without the extra baggage load. Or you can just soak in the sun on one of the rocks.
Flashlight – Black Diamond Storm Headlamp 350 Lumens
Sleeping Bag – Marmot Trestles 15F/-9C
Air Mattress – EcoTek Outdoors Hybern8 Ultralight Inflatable Sleeping Pad
Water Bladder – Camelbak Crux 3L Reservoir
Backpack – Gregory Men’s Paragon 58L Backpack
Sunglasses – Oakley Radar Polarized
Windbreaker – The North Face Men’s Summit L4 Windstopper
Other – flushable wipes, sandwiches, bananas, Clif Bars, clothes, hiking shoes, hygienic products
If you’re lucky and there is no overcast at night, the sky will paint a portrait of the stars. Unfortunately, I forgot my tripod back home in Canada and I had to use the rocks as my tripod. I wasn’t able to get the photo I wanted but I did manage to snap a few decent ones.
The next morning, the wind woke me up around 6 am. I wanted to keep sleeping but the wind was louder than air traffic. I woke up and I was lucky to see a partial sunset.
After taking a few snaps, I got ready, packed my gear, hiked back down the same way and took the bus back to Bariloche.
This was a good prep