More than a 150 years ago the first gauchos helped carve this trail to bring their cattle from the Argentine farm lands to sell at the coastal Chilean slaughterhouse in Cochamó. During the decade that the meat company thrived, they maintained the trail with bridges, a telegraph that ran to El Bolson, Argentina, and kept it clear and wide enough to run an oxen-pulled cart. Since then the trail has seen huge erosion combined by livestock traffic and runoff. Only since the last decade has some has some more significant improvements. Today, the trail is stilled used by the local cowboys and tourists.
Register at the trailhead. All visitors must register at the Center de Visitantes located 100 meters past the parking area. Also during December, January, February and March - since visitor capacity is often reached - you may be required to show that you have a reservation if you plan to spend the night in La Junta area. You may turned away without a reservation.
The trailhead officially starts at the end of a gravel road by crossing a wooden bridge and passing a gate with a sign above that reads "El Morro". From there continue for 40 minutes to La Piedra River. If the river's too high to cross via rock hopping, there's a hanging bridge 50 meters up river. *If you cross via the bridge, it's crucial not to turn left onto a new trail that takes you up into the Río Piedra Canyon. Continue down hill to connect with the main trail.
Most of the elevation gain is done during this forested section. The trail climbs after Piedra River then leads gradually up. Finally another steep climb begins in a rock section in the forest passing two small streams. At the end of the climb there's a great spot to stop with views of waterfalls through the trees. This point is 2 to 2.5 hours from the trailhead. From here the trail edges along an abrupt drop to Cochamó River for another 20 minutes before beginning the next section.
You don't have much uphill. Nevertheless, there's plenty of up and down. Kilometers of logs have been laid along the trail to help support the horses and cows that locals bring in and out every season. Plus, the trail passes through numerous mud pools and deeply eroded trenches. *Tip: When the log section goes down to reach a river, walk along a the hiker trail two minutes up river. This will take you to a fallen tree bridge that will connect back to the main trail without wetting your feet. At about 3.5 to 4 hours into your hike, there's a nice open space, or pampa to take another rest. It allows visitors to get their first views of the valley's huge granite walls. After resting, another 40 minutes of marsh, trenches and bridges to cross streams.
Once you come out of the marshes, you'll come into a long fenced pampa. You're still about 25 minutes from arriving. Remember not to cross the Cochamó River at any point until you get to Camping La Junta. Once you pass the first wooden gate, you're about 15 minutes from Camping La Junta, the next pampa area. The trail continues bordering the mountainside until coming out to a pampa. Turn right and follow the fence line. Here you are between two campings. To the right is Camping La Junta. To get to Refugio Cochamó, enter Camping La Junta and find the information board located 100 meters west of the old house (old refugio). From the information board, follow the signs, cross the Cochamó River using the cable car and continue to the Refugio Cochamó.
See the OSM topographical map to see visual detail of the trail.