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Hiking in Cajón de Maipo: Glacier San Francisco

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- one of my favorite parts of living in Santiago, Chile is how easy it is to leave. And no, I don’t mean that to sound as bad as I know it inevitably does. The thing is, after years of living in metropolitan cities with daily commutes to work, pesky pollution and inescapable crowds, the more I’ve come to appreciate the peacefulness of nature. And let me tell you, Santiago is surrounded by some pretty amazing nature.

For Thanksgiving, I finally made it back to one of my favorite escapes outside of Santiago, Cajón del Maipo. Even though this valley is just under 2 hours outside of the city, it feels like your worlds away. My friend Scott was visiting and super eager to explore some of Chile’s infamous mountains, and with our limited time together, I knew this was just the spot to go.
Scott and I Glacier San FranciscoA while back I wrote about another glacier hike in Cajón del Maipo- the hidden Glacier El Morado, but having already done that hike twice already, I decided we’d try something new. Glacier San Francisco is both easier to find and a bit closer to Santiago, so it seemed like the obvious choice.

And just look at these views …..
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GLACIER SAN FRANCISCO PRACTICAL INFORMATION

HOW TO GET TO GLACIER SAN FRANCISCO

Unfortunately, like the hidden Glacier El Morado, there really isn’t public transportation that will take you all the way to the beginning of the trail to Glacier San Francisco. We rented a car from my favorite Chilean Car rental service in Bellavista- Chilean-Rent-A-Car. They’re very reasonably priced, the staff are super friendly and I’ve used them many times in the past- highly recommended!

Once you have your car, you can just pop the destination into GoogleMaps and off you go! This hike is located in a CONAF administrated park- Monumento Natural El Morado around 93 Km from Santiago and a little over a 2-hour drive. If you’re feeling ambitious, this hike can easily be done in a day. We decided to spend the night at a cabin in the area and leisurely take on the trail.

PRICE TO ENTER THE PARK

The price to enter this park was a bit steep- 5.000 Chilean pesos for foreign adults. One of the more expensive entrances I’ve seen, but hey, at least there was toilet paper in the bathrooms!
Prices to enter Monumento Natural El Morado
You pay the entrance at a small CONAF office and register your hike with the park rangers before beginning this hike.

There is no fee for parking your car, but we did tip a few hundred pesos to the kid who was ‘watching’ our car and the parking lot. (This is very typical in Chile.)

LENGTH OF HIKE FROM START TO FINISH

There are 3 different points to ‘stop’ along this trail.

The hike to and from the farthest point, or the glacier, is 8 km and will probably take around ~5 hours round trip.

We arrived at the CONAF office at 11:30 AM and got back to our car at 4:30 PM. We also took our time and made several stops, including a long lunch break and a few photo ops.
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DIFFICULTY LEVEL & ROUTE INFO

The trail to Glacier San Francisco was very well marked and taken care of. (I guess I’ll account this to the hefty entrance fee.) The path got a little steep at parts, but for the most part was only slightly inclined. That being said, the path was fairly long and very rocky. Still, I would say that this hike should be doable for anyone in decent physical shape.

From the CONAF office, the path begins with a significant slope for around 30 minutes, then it continues parallel to a river through the valley towards Cerro Morado. After about 2 hours, on your way to the San Francisco Glacier, you will pass “Laguna de Morales,” a nice spot to stop for lunch. One hour more and you’ll reach the lookout point to see the glacier! This ‘lookout” spot is not very defined, but rather just an end to the trail where you can take in the incredible views.
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WHEN TO GO TO Monumento Natural El Morado

The ideal time to take on this hike would be from the months of October to May- in Chile the beginning spring through to fall. I wouldn’t attempt this hike in winter, as the conditions of the roads in Cajón del Maipo, as well as the trail, may be questionable.

Park Hours

From October to April:

  • Enter the park from 8:30 until 13:00
  • Must leave before 18:00

From May to September

  • Enter the park from 8:30 to 12:30
  • Must leave before 17:00

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WHAT TO BRING

  • Hiking Boots- this hike wasn’t as intense as many others I’ve done around Santiago, but I’d still recommend hiking boots as opposed to sneakers.
  • Water– Bring enough water to last you through the day, as there won’t be anywhere to fill your bottle.
  • Sun protection and a hat– The entire trail is in direct sun, with no access to shade. I lathered myself up with sunscreen pretty extensively before this hike and still managed to get burned.
  • Food & snacks for the day– There are a few stands and markets on the way to this hike, but the selection is pretty slim. I would pack snacks and something more substantial to get you through the day.
  • Layers– The day we did this hike, it was very warm and sunny. Still the closer we got to the glacier, the cooler the air became. It was pretty windy near the lagoon (where we stopped for lunch) and I was thankful to have a windbreaker on hand!

Would you like to attempt this hike? How far are the closest mountains to where you live?
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Guide to Hiking Guide to Glacier San Francisco

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