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  • Writer's pictureBecca Jackson

Refugio Frey day hike, Bariloche | One of the best hikes in Patagonia

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

The return hike to Refugio Frey is one of our favourite hikes not just in Bariloche but the whole of Patagonia. It can easily be done in a day but it a reasonably challenging hike. We did it in November and had a gorgeous, clear, dry day. In fact, it was maybe a little too gorgeous, feeling pretty hot in the sun. The path is easy to follow but it gets very uneven and rocky underfoot towards the top; we even had snow and ice on the final section as you approached the refugio. However, the scenery is stunning and your efforts are rewarded with diverse landscapes, beautiful nature and a delightfully cold glacier lake to cool your tired, hot feet in at the top!

Fantastic views from Refugio Frey, Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina
Fantastic views from Refugio Frey making your hiking efforts worthwhile!

There is the option to stay the night at the refugio and then return to town the next day, or even continue hiking past Frey further into the national park. This must be booked in advance with the national park office and you must seek their advice before doing so, as depending on the time of year, it is not always safe due to weather conditions.


Table of contents


1 - Best time of year to hike to Refugio Frey

The hiking season in Patagonia officially runs from December to February but a lot of the mountain refugios open from October/November. Refugio Frey is actually open all year round as it caters for skiers and mountaineers. However, in the winter months (June - August) it may be impossible to hike the trail without specialist equipment and mountaineering experience.

In November we were advised against walking beyond Refugio Frey due to conditions but lots of people seemed to be hiking to Frey to spend the night before heading back the next day. I'm sure it would have some amazing star gazing opotunities if you did decide to stay as it is quite a way from light pollution. Click for information about staying at Refugio Frey.

2 - The route up to Refugio Frey

Distance - 24.38km**

Difficulty - Moderate to difficult

Total elevation gain - 1,254m**

Time taken - 6 hours 40 minutes ** (not including our 40 minute stop at the top)

**Data taken from our AllTrails app tracking our actual walk**

If this hike looks a little tough, check out the Llao Llao day hike. Or even better, do both!!


  • There were toilets at the National Park Entrance at Los Coihues but they were only open 10am - 6pm according to the sign. However, we went in Camping Los Coihues and used the facilities there. There was a sign saying they charged a small toilet use fee, but they didn't charge us.

  • There are also toilets at the refugio itself at the top.

  • I didn't see any public toilets at the Catedral bus stop but there does appear to be some on the map. If they are not open there are some bars and restaurants there.

3 - Which route to take up to Refugio Frey

There are actually two trails that start in different places, meeting up about halfway to the refugio. We had intended to go up and down the same trail as we believed this to be the more popular route, but due to a mix up with the buses we actually ended up going up one trail and down the other & think this could be the way to go!

The trail from Catedral starts directly from the carpark at Cerro Catedral ski resort; which is where the bus stops; and is 11 km long. It has an elevation gain of 836m. Alternatively if you take the trail from Los Coihues you need to walk approximately 2.5km to the national park entrance, but don't worry the walk down the road is pleasant, flat and alongside a lake. The overall trail length from the bus stop to the refugio is 13.3km, and the elevation gain on this trail is more, you will climb 1,040m.

Another difference is the price of the bus; it only cost $ 96 (£0.25/$0.30) to get to Los Coihues but a single journey to Cathedral cost $ 296! (£0.75/$0.90).

4 - How to get to the trailhead for Refugio Frey hike

The more popular route & the one we returned on runs from Catedral. To get here you need to get the number 55 bus from the centre of Bariloche. We used google maps to get the bus timetable and work out the bus stop we needed to go to and it seems the information was not correct. We accidentally stood in the wrong place for the bus and by the time a kind local pointed out our mistake and we had moved to the correct stop, we had missed it! Hence why we ended up going up a different route.

Chatting to our hostel owner that evening he told us the 55 bus only goes every 2 hours starting at 7.15am, from 20 de Febrero - Neumeyer bus stop on Dr Juan Javier Neumeyer, opposite Manush bar. It seems the bus schedules change and you can't rely on Google to be correct. Check the Mi Bus website & check with your hostel staff or at the national park tourist information office to get the correct bus stop and timetable. The journey to Catedral takes about 35 minutes.

Instead, we took bus number 50 to Los Coihues from the same stop, 20 de Febrero - Neumeyer bus stop on Dr Juan Javier Neumeyer, opposite Manush bar. The journey takes about 30 minutes. If you have google maps keep an eye out and jump off the bus just after the bridge over the river into the lake, outside Recke beer & burger. Alternatively, if you tell the bus driver where you want to get off he will give you the nod when you get to the correct stop. From here walk about 2.5km along the road opposite towards the national park entrance. Click here for the schedule for the Mi Bus 50 Bariloche bus.

5 - How to get back to town at the end of your hike to Refugio Frey

If you return down the trail to Cathedral you can jump back on the bus there. As it only runs every 2 hours, timing your return could be tricky but if you end up with spare time before the bus arrives there are a couple of restaurants/bars right next to the bus stop you could grab a drink in while you wait. When we did the walk the bus left Catedral at 10 minutes past the hour, every two hours, starting at 8.10am through to 8.10pm. Click here for the schedule for the Mi Bus 55 Bariloche bus.

If you return down the trail to Los Coihues you will need to exit the national park, walk back to the road and get ready to flag down bus 50. It runs pretty frequently, every 20-30 minutes depending on the day of the week so you don't need to worry as much about times for this route. Click here for the schedule for the Mi Bus50 Bariloche bus.

Again, you may want to double check this information with a local at your hostel or the national park tourist information office to make sure the schedule hasn't changed.

SUBE cards - to ride the buses in most towns and cities in Argentina you need a SUBE travel card. It is easy to get one and top it up for journeys but read our the SUBE card section on our Argentina overview page for more information.

6 - What to take with you when hiking to Refugio Frey

  • Plenty of water - you can refill your bottles at the refugio but you are going to want about 2 litres per person for the way up.

  • Sun screen, sun glasses and sun hat in the warmer months.

  • Packed lunch & snacks for energy on the way up.

  • Camera - make sure to savour the views with your eyes but you will no doubt want to take a couple of souvenir shots.

  • An extra layer or maybe even two for the top - it can be cold even in the summer months & you should always prepare for all weathers when walking in the mountains.

  • Small first aid kit - we always carry a few basics such as plasters, blister plasters, pain killers & antihistamines when hiking.

  • Swim wear if you are extremely brave - there is a glacier lake at the top!!

  • Your SUBE card for the bus.

7 - Our experience hiking to Refugio Frey

We hopped off the bus and walked the 2.5km to the national park entrance. It was an easy, flat, quiet road, shaded with trees and with some pretty impressive lakeside houses along it.

We reached the national park entrance, carpark and a campsite. We nipped into the campsite and were able to use the toilets for free before carrying on. From here we turned right and started to make our way through shaded forest. It was a really nice walk and although some uphill stretches it did not feel too strenuous at this point.

About 4km from the refugio and with 2 hours to go (according to the national park signage) we joined the other trail from Catedral. The path continued up through the trees and beautiful woodland and although shaded it was getting quite warm by now. Look out for woodpeckers in this section, or should I say listen out for them as you are more likely to hear the tell-tale knocking first. We saw a beautiful male Magellanic woodpecker with his brilliantly red head.

Beautiful woodland, Refugio Frey Hike, Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina
Beautiful woodland

We reached the 1 hour from the top sign and the path got thinner, uneven underfoot, and steeper. This is where it got quite tough, especially the last kilometre. This section is also more exposed and the sun was quite hot. The upside about the lack of trees were we started to get some fabulous views of the surrounding snow capped mountains.

We could see the refugio for the last 500m of the climb but we now had snow and ice to contend with. It was quite compact so you didn't need any specialist gear to walk over it but it was a little slow going, especially when you are tired!

It took us 4 hours 10 mins to reach the refugio but the views from the top were definitely worth the hard climb. We sat on the edge of the beautiful glacier lake to enjoy our well deserved sandwiches whilst dangling out hot, tired feet in the freezing melt water! It was bliss!

Very cold glacier lake dip at Refugio Frey, Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina
Very cold glacier lake dip at Refugio Frey

We stayed at the top for about 40 minutes, before starting our journey back down. We decided to try and make the 4.10pm bus back to town from Catedral as we soon realised going down was a hell of a lot quicker than coming up!

The route back down to where the two trails join was easy enough and we saw another Magellanic woodpecker on our way back through the forest, the female this time!

At the trails joining point we took the Catedral route down. This path was much more exposed that our path going up had been, there was no tree cover at all and it was very hot!! It obviously wouldn't be as hot first thing in the morning if you chose this route up but it is something to consider. The path was a lot more undulating than the other trail which had been either flat or a steady incline & where we had hoped to be heading downhill the whole way, we found ourselves having short stretches of uphill too! Still we made good pace, it took us 2.5 hours to get down and so we reached the bus stop with time to spare!

Views from the trail down to Catedral from Refugio Frey, Bariloche, Patagonia, Argentina
Views from the trail down to Catedral

8 - Summary

We thoroughly enjoyed this walk. It's tough enough to challenge you and give you a great sense of achievement, but not too difficult for the average fit person to make it unenjoyable. The landscape is varied and stunning and you will not regret doing it!


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