Dirt Touring Araucanía: The Monkey Puzzle Trail, Chile

  • Distance

    145 Mi.

    (233 KM)
  • Days

    4

  • % Unpaved

    93%

  • % Singletrack

    2%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    3

  • Total Ascent

    16,313'

    (4,972 M)
  • High Point

    6,000'

    (1,829 M)
Each year in mid-April, the subalpine forests of Araucanía explode into an autumnal fire. Rising high above the red and gold canopy of southern beeches are the umbrella-topped figures of Araucarias – also known as Monkey Puzzle Trees – which lend their name to this region of Chile.
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Higher still, the first snows of autumn dust the tops of Chile’s endless line chain of conical volcanoes – white pyramids on the horizon.

This route travels quiet pumice tracks up from fertile valleys, past expansive lava flows, clear rivers, and remote ranches, through araucaria forests, open alpine, and smokey villages. On clear fall days, these are the makings of haikus.

Bypassing the busier roads of Conguillío National Park (which is worth a side trip, if time allows), this route follows a small 4×4 road through Reserva China Muerta, from Melipeuco to Lonquimay. Then, leaving Lonquimay, it climbs over an alpine pass on the shoulder of Volcan Lonquimay in Reserva Malalcahuello-Nalcas. In Reserva Malacahueco-Nalcas, those travelling with with light bikepacking set-ups might chose to deviate from this route on one of a few long singletrack trails through the park. A long descent along the length 20 year old lava flow passes the idyllic ranch of Lolco. At Chequenco, bikepackers should ask the locals about a horse trail that leads past Laguna Barco to the hamlet of Trapa Trapa (north of this route), and carries on over the mountains to a border crossing near Laguna de la Laja. Those sticking to the road will pass a lovely hotsprings, with excellent, affordable camping on the way to Ralco.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Monkey Puzzle trees.
  • Seeing the beech and araucaria forests in fall colors.
  • The flowy pumice surface of the 4×4 roads.
  • Riding on lava flows.
  • This route can be ridden in either direction.
  • Besides military topo maps, the best maps for cycling in Chile are the series of 1:400,000 waterproof maps available at many Copec petrol stations. Map #5 (Region Biobio) covers this area.
  • Reliable GPS road and topographic maps fare available from proyectomapear.com.ar for free.
  • There are campgrounds and inns in Melipeuco, Lonquimay and Ralco
  • Wild camping is possible along most of this route.
  • The hotsprings between Ralco and Chequenco (25km from Ralco) offers pleasant camping and access to the springs for CLP4000 per person.
  • Food can be bought from grocers in Melipeuco, Lonquimay, Chequenco, and Ralco.
  • For those wishing to explore the trails north of Chequenco, rest assured that the small store in the village of Chequenco is well-stocked.

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • BridgeG

    Love that! I’m going to be in that area at the end of April. If I have only 4 days max, and have to go back and forth (to go back to the car) should I do the northern part, or the southern half? Thank you for posting this!!!

  • Skyler

    Both halves could be linked into loops. The South via Conguilllio Park (which I hear is gorgeous, though busier), and the North can be looped via a number of trails and small dirt tracks – this would be more rewarding if you’re into mountain biking, but requires more research as the trail networks lack information. Getting your hands on good maps will make all the difference.

  • Skyler

    Oh, and when the Copec ‘Compass’ maps show a number of dirt tracks dead ending near to each other, it usually just means they connect through private property or something, so can be treated as through-roads for riding purposes.

  • Alberto and Lucy

    We did part of this beautiful route in January 2015 from Ralco to past the Volcano Lonquimay, in reverse. Even though we´ve tackled plenty of tough South American ripio, we found this route to be the toughest of all…

    First of all we thought we would be ok with our mid-weight tourers (back panniers, rack, frame bag) but we were so wrong! The first section from Ralco to Chenqueco has good ripio and some pavement. From Chenqueco, coming from the North, you will be facing 10 km of singletrack with incredible steep gradients – we did a lot of double pushing (both of us pushing one bike at at time) to avoid taking the panniers off! Being the dry season, the descent was tricky on marathon mondials and weight, as there was lots of dust. All in all, we did 17 km in the whole day.

    From the main bridge at Contraco the ripio is ok, though there´s some rough sections that required pushing. This section until past the Volcano Lonquimay resort is incredibly beautiful! We left the route at the turnoff to Lonquimay (the village) fearing lots of pushing later on.

    From Malalcahuello, we took the less-busy route through the Western side of the Volcano Llaima, through Conguillío National Park, which is really nice and also has some rough ripio. We were told by Conaf that if you are just passing through the National Park (on either side) and not staying overnight, you won´t be charged the 4500 pesos entrance fee. We did not do the main route through the East side of the volcano cause of excessive amounts of traffic and therefore lots of dust, but we believe it is also beautiful.

    In summary, we think this is a route best done on a very lightweight bikepacker or even better, a mountain bike and no weight, especially if going North to South. We could see that going in the other direction would be much more manageable as the descents were much more gentle (and partially on pavement on the Volcano Lonquimay). We found the route to be the toughest of our route due to the amount of pushing, heat in January, and our own setups. However, it was one of the most scenic of our trip, so many thanks Skyler!

    For other riders rereference, it took us 3.5 days from Ralco to Malalcahuello (where we left the route).

    Water from streams and rivers was never a problem and available aplenty, except the last 5 km up to the Volcano Lonquimay coming from the North, where there´s none.

    We will have an update soon on our blog

    machacasonwheels.blogspot.com

  • Thanks for the insight!!

  • What a beauty of a route! Such rich variety in the surroundings and riding. One minute you’re single tracking it through the pacific northwest and the next you’re exploring the Puna de Atacama.

    I spun south down the trail in January 2015, probably a couple of weeks behind Lucy and Alberto and with a similar load. I don’t think I found it quite as tough as they did. Although there is a bit of pushing involved in that section between Chequenco and the Contraco, I don’t think those efforts should be a deal breaker for people thinking of riding the route with a touring load. For me it was only one slow morning and actually quite enjoyable in itself. This is a really fun route to ride even with a medium weight load, however I’m sure it would be even more exhilarating pannierless.

    A couple of things to share… Firstly, I think it is worth noting that if you’re going to take any single part of the route to ride in a day I’d recommend the track through China Muerta National reserve from Quinquen to Melipeuco. Riding north this gifts a lovely shady climb which heading south becomes an adrenalin pumping descent. An easy yet rewarding day-trip.

    Secondly, Skylers GXP tack is a bit out of date concerning the way down to the pedestrian bridge from Chequenco, significant for riders heading south. There is building work blocking his way but an alternative if you don’t take the second right once through the village and continue down the road a short ways until an obvious alternative track appears on your right. This route is on the GPX track (that runs from the north towards the south) available on my website. Also, the store in Chequenco was shut when I rode through which wasn’t a problem as I tracked down another which is located just off that right turn I just said to avoid.

    Thanks to Skyler and Logan for your efforts, this is a great ride and a must fro people in the area.

    Check out the story of my time on the Monkey Puzzle trail here… http://velofreedom.bike/2015/02/03/dust-guzzlin-monkey-puzzlin-perfection/

  • Thanks for the updates and route info… I will give ypur page a look!

  • Paul

    Very cool, despite often feeling like hill reps! We dropped into the start of the route at Ralco via a cheeky bikepack across from Argentina, definately recommended if you´ve got the right set up, some info here: http://theridesouth.com/2015/04/04/more-criss-crossing-paso-copahue/

  • Bikepackers.dk

    we did this route in end of march/ beginning of april, and wished we had the time to wait for the autum colours. We especially liked the part from the top of Longimay vulcano to Chenqueco, which boasts beautiful views, followed by nice remote oldschool 4×4 and ending with a too short piece of really fun steep singletrack.

    A recommendation on a must-do, if you are in the area is to go to the vulcano Sollipulli, between Mellipeuco and Icalma, in the southern end of the route. It is a stunning huge vulcano, with a glacier inside! Not in the guidebooks for some reason. We heard about it from locals. If you want, you can get on a guided tour from Mellipeuco. But how we did it, was riding from Icalma towards Mellipeuco, we turned south on the s575. Signs will take you to Lodge Nevados de Sollipulli. We pitched our tent at the Conaf hut where the trail starts, and hiked from there. Note that the last 6km of road to the Conaf is very steep. 600 height meters in 6km. That meant a bit of pushing for us. We ride bikepack setup with around 15kg dry load.

    Thanks for the ride…

  • Bikepackers.dk

    …by the way. Be aware that in 2015 almost all of the monkey puzzle trees in China Muerta burned in a huge fire. Therefore this part of the trail lacks the beauty it must have had before.
    Maybe it is worth looking into an alternative route from Ilcama to Longimay instead.