GPT27P (Alto Rio Palena)

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Summary with remarks to route that are considered useful for other hikers and packrafters. Include alerts, suggestions and personal perception of attractiveness and difficulties.

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Section Log, Alerts and Suggestions

Season 2025/26

Season 2024/25

Season 2023/24

  • 2024-Jan-24 to 2024-Jan-29/ 5.5 days easy / Packrafting / GPT 27P+28P SOBO / RR / Lauren & Seb

We hitchhiked from Villa Futalaufquen to Trevelin and caught another ride from there all the way to Futaleufú, Chile (border control closes at 7pm). The tourist info in Trevelin (at the town square) told us that there is a bus from Trevelin to the border, and then a connecting bus at the other side, but it doesn’t run every day. We forgot to note down the schedule, but it might work out for you. We had no issue bringing oats and spices through customs after checking “yes” in the self-declaration form. Buses from Futaleufu-Palena run only Tuesdays 0900, 1630 and Thursdays 1330. As schedules are subject to changes it’s best to check timings at the bus terminal.

Together with GPT packrafter Daniel, we rivered in at Rio Palena Bridge {27P} [2.3/194]. Water level looked lower compared to the previous water line so we expected more visible rapids and occasional ground contact but generally no problem if you follow the main current.

We enjoyed upper Rio Palena’s numerous Class 1-2 rapids which kept the journey interesting. The first Rapid {27P} [4.2/178] requires scouting- at the bend, we took the line on the left which will keep you out of the stronger whitewater on the right. After that the other rapids were relatively easier in our opinion but reading the best line to avoid being sucked into swirls or going over inconspicuous trees underwater still demands your constant attention.

If you have registered for the Chilean fishing license, you will be delighted to catch many fresh trouts in Rio Palena. We took some easy days, camped early and fished when headwind picked up around 3-4pm.

One highlight for us was the Hot Spring {28P-G} [1.3/40] Termas Puerto Bonito where we enjoyed a soak in the mystical mossy forest. Just across that is a beautiful beach where we made camp (it comes with a view of the glaciar Cerro Melimoyu).

On Day 5, we camped at -43.89304, -72.87743 and set off at 6.30am on Day 6. High tide was around 4.30am and the outgoing low tide was favourable for us by the time we were heading towards Canal Garrao which was a peaceful channel.

Estero Piti Palena was another highlight as we spotted the residential dolphins, penguins and sea lions. Wind and wave conditions were good all morning but expect headwind to pick up from noon when you paddle towards the beach.

The minibus schedule from RMB to Coyhaique is Wednesdays 0800 and Sundays 1000. We initially opted for the bus due to incoming rainy weather and the ferry only runs on Thursdays 0430 and Sundays 0900. However we did not manage to get onto the minibus as seats were full and apparently you require a whatsapp reservation (Alicia Rosas +56966092922 / Hugo Jara +56999351839). We ended up staying at hostel El Viajero (15K per person) which is a fantastic find. We sat out the rain next to a lovely wood-fired stove and took the ferry the next morning at 0430. Note that internet connection is slow in town but we found out that the Almacen Isla Del Palena (which also sells the ferry tickets) has Starlink and they were happy to host us for the duration of our video calls.

  • 2024-Jan-21 to 2024-Jan-23 / mad nomad / SOBO / Regular Packrafting Route from Palena to La Junta / 2.5 days

I was prepared for all the difficult rapids up to the ferry-boat and I first scouted the Rapid {27P} [4.2/178] and the Rapid {27P} [23.4/135], which I had read are the most tricky ones. In the end, I passed all of those paddling but the next day, I was surprised by Rapid {27P} [47.0/104]. I tried to avoid the shallow water on the right and I went to the center but I soon realized that was the worst possible line I could choose! I paddled over a huge tree trunk perpendicular to the flow but the huge wave formed right after the trunk, capsized me! It seems the left side of the river would be the best choice. Anyway, better scout this one first because there are trees everywhere. There were a lot of other wild rapids all over the river, where I had to focus to keep the raft perpendicular to the waves but I achieved that and I had no other problems. I could usually identify submerged trees from the little wave formed around them, so I was able to avoid them. It was only a couple of times that the water was too shallow, so I had to disembark and lift the bow of the raft to carry it over the little water that was flowing over the rocks.

  • 2023-Dec-04 / 2.5 days / Packrafting / SOBO / RR / Tom Pieper

I guess the River was quite close to its maximum according to the shoreline. Nevertheless, I found it not special challenging. I found it useful to scout the first Rapid {27P} [4.2/178] just after the bridge as its pretty fast. Same is true for Rapid {27P} [23.4/135] which has some boulders and some counter currents. Highest speed was 23 km/h. In general you can circumvent the stronger currents in this upper part by paddling close to the shoreline. This changes after the joining of Rio Frio. The river is now pretty powerful and its better to go for the center of the currents as sometimes whirlpools can form on the sides. Saying that its technical not challenging and fun to ride these big waves. Watch out for sunken trees even in the ‘calmer’ parts as river is still fast. There is a nice camp spot between the trees just before Bridge {27P-L} [18.5/65] at S 43° 48.426’ W 072° 21.151’. After the bridge to La Junta all rapids were easy or even disappeared in the high waters.

Season 2022/23

  • General Recommendations: The section is best paddled between January and May. The primary danger would be a high and fast river, typically most common early in the season, or after heavy rain. The river can only be paddled westwards.

Section 27P is 103.5km and takes 2-2.5 days to complete. Together with Section 28P, the two sections are a total of 180km and take around 4 days.

The section is stunning, interesting, unpopulated and fun. Although, in reality, much of 27P is not too far from a road or occasional buildings, these are rarely visible and the river feels remote. Even more so for the continuation onto Section 28P. Alto Río Palena passes through farmland with a mountainous backdrop. It is very scenic. The many rapids and constantly changing features of the river make it stimulating. Combined with 28P, paddling on one river from the mountains to the Pacific is a wonderful experience. A very attractive section.

Río Palena may not be suitable for beginners. There are many rapids, countless tree and rock obstacles, and occasional strong currents and whirlpools. At times of high river levels, the river will not only be faster, but there will be fewer places to get out or scout. There are many more rapids than indicated in the track file. That said, the rapids are generally not above Class 2, and some of the earliest and most challenging ones, can be portered around. Plus, the many obstacles in the river are avoidable.

Season 2021/22

  • GPT 27 and 28P/ Alto y Bajo Río Palena/ Packrafting Route / 2022 Jan-24 / 5 days / Tobias Schorcht

The Palena River is a juvel for all Packrafters with some experience. It was a pleasure to paddle down all the way from Palena to Rául Marín Balmaceda and see the changes of the river day by day. I started right under the brigde 2km beside Palena. There was not that much water in the upper part, I had to carry the Packraft 4 times during the first 20 Kilometers. Since it is an unregulated stream, the riverbelt and the rapids are changing constantly. I observed some of the rapids before I started kayaking, which was absolutly necessary. The confluencia with Río Frío is spectacular, because the colores of the 2 rivers starts to mix. The river speeds up in the lower parts, gets wider and more effected by the wind, who appears usually from the seaside. Be aware of the tides which influences the level of the River after -43.88645/ -72.83230 up to 3m. After reaching the fjord I saw penguins and hundrets of seawolves (Punta islote) which came veeery close to my boat 😅. Enjoy!

Season 2020/21

  • January 16-21/ Zach / Palena to Puerto Raúl Marín Balmaceda (27P & 28P) + Rio Frío (75P) / 6 Days easy

As Shaun mentioned, Kara Davis and Jen Ni described this section quite well. I combined 27P, 28P, and the Rio Frío which was totally worth the added transport effort. If you enjoy the rapids of the upper Palena, you’ll love the Rio Frío. La Junta was a nice lunch stop and upon meeting some familiar cycle tourists, turned into an afternoon off. Note that the take out/camp here is a popular swimming spot, so take care of your belongings when going to town. I left my headphones in the sun to dry and they were gone when I returned. Despite that and rain the final day, I have nothing but good things to say about Rio Palena. The termas are aptly named. The surrounding moss and tannin in the water make you feel like a gingerbread man soaking in a forest gnome’s tea kettle. After seeing no one on the river except 1 fishing tour, I was very surprised to encounter a group of 50 paddlers as part of the Decenso Colectivo Ruta de Palena. This is an organized group that paddles from Palena to Puerto Raul Marin in 4 days this time each year. The ferry still runs Thursdays and Sundays, although it left around 11:30, not 9:40 as the website states. No problem to buy a ticket upon boarding.

Season 2019/20

  • 2020-Jan-22 / Shaun / Regular Packrafting route

I combined this section with GPT28P. These two sections are spectacular, varied, fun and challenging. I barely saw another person the entire time, and there’s something very satisfying about following a single river all the way out to the ocean. Very enjoyable and memorable.

I found the wiki comments of Kara Davis (below) and the Facebook comments of Jen Ni (Jan 5 2019) and Gerald Klamer (March 27, 2018) to be very helpful. Jen’s categorization of 27P and 28P into five sub-sections is very good. My impressions were similar to all of theirs and I don’t have much to add.

Not having much whitewater experience, I started 27P around km23, just west of the cable ferry and a series of early rapids. However, I was fine with the many rapids after that, so with hindsight I would have started from Palena. 27P and 28P each took me about a day and a half for a total of just over three days for the two combined. Apparently, the river was at a normal level for this time of year. It ran around 5-8kph for most of 27P and until about km40 of 28P, then maybe at 2-3kph thereafter. There were countless tree and rock hazards throughout, plus a number of whirlpools (often at sharp turns) - but these were all avoidable. As the river widened in 28P, I encountered fierce headwinds in several places, and a noticeable incoming tide toward the end.

At Raúl Marin Balmaceda, I took the 11 hour ferry to Puerto Cisnes (departs Thursdays and Sundays) which technically completed the section, in its current form. The views were stunning.

Season 2018/19

  • Comments posted on Facebook by Jen Ni January 5 2019

GPT27P and 28P (Alto and Bajo Rio Palena) Packrafting Westbound (😉): Palena to Raul Marin Balmaceda 2019-Jan-01 to 2019-Jan-04

Our impression was that the river can be separated into 5 subsections, each with different character. All parts are attractive and felt quite remote. For camping you generally have the choice between sandy/rocky river banks and farm land.

1. (0-25km) Small river, many rapids: In this subsection the river is still relatively small and often shallow, ground contact can be a serious issue. At least every kilometer there's a small rapid (usually WW-1, sometimes class 2). There are many more rapids than mapped and those are not necessarily the most difficult. Usually the rapids are only deep enough to be run in a narrow part where the main current is. We only had problems with one rapid at Lat -43.62009 Lon -71.86343 where a tree blocked the main current making it impossible to run safely. The most difficult two rapids (class 2+) are at 22km (2km after the ferry) where many large rocks in the middle of the river make scouting and very precise maneuvering necessary. Depending on water levels they may not be runnable at all. Both rapids can be viewed and portaged (individually or together) by taking out on the beach on the left side. The river flowed with ~5kph.

2. (25-65km) Small river, few rapids, many trees: By now the river has grown a bit and ground contact becomes less of an issue. There are noticably fewer rapids and the largest challenge becomes maneuvering between the many trees lying in the water. The average velocity of the current was actually a bit higher than before.

3. (65-105km) Fast and medium-sized river with few obstacles: After Río Frío has joined the river at the 180° turn the river grows significantly and ground contact is almost no more issue. In this subsection, the river flows fastest (8kph) and we had a lot of fun with the relatively easy and broad rapids here. There are fewer trees in the water that can be easily avoided in the broad river. We found a lovely campsite on grass that did not seem to be used for grazing at Lat -43.89160 Lon -72.37914.

4. (105-155km) Big river, fast current: Close to La Junta, the river is joined by Río Rosselot and becomes huge and mostly calm. We were surprised to see that it still flows with high velocity (5-8kph) and still has a noticable gradient that makes progress fast. The few trees can be easily avoided but may be difficult to spot sometimes. The main challenge that may arise here are strong head winds that make maneuvering quite difficult.

5. (155km-sea) Big and slow river, tidal effects: Starting at the large 270° loop, the massive river becomes noticably slower (2-3kph) and wind and tidal effects determine the speed of your progress. We found that the tides are approx. 30min after the times shown for Pto. Montt by the Android app (by 7th gear). Paddling here feels more like being on a lake and waves build up due to the wind.

Season 2017/18

  • Route description by Kara Davis after Season 2017/18:

Notes to consider before beginning: Be aware that the Chilean border control outside of Carrenleufú requires you to declare items in your possession, so keep this in mind when resupplying. They will confiscate certain foods, including produce and honey brought from Argentina.

This is the first time during this hike where the Regular Hiking and Regular Packrafting Routes begin to significantly differ. The two tracks do not rejoin until GPT32.

Beginning from Palena, walk north down the paved road, 235-CH and cross Puente Palena to the put-in on the western bank of Río Palena. The river is swift and has several Class I and Class II rapids. There are also many places where the river splits and becomes very shallow. I would recommend scouting any rapid that makes you uncomfortable. Also be wary of obstructions, such as logs and branches, that occasionally block parts of the river. Camping along the edge during this stretch of the Río Palena is difficult due to the thick foliage and steep rocky beaches. Flat and clear spots are a rare find.

The river widens out approximately 12 km from the Palena put-in. There are still several class I and class II rapids, but with longer stretches of flat water in between. The banks on both sides are littered with rocky beaches, and nice camping is still hard to come by. There is also a notable increase in the density of homes and other structures lining the river.

The banks of the Río Palena flatten out and provide better camping after the ferry at El Tranquilo, approximately 20 km from put-in. This car/passenger ferry draws itself across the river along thick metal cables which can be easily passed on a packraft. A lot of the surrounding land is used for grazing and traces of livestock are everywhere. A sign advertising a refugio, “Predio El Refugio,” was located at La Mula, approximately 12.5 km past the ferry crossing. As several smaller streams join the Río Palena, the river swells and the frequency of rapids decreases.

The river continues winding through farmland all the way to the La Junta take-out. There is a small beach here with a trail that leads up to Highway 7. La Junta is located about 2 km south of the take-out.

Season 2016/17

Resupply and Accommodation

Resupply and Accommodation in nearby Towns

  • La Junta : plenty of lodging options, from hotels and cabañas to camping, as well as a couple medium sized grocery stores adequate for resupply.
  • Franco, the owner of Los Rosadita hotel in Palena, can share expert knowledge of Rio Palena. The hotel is also a nice play to stay and makes good pizzas.
  • Palena: Hostal Alto Patagonia has very tidy rooms and bathroom. Its 25.000 Peso per person including breakfast. Yolanda is a very kind host!

Resupply and Accommodation along the Route

Transport to and from Route

  • Zach

The ferry still runs Thursdays and Sundays, although it left around 11:30, not 9:40 as the website states. No problem to buy a ticket upon boarding.

Permits, Entry Fees and Right-of-Way Issues

  • Route description by Kara Davis after Season 2017/18:

Notes to consider before beginning: Be aware that the Chilean border control outside of Carrenleufú requires you to declare items in your possession, so keep this in mind when resupplying. They will confiscate certain foods, including produce and honey brought from Argentina.

Links to other Resources

Retired Section Article GPT27P - Alto Río Palena