Lihué Calel National Park


Venture into the incredible Lihué Calel National Park in the Argentine Pampas, a matchless destination offering unique experiences. This protected area in the Monte de Llanuras y Mesetas ecoregion, with patches of Espinal vegetation, covers a surface of 32,514 hectares—ample space for providing nature-centered experiences, featuring rich biodiversity and the geological history of Argentina’s past. With every step on its trails, you’ll sense a connection with nature as you follow this comprehensive park guide.

National Park Data

Lihué Calel National Park

Geographical Location

Lihué Calel National Park is situated in the La Pampa Province, Argentina, approximately 220 km from Santa Rosa. Its access by road is straightforward, making it ideal for a car excursion. It can be geographically pinpointed with coordinates: 37°57′S 65°39′W / -37.95, -65.65.

Historical Background

Before becoming a National Park, the Lihué Calel area hosted archaeological sites where prehistoric indigenous people inhabited the region, leaving evidence of their "late rock art." These depictions include geometric motifs in red and black colors, dating back to around 2000 BCE.

The Lihué Calel hills, whose name in Mapudungun means "hills of life", hold reserves of freshwater that have fostered the development of specific flora and fauna. Since prehistoric times, indigenous people utilized this environment, gathering seeds and fruits from trees like caldén and chañar, hunting guanacos, choiques, and piches, and using rocks to craft tools and pigments for painting. Moreover, they found in the valleys and cliffs a means to express their experiences, leaving behind traces of their presence and art in various sites within the park, as well as locations where they buried their dead.

Until the 18th century, the region was inhabited by the Patagonian ethnicity of the guenaken, known as "puelche" by the Mapuche. However, in that century, the Mapuche surged from central-southern Chile and invaded the ancestral territories of the guenaken, giving rise to the ethnicity of the ranculche. These peoples, known as the "people of the reeds," inhabited the Lihué Calel region as a strategic location in their movements between the Andes mountain range and the La Pampa and Buenos Aires provinces. Even the toponymy of the ravine and the main valley bears the name of one of their chiefs, Manuel Namuncurá, who attempted to rally his warriors in the hills and confront the army during the Desert Campaign led by General Levalle.

By the late 19th century, the occupation by "white" settlers began in this region, sheltered by the hills where freshwater was available and some opportunities for agriculture, stone house construction, and animal husbandry in suitable areas arose. The remains of "The Stone House" date from this period, corresponding to colonization after the Desert Campaign. In 1943, the lands of Lihué Calel were acquired by Luis Gallardo, the son of a renowned naturalist, who built a grand house. Finally, in 1964, the provincial government expropriated the estate for tourism purposes, paving the way for the creation of Lihué Calel National Park.

Park Establishment

On October 3, 1973, the Government of the La Pampa Province donated a piece of land in the Lihuel Calel hills to the National Government for the creation of Lihuel Calel National Park (in Spanish: Parque Nacional Lihué Calel) with the objective of protecting the Pampean woodland area. Subsequently, on May 27, 1974, a discrepancy of over 4 hectares was rectified, and additional land was donated, resulting in a total area of 9,905 hectares. Through Decree No. 609/1976 dated May 31, 1976 (Decree No. 609/76 – expanded by Law No. 25,755/03), the military government led by Jorge Rafael Videla accepted the donation and mandated the future establishment of the national park through legislation.

On June 8, 1977, the land takeover was carried out. Although the law establishing the national park was not enacted, it was explicitly mentioned in Article 32 of Law No. 22,351 dated November 4, 1980, which modified the regime of protected areas in the country, thereby fulfilling the legal creation requirement.

It is important to note that this law contains an error by dating Decree No. 609/1976 as if it were from May 31, 1977, which has led many sources to cite this date as the creation of Lihuel Calel National Park. However, the decree was published in the Official Gazette of the Argentine Republic on June 8, 1976.

Subsequently, Decree No. 2149/1990 dated October 10, 1990, designated a broad internal section of the national park as the Lihuel Calel Strict Nature Reserve. The boundaries of this reserve were modified by Decree No. 453/1994 dated March 23, 1994, which divided it into two sectors and created the Lihuel Calel Wild Nature Reserve.

On May 30, 1996, the Legislature of La Pampa declared a region near Lihuel Calel National Park as a protected area, named the Salitral Levalle Protected Area. Then, on December 26, 1996, an agreement was signed between the La Pampa Province and the National Government to expand the national park’s boundaries to encompass an area of 32,300 hectares.

This agreement was approved by Provincial Law No. 1899 dated October 12, 2000, and National Law No. 25,755 dated July 16, 2003. The expansion included 12 plots of land, over which the La Pampa Province relinquished jurisdiction, and they were incorporated into Lihuel Calel National Park and Lihuel Calel National Reserve, totaling approximately 20,590 hectares.

Meaning of the Name

The name Lihuel Calel means "Sierra of Life" in the Mapuche language, reflecting its significance as an oasis of biodiversity in the Pampean plain.

Climate in Lihuel Calel

The climate is temperate and dry, characterized by a wide annual temperature range. During winter, average temperatures hover around 7°C, with minimums occasionally dropping below zero. In summer, average temperatures reach 24°C, with maximums exceeding 40°C. Annual precipitation is approximately 400 mm, with most of the rainfall concentrated in winter. Frequent frost is also recorded from early April to mid-October.

The ideal seasons to visit the park are spring and early autumn when temperatures are milder and the climate is pleasant.


The park is characterized by its hills that rise above the surrounding plains, offering impressive panoramic views. The rocks of these hills date back over 200 million years.


Iconic Species of the Park

The Rufous-tailed Plantcutter (Rhinocrypta lanceolata) and the Pampean Daisy (Gaillardia cabrerae) are two iconic species of Lihué Calel National Park.

The Rufous-tailed Plantcutter is a robust-bodied bird that reaches a size of 21 centimeters. It prefers to run in clearings of forests and shrub steppes and is known for climbing shrubs to sing. Its plumage is olive-gray, with a whitish belly and reddish flanks. It stands out with its notable crest and neck streaked in white and brown. Additionally, it holds its tail erect, making it easily recognizable.

The Pampean Daisy is a small shrub exclusive to the park’s hills. Despite water scarcity and intense heat conditions, this plant can withstand and bloom. Its leaves have a bluish-green tone, and the flowers are grouped in showy yellow inflorescences. The Pampean Daisy blooms from September to March and has been declared the provincial flower of La Pampa.

These two species, the Rufous-tailed Plantcutter and the Pampean Daisy, represent the rich biodiversity and adaptability of the flora and fauna of Lihué Calel National Park. They exemplify the beauty and uniqueness of the living beings that can be found in this wonderful natural environment.


The ecosystem of Lihué Calel National Park lies within ancient volcanic hills, rising within the Monte de Mesetas y Llanuras ecoregion. Although the hills reach a maximum height of only 590 meters at Cerro de la Sociedad Científica, they form a unique formation amidst an extensive steppe that appears inhospitable in the central south of the La Pampa Province.

Flora and Vegetation

The park is home to a diversity of plant species, including the caldén, an emblematic tree of La Pampa, and a variety of xerophilic plants adapted to the semi-arid conditions of the area.

The hills of Lihué Calel National Park create a more humid microclimate compared to the surrounding environments, enabling the development of a diverse and unique flora. Approximately 40% of the province’s plant species are found in this area.

Among the endemic species of the hills are the Pampean Daisy (Gaillardia cabrerae), a legume called Adesmia lihuelensis, and the grindelia (Grindelia covasii).

Near streams and watercourses, trees like the caldén, native to the espinal, can be found, as well as sombra de toro and alpatacos. These species contribute to the diversity and uniqueness of the park’s vegetation landscape.

Fauna and Wildlife

The protected area hosts diverse wildlife, including mammals such as guanacos, gray foxes, pumas, and maras. In terms of birds, species like rheas, tinamous, and pampas meadowlarks can be spotted, among many others.

The park plays an important role in protecting endangered species, including the crowned eagle, peregrine falcon, yellow cardinal, lesser hairy armadillo, and the Patagonian terrestrial turtle.

However, some invasive species have also established themselves in the area, such as the European wild boar and the red deer, posing a challenge to biodiversity conservation in the park.

Activities and Excursions in the Park

Hiking and Trekking Routes

The park offers several hiking trails that allow visitors to explore its diverse ecosystems. The Caldén Crossing is a highly recommended route for trekking enthusiasts, although there are other trails with varying levels of difficulty suitable for all visitors:

Namuncurá Trail

This trail begins at the camping area and goes through the calden woodland and hills. It’s the initial section to ascend to the Summit of Cerro Sociedad Científica Argentina.

  • Duration: 45 min
  • Distance: 726 m (round trip)
  • Difficulty: Low

Cerro de la Sociedad Científica Argentina Trail (Argentine Scientific Society Hill Trail)

After completing the Namuncurá Trail, the ascent to the highest summit of the Lihué Calel Hills begins, reaching 590 meters above sea level. From the top, you can enjoy a panoramic view that includes the Salitral Levalle.

  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Option 1: Round trip, ascent and descent from the same point, total of 2 km.
  • Option 2: One-way, 3 km from the starting point to the junction with the pedestrian path that connects to the Valle de Las Pinturas circuit.

Valle de las Pinturas Circuit (Valley of the Paintings Circuit)

Throughout this circuit, you can appreciate the history of the park’s use.

  • Petroglyph Trail: Over 1300-year-old rock paintings. Distance: 600 meters.
  • El Chenque Trail: Discover how indigenous people carried out burials. Distance: 200 meters.
  • La Casona Trail: Allows you to observe the ruins of the former Santa María de Lihué Calel Estate, occupied until 1964 by the Gallardo family. Distance: 250 meters.
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Option 1: Total of 8 km, accessing only the Petroglyph Trail.
  • Option 2: Total of 9 km, accessing the La Casona, El Chenque, and Petroglyph Trails.

Piedra Movediza Trail (The Teetering Stone Trail)

This trail can only be traversed with an authorized guide.

  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Distance: 15.4 km (round trip)
  • Difficulty: Moderate

It’s important to note that all trails require mandatory registration at the Park’s Visitor Center. Some trails may require the company of an authorized guide, so it’s recommended to verify this information in the park’s services section.

Valle de los Angelitos Circuit for Auto or Private Vehicle Tours (Valley of the Little Angels)

The Valle de los Angelitos circuit starts near the Visitor Center and crosses through one of the most beautiful valleys of the hills, where groups of guanacos are commonly spotted.

Valle de los Angelitos Circuit Features:

  • Distance: 18.5 km.
  • Difficulty: Low.

There are two options to explore the circuit:

Option 1: Vehicle or Bicycle: You can complete the circuit by car or bicycle, reaching the connection with pedestrian trails and then returning the same way.

Option 2: In addition to the vehicle or bicycle route, this option proposes a pedestrian connection alternative to the La Casona, El Chenque, and Petroglyph Trails.

This circuit offers a convenient way to explore the park by car, providing the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the valley and the possibility to connect with pedestrian trails for further exploration on foot.

Bicycle Routes

For cycling enthusiasts, Lihué Calel National Park offers the opportunity to explore different sections by bicycle:

  1. Valle de los Angelitos Circuit: This circuit allows you to explore one of the most beautiful valleys of the park by bicycle.
    • Distance: varies depending on the chosen route.
    • Difficulty: Low.
  2. Valle de las Pinturas Circuit: This circuit takes you through a 12 km (round trip) route to the access of pedestrian trails for Petroglyphs, El Chenque, and La Casona. You’ll be able to enjoy rock paintings, discover burials, and observe the ruins of the old estate.
    • Distance: 12 km (round trip).
    • Difficulty: Low.

These circuits offer cycling enthusiasts the opportunity to explore the park by bicycle, enjoying the natural beauty and diversity of landscapes that Lihué Calel National Park has to offer.

Likán Mapu Interpretation Center

The Likán Mapu Interpretation Center is a special place within Lihué Calel National Park where visitors can immerse themselves in the protected area and understand its history, as well as learn about its natural and cultural resources. This center provides valuable and educational information about the park, allowing visitors to engage with their surroundings in a meaningful way and learn about the indigenous Mapuche and Ranquel peoples.

At the Interpretation Center, visitors can learn about the importance of conserving and protecting the park, as well as understand the relationship between natural and cultural resources within the protected area. Through interactive displays, informative exhibitions, and educational activities, visitors can enhance their experience and gain a deeper understanding of the beauty and diversity of Lihué Calel National Park.

This center is a fundamental resource for promoting environmental and cultural awareness, enabling visitors to meaningfully connect with the natural environment and the importance of its conservation.

Wildlife Observation

The park is a paradise for nature lovers, offering exceptional opportunities for wildlife and bird observation.

Photography and Scenic Points of Interest

The breathtaking panoramic views from the hilltops, as well as the rich flora and fauna, provide excellent photography opportunities. Several points of interest for photography in Lihué Calel Park include:

  1. Hilltops: The highest summits of the park, like Cerro de la Sociedad Científica Argentina, offer stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. From the top, you can capture spectacular photographs of the hills, the valley, and the surrounding vegetation.
  2. Natural Lookouts: Along the park’s trails and paths, strategically placed natural lookouts provide privileged views and allow you to capture panoramic images of the surrounding landscapes, such as valleys, mountains, and forests.
  3. Sunrises and Sunsets: Clear skies and the park’s geographical location allow for beautiful sunrises and sunsets. These times of day offer soft and warm light that can enhance the beauty of the landscapes and create unique photographic opportunities.

Practical Information for Visitors

Best Time to Visit

The park can be visited year-round. However, spring and autumn are especially beautiful, with moderate temperatures and vibrant colors.

How to Get to Lihué Calel National Park

Lihué Calel National Park has a main entrance located on RN 152, at kilometer 147.5 (Lat 38° 01′ South – Long 65° 35′ West). Caution is advised while driving, as some sections of the road might be in poor condition.

It’s important to note that there’s no cellular coverage in the service area and the circuits within the park. However, cellphone signal can be found on RN 152, approximately 1 km south of the entrance to the service area.

Getting There by Car

To reach the park by car from the city of Santa Rosa, take RN 35 and then RN 152, covering a distance of approximately 230 km until you reach the park’s entrance.

From General Acha, the distance is 121 km, while from the town of Puelches, it’s about 35.8 km away.

It’s recommended to plan your trip in advance and check the road conditions before departing.

By Plane

The city of Santa Rosa, the capital of La Pampa province, has daily flights from Buenos Aires, except on Saturdays. This can be a convenient option for those who wish to quickly reach the park from other parts of the country.


Santa Rosa has bus connections from various cities across Argentina, providing the option to reach the park by land transport. From the Santa Rosa bus terminal, you can take local buses heading to Lihué Calel National Park.

Car Rental

In the city of Santa Rosa, it’s possible to rent a car to drive to the park and explore the area independently. Several car rental companies have branches in the city.

Tour Agencies

Another option is to contact a local tour agency in Santa Rosa, which can offer transportation services and guided tours to Lihué Calel National Park. This can be especially useful for those who want a guided experience with additional information about the park.

Interprovincial Buses

Buses heading to Neuquén and Bariloche make a stop in front of the entrance to the protected area, providing an additional option for those traveling from or to these cities.

Local Transportation Within the Park

Regarding local transportation within the park, there are available transportation services:

  • Vemechi: Phone: 2954 15 479083
  • Transporte Chuky: Phone: 2954 15 606565
  • Transporte El Ceibo: Phone: 2954 580976

These local services can provide transportation within the park for those who need it.

Opening Hours

The National Park is open to the public every day of the year. Opening hours vary by season:

  • Summer: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Winter: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It’s important to note that entering the park requires mandatory registration at the Visitor Center, which is located 2 km from the main entrance of the protected area. Additional information about the park will be provided there, and the necessary registration for entry will be conducted.

It’s recommended to verify the updated hours before visiting the park, as they may be subject to changes or adjustments.

Regulations and Tips for a Safe and Responsible Trip

It’s important to follow the park rules to ensure the safety of visitors and the protection of the fauna and flora. This includes not feeding animals, not collecting plants or rocks, and not making fires in unauthorized areas.

Available Services in the Park and Nearby Areas (Accommodation, Food, etc.)

The park has a ranger station and a visitor center. The nearest city with full accommodation and food services is General Acha, located about 120 km from the park.

Tips for Trip Planning

It’s recommended to bring water, sunscreen, and a hat due to the dry and sunny climate. It’s also advisable to consider that there are no food services within the park, so you should bring food if you plan to spend the entire day.

The Importance of Lihué Calel Conservation

Current Threats to the Park’s Ecosystem

Some current threats to the park include climate change, the introduction of invasive species, and human development pressure in the surrounding areas.

Conservation and Protection Efforts

Conservation efforts include monitoring of fauna and flora, public education, and strict enforcement of park rules to minimize human impact.

The National Park in Argentine Culture

Historical and Cultural Significance

The park has a rich history dating back to indigenous peoples. Additionally, it has been a source of inspiration for various Argentine writers and artists, highlighting its significance in the country’s culture.

Influence on Arts and Literature

The unique landscape and rich biodiversity of Lihué Calel National Park have been depicted in numerous works of art and literature. Its beauty has been a source of inspiration for artists and writers, contributing to the appreciation and recognition of Argentina’s natural heritage.

Stories and Legends of Lihué Calel National Park

Lihué Calel National Park is also home to fascinating local stories and legends. Many of these stories are tied to the traditions and beliefs of the indigenous peoples who inhabited the region, such as the legend of the Cueva de los Espíritus translated as the "Cave of Spirits", a cave that is said to be inhabited by spirits that protect the park. These stories and legends contribute to the park’s rich cultural tapestry, adding a unique charm to your visit.

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