Palguin River

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Quick Facts

General Description

The Palguin River (Palquin, Palquine) is a Pucon Classic and usually marks the highlight of any kayaker’s trip to the Pucon Valley. This famous creek snakes its way between two active volcanoes, Volcan Villarrica and Volcan Quetrupillan. To describe it best, the Palguin is a class III creek punctuated by numerous high waterfalls. The river is divided into three sections, Upper, Middle and Lower and is only a few kilometers long in total. For first time kayakers the Palguin will probably take quite a long time to descend because each drop needs to be fully scouted and safety set-up in the event of a swim. Plan on spending the day (a few hours for each section) in the Palguin River Gorge your first time down. All of the drops are scoutable except one.

As of April 2006, the middle section of the Rio Palguin was permanently altered by a landslide. The riverbed was filled with hazardous debris and an ~80 foot waterfall was created. The middle section of the Palguin should now be avoided except by those who know the river or who feel they are up for a true class V+ challenge. It is important not to miss the take-out for the upper section to avoid accidentally getting on the Middle Palguin.


Anyone not comfortable running waterfalls should take a pass on the Rio Palguin. That said most of the drops on the Paguin are clean and might only be considered class IV by expert waterfall runners. In April of 2006 a landslide occurred on the Middle Palguin turning a classic section of the river into a problematic debris field. One result of this catastrophe was the creation of an ~80 foot waterfall which should be considered a mandatory portage. The river is also pockmarked with numerous caves and undercuts. All of these are easily avoidable but have been responsible for freak but lethal accidents. Lastly, the water of the Rio Plaguin is cold, so spending a significant time out of your kayak swimming is not advisable. If you are having hesitation about paddling the Palguin get in contact with the many locals who frequent this river, or plan on tackling it with a well equipped group.

River Flows / Gauge Information / Season

Best estimates for flows on the Rio Palguin are about 400 cfs (11 cms). During periods of high precipitation or snow melt the Rio Palquin may become too high to kayak. It is best to check with one of the kayak shops in the village of Pucon about the conditions on the river as they can change dramatically within a short period of time.

Rapid Descriptions

Upper Palguin:

  • Drop 1: This slanting double-drop is about 14 feet (4 meters) and is the most technical on the upper section. Portage on river-right.
  • Drop 2: This drop needs to be run blind as there is no portage. It is about 10 feet (3 meters) into a clean pool. Boofing at the bottom to avoid the hole isn’t a bad idea.
  • Drop 3: A scoutable and very clean 20 foot (6 meter) waterfall. There are two channels on either side of a rock. The main flow goes left. Both sides have been run.
  • Drop 4: Scout this problematic drop before running. It is another split channel waterfall, of similar height, but narrower than the third drop. Most people run the river-left channel. At higher flows this is a mandatory portage because of the danger of pitoning at the bottom.
  • Drop 5: A mandatory portage on river-left. Here you will need to huck your kayak over a ~40 foot cliff and jump in after it.

The rest of the run is class III/III+ to the bridge.

Middle Palguin:

  • Before the landslide in April, 2006, the Middle Palguin had three awesome drops that really put this river on the map. Unfortunately the landslide destroyed the final two drops and created one large un-runnable waterfall of about 80 feet. A run on the Middle now consists of running the first drop and then portaging around the newly created waterfall. Because of all of the debris in the river descriptions of the Middle Palguin are sketchy at best. If you are planning on running this section use extreme caution and get the latest beta from the locals.

Lower Palguin:

  • The Lower Palguin consists of a series of gorges, one of them serious enough that it is almost always portaged. Scout everything before running on this section. The lead-in to the gorges is a series of four class IV rapids. After this the river narrows and forms a gorge with three small drops. Scout all of these and take-out after the second drop and portage around the next un-runnable gorge. The river here is undercut with much of the water heading into hidden caves along the sides, so exercise extreme caution. Put back in and run the final slide before the take-out.

Put-Ins and Take-Outs

From Pucon head east on the International Highway (Route 119) in the direction of Cararrehue and Argentina. After about 20 kilometers start looking for a sign on the road that says “Termas de Palguin”. Turn right up this gravel road that pretty much follows the Palguin River. This road actually crosses the notch between the Volcano Villarrica a Volcano Quetrupillan to the village of Conaripe on the other side. As the road passes by “Salto El Leon” it becomes super-steep and seems almost crazy to drive, beyond lies the Alta Patagonia park. However, to get to the put-in of the Upper (Alto) Rio Palguin you don’t need to go that far. The runnable sections are below the “Termas de Palguine”. Spend some time on this road orienting your group to the various put-ins and take-outs. This will help avoid an accidental run on the middle section.

  • Upper Put-in: To access the put-in you will need to locate the natural bridge that spans the river. This feature is only a few kilometers above the last bridge that serves as the take-out for the Upper Palguin Section. You will need to scramble down the riverbank and a do a “seal launch” (about 15 feet, 4 meters) into the river.
  • Upper Take-out: Take-out at the bridge above the middle section of the Rio Palquin.
  • Lower Put-in: As you are heading up the road, toward the Termas de Palguin, look for the “Parcelas Palguin” access area. This is the put-in for the Lower (Bajo) Palguin.
  • Lower Take-out: Take-out at the bridge at the bottom of the run.


From the city of Freire, on the Pan American Highway (Route 5), take Route 199 (southeast) to the town of Villarrica and onward to the village of Pucon. The trip from Freire to Pucon is 80 kilometers. If coming from the south on Route 5, head east to Villarrica after passing through the city of Loncoche.

Places to Stay / Campgrounds

There are numerous campgrounds in the Pucon Valley even along the Rio Liucura itself. In the high season finding a quieter one can be difficult as they are often full of outdoor enthusiasts visiting the Pucon area. You can also find plenty of non-camping lodging options in the resort town of Pucon.

Maps & Outside Links





Pucon Outdoor Center


Municipality of Pucon

Copyright & Terms of Use

  • Copyrights: (Copyright © 2006, Expediciones Chile) All photos, maps, diagrams, text and computer code is the copyrighted property of Expediciones Chile with all rights reserved.

  • Terms of Use: Any type of reproduction, republication, or re-transmission for commercial use is prohibited without the expressed, written permission of Expediciones Chile. Users of this Wiki guidebook may print copies of the text, images and diagrams for personal river running use only. Users may not alter the diagrams or text without expressed written permission of Expediciones Chile. Users must read and acknowledge the disclaimer before printing. Printing implies acknowledgment of the disclaimer.


  • Disclaimer: Under no circumstances should paddlers substitute the information and diagrams in this guidebook for their own sound judgment on the river and their collective experience running rivers. The diagrams, maps and descriptions found here are only approximations of what paddlers will find on the river once they get to Chile or Argentina. They are not to scale and nor are they completely accurate. Water levels change, rocks move around, landslide debris can enter the river at any time making the diagrams obsolete. Expediciones Chile also reserves the right to update these diagrams and descriptions at any time as we find better ways to illustrate and discuss the rapids. Use this guidebook at your own risk.

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