Viedma Lake, Santa Cruz, Argentina

Lake Locations:

Argentina - Patagonia - Santa Cruz -

Also known as:  Lago Viedma

One of the most spectacular destinations in the Patagonia region of Argentina is Viedma Lake. Locally known as Lago Viedma, this massive lake is formed by the Viedma glacier in Glaciers National Park. With an estimated surface area of nearly 270,000 acres, Viedma Lake is one of the largest glacially-formed lake in the region*. The lake is named after the Spanish explorer Antonio de Viedma, the first European to reach its shores in 1783. There are no large cities along its desert shoreline, and little vegetation grows on the steep dry hills along its perimeter. The wind blows, strong and constant, twisting the few natural trees into oddly-lopsided shapes. And at its western end, the Viedma glacier towers above the milky blue water, majestic both in size and in the array of mystic hues within the ice itself. No tour bus brings hoards of visitors to this remote lake and glacier; visitors must actively work for the reward of the vistas across Viedma Lake.

Most, if not all of Viedma Lake lies within Argentina. The western terminus has not been adequately surveyed due to difficult terrain in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Viedma Lake is the chosen destination of mostly active travelers, those intrepid souls who hike, bike and climb their way to viewpoints seldom seen. Fishermen sometimes seek out the shallower arms jutting from the main lake to angle for the three species of trout found in the waters: lake trout, rainbow trout and brown trout.

Not far from the western shore, the “Reserva Estricta” harbors a number of endangered species undisturbed by human interlopers in this restricted area. Lucky hikers along the shore sometimes catch a glimpse of one of the largest colony of “huemules” (domestic stags in danger of extinction) which dwell in Austral Patagonia when they come down to the lake to drink. The lake supports a variety of birds, waterfowl and wildlife, many endangered. Flamingos, eagles, condors, gray foxes, armadillos, the red dwarfed deer (called punu punu), river otter and the guanaco all live in the area and are sometimes seen. If someone tells visitors to watch for the calimayos, they are likely joking as the calimayo is a legendary lake horse which local native myth attributes to Viedma Lake and other lakes in the area.

Most visitors arrange lodgings at the one estancia (ranch) lodge on the lake. This hundred-year-old lodge lies along the western shoreline of Viedma Lake and is actually surrounded by California Redwood trees imported by the original settler! Built by a Finnish adventurer early in the 20th century, the lodge has developed into a respected destination resort that can accommodate about 20 guests. The lodge offers excellent views of Mount Fitz Roy, lovely sand beaches (often far too cold for swimming), and a variety of ways to enjoy and explore Viedma Lake and glacier. From here, lake tours can be arranged to cruise by boat to directly under the lip of the towering glacier.

Fit and energetic visitors can walk the glacier on hikes of varying lengths using equipment provided by the lodge. It is customary to chip off a piece of the glacier for icing down evening drinks when travelers return to the lodge. Boat passengers marvel at the varied blue colors of the ice, caused by pressure during formation. The glacier occasionally gives out massive pops, groans and cracking sounds as the icy mass moves slowly toward the lake. Ice floes often calve off the glacier to float in the lake which are an awesome sight. Guided hiking along the lake is also popular, as is horseback riding on the horses kept in the resort’s stable. Guests also take tours of the actual operation of the ranch, view sheep shearing demonstrations, and enjoy barbecues during the lunch break daily. The combination of rugged outdoor exploration, majestic views, gourmet meals, a private wine cellar and comfortable rooms makes visiting Viedma Lake a bucket-list destination for a variety of summer visitors. The lodge closes in winter, usually March to October.

Getting to Viedma Lake takes planning. The international airport at El Calafate, 90 miles away on the southern shore of Argentino Lake is the usual means of arrival for visitors other than trekkers. Trekkers and hikers often call El Chalten home base. El Chalten is a small town north of Viedma Lake, geared to hikers with a few rough lodgings and campgrounds, offering supplies and guides for hiking and climbing the nearby peaks. A highway runs from El Chalten alongside Viedma Lake, connecting to other roads that lead either to the lodge on the western shore or to Argentino Lake and El Calafate. The road to Argentino Lake roughly follows the La Leona River, which drains Viedma Lake into Argentino Lake. Both lakes then drain into the Atlantic River via the Santa Cruz River. About 10 miles from the small village of La Leona, a ‘petrified forest’ of fossilized wood and prehistoric animals gives visitors a glimpse of a distant past when the area was warm and humid. During the summer season, visitors often encounter bicycle campers making their way along the roads in the area.

Organized tour groups going to Tierra Del Fuego often stop at El Calafate, but few visitors even know Viedma Lake exists nearby. Little activity takes place in winter in this area so close to the ‘bottom of the world’ Planning a trip to Viedma Lake means coordinating reservations and transportation from El Calafate during the summer months of November to March. Modern hotels and lodgings for nearly any purpose can be found in El Calafate, with more primitive accommodations at El Chalten. El Calafate holds a historical interpretation facility that offers exhibits of the entire Glacier National Park, animals and birds found in the area, and the history of the people of Patagonia-a must-see destination before heading to Viedma Lake. Several estancias in the area near the lake offer some form of lodging, although only the one lodge exists on the lake itself. The scenery is stark but beautiful, the lake pristine but cold. It is truly a different world, one that will remain in the visitor’s memory for a lifetime.

*Most huge lakes in the Patagonia region have not been fully surveyed and sizes, so depths and shorelines are usually estimates.

Things to do at Viedma Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Viedma Lake

  • Brown Trout
  • Lake Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Viedma Lake Photo Gallery

Viedma Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 268,851 acres

Shoreline Length: 125 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 820 feet

Maximum Depth: 997 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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