Mexico’s volcanoes are beautiful and foreboding, their sharp peaks scraping the sky and many times shrouded in clouds. And while Mexico’s three highest peaks are either inaccessible to hikers (Popocatépetl) or very difficult to climb even with a guide (Citlaltépetl and Iztaccihuatl), Nevado de Toluca has enough infrastructure to make it easy to access its crater. It is still at a very high altitude at 15,350 feet (2,210 meters) and its peaks (Pico de Águila and Pico del Fraile) are more difficult to summit. However, in comparison to the other two volcanoes that you are able to climb, this is the easiest one in terms of energy/ability as well as logistics.
And if you decide to head to Nevado de Toluca, you might as well make a weekend of it, camping amongst the beautiful landscape and hiking along the lakes that fill in the volcano’s crater. It only takes about three hours to get to the National Park from Mexico City and even less from Toluca, the capital of Estado de Mexico. Escape from the city and see one of Mexico’s volcanoes in one relaxing and beautiful weekend.
Camping at Parque Ecoturístico Corral de Piedra
Just to the west of Nevado de Toluca National Park, the Parque Ecoturístico Corral de Piedra is a little natural paradise tucked along a pond in Amanalco, Estado de Mexico. For real, I fell in love with this place and felt immediately relaxed as soon as we arrived. I’ve talked before about how sometimes the Mexican camping culture differs from the one I’m used to in the U.S. and may sometimes include loud music and trampolines. But this place has the perfect mix of rustic accommodations, natural beauty and rules to limit inconsiderate behavior.
Getting there is a bit challenging, the dirt road is quite primitive and you need decently high clearance on your car to access it successfully. I can’t say this with 100% certainty but I’m almost positive there are no public transportation options to get here.
Once you’ve arrived, you can choose to pitch your tent by the lake next to a palapa or in a field for $200 pesos. You can also pay a bit more for a cabin with varying number of beds to fit your group. We chose to set up our tent by the pond and loved having the palapa to sit under and a fire pit to start a fire in. They also will sell firewood to you if they have it available in case you didn’t bring your own.
You can spend the afternoon relaxing by the lake reading books and drinking craft brews like we did or you can rent one of their boats along with some fishing gear to fish in the pond. Whatever your choice, this is a lovely place to camp and relax. I wasn’t surprised to see that it’s classified as a Paraíso Indígena, a certification from the Mexican government that recognizes indigenous-managed natural, cultural or historical areas that offer high-quality services, activities and accommodations. Some of my favorite places that I’ve stayed at in Mexico have had this certification so now I’m trying to make it a point to find and stay in them when I travel.
There’s also a small restaurant that serves basic meals like fish prepared various ways, milanesa, or quesadillas for the vegetarians. We decided to eat a late lunch/early dinner there and had brought our own food for snacks and breakfast the next day.
Contributing to the lovely ambiance is the beautiful scenery here. There is a mountain behind the lake and the sunset was amazingly beautiful the night we were there. In the morning, mist settles in around the pond which soaked our tent but was a beautiful scene to wake up to.
I really loved this place and it is totally worth a trip even if you don’t plan to visit Nevado de Toluca though it is so nearby and so easily accessible that there’s no reason not to. And since it’s only a few hours from Mexico City this makes a lovely natural weekend escape from the city.
Hiking at Nevado de Toluca
Whether you’re coming from the Parque Ecoturístico Corral de Piedra (about an hour) or coming from Toluca or Mexico City, the easiest way to get to the base of the mountain is by car. You can get there by public transportation on the colectivos that go from the nearby towns but you’ll have to hike up the road to the parking lot. The parking lot at the base costs $50 pesos to enter and park your car. There are lots of stands at the parking lots selling water, gatorade, snacks or quesadillas so if you forgot to fill up your water or still need to fuel up your body a bit more you’re in luck. There are also bathrooms so you can take advantage of having those before heading up to the trailhead (though the trailhead has bathrooms too).
From the parking area, there is still another 13 kilometers (about 8 miles) to go until the trailhead. If you decide to walk, it will take about 3-4 hours up the dirt road. You’ll also be breathing in dust from the trucks that are going up and down bringing passengers to the trailhead. If you decide you’d rather be in the truck instead of inhaling its dust, it costs $50 pesos per person one way. You’ll pile in the back which is covered with a tarp and the drive is about 30-40 minutes to arrive at the trailhead.
At the trailhead there are offices for the park and a bunkhouse with bathrooms that you can use before you set off on your hike. From the trailhead it takes about 30 minutes to arrive to the overlook where you can see the crater filled in with two lakes rimmed with peaks rising up from the shore. The hike to the overlook is not a strenuous one but Nevado de Toluca is very high up so there’s less oxygen which makes it harder to breathe while hiking.
We had planned on waking up really early and getting to trailhead early enough to be able to get up on a peak but Germán and I are not the best at being morning people and we ended up missing the turn off to the parking area and leaving the park and having to turn around to come back. All that to say we arrived a bit later than we expected. Although we were prepared with appropriate clothing and water/snacks, we didn’t have helmets and the park rangers told us not to try (storms usually roll in in the afternoons like at any high altitude mountain).
So instead, we decided to do a loop around the two lakes and went up a little to the ridge that comes down from Pico del Fraile. I traced in our route below and described it here so that can do the same loop if you’re interested.
From the overlook start hiking to the right and follow the trail to arrive by the banks of the Lago del Sol. A lot of people just stay here and admire the beautifully colored lake with the mountain range rising up sharply behind it but you can continue walking around the whole lake.
Head to the right and hug the bank to stay on the trail all the way around. You may have to scramble a little bit on some rocks but it’s nothing too intense. The view keeps changing as you go around and there are some lovely big rocks that offer a good spot to sit and take a break.
You won’t make a full circle around the lake, once you start getting closer to the ombligo (the mound separating the two lakes), follow a faint trail away from the lake, slightly to the right. If you were to take a hard right you would be scrambling up a scree field so don’t do that. You’ll come up to where a few trails intersect, one of which is coming off of the summit of Fraile. You’ll head to the left and follow the trail as it extends over the ridge and then descends to Lago de la Luna. It is easy to lose the trail in this area and the soil around here is delicate so try to stay on the trail and rocks to avoid damaging the delicate high-alpine soil ecosystem.
Once you get down to Lago de la Luna you can go right up to the shore or stay on the trail slightly above depending on your preference then follow the clear trail heading back up to the overlook. All in all, this route offers a bit of a challenge, less than summiting one of the peaks and more than just going down to the lake. It took us around 3 hours to do the whole loop at a decent pace with a couple breaks for snacks and photos.
If you’re set on getting to the summit, your best bet is to stay the night before at the bunkhouse or camping area in order to get out early enough to summit. If you chose to go with a guide they’ll probably pick you up in Mexico City or wherever you’re staying and bring you to the mountain and guide you up in the morning. They’ll also provide you with gear and will manage all the logistics for you. Weather is obviously unpredictable but your chances of summiting with a guide are pretty high. We ran into a group with Senderismo Mexico and chatted with them for a bit. The guide was friendly and experienced and the two women he was guiding were very happy with him.
If you have your own gear and want to tackle the peak on your own, you can reserve a bed in the bunkhouse or stay in the camping area with your own gear for a fee. Or, if you truly are a morning person you could just get there by 8am or earlier to start your trek. Climb up Pico de Águila and then going across over to Fraile would probably take around 8 hours. The rangers there are helpful (but probably only speak Spanish) so if you have questions when you get there you can go up to one of them.
When we were chatting with the rangers on our visit, they told us that Pico de Águila is the most exposed. It’s the one that guides will probably take you up first so if the weather is a little windy or looks like it might change it probably isn’t a good idea to try to climb up that peak.
What to Wear Hiking
The beauty of Nevado de Toluca is that it is easily accessible so you’ll see lots of people walking around wearing street clothes and a sweater or jacket. And if you don’t have technical athletic wear that shouldn’t necessarily stop you from visiting. However, if you want to be more comfortable on your trip and if you’re planning on hiking around more than just to the overlook, it’s a good idea to be prepared with appropriate clothing. The weather can be cold and the sun is very strong up at 15,000 feet.
- Athletic baselayers: you’ll still probably get sweaty hiking around despite the cold so having wicking baselayers is key.
- Hiking pants/leggings: Just make sure that if you wear hiking pants they’re not the super light ones for summer, or if they are put a layer underneath. I wore midweight leggings and felt good.
- A few warm layers: I topped my baselayer with a merino wool long-sleeve shirt and a Patagonia vest followed by a…
- Jacket: a wind breaking shell or a medium-puff down puffy. You may not need this the whole time so stuff it in your backpack when not in use.
- Fleece headband or beanie: again, preferably fleece or wool rather than cotton so as to not hold the sweat to your forehead.
- Light gloves: I wore my Smartwool gloves – the wool equivalent of those black cotton basic gloves.
- Sunscreen: the sun is strong up this high so make sure you have a high SPF that you put on all exposed areas (I burnt my hands when I took off my gloves).
- Comfortable sneakers or hiking shoes/boots: if you’re not summiting there’s no need for boots and definitely not crampons/microspikes.
- Sunglasses: Again, the sun is strong, be prepared.
- Backpack: to store extra layers, water and snacks.
- Optional – trekking poles: I brought mine and I enjoyed using them as always (they take some strain off of your knees and give you extra power on the uphill) but I only saw a few other people with them and I would have been fine without them.
Basically, this weekend itinerary lets you spend a lovely weekend relaxing in a beautiful natural landscape and hiking around the crater of Mexico’s fourth highest volcano at over 15,000 feet. It’s a great mix of refreshing and exerting that will let you escape from the hustle and bustle of the city while pushing you a little physically.
Do you have any questions about how to spend your weekend at Nevado de Toluca? Let me know below in the comments or pin this image for later so that you don’t forget to put this amazing destination on your Mexico bucket list.
Let me know how it goes and happy trails!