Only 22km south of town is Parque Nacional El Leoncito, worth visiting for short walks amidst stunning desert landscapes and nighttime stargazing. White-waterrafting is excellent – more for the scenery than for the rapids themselves – and most trips start 50km upriver at Las Hornillas. Contact Hostel Barreal for organized rafting adventures.
Barreal is best known for carrovelismo (land sailing), an exhilarating sport practiced on a small cart with a sail attached. Fanatics come from kilometers away to whizz around out on the gusty, cracked lake bed at Pampa del Leoncito, about 20km from town and adjacent to the national park. Adventurers who want to give it a spin can try Rogelio Toro or Mauro Olivera; both can provide the necessary equipment and also give lessons.
The high season, when winds reach near gale force every afternoon around 5pm, is from mid-October to mid-March.
Las Hornillas (site of two refugios – rustic shelters – and a military outpost) also provides climbing access to the Cordón de la Ramada, which boasts five peaks over 6000m, including Cerro Mercedario. Climbing here is more technical than Aconcagua and many mountaineers prefer the area. Ramon Ossa, a Barreal native, is a highly recommended mountain guide and excursion operator who knows the cordillera intimately; contact him at Posada Don Ramon. He can arrange trips to Cerro Mercedario and expeditions across the Andes in the footsteps of San Martín, including mules and equipment.
For access to the refugio at Las Hornillas, climbing information, guide services and mountain-bike rental, visit Maxi at Cabañas Kummel.
Mauro Olivera, an experienced guide, can organize climbing trips including three days in the mountains and two nights at Posada Don Lisandro (per person AR$5000, minimum four people).
At the south end of Presidente Roca is a sort of triangular roundabout. Follow the road east (away from the Andes) until it leads into the hills; you’ll see a small shrine and you can hike into the foothills for more stunning views. Follow this road for 3km and you’ll come to a mining site (the gate should be open). Enter and continue for 1km to reach a petrified forest.