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Hike to Cotopaxi's Snow Line

Hiking trail · Ecuador
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Macs Adventure Verified partner  Explorers Choice 
  • From the parking lot, follow the trail to the left. You can see Refugio Jose Rivas up above.
    / From the parking lot, follow the trail to the left. You can see Refugio Jose Rivas up above.
    Photo: Alec Norton, Macs Adventure
  • / At 0.1 Miles follow the sign for "Sendero Zig Zag" or Zig Zag Trail.
    Photo: Alec Norton, Macs Adventure
  • / Looking back at the parking lot down below
    Photo: Alec Norton, Macs Adventure
  • / Refugio José Rivas
    Photo: Alec Norton, Macs Adventure
  • / After taking a break at the Refugio, follow the sign for the trail to the glacier
    Photo: Alec Norton, Macs Adventure
  • / Cotopaxi in the distance
    Photo: Alec Norton, Macs Adventure
m 5000 4900 4800 4700 4600 4500 3.5 3.0 2.5 2.0 1.5 1.0 0.5 km
Hike to Cotopaxi Volcano’s snow line for commanding views of the rugged peaks surrounding you and the plains down below.
Distance 3.8 km
2:00 h
405 m
411 m
Follow a series of switchbacks up from the parking lot at 15,200 feet, slowly but surely making your way another 700 feet in elevation to the Refugio José Rivas, a launching point for summit attempts. Catch your breath here with hot chocolate or mint tea, or to eat your packed lunch, before continuing to climb another 500 feet to the edge of the glacier.

Author’s recommendation

You will find that you get short of breath easily due to the high elevation of this hike. Proceed at a slow pace and take plenty of breaks. 
Profile picture of Claire Peters
Claire Peters
Update: November 18, 2018
Highest point
4,995 m
Lowest point
4,617 m
Best time of year

Safety information

Weather changes rapidly on the slopes of Cotopaxi and it can be very cold and windy. Pack accordingly with a winter hat, gloves and extra layers. You will also be at around 16,000 feet and while your stay at this elevation will be brief, it’s important as ever to maintain proper hydration and nutrition in the day’s leading up to this hike, and during the hike itself.

Don't proceed onto the glacier itself without a guide, as there are crevasses and the terrain and weather is unpredictable.

The Ecuadorian government monitors Cotopaxi Volcano 24/7 and has an early warning system and marked evacuation routes in place for visitors to the National Park. While an eruption is unlikely, check in with the staff at Chilcabamba Lodge regarding emergency procedures in the event of volcanic activity.

Tips and hints

Points of Interest

Cotopaxi Volcano

At 19,347 feet, Cotopaxi is the second highest point in Ecuador (behind the Chimborazo Volcano) and a popular climbing destination. The volcano holds significant cultural and historical value for locals in the surrounding valleys and, on a clear day, can be seen from Quito. Cotopaxi is an active volcano, with the most recent activity occurring between August 2015 and August 2016. The Ecuadorian Government reopened the park in August 2016 and the summit in October 2017. 

Refugio José F. Rivas

This mountain hut was built in 1971 and expanded in 2005. It’s used primarily as a staging point for climbers attempting to summit Cotopaxi. By spending the night here and starting the ascent in the middle of the night, climbers can reach the summit and descend in a day without having to use any other intermediate camps. 

Food & Drink

Hot chocolate, tea and snacks can be purchased at the Refugio. Make sure to pick-up your packed lunch from Tambopaxi Lodge.



Cotopaxi Refugio Parking (4,642 m)
-0.657237, -78.438609
0°39'26.1"S 78°26'19.0"W
17N 785095 9927282


Cotopaxi Refugio Parking

Turn-by-turn directions

0 miles - Start with your back to the parking lot and take the trail on your left. 

0.10 miles - TURN LEFT at the sign marked "Sendero Zig Zag" to follow the switchbacks up to the Refugio.

0.90 miles - Arrive at Refugio José Rivas. You can turn around here or take a break for hot chocolate or tea before heading on to the snow line. If you'd like to head to the snowline, continue STRAIGHT ON past the bathrooms. You'll see a sign pointing to the snow line. 

1.20 miles - Arrive at the snow line. Turnaround and return the way you came. 

1.50 miles – Arrive back at Refugio José Ribas. Continue past the Refugio and descend the switchbacks back to the parking lot.

2.40 miles – Arrive back at the parking lot.


all notes on protected areas


-0.657237, -78.438609
0°39'26.1"S 78°26'19.0"W
17N 785095 9927282
Arrival by train, car, foot or bike


The weather changes rapidly in the Andean Highlands so pack accordingly, carrying plenty of warm layers and rain gear. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots are also strongly recommended, as the hiking surface varies greatly from dirt roads to slippery singletrack trails.

Basic Equipment for Hiking

  • Sturdy, comfortable and waterproof hiking boots or approach shoes
  • Layered, moisture wicking clothing
  • Hiking socks  
  • Rucksack (with rain cover)
  • Protection against sun, rain and wind (hat, sunscreen, water- and windproof jacket and suitable legwear)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking poles
  • Ample supply of drinking water and snacks
  • First aid kit
  • Blister kit
  • Bivy / survival bag  
  • Survival blanket
  • Headlamp
  • Pocket knife
  • Whistle
  • Cell phone
  • Cash
  • Navigation equipment / map and compass
  • Emergency contact details
  • ID
  • The 'basic' and 'technical' equipment lists are generated based on the selected activity. They are not exhaustive and only serve as suggestions for what you should consider packing.
  • For your safety, you should carefully read all instructions on how to properly use and maintain your equipment.
  • Please ensure that the equipment you bring complies with local laws and does not include restricted items.

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3.8 km
2:00 h
405 m
411 m


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