Even before man appeared in Patagonia, the environment was majestic -abundant precipitation and wide watersheds allowed for thick vegetation on mountain slopes where cypress and the gigantic coihue trees reigned. A variety of underbrush and natural pastures gave shelter to fauna including guanacos and huemules. The transparent water of rivers and lakes was inhabited by percas and huillines. From East to West, the arid steppe turned into a wood, and this into a rain forest. Wild strawberries, michay, taique, amancay and mutisias covered the land in colors.
Thousands of years ago, after glaciers crept into the valley of Nahuel Huapi, man appeared in Patagonia. Tehuelches, Puelches and Pehuenches lived in the area until the second half of the 17th century, when their cultures were absorbed by a stronger, more evolved one - the Araucan. Forging trails through the Andes, the Araucan penetrated East, imprinting their culture to those in Patagonia. The Spanish living in Chile also began using these paths beginning in 1550. While searching for the City of Caesars, a Spanish Captain, Juan Fernandez, arrived for the first time to the Blest branch of Lake Nahuel Huapi by following a path through Peulla. Others followed his route in their conquests, gradually penetrating further into this territory full of lakes.
Since 1653, the Jesuits, on evangelistic missions, used these paths as well. Later, Chilean scientists were sent to study the characteristics of Patagonia. They reported the area to be the domains of Cacique Saihueque – the Country of Apples - consisting of tall thick forests and crystalline rivers. In 1872, the Argentine government began organizing expeditions to this area with the idea of future colonization.
During the 1880's, the Argentine army advanced into Patagonia and mapped Nahuel Huapi's lakes and rivers. In 1892, the first white settlers arrived to the coast of Lake Nahuel Huapi, some coming from the Atlantic and others from the Pacific. In this first immigration there were American and German settlers. Carlos Wietherholdt, a German trader, initiated commercial activity in the region by building his first house and shop where San Carlos de Bariloche later formed. Wietherholdt also began trading with Puerto Montt, where he exported wool, leather, potatoes, cheese, butter and other products.
In 1897, there were 14 settlers scattered around lake Nahuel Huapi – a small community consisting of agriculture and cattle farming. Sawmills, blacksmith's shops and milk farms started working later that year. And as more settlers came from Viedma and Carmen de Patagones, the community grew. Soon, ships were made to transport merchandise across Lake Nahuel Huapi.
In 1901, a group of Swiss immigrants arrived - further diversifying the nationalities that formed the community. Providing distinct trade expertise, these people worked together collectively to pioneer the territory.
San Carlos de Bariloche was officially founded on May 3rd, 1902. It was named San Carlos in honor of Mr. Wiederhold and Bariloche from the indian term Vuriloche. Towards the end of the summer of Bariloche's founding year, the first tourists came to Nahuel Huapi from Buenos Aires - Aaron Anchorena, Carlos Lamarca and Esteban Lavallol. The first road for cars to Bariloche was completed in 1913. In 1921, the first airplane flew into Bariloche.