From Quito, the volcano-crested national park of Parque Nacional Cotopaxi makes a spectacular day trip or weekend trip, with the park highlight being the picture-perfect peak of Volcán Cotopaxi, Ecuador's second-highest peak. With hiking and biking trails, a visitor center, two volcanoes and plenty of recreation facilities amidst gorgeous Andean scenery, Cotopaxi is understandably popular. And it is also easy to access from Quito via a number of means including private transfer, bus, or train.
There are three key entrance points to the park: the northern entrance (good for the several close-by haciendas), the Areá Nacional de Recreación El Boliche (good if coming by train from Quito) and the southern Control Caspi entrance (the most-used entrance).
By Private Transfer
Duration: 2 hours (accessing northern entrance)
This is the most convenient way to get to Cotopaxi, and the most expensive. There are several haciendas (upmarket country farms offering accommodation) scattered around the park's southern and northern entrances, and many offer free pick-up from Quito for guests. These haciendas make for great bases for exploring the park, because the park is within walking distance from most. The journey from Quito Old Town to Hacienda El Porvenir near the park's northern entrance, for example, takes around 1.5 hours.
By Train and Bus
Duration: 2.5 hours one-way, 8 hours round trip (accessing Areá Nacional de Recreación El Boliche)
Incredibly for such a remote national park, Cotopaxi is connected to Quito by train. Trains (more for tourists than locals) run from Quito's Chimbacalle railway station to El Boliche/Cotopaxi railway station in Areá Nacional de Recreación El Boliche in the northwest of the park. Trains run on Thursdays (in July and August) plus Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays year-round from Chimbacalle station in the mornings only.
On these train tours, you generally take the train one-way and the bus one-way, which allows for around two to three hours in the park before returning you by bus to Quito eight hours after you departed.
By Bus and On Foot
Duration: 2.5-3.5 hours (accessing southern/Control Caspi entrance)
Buses running between Quito and Latacunga drop you off at the turnoff to Control Caspi, the southern entrance to the park. Buses take about 1.5 hours to reach the turn-off, the closest point by public transport to the park. From here, it's about 4 miles (6 km) to the park entrance, Control Caspi, and further to the points of interest inside the park.
The walk takes anything between one and two hours to Control Caspi. Coming this way to the most-used entrance, you may well get lucky if coming at weekends and get a ride further in (to the park visitor center, for example) with Ecuadorian tourists visiting the park.
This option is commonly used because of the frequency of the transportation, and the flexibility you have taking this means of transport. However, you need to be in good condition to hike into the park this way as you cannot rely on getting a lift.