Despite its length the road provides access to about 100,000 people, and the largest city along the way is Coyhaique, population about 45,000.
The Carretera Austral is both a tourist attraction with incredibly beautiful views throughout, and a very important connection for the people of Patagonia between towns. There are plenty of hostels in every town along the way, and it's a popular route for bike touring (anyone interested in biking it with me let me know!)
It's winter right now in the Southern Hemisphere so there are very few tourists (as in me and one other person...we're friends now naturally), but with a very flexible schedule it is possible to do most of the route. I decided to take a boat for the first part from Puerto Montt to Chaiten. The boat, run by Navier Austral, takes 10 hours and usually runs twice a week. From Chaiten I took a 12 hour bus ride to Coyhaique. With the exception of when we stopped at a random house along the way for coffee and I had the special opportunity of watching just stoppage time of the USA vs. Portugal match, it was the best 12 hours on a dirt road I could ever have imagined!
I think going any further south from here is going to require renting a four-wheel drive car so there will definitely be more stories to come.