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The 5 Best Trekking Circuits in Patagonia

The 5 Best Trekking Circuits in Patagonia

From the rugged peaks of Reserva Cerro Castillo (Aysen Region, Chile) to the giant glaciers of Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina), planning a trekking trip to Patagonia can quickly become a dilemma. Too much to see, long distances, lack of time. However every trekking circuit has its particularities making a big difference when it comes to taking a decision.

Almost impossible to do a ranking here. We love all of these circuits. We’ll just help you with the most singular aspects so you can choose YOUR circuit. Yeah, you’ve got what I mean : whatever circuit you opt for, your decision will be good.

I. Cerro Castillo Circuit

Cerro Castillo

Location: Reserva Cerro Castillo, Aysen Region (Coyhaique Region), Chile

Distance & time: 51km/32mi | 3 to 4 days

Difficulty: demanding

Cerro Castillo is without any doubt amongst the most beautiful mountain ranges in the Americas, yet this beauty is still under undervalued, making this trail a great alternative to more crowded trails like Torres del Paine National Park. The trek starts about 80 km/50 mi away from Coyhaique, in Chile’s incredible Aysen region (nearest airport is Balmaceda). The best way to start this trek is to head to “Las Horquetas”, 30 kilometers before reaching Villa Cerro Castillo leaving from Coyhaique. From there it is a 4-day epic trek through remote snowy valleys, lush green forests and incredible blue lagoons.

Take into account that climate here may be extreme especially in Autumn and Winter months. It often snows and precipitations may make the experience more adventurous, especially on the trek’s second day (Rio Turbio campsite to Laguna Cerro Castillo) as you hike at 1300m.a.s.l (about 4265ft) through an exposed valley. For that reason, we recommend to hike during Summer months (Nov. to February). There are lots of ups and downs making this trek pretty challenging Also, there is absolutely no infrastructure along the circuit (only campsites), so only do this trek if you’ve got some hiking experience and love to camp.

Cerro Castillo circuit

Leaving Rio Turbio Campsite (day 2) you’ll hike through the circuit’s highest point

La Tetera Campsite, Cerro Castillo

La Tetera (near Laguna Cerro Castillo) offers an incredible view of the surrounding glaciers

Patagonian Sunrises are incredible and Cerro Castillo is no exception

Patagonian Sunrises are incredible and Cerro Castillo is no exception

Why we love it:

  • The diversity of landscapes
  • The beauty of Mt. Cerro Castillo (2675mts/8776ft)
  • The quietness on the trails
  • The proximity to the “Carretera Austral” (Patagonia’s most epic road)
  • The epicness of the campsites’ location
  • A true feeling of adventure

 

Take into account that:

  • Weather may be wet
  • Autumn, Winter and early Spring may be snowy
  • There are no refuges, only campsites
  • Previous trekking experience is strongly advised

II. W Trek

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Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes Region, Chile

Distance & time: 51km/32mi | 4 to 6 days

Difficulty: moderate

Torres del Paine National Park is also known as “Patagonia’s Crown Jewel” and it is easy to understand why. With its incredible fauna, dramatic granite peaks and giant ice fields, this 242 000 ha vast National Park is home of some of the beautiful trails on Earth. The W Trek is the most popular hiking circuit in Patagonia and it is easy to understand why.

Take a look at the shape of the circuit on a trekking map and you’ll understand the name of this worldwide famous circuit. There are different starting points (Grey Glacier, Paine Grande refuge or the towers’ area) but whichever you choose, you will see the same highlights. Grey Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields and the W Trek is the best way to have an overview of how giant it is. Keep hiking and you’ll discover the stunning Frenchsman Valley, where you’ll see the park’s highest peak (Paine Grande), avalanches, incredible granite peaks (Los Cuernos, the Shark’s Fin and more) and some of Patagonia’s prettiest lakes (Pehoe Lake, Nordenskjold Lake). You can’t miss then Towers’ Base Lookout hike and an insane viewpoint of the 3 granite towers that gave their name to the park.

Trails here are well indicated and every day you have different sleeping options, with cozy refuges (Los Cuernos, Paine Grande) and large campsites. You can even spend a few nights in some incredible hotel like Ecocamp Patagonia… Watch a video here.

Walking along giants in the Frenchsman Valley

Walking along giants in the Frenchsman Valley

Why we love it:

  • Some of Patagonia’s most beautiful viewpoints
  • Incredible diversity of landscapes
  • Trails are well indicated
  • Cozy refuges, hotels and campsites
  • You can hike the W Trek all year round, even in Winter!

 

Take into account that:

  • The region can be very windy especially in Summer
  • Trails may be crowded especially in Peak Season (December to February)
  • You need to book refuges and campsites with months of anticipation

III. El Chaltén

Mt. Poincenot in Los Glaciares National Park Patagonia Argentina

Location : El Chaltén, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Distance & Time : about 50 km/30mi | 2 to 4 days

Difficulty : moderate

OK, this is not really a proper “trekking circuit” as you can go back to El Chalten – the nearby village – every night. However you can also camp in the forest and explore the highlights of the area – Cerro Torre and Mt. Fitzroy – in a couple of days and eventually add a few days to discover the surrounding trails. El Chaltén is Argentina’s hiking capital and its mountain range includes some of the world’s most famous peaks. Cerro Torre (3102m.a.s.l/10200ft) and Mt. Fitzroy (3405m.a.s.l/11200ft) are a fascination for climbers around the world, Cerro Torre being considered for a long time an “impossible mountain” to climb.

Good news is that hikes are nothing technical. The hike to “Laguna Los Tres” to reach Mt. Fitzroy’s viewpoint is steep for about an hour and a half, yet views are completely rewarding. You can start hiking from El Chalten without paying any entrance fee and trails are very well marked and indicated with signs. Just like Torres del Paine National Park, the region can be very windy (especially from November to February) but believe me, this unstable weather makes the experience even more unforgettable.

If you’re looking for a more extreme trekking experience, other options are the “Huemul Circuit” and “Loma del Pliegue Tumbao” that both offer real mountaineering experiences. Check out our Argentine programs here.

Hiking to Cerro Torre, Argentina

Hiking to Cerro Torre, one of the most legendary peaks in South America

Laguna Los Tres in El Chalten

Laguna Los Tres offers an incredible view of epic peaks like Mt. Poincenot & Mt. Fitzroy

Mt. Fitzroy in El Chalten

The lost kingdom of Fitzroy

Why we love it:

  • Some of Patagonia’s most iconic peaks
  • Trails are well-marked
  • Viewpoints are incredibly rewarding
  • The possibility to go back to El Chaltén every night
  • No National Park entrance fee

 

Take into account that:

  • The region can be very windy especially in Summer
  • Some trails may be crowded in high season (Dec. to February)

    IV. Los Dientes de Navarino

Dientes de Navarino Trek

Location : Navarino Island, Magallanes Region, Chile

Distance & Time : about 37 km/22mi | 4 to 5 days

Difficulty : demanding

This is by far the wildest trekking circuit in Patagonia. “Los Dientes de Navarino” (the teeth of Navarino) is near the legendary Cape Horn and not far from Ushaia, the southernmost city on Earth. The starting point is Puerto Williams, the southernmost village on Earth known by sailors as a stopping-off place before heading to Cape Horn through the Beagle Channel. Climate here is one of the harshest on the planet with regular strong windgusts and low temperatures especially from April to October. That mix of mountain and oceanic weather can make this circuit particularly demanding and you will be happy to have either a good map or a GPS not to lose track of the trail in case of snowfall.

You won’t walk for more than 10 km / 6 mi a day yet this trek is truly intense in scale. Leaving Puerto Williams, you will hiking up Cerro Bandera at 550m.a.s.l and head to “Laguna del Salto” where you can spend the first night. On the next days, you will walk across a series of remote valleys with beautiful viewpoints of the dramatic surrounding peaks (the famous “teeth”) and will eventually see Cape Horn in the distance, the end of the American continent.

This 6-Day trek by Cascada Expediciones was awarded “Best Transformational Travel Experience” in the Pure Awards 2017 and it truly deserves it. You will get the sensation to travel back in time with desolated landscapes and no human infrastructures. Careful though: this means you may have to camp in muddy cold places and hike against the wind. Isn’t it what we’re all looking for? Check out this video : “Hiking Los Dientes de Navarino in 2 Minutes“.

Los Dientes Lagoon

The trail is above the treeline most of the time, yet in some parts hikers must make their own way through the forest

"Laguna La Guanaca" in Los Dientes de Navarino

“Paso Virginia” is the steepest part of the trek but it also offers the best view of the Beagle Channel

Why we love it:

  • True wilderness
  • The less crowded trails in Patagonia
  • The southernmost trail on Earth
  • Incredible viewpoints of the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn (if clear weather)
  • No National Park entrance fee

 

Take into account that:

  • Climate can be very harsh with low temperatures and strong windgusts
  • Only for experienced hikers
  • Hiking with a guide is strongly advised
  • You might lose track of the trails in case of snowfall : GPS is a great idea

    V. Torres del Paine Circuit

Hiking Torres del Paine Circuit in Patagonia

Location : Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes Region, Chile

Distance & Time : about 138 km/83 mi | 7 days

Difficulty : demanding

This is certainly the most complete trekking experience in Patagonia. OK, Torres del Paine National Park is famous for its diverse wildlife and otherworldly landscapes, yet the Circuit is the most epic way to realize how giant and impressive this park truly is. Starting point is the Seron woods; and the regular way to depart the circuit is to hike 32 kilometers on the first day to reach the Dickson campsite, behind the Paine mountain range. This is the wildest area of this national park and also the most remote, which means logistics are complex and the feeling of nature immersion is authentic.

Hiking through Los Perros forest and reaching the famous John Gardner Pass is an incredible experience, with insane views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields and changing weather that can turn your hiking experience into an odyssey. As you reach the trails of the W Trek, you will see how different this is from the less-known trails of the circuit. More crowded, less wild. Yet landscapes like the Frenchsman Valley, Grey Glacier and the towers are pretty unbelievable and this coupled with the other side of the mountains makes for an incredible hiking experience.t

The Torres del Paine Circuit is considered by many as Patagonia’s best trekking circuit, yet it is a pretty long hike only recommended for experienced hikers. The circuit is closed in Winter (May to September) but you should be prepared for all kinds of weathers. Click here if you want the best Torres del Paine Circuit experience while staying in the world’s first geodesic dome hotel!

Wandering through the flower fields near Dickson Campsite

Wandering through the flower fields near Dickson Campsite

The John Gardner Pass offers the best view of Grey Glacier

The John Gardner Pass offers the best view of Grey Glacier

Why we love it:

  • Overall stunning trekking experience
  • Quiet trails in the backside of the Torres del Paine Mountain range
  • Incredible views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields
  • Otherworldly mountains everywhere
  • Comfortable overnight options

 

Take into account that:

  • You can experience 4 seasons in a day and very strong windgusts
  • Only for experienced hikers
  • Hiking with a guide is strongly advised
  • You should Book accommodation with months of anticipation

Any suggestion/question? Leave a comment! :)

About Timothy Dhalleine

Driven by an insatiable wanderlust, I have left my native Hesdin in the north of France in a bid to uncover the tales the soaring peaks of Patagonia and the immensity of the Chilean desert have to tell. I am currently exploring the magic of Torres del Paine National Park, while reaffirming my ideal of a more sustainable world and my passion for nature as Guest Engagement Manager of Ecocamp Patagonia.