A common question I hear from people planning a trip to Torres del Paine and a stay at one of the handful of excellent adventure lodges in this massive national park is, “what are the best excursions and hikes to do in Torres del Paine?” Of course the response to what would seem a straightforward question varies greatly on who you are and your preferences (Do you really like to hike? How long of a hike is too long? Do you also like to horseback ride? etc). But with that being said, there are some general suggestions that can help you make the most of your five or so days in Torres del Paine.
The heart of the park is generally seen as the areas on the famed ‘W’ hiking route, the backcountry hiking route named as so because it literally takes the shape of the letter. The beauty of lodge-based trips in Patagonia and Torres del Paine is that you can, in most cases, explore and bear witness to aspects of each of these highlight areas in one form or another, with flexibility on how rigorous you like your hikes and activities to be. To help you make the most of your time in the park, I suggest experiencing the highlights of the western and eastern portions, as well as possibly the French Valley in the central area.
Top Excursions for Visiting the Grey Glacier
Starting with the western prong of the W, you can enjoy views over iceberg-dotted Grey Lake and the largest ice field in the Southern Hemisphere before culminating at the face of the Grey Glacier. Nearly all of the luxury Torres del Paine lodges will have multiple options that help you discover this western area and allow for views of the Grey Glacier. It is important to consider whether your lodge includes an option and if there is associated extra cost to take the boat ride to the face of the glacier as this affords some of the most dramatic views.
Visit to the shores of Grey Lake
Highlights: Grey Glacier, southern beech forest, light beach hiking, iceberg lake
Description: Leaving the lodge by van you’ll head towards Grey Lake. From there you’ll hike across a hanging bridge over the churning Pingo River crossing a lenga forest before reaching the shores of Grey Lake where you’ll see enormous icebergs that have broken off of the glacier. After a moderate ascent you will glimpse Grey Glacier up close. After a leisurely walk return to the van and head back to the lodge
Duration: 2.5 hours, half day
Distance: 3.2 miles / 5 kms
Ascent: 118 feet / 37 meters
Active hike to Grey Glacier
Highlights: Grey Glacier, full day hiking, boat ride to glacier’s face, pisco sour with glacial ice, lakeside hiking with views to Southern Ice Field – A Knowmad Favorite!
Description: Begin with an early morning departure aboard private catamaran crossing the turquoise waters of Lake Pehoe towards Paine Grande Lodge. From here you’ll begin ascending through a regrowth forest as this area was affected by a forest fire some years ago. As you ascend you’ll experience the transition from regrowth to more primary forest before cresting to a point where you’ll have your first dramatic views of iceberg-dotted Grey Lake, and soon thereafter views to the massive Southern Ice Field which extends from Grey Glacier’s face for as far as the eye can see. Later you’ll begin descending a steep path to the Grey Beach adjacent to the glacier, where you’l have a much-deserved picnic lunch. From here you’ll be picked up by another catamaran navigating through that icebergs that float throughout the lake and to the glacier’s dramatic face. In addition to those who love a good hike this excursion is fascinating for geology and glaciology enthusiasts. After the navigation back across the lake you’ll cross a forest and the Pingo River hanging bridge to meet the van before heading back to your lodge
- Schedule early in your stay as high winds can make the catamarans inoperable forcing rescheduling
- A benefit of traveling in shoulder season (Sep-Nov, March-Apr) is that you’re likely to take the morning boat ride by moonlight
- Explora’s private catamaran is an advantage on this one making it a Knowmad top pick, but it is also certainly recommended to be considered for stay’s at Tierra Patagonia and Awasi on the eastern part of the park. Additional costs apply at Tierra and Awasi for the navigation necessary to the excursion.
Offered at: Explora Patagonia Lodge and Tierra Patagonia Lodge (note that Tierra’s excursion starts with a 30 minute drive to Lake Pehoe pier before embarkation by public catamaran).
Duration: 5.5 hours at Explora, 6 at Tierra, full day
Distance: 7.4 miles / 12 kms
Ascent: 740 feet / 240 meters
Top Excursions in the French Valley and Central Torres del Paine
The French Valley is one of the most dramatic areas of the park characterized by hanging glaciers and jagged peaks on either side of the valley that pinch together as you ascend. Frequent small avalanches can be heard as the glaciers calve and trigger snowfalls. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the most difficult areas to reach with absolutely no nearby road access, and to really experience what makes the area unique a hike of significant distance and some ascent is required.
Hiking the French Valley
Highlights: Lake crossing by catamaran, hanging glacier, challenging hiking
Description: Begin with an early morning departure aboard private catamaran crossing the turquoise waters of Lake Pehoe disembarking at the Paine Grande Lodge where you will begin hiking through beech forest along a winding rail that passes the slopes of the massive multi-colored Paine Grande Peak along the shores of Lago Skottsberg. Along the way you have dramatic views to the Cuernos del Paine peaks as well. Crossing the hanging bridge over the French River, you’ll reach the remote Italian Camp continuing to a viewpoint that sits below the world famous French Glacier. It’s not uncommon to witness small avalanches and ice falls rumbling from the amphitheater of granite peaks and hanging glaciers framing the area.
For those who wish, continue to ascend up to the French Valley Plateau which affords privileged views of the granite peaks as well as down to Lake Pehoe and the glacier. To reach this plateau requires additional demanding hiking on a steep rocky path running along the moraine left by the glacier.
- If wanting to reach the plateau it’s best to mention that to your lodge guide at the time of excursion briefing for the smoothest logistics and to ensure you have this opportunity
- Tierra’s excursion starts with a 30 minute drive to Lake Pehoe pier before emarkation by public catamaran.
Offered at: Explora and Tierra (between November 16th through March 15th, except on Dec 25th and Jan 1st at Tierra)
Duration: 7.5-8.5 hours, full day
Distance: 9 – 11.3 miles / 16 – 19 kilometers
Ascent: 723- 1,427 feet / 226-446 meters
TOP Excursions to see the Iconic Towers Peaks and Eastern Torres del Paine
It’s not without reason that the view from the Base of the Towers has been immortalized in countless photos. The three needle-like granite spires seemingly defy gravity as they rise thousands of feet from a often turquoise hanging glacial lake creating a most dramatic yet serene effect. There are a variety of excursions where you have the opportunity on clear days to see some or all of the very peaks of the Towers. In addition, at Tierra and Awasi Patagonia you will experience partial Towers views from the lodge and your rooms as well.
Laguna Azul & Outlook
Highlights: Iconic granite spires (Towers views), hanging glacial lake, requires only light hiking
Description: Great easy exploration with Explora that can even be done on arrival day if arriving early. Beginning at their quincho (a traditional cowboy outpost often used for BBQs) you will head by van (or alternatively can walk through the forest) to the Blue Lagoon walking along a large wetland inhabited by various aquatic bird species, the Paine Towers will gradually come into view. Eventually reaching a lookout you’ll have a vast view of the lagoon with the sheer granite peaks towering behind it before returning to the lodge by van.
Offered at: Explora Patagonia
Duration: 45 mins – 1.5 hours, half-day
Distance: 0.6 – 2.1 miles / 1 – 4 kilometers
Ascent: 35 – 486 feet
Hiking the Base of The Towers (Torres)
Highlights: challenging hike to based of iconic granite spires, hanging glacial lake
Description: This world famous hike demands stamina, but rewards with impressive views. Ascending strongly for the first hour of hiking you’ll border the Ascencio River until reaching the Paso de los Vientos (aptly translated to Pass of the Winds; hold on to your hats!). From here it’s another half hour or so to Campamento Chileno where you can have a brief rest before continuing through a gorgeous forest over various streams and rivers. Finally reaching tree line you’ll wind your way through the moraine section with loose rock and wind exposure. Summiting the moraine you’re awarded with one of the world’s most gorgeous vistas. Weather dependent it’s ideal to enjoy a delicious picnic at the base which your lodge will provide you.
- Although true of all excursions while in Torres del Paine, for the Base of the Towers it’s especially important to dress properly and bring a rain/wind layer (both top and bottom is advisable) in addition to multiple layers of synthetic clothing as well as hat and gloves. A well prepared hiker is a happy hiker!
Offered at: Explora Patagonia Lodge, Tierra Patagonia Lodge, Awasi Patagonia Lodge and all other inclusive adventure lodges.
Duration: 8 – 8.5 hours
Distance: 10.5 miles / 18 kilometers
Ascent: 2,413 feet / 754 meters
It’s not a stretch to call Torres del Paine the crown jewel of Patagonia. To go along with stunning multi-colored, gravity defying granite spires, unique plant and wildlife, iceberg-dotted lakes, and towering glacial walls, you have hundreds of miles of trails complimented by some of the world’s best lodges. In an ever more connected world, Torres del Paine’s grandeur and isolation is the perfect reminder how very small we are, and how vast and inspiring our natural world is. In addition to evaluating and choosing what the best Torres del Paine lodge is for you, keeping your physical condition, activity preferences, and these geographic areas of the park and their related ‘highlights’ in mind while choosing your excursions will help you maximize and diversify your time in Torres del Paine National Park allowing you to fully enjoy this natural marvel.
To begin planning a customized itinerary for your own private trip to Torres del Paine, email Jordan Harvey – Knowmad Adventures’ Founder and resident Patagonia Specialist – or call 612-315-2894 today!
Big Views, Jordan
Jordan is a Co-Founder of Knowmad Adventures, a world-leader in high-quality custom trips and itineraries in Patagonia. He has won Travel & Leisure’s prestigious A-List Top Travel Specialist for Patagonia, Chile, Argentina and Peru three consecutive years. In addition to helping you put together a flawless custom Chile and Argentina trip, Knowmad Adventures guarantees best pricing at any of the Patagonia lodges. Give him a call at 877-616-TRIP or email Jordan@KnowmadAdventures.com.
“Travel brings me incredible experiences and challenges, highlighting the world’s natural beauty while connecting me with inspiring people. I am convinced that travel makes us better people, and better people make a better planet.” Read Jordan’s biography and more about the Knowmad team.