Torres Del Paine National Park: Hiking the W

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There are a lot of options for hiking in Torres Del Paine National Park.  Considered one of the best hikes in Patagonia and definitely one of the most popular, is the “W”, a four-day, four-night, 65 kilometer hike, shaped roughly like a W, thus the name. We had the pleasure of hiking the W and it is definitely one of the best long distance hikes we have completed.

Walking through hiking the W day by day in this post, you will get an idea of the hike. At the bottom of this post there is logistics information and other options for visiting the park and hiking the W. Before we get too far though I should tell you, we opted for a non-camping option.Basically everything you need to know for hiking the W. While we love to hike, when available, we prefer a bed, hot shower and a hot meal at the end of the day to pitching a tent and sleeping on the ground. Luckily for us this was an option on this hike.

You can begin this hike at either end of the W. At one end of the hike you need to take a catamaran across Pehoe Lake. We start at Los Torres, the eastern end of the hike, and walk west so the catamaran is at the end.

In case you missed Part 1 about entering Torres Del Paine National Park via Rio Serrano you can find it here.   It was a spectacular way to enter the park and is highly recommended way for getting to Torres Del Paine.

So off we go . . .

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Day 1 Hiking the W: Hotel Los Torres to the Base of Las Torres

(8-9 hours walking,19 kilometers)

Starting the W Hike in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.comSo today is our big day, we begin the W Hike. We have wanted to do this hike for years so we are busting to get going. The weather forecast is not too good, so we opt to start out early to try and get the best of the day. As we depart it is sunny and we hope the weather will hold.

The hike begins with a steep uphill walk. At times it is quite windy and there are several areas which are very exposed until you reach Refugio El Chileno. We walk through an area looking prone to rock slides. It is very windy, very narrow and securing all your gear so nothing blows away is essential.

After crossing the bridge over the river to Refugio El Chileno, the walking is much less exposed and windy, including an hour of walking through a beautiful Lenga forest. It is quite peaceful in here and an enjoyable break from the wind. After exiting the forest a steep, rocky climb leading to the base of the towers follows.

The three towers of Las Torres are Torre Sur (2850 meters) Torre Central (2,800 meters) and Torre Norte (2600 meters). A very popular photography spot at sunrise, you see many pictures of the sun rising behind the towers. It is the quintessential photograph of Torres Del Paine. To take the dawn picture you need to camp at Camp Torres (the closest camp), hike up in the dark and hope for a clear morning. As you can see, we’re not that dedicated.

When we arrived at the base of the towers, the weather was beginning to close in. Most of the pictures you see of Los Torres are looking skyward and I did not realize there was a lake at the base of the towers (it would be frozen in winter.) The night before at the hotel we watched a fascinating movie about the group of climbers that made the first ascent of Los Torres. They were camped here for months. One of the things I found most fascinating was the noise- you could hear the ice cracking. At times quite loudly. As the hike continued we learned this is quite common and you Base of Las Torres in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.comhear it near quite a few glaciers as well.

As we sat at the base of Las Torres enjoying a quick snack and listening, the weather began to deteriorate. The towers were no longer visible and it began to snow. This was our queue to exit, so we began the walk back. I am so glad started early. A bit later and we would have missed it!

The walk back is along the same route. When we crossed the bridge near Refugio El Chileno, the wind was even stronger than on the way up. It was threatening to blow you over. It was quite difficult walking. Welcome to Patagonia!

As you get closer to the end of the hike there are spectacular views over Lake Nordenskjold.

We were glad to get back to the hotel, a hot shower and a good dinner. It was nice to have two nights at the same hotel as we could walk with only the gear we needed for the day in our packs, making them a bit lighter.

Tonight’s movie at the hotel was The Path of the Condors. What beautiful birds. The movie is a collaboration between a scientist that spent his life studying condors and a paraglider. As paragliding makes use of the same wind currents the birds use, the two were able to combine their knowledge to understand how condors can travel so far in a day. They often fly over 160 miles (250 kilometers) in a day. The paraglider was able to use what he learned from the condor’s flight patterns to increase the distances of his own flights. The photography was magnificent.

Day 2 Hiking the W: Hotel Las Torres to Cabin Los Cuernos

(4-5 hours 11 kilometers)

Day 2 W Hike in Torres Del Paine National Park Las Torres to Los Cuernos www.compassandfork.comToday takes us further into the park. The weather forecast for today is fantastic (so we hope it is correct) and it looks like the weather will be good for the rest of our hike. Today is a pretty easy day, both in distance and terrain. The Cabins Los Cuernos has a hot tub and we are looking forward to a soak when we arrive.

The walk today is along a series of lakes and the scenery is fantastic. Lucky for us, at midday there was a show of condors. They were everywhere. We sat down and watched them for a long time. They are incredible to watch, huge, but also so graceful.

Day 2 W hike Condors in Torres del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.com

Day 2 the W hike in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.comView from Cabins at Los Cuernos in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.com

The trail was lined with red flowers, known as “fire bush”. Honestly you could not ask for a better day of walking. One of those days that just makes you happy to be out there.

It is a short day of walking, the weather was fantastic and we arrived rather early at Los Cuernos. Luckily we checked the hot tub right away, because it wasn’t hot! It was freezing cold. Heated by a fire, no one had lit one. We stoked up the fire and with the help of the guests in the next cabin we kept it going all afternoon. Finally a couple of hours after dinner it was warm enough to get in! Well worth the wait!

While we rested during the afternoon- we were again treated to a display of condors just over the cliff tops near the cabin. The setting for this camp is fantastic. Very close to a creek so there is the sound of water and simply stunning views over the lake below.

Day 3 Hiking the W: Walking the French Valley

(10-12 hours, 25.3 kilometers)

Today is day 3 hiking the W, and we walk French Glacier in Torres Del Paine National Park from Los Cuernos to Refugio Paine Grande with a trip up and back through the French Valley. It is the longest day of hiking and with a difficult rating. So it is a big day.

You begin by continuing to walk along Lake Nordenskjold until you reach Camp Italiano. We were told you could leave your pack here and hike up and back through the French Valley without it. No such luck.  The office is not open, it is raining and there is nowhere to leave your pack unless you just want to leave it lying on the ground.

The hike up the French Valley offers some spectacular scenery. Honestly, I thought yesterday would be hard to beat, but today is just as spectacular. The climb is steep and rocky. There are two lookout points in the valley. The first is the French Glacier lookout. Here you could see the French Glacier, a hanging glacier. You are close enough to the glacier to hear it cracking and see small avalanches as they happen. We notice the weather above the glacier seems to have its own pattern- it is very cloudy and cold above the glacier, versus where we are it is sunny.

The second viewpoint is the turnaround point, Mirador Britanico. This offers fantastic views of Paine Grande, Cerra Hoja, Cerro Catedral and some other mountains.   There is a camp near here, Camp Britanico.  This camp had few people there and looked like a peaceful place.

You return the same way, walking down the valley. I have to say by the time we arrived back to Camp Italiano I was tired. This is when I realized one of the advantages of camping is you have a lot more flexibility over the distance you walk each day. You could easily have pitched camp, then hiked up the valley, or camped in peace at Camp Britanico.  Instead we still have several hours of walking (7.6 kilometers) before we arrive at Refugio Paine Grande.

 

Day 3 W hike Mirador Britanico in in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.com

View down French Valley in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.com

From Camp Italiano to Refugio Paine Grande is partly inland and then along Laguna Scottsburg until you can see Lake Pehoe. There is evidence of the fire that ravaged the park along this sector.

Day 4 Hiking the W: Walking to Grey Glacier (and back)

(8-9 hours, 22 kilometers)

Today will be a long day, we need to leave early as we need to be back at Refugio Paine Grande to catch the catamaran across the lake at 6:30 pm. From there we hop the bus back to Puerto Natales and our adventure ends.

However, first we have a big day of hiking. The walk today is all the way to Grey Glacier, walking along Lago Grey. After about 1.5 hours of walking you reach the first viewpoint and can observe the massive Grey Glacier.  The rest of the walk takes you all the way up to the base of the Glacier. You can leave any gear you don’t need to carry in the locker at the Refugio and walk with a lighter pack. This was welcome after yesterday’s big day of walking and carrying the full load all day.

 

Day 4 View from Lago Grey Lookout in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.com

Glacier Grey in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.com

Day 4 W hike from Lake Pehoe in Torres Del Paine National Park www.compassandfork.com

Hiking the W was spectacular but by the end of it my feet were really sore. Yesterday and today’s walk were both very rocky and my feet are telling me they have had enough!

We caught the catamaran for the crossing of Lake Pehoe and then onto the bus. We arrived back in Puerto Natales very late. We showered, and headed to Adele for a celebratory dinner.  Although late in hour, we were in Chile, so of course the restaurant was still open.

I have to rate hiking the W as one of the most spectacular long distance hikes I have completed. The scenery seemed to improve each day. All of it was a highlight! I can see why hiking the W is considered one of the best hikes in Patagonia and I highly recommend it for your Patagonia itinerary.

And so our adventure hiking the W ends. Some quick notes about logistics and planning:

Options for Hiking in Torres Del Paine National Park

  1. Day trip- you can day trip here- but as it is so remote, I would recommend trying to spend at least one night in the park.
  2. You can camp/backpack through the park in designated areas. There are many more options than hiking the W, including the O and the Q. Both are circuit hikes that include the W, but take you much further into the park. You must camp to walk these sections. Hiking the W is considered the best hike in Torres Del Paine by many and it is certainly one of the most popular hikes in Patagonia.
  3. You can stay in accommodation in or near the park and day hike including hiking sections of the W.
  4. You can combine refugios and camping. (There is an option where they pitch a tent for you so you do not need to carry one.)

As you can tell this is a remote area.  Travel times and distances are long. This also means food and accommodation prices reflect this difficult access and you can see why Patagonia is so expensive. Your cheapest option will be to backpack, carrying all of your own food and gear. This also provides the most flexibility as you can camp in sites that do not require advance reservations. You can alter your itinerary based on the weather and in many cases these camps are in the best locations to see the park at its finest.

Do you need a guide? This is a personal choice. The trail is well signed, and there are lots of people on the trail. You will see many of the same people from day-to-day, so it is certainly a hike you can do on your own. If you choose to hike the W when it is less busy or head into remote sections of the park, depending on your abilities, a guide may make you more comfortable. Some of the links in this post and Part 1, offer guides for hire. We did not use a guide for hiking the W so I cannot recommend anyone. Using a guide is more expensive and using guides and taking tours in this region is another reason why Patagonia can seem so expensive.

There are two operators of the refugios within the Park, Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia. We booked a package through Fantastico Sur. The total cost was the same as the individual components and it meant one stop for all of our tickets/accommodation coupons. (The Patagonia itinerary as above is both Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia properties- so they book it all for you). They booked the bus, catamaran, and accommodation. We booked full board and it included a cooked breakfast and dinner and a packed lunch for each day. This made our packs much lighter than having to carry all our food but it is also a more expensive for hiking the W.

The food is okay, not fantastic. The lunches were good and included snacks and fruit. Some days we did not finish our entire lunch. We certainly did not go hungry. Hotel Las Torres was the best food and accommodation and if you just want a night or two in the park and some day hiking, this is certainly an option.

Hotel Lago Grey (not to be confused with Refugio and Camp Grey which is in a different part of the park) and Hotel Rio Serrano are also good options.

There are also options from private operators which provide access to Torres Del Paine National Park; some of these are quite stunning with a price to match.

There is a good list and map of accommodation options here.

Other resources for planning your trip to Patagonia or Hiking the W:

Also I encourage you to read the first part of this post as it covers logistics on arriving at Puerto Natales and a spectacular (but less traveled) route for getting to Torres Del Paine National Park via Rio Serrano.

You can find all our posts about food and travel in Patagonia here, and planning a trip to Patagonia has itineraries, maps and travel tips for the region. You can find books, movies, cookbooks and more about Patagonia in the shop.

If you wonder what we pack when we travel and are hiking, you can find our packing list of hiking gear which might be helpful.

Still have questions about hiking the W? Please leave a comment below (no URL is required).  We are happy to help if we can.

 

Torres Del Paine National Park Hiking the W www.compassandfork.com

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40 Responses

  1. Emily
    | Reply

    Looks like a gorgeous hike! Thanks for sharing!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      What a spectacular place it is. There is a great sense of satisfaction when you complete it. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Katja - globetotting
    | Reply

    This is a great post, really detailed and with some fantastic photos, thanks! It looks and sounds like an incredible (and somewhat challenging??) hike. Well done for completing it!!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Katja, It was challenging, more because of the long distances on the last two days than the terrain. It is spectacular hike though and well worth the effort.

  3. Chris
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    Torres del Paine is indeed stunning.

    We however visited during winter, and a fresh fall of snow made the place look like something out of a fairytale!

    Given the cold however, hiking the W was never a consideration (there were people still doing it though)!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Chris, even when we did it in December, there was a lot of snow on the longer “O” circuit. Deep snow apparently. If you ever get the chance give it a go in summer.

  4. Gemma Two Scots Abroad
    | Reply

    We spoke to a couple who had completed this hike whilst doing the Colca Canyon in Peru (will you get there?) and I wanted to know more about it, thank you for putting this together. It looks like a hike that offers great variety in scenery, which I need on long hikes! I agree, condors are impressive and scarily large!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Gemma, We did walk the Colca Canyon in Peru and Machu Picchu. (Peru is coming on the blog) The Colca Canyon doesn’t compare to the “W” or to Machu Picchu. El Chalten in Argentina has some fantastic hiking tune in for next weeks post.

  5. Kimberly Erin @ Walkaboot.ca
    | Reply

    I completed this hike earlier this year and j’adore! It was so great, But I did it from the opposite direction, started with the Catamaran….The people who left there bags at Campemento Italiano just actually leaned their bags up against the office door and left. there was never a place to check them in the dry…but thats what you get with Torres del Paine, seriously unpredictable weather

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Kimberly, I agree about the weather! Thanks for adding your thoughts and experience. Hopefully it helps and inspires one of our readers to walk it.

  6. Gabby | The Globe Wanderers
    | Reply

    wow, what a fantastically detailed and informative post – thanks so much for taking the time to put it together. Sounds like a stunning hike with lots of varied scenery. Don’t blame you at all for wanting a hot bath and a comfy bed after putting your feet through all that! The W has been added to my list! 🙂

    Gabby

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Gabby, It is a fantastic hike I am sure you will enjoy it.

  7. Tracie Howe
    | Reply

    What an incredible experience you must have had. And those views are spectacular! Good call sleeping in a bed rather than a tent after each day of hiking.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comments Tracie. The views are a little surreal. The bed at the end of the day was a good call. We also hiked on the Argentine side in Mount Fitz Roy, where you more easily day hike and sleep in a hotel but with the same gorgeous views.

  8. Julie @ Girl on the Move
    | Reply

    Looks like a gorgeous hike! I have never done a hike more than a day so I’m intrigued by doing multiple days of hiking in the same area…did it take a lot to prepare for that?

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Hi Julie. Thanks for your comment and yo have asked a good question.

      The main preparation for us was being fit enough to undertake a relatively difficult hike. There is elevation and extreme weather at any time so it was important that we were fit. We are keen hikers and “trained” in Colorado by walking 2 or 3 times per week on trails in the rocky mountains for about 4 weeks. We gradually increased the difficulty of the hikes over that time. We didn’t need to carry tents in Torres del Paine and we already had good boots, hiking poles and clothing (all important).

      I see you were in Denver recently. Go to REI and get your gear and maps there and just start with an easy overnight hike in the rocky mountains or car camp. You’ll love it.

  9. Isabela Mariano
    | Reply

    Hiking is always fun, especially those with lovely views! I’m sure you enjoyed this hike! 🙂

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Hi Isabella. I think Torres del Paine is our favorite hike of all time. However, Mount Fitz Roy, just over the border from Torres del Paine was also brilliant. It was also easier to “day hike” from there, meaning you slept in a real hotel.

  10. Trisha Velarmino
    | Reply

    I love Torres del Paine!!! Until when are you in Chile? Hope everything’s fine on your end after the earthquake. Keep safe and enjoy the rest of your time there!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Thanks for your comment and your concern. Torres del Paine is a spectacular place, no doubt. We have left Chile. I feel so bad for the people affected by the earthquake. It was scary watching the television reports.

  11. Sanket D.
    | Reply

    It really does look very remote and pristine 🙂
    I’ve lived in a city where we don’t walk much at all. That shows very easily when I travel to some of these places that have an up-and-down terrain and I really struggle to keep up with people from other parts of the world. And I’m amongst the ‘really-fit’ category in my city. Kudos to you guys for managing to walk so much over the 4 days. It’s still quite a bit. HA 🙂

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Sanket, Luckily where we live we walk a lot. When we travel sometimes we really notice the lack of walking if we are in an place where people don’t walk. It is amazing how just walking does help your fitness.

  12. Heather
    | Reply

    Gorgeous. I love the different trail options. Great information. Thanks for sharing

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Easy to share such a spectacular place. Magnificent scenery. Thanks for your comment.

  13. Cynthia
    | Reply

    What a great hiking trip!! Plenty of options too, thanks for mentioning these. Yes, definitely something to put on our list! The views are just spectacular! Have you been to New Zealand? I’m sure you would love some hiking trips over there too!

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Hi Cynthia. We have been to New Zealand but not so much for the hiking. Still on our bucket list to get back there and hike. Thanks for your comment.

  14. Rob Taylor
    | Reply

    Everything about this is WOW. The stamina you travelers must have… What incredible sights and an experience. I like that you’re honest about how long each day was, as that’s something we always consider when we plan hiking trips. Ahh, I’d love to go here.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Rob, We are quite keen hikers and it did test my poor feet on this one. Very rocky at times. But WOW on the scenery! Unbelievable really. All of Patagonia is just stunning.

  15. Ami
    | Reply

    The snow over that water is just amazing. Loved all the pictures. Seems like a lovely trek. Like you said, amazing scenery.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      It was like being in a fairy tale. I’ve never seen a more beautiful place. And a challenging hike to go with it. Thanks for your comment.

  16. Voyager
    | Reply

    What a beautiful place, we love these kind of places which abound in natural beauty. Great pictures.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      It is a stunning place so not hard to take good photo. The hiking is something we will never forget. Thanks for your comment

  17. Corinne
    | Reply

    Patagonia is definitely on our to do list, but I haven’t gotten down to the nitty gritty of where to go and hike. This is a great post that gives me lots of idea…bookmarking…

  18. Renne Simpson
    | Reply

    WOW this looks so breathtaking. I’ve seen photos of this place on Instagram, and it’s been piquing my interest lately. I like the options you listed for hiking. Thanks for noting that it isn’t a cheap travel destination. Good to know so I can plan accordingly.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      No not cheap Renne and a bit hard to get there but totally worth it. It is a spectacular place and probably the best hiking we have ever undertaken. Thanks for your comment.

  19. This looks totally amazing. I would love to do a hike like this one day.

    • Editor
      | Reply

      It was a magnificent experience with the best scenery I have ever seen. Thanks for your comment.

  20. Rui Coimbra
    | Reply

    Thanks for all this valuable information.
    I am going with 3 friends in the end of feb and i have a couple of questions:
    – is it possible to only stay in on shelter and leave the luggage there while day hiking? If yes is it too hard and does it take too long to get to the first shelter? And which point of the park with you suggest for this kind of approach.
    – if this is not an option is it possible to leave a bigger piece of luggage somewhere in the beginning of the park and stay keep moving on to the shelters with a smaller bag pack?

    Thanks for writing this blog and answering all this questions.

    Greetings from Portugal
    Rui

    • Editor
      | Reply

      Rui, You can day hike in the park from a shelter/accomodation- Los Torres is probably your best choice– you can do day 1 and 2 from there and also the last day (as written in the post) if you take the boat across. And yes you can leave your luggage and just take a day pack- (bring a lock just in case- many of the refugio have lockers where you can lock up your stuff but you need to bring a lock.) Also if you come through Puerto Natales – you can store your luggage there and just take what you need to the park. You can rent equipment and stuff in Puerto Natales as well if you need anything. Hope that helps let me know if you have any more questions. It is a fantastic hike!

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