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)
So 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 hear 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)
Today 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.
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 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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- You can stay in accommodation in or near the park and day hike including hiking sections of the W.
- 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.
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.
- Patagonia Camp (luxury yurts)
- Awasi Patagonia
- Hotel Explora (within the Park)
- Tierra Patagonia
- Ecocamp Patagonia
There is a good list and map of accommodation options here.
Other resources for planning your trip to Patagonia or Hiking the W:
- Torres Del Paine National Park Information
- Lonely Planet Torres Del Paine National Park information
- From Chile Travel
- From Go Chile some good information about Torres Del Paine National Park
- A good overhead shot of the park from the Earth Observatory.
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.