An Insider's Guide to Hiking the Patagonia W Trek: Scenic Views, Tips, and Must-See Stops
The W Trek in Patagonia the most iconic and popular trekking routes in the world. Located within Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, it's a must do for adventure seekers and nature lovers. The shape of the trail, which forms a "W" as it winds through some of the park's most breathtaking landscapes, including glaciers, mountains, lakes, and forests are absolutely beautiful. Planning the W Trek requires careful consideration of several factors to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience.
Here's an overview of what to consider and expect on the W Trek:
Best time of the year & logistics: The high season is from November through March when the weather is relatively warmer, but it can also mean more crowded. Shoulder seasons (October, April) offer fewer crowds but can be colder and more unpredictable. The W Trek typically takes between 4 to 6 days to complete. It's important to plan your trip well in advance, especially booking accommodations in the park's refugios or campsites, as they tend to fill up quickly during the high season (November to March).
Route Planning: The W Trek covers approximately 50-60 miles (80-90 kilometers) and can be hiked in either direction. Most hikers start their trek at either Paine Grande or at the park entrance near Laguna Amarga. Tribe started at Paine Grande. The route typically takes around 4 to 5 days to complete, but this can vary depending on your pace, stops you intend to make.
Transportation to and from Torres del Paine National Park:
The nearest major airports are in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, both of which offer bus services to the park. Tribe choose to take a private cab from Puerto Natales, which we hired locally. Given the cab, it was easy to take stops along the way and enjoyed the scenic views to the park.
Park Entry Ticket - this is required to be shown at the entrance, be sure to purchase, print in advance at the Park Website
Tribe started the trek on the west side. Start point of the trail can be reached via the Catamarans to Paine Grande - make sure to note the start times. Carry local currency to pay for the catamaran ride
Accommodation: There are several options for accommodation along the route, including campsites and refugios (mountain lodges). It's essential to book in advance, especially during the peak season, as accommodation can fill up quickly. Below are details of tribes itinerary, be sure to book meals along with the accommodation.
Day 2 - LOS CUERNOS REFUGIO and CAMPING - It’s hard to pick favorites in Torres del Paine, but this camp is truly stellar. Los Cuernos Mountains will take your breath away. Book here to enjoy the stunning views and soak in the Patagonia vibe - Las Torres Patagonia (used to be Fantastico Sur ; email address firstname.lastname@example.org)
Day 3 - CHILENO Camping - If you’re looking for a true outdoor adventure, this is your camping place, by the river, under the stars, and connected with nature. Book here at Chileno and be only a short distance to the Torres del Paine.
Day 4 - CENTRAL CAMPING - Day to relax and enjoy the Mount Almirante Nieto, the Lake Nordenskjöld or the Las Torres Base Viewpoint. Book here for a final day of exploring, soaking and recharging at Las Torres Patagonia
Gear - Patagonia's weather is notoriously unpredictable, with strong winds, rain, and even snow possible at any time of year. It's essential to pack and dress accordingly, with layers and waterproof gear. Tribe was extremely lucky to encounter calmer weather throughout the hike. Some portions of the trek bugs, mosquitoes and bees were in full force, remember to carry a bug spray and some first aid.
Here are some must-visit stops to make on the W Trek:
Tribe did the hike starting at Paine Grande and ending at Torres Del Paine, here are the stops made along the way:
Mirador Glacier Grey: This viewpoint offers panoramic views of the vast Grey Glacier and its surrounding ice field. Nothing like you would have seen before. The hike to Mirador Glacier Grey takes you along the shores of Lago Grey, meandering through forests, waterfalls, and sightings of icebergs floating in the lake.
Refugio Grey: Along the way to Mirador Glacier Grey, you'll pass by Refugio Grey, a mountain lodge where you can stop for a rest, grab a snack, or spend the night if you're doing the W Trek over multiple days. It's a good spot to refuel before continuing your hike to the glacier viewpoint.
Valle del Francés (French Valley): This is a side trip off the main W Trek route but is well worth the extra effort. The hike takes you through a glacial valley surrounded by towering granite peaks, with stunning views of hanging glaciers and the valley floor below. The French Valley is a great place to stop for a picnic and soak in the incredible scenery. This portion of the hike is strenuous, be prepared for for scaling boulders
Campamento Cuernos: This campsite is located on the shores of Lake Nordenskjöld, offering stunning views of the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine) peaks. It's a popular place to camp for trekkers doing the W Trek, with basic facilities and beautiful surroundings. If you have enough time, you could do 2 days here and enjoy the surrounding area
Campamento Chileno: Located near Mirador Base Las Torres, this campsite provides easy access to the iconic viewpoint overlooking the Torres del Paine. It's an ideal spot to spend the night before or after hiking to the viewpoint.
Mirador Base Las Torres: It's a challenging uphill hike, crossing field of boulders and culminates in a stunning viewpoint overlooking the three granite towers (Torres) and the glacial lake below. The sunrise here is particularly spectacular if you can time your hike. While the tribe started early, we could get there only shortly after sunrise and it was still very very beautiful
Frequently Asked Questions about W-Trek:
Fitness Level: While the W Trek is suitable for hikers of varying fitness levels, some sections can be challenging, particularly the ascent to Base Torres and the hike up to Valle del Frances. It's essential to be prepared for long days of hiking over varied terrain.
Guided vs. Independent: The W Trek can be done independently if you're an experienced hiker and camper, but many travelers opt for guided tours or book through tour operators for added convenience and safety, especially if they're not familiar with the area or prefer not to carry camping gear.
Wildlife - commonly spotted along the W Trek includes guanacos (wild relatives of the llama), foxes, condors, eagles, and various bird species. Pumas are also present in the park but are rarely seen due to their elusive nature. Tribe was surprised by how little wildlife was encountered on the trek
Terrain - The W Trek offers a diverse range of terrain, from challenging mountain passes to tranquil valleys and winding trails along the shores of glacial lakes. Trekkers encounter everything from rocky terrain to lush forests, providing a dynamic and ever-changing hiking experience.
Trail condition - the trail is well maintained across all sections, where there are boulder fields look for red poles and follow along
Water - Tribe carried one liter of water on us, there are ample water sources along the way to refill, be sure to bring purification method of your choice
Food Options - Interestingly the campsites have well equipped dinning options in addition to getting some items that you may have forgotten or ran out. Be sure to book your lunch, dinner and pack lunch beforehand as the do go by the counts. If you intend to do camping food, carry your stove and fuel cans
Altitude sickness - Can potentially occur during the W Trek in Patagonia, particularly for trekkers who are not accustomed to hiking at higher altitudes. While the W Trek itself doesn't reach extreme altitudes, some sections of the trail do involve elevation gain, and the highest point, the Mirador Base Las Torres, sits at around 870 meters (2,854 feet) above sea level
Glaciers along W trek - glaciers in regions like Patagonia can exist at relatively low altitudes due to a combination of factors, including latitude, oceanic influence, mountainous terrain, and sufficient snowfall accumulation. Despite the low altitudes along the W Trek, nearby glaciers are a prominent and awe-inspiring feature of the landscape
W or O Trek - W Trek is ideal for those looking for a shorter, more accessible hiking experience with iconic viewpoints and comfortable accommodation options. On the other hand, the O Trek is perfect for more experienced hikers seeking a longer, more challenging adventure that encompasses the full diversity of Torres del Paine National Park's landscapes. Ultimately, both treks offer unforgettable experiences.
Overall, the W Trek in Patagonia offers an unforgettable adventure amidst some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the world, making it a bucket-list-worthy experience for outdoor enthusiasts.
Learning's from the tribe - One time does not seem enough on this route, tribe will come back for another trip.