Six beautiful itineraries to take from Puerto Natales to visit the Torres del Paine National Park
In the last few posts, I have been talking about the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park, sharing information on how to get there, where to rent gear, costs, etc…as well as information on how trails, distances and difficulty levels. If you have missed any of them, check them out below.
Not everybody likes hiking and camping for several days and, as I said before, during high season it can be hard to find accommodation if you didn’t book it in advance, or prizes can get very high. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t enjoy the beauty of Torres del Paine.
As a matter of fact, there are several day trips you can take in the National Park (more than ten!). Today, I’m going to talk of the six day hiking trips you can take if you base yourself in Puerto Natales:
- Base de Las Torres
- Glacier Grey
- Valle del Frances and Mirador Britannico
- Lago Nordernskjöld
- Mirador Cuernos and Salto Grande waterfall
- Lago Skottsberg
Remember that if you don’t stay overnight, your ticket to the National Park is only valid for three consecutive days, so you won’t be able to do them all.
W Trek Map by experiencechile.org
1.Base de Las Torres
Distance: 22 km | Difficulty: moderate/hard | Time: 8 hours | Starting point: Hotel Las Torres
The Base de Las Torres Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Torres del Paine National Park and it can not only be done as a day hike, but also as part of an organised tour that would bring you closer to the Towers in a van. You can’t say you have been to Torres del Paine if you don’t do this hike!
From Puerto Natales, get a bus to Torre del Paine National Park at 7:30 am, which will arrive in Torres del Paine at 7:45 am. This bus costs 15,000 CLP return. Once you have paid the entrance fee to the park, you need to go get another van for 3,000 CLP that brings you to the starting point of the trail.
This hike is divided into two parts. First, you need to arrive at Refugio Chileno. This section (5.5 km) is a mix of uphill and downhill but it isn’t too hard and it should only take you 1.5 to 2 hours.
From Refugio Chile to Base de Las Torres things get more complicated! This second section of the trail (5 km) was the most challenging for me. After approximately 3km through a beautiful and dense forest, you will have a very steep ascent to Base de Las Torres/Mirador de Las Torres.
The shuttle bus back to the entrance leaves at 6:30pm and the bus back to Puerto Natales leaves at 7:45pm, so from the moment you get off the minivan at the start of the trail to when you have to take it back to the entrance, you have approximately 9 hours. If you miss the shuttle bus, you should have enough time to walk back to the visitor centre where you can get the bus back to Puerto Natales, as it’s only 1.5km away.
2. Glacier Grey
Distance: 26 km | Difficulty: moderate | Time: 7-8 hours | Starting point: Refugio Paine Grande
Glacier Grey was definitely my favourite leg of the W Trek and if you are picking a second day hike in addition to Base de Las Torres, this should be it.
However, while this trail isn’t too hard, it is quite long and, if you are doing it as a day hike to go back to Puerto Natale, you can’t afford many stops along the way and you need to plan this carefully.
To start, you will still need to get the bus from Puerto Natales and stay on this bus until you get to Pudeto, where you will have to get a catamaran across Lago Grey to Paine Grande, which is the starting point. The catamaran costs 18,000 CLP one way or 28,000 return.
If everything goes well, you should be able to start your day hike at 11:30 am and you will need to be back at Paine Grande at 6pm to get the catamaran back to Pudeto and then the bus back to Puerto Natales.
There is 11km between Paine Grande and the Grey Refugio, but from the Refugio to the actual Glacier it’s another 2km approximately. This trail isn’t too hard, with a mix of uphill and downhill. It took us 8 hours to walk there and back to Paine Grande, but this included two long stops.
Keep in mind that, if you planned this as a day trip and don’t have any accommodation booked in the park, you must go back by 6pm. Along the way, there is the Lago Grey Mirador, which is still 6km from Glacier Grey. From here, you can see the beautiful lake and icebergs floating on the water. If you think you won’t have enough time to complete the hike, you can stop here and then enjoy another stop at Laguna de Los Patos on the way back.
3. Valle del Frances and Mirador Britannico
Distance: 20/26 km | Difficulty: moderate/hard | Time: 8-10 hours | Starting point: Refugio Paine Grande
Valle del Frances is the middle trail of the W Trek, and just like the Glacier Grey hike, it can be done as a day trip starting from Refugio Paine Grande (See here how to get there). However, parts of these trails are tough and if you are doing it as a day trip you need to be back at Paine Grande by 6pm in order to catch the catamaran back.
This trail is divided into several sections and after a first mostly flat section, there is a very steep part, made of muddy ground and a few streams. From Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano it’s 7.6 km at the edge of Lago Scottenberg and this is the easiest section, so you can walk fast enough on this section of the trail. From here to the Frances Lookout – where you can enjoin a view around the valley and down towards Lago Nordernskjöld – it’s only 2 km. Once you get here, if you are tired or think you won’t have enough time, you can turn back and head towards Paine Grande.
If you want to keep going, you’ll get to Mirador Britannico, which is only an additional 3km away. However, this last leg of the hike is particularly hard and steep and it will take a while.
4. Lago Nordernskjöld
Distance: up to 22 km | Difficulty: easy | Time: 4-8 hours | Starting point: Hotel de las Torres
The starting point for this hike is Hotel de Las Torres and this trail is one of the easiest in the whole park, as it isn’t too steep. This beautiful lake stretches east to west through the centre of the National Park and it’s part of the middle leg of the W Trek trail. If you hike from Hotel Las Torres along its northern shore, you can reach Mirador Los Cuernos
While this hike is pretty easy, if you hike to Mirador Los Cuernos and back, it’s a total of 22km and like in the case of the Base de Las Torres Hike above, you need to keep in mind that the only bus back to Puerto Natales leaves at 7:45pm, so you have approximately 9 hours to complete it. If you think you won’t make it to Mirador Los Cuernos and back, you can still stop for a lunch break along the way in different beautiful spots, to admire the lake and then start to make your way back.
5. Mirador Cuernos and Salto Grande waterfall
Distance: 8 km | Difficulty: easy | Time: 2-3 hours | Starting point: Pudeto
This hike, in the Southern area of the Park, is also an easy and short one and it’s the perfect one to take if you have some time to kill in Puerto Natales but don’t want something too hard, as on it you will still get to see some of the highlights of the Torres del Paine National Park.
The first thing you’ll come across on this walk will be the stunning Salto Grande waterfall. If you keep following the path, you’ll get a view of both Los Cuernos and the Paine massif across Lago Nordernskjöld.
To get here, you simply need to stay on the bus from Puerto Natales to the National Park and get off at the Pudeto ferry port, where you would get the catamaran. The trail starts here, but you can also opt for a different route, which starts off at Salto Grande – approximately 1.5km from the ferry port – and leads up to Mirador Cuernos.
6. Lago Skottsberg
Distance: 5 km | Difficulty: easy | Time: 1.5 hours | Starting point: Refugio Paine Grande
This is one of the shortest hikes in the park and it’s a nice and easy alternative to the French Valley hike, which, as I said above, was one of the hardest for me.
The hike starts off exactly like the French Valley and Mirador Britannico hike, from Refugio Paine Grande, after having taken the catamaran. Here you follow the first part of the trail only – where it’s mostly flat – along to Lago Skottsberg.
Across the Lake, you’ll still get a pretty stunning view of the peaks of Los Cuernos.
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