Everything You Need to Know to Trek Patagonia's Torres del Paine

Considering how beautiful this corner of the world is, planning a backpacking adventure here is worth the effort.

Torres Del Paine National Park Trail Trek Patagonia Chile
Photo: Courtesy of Cascada Expediciones

As I crested the rise of John Gardner Pass, my breath was taken away — and not just from Patagonia's famous fierce wind. Below me lay the miles-long expanse of Grey Glacier spread out like an icy sea. Its big toe trailed icebergs into Grey Lake, its head disappeared up the valley in a wash of light, and a rainbow graced its far side. I was, quite literally, struck with wonder.

It was day three of an eight-day trek on the O Circuit in Torres del Paine, the Chilean national park famous for its iconic skyline. It's also quickly becoming known for its multi-day O Circuit (and the shorter front side of the circuit called the W Trek) as a way for more adventurous tourists to see the park.

The W Trek may get all the glory for being the shorter version of the full circuit and thus easier to plan and access — but with campsites set in storybook-beautiful locations, cozy refugios where you can buy a bottle of wine and a three-course meal, and a double dose of drool-worthy scenery, hiking the full O Circuit is far and away worth the extra effort to plan.

To make your trip planning easy, here's everything you need to know. The biggest tip: Start planning now for a trip from December to March to ensure you get the reservations you want. Alternatively, aim for the quieter shoulder months of November or April, when the weather is still good and the park is relatively empty.

How to Book Camping and Lodging Reservations Online

At first glance, it may be intimidating for the average traveler to plan a trek around the circuit. In response to the increasing popularity of the area, the park now requires advance reservations for all campsites and refugios, the backcountry lodges along the trail, and limits the number of people in each. Two separate companies, Vertice and Las Torres Patagonia, as well as CONAF (the Chilean version of a national park service), run the various campsites, and each has its own booking system.

You can also go through a service like Booking Patagonia or Torres Hike to book campsites. These third-party booking platforms will charge you a small fee to make your reservations for you, but you won't have to navigate three different websites (and deal with translating them from Spanish with assistance from Google).

Torres Del Paine National Park Trail Trek Patagonia Chile
Ellyse Deldin

How to Get There

Fly into Punta Arenas and take a bus to Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine. There's a tiny airport in Puerto Natales that's worth the extra cost to fly into if your flights line up. This charming port village has several small hotels to choose from.

Potential Itinerary for an O Circuit Trek

Torres Del Paine National Park Trail Trek Patagonia Chile
Ellyse Deldin

The O Circuit is completed counterclockwise, beginning at the Laguna Amarga entrance on the east side of the park. From Puerto Natales, you can take a bus to Laguna Amarga, and once you've paid your entrance fee, take another bus to the Central sector, where there's a campsite, refugio, and nearby Hotel Las Torres.

Estimates of how long the trail is range from 68 to 85 miles. In any case, it takes the average hiker eight days.

Day 1: Central/Hotel Las Torres to Seron

Distance: About eight miles

While this is probably the least scenic stretch of the circuit, the easy walking is a great way to ease into this multi-day trek, especially if you're getting a later start due to traveling from Puerto Natales. The Seron campsite is surrounded by the rolling hills and wildflower fields that border the Paine River. There's a small restaurant, Wi-Fi, and bathrooms with hot showers.

Book Seron campsites through Las Torres.

Day 2: Seron to Dickson

Distance: About 11 miles

Hike up a small pass where you get the first glimpse of the glacial lakes and impressive peaks Patagonia is known for. Even the back side of the famous towers make an appearance from behind the jagged ridgeline at one point.

Refugio Dickson is one of the smallest refugios on the circuit. It and the campsite are stunningly situated on Dickson Lake, which is bounded by a spired glacier at the far end of the water that lights up pink with the sunrise.

Book Dickson accommodations through Vertice.

Day 3: Dickson to Los Perros

Distance: About seven miles

If it's cold, windy, or rainy, it's a good idea to spend a mellow morning at Dickson before setting out for Los Perros ("The Dogs"). The Perros Glacier is unique and worth spending some time taking in from the lookout around the corner from the moraine if the weather's good. The campsite is well-protected in the trees, with a large cooking shelter and a small store for snacks and beer.

Book Los Perros accommodations through Vertice.

Torres Del Paine National Park Trail Trek Patagonia Chile
Courtesy of Cascada Expediciones

Day 4: Los Perros to Paso and Grey

Distance: About five miles to Paso, plus another four miles to Grey

This section of trail takes hikers over John Gardner Pass, ducking in and out of the trees before leaving the trees behind altogether for the dramatic alpine. Cresting the pass offers the first view of Glacier Grey, one of the most amazing sights on the entire circuit.

The downhill section of this stretch is a leg-burner, descending into the forest to the campsite at Paso. This site is lackluster, but a good option for those who might need to break up a long day. Otherwise, it's worth pushing on to Grey for ridgetop walking with views of icebergs and a series of long swing bridges over gorges. Refugio Grey and the campsite have gorgeous views of the snow-covered ridgeline.

This is the last stop on the back side of the circuit. There's an option to take a boat across Grey Lake to Hotel Lago Grey, near the southern park entrance, making Grey a good starting or stopping point.

Book Paso accommodations through CONAF for Paso and Vertice for Grey.

Torres Del Paine National Park Trail Trek Patagonia Chile
Ellyse Deldin

Day 5: Grey to Paine Grande

Distance: About seven miles

This is the start of the W Trek, as well as the first stretch of the circuit accessible to day hikers, so be prepared for a busier trail. Most of the path winds along a ridge above Grey Lake with intermittent views back to the glacier.

Paine Refugio is the biggest on the circuit, boasting a full cafeteria, bar, and warming rooms with wood-fired stoves. Its picture windows look out at the massif of the Cuernos (Horns) del Paine, making it the perfect place to post up for a well-deserved hot drink. The campsite is a vast grassy field with the same killer view. There's also a boat option here across Pehoe Lake to exit the circuit, or for hikers to start the W Trek.

Book Paine Grande accommodations through Vertice.

Day 6: Paine Grande to Camp Italiano, Plus Britanico Lookout

Distance: About five miles to Camp Italiano, plus another three miles one way to the Britanico lookout

It's a quick and easy hike to Camp Italiano. From here, drop heavy packs and then day-hike up the French Valley for some of the most incredible scenery of the entire trek along the base of the Cuernos, the French Glacier, the Shark Fin, and other dramatic alpine features.

There's no refugio at Camp Italiano, which is a basic site nestled into the trees. The French campsite a half hour further down the trail is also a good option, or hike another three miles to Los Cuernos.

Book Camp Italiano accommodations through CONAF, or book a French campsite or refugio through Las Torres. Accommodations at Los Cuernos are also booked through the Las Torres website and include cabins, a refugio, and campsites.

Torres Del Paine National Park Trail Trek Patagonia Chile
Courtesy of Cascada Expediciones

Day 7: Camp Italiano to Chileno

Distance: About 10 miles

This mellow-but-long section runs along the base of the massif, making for some incredible views above. The Central campsite and refugio are nestled against a hillside with a view of the massif. The Chileno campsite and refugio are further up the trail, allowing for a shorter hike the next day to the base of the Torres — called Mirador ("lookout") Las Torres. However, Chileno is passed through by everyone hiking around the base of the Torres, so it may not be the quietest option.

Book Central or Chileno accommodations through Las Torres.

Day 8: Chileno to the Base of the Torres and Welcome Center

Distance: About 13 miles

This is the jewel in the crown of the park: the famous towers that Torres del Paine is named for, rising from a deep blue glacial lake. That also makes it the most popular section of the trek, so be prepared for streams of people or wake up early to catch the view with a bit of solitude — although local guides will tell you that the towers usually emerge from the clouds in the early to late afternoon.

Treat Yourself

Torres Del Paine National Park Trail Trek Patagonia Chile
Courtesy of Cascada Expediciones

For the tail end of your trip, consider treating yourself to a night or two at EcoCamp Patagonia. This sustainable hotel composed of geodesic domes is located in the heart of Torres del Paine right off the circuit, making it feel like you're still in the heart of the wild — especially in its serene courtyard where you can relax and watch the sunset over the Torres. With yoga, massage, three-course meals, and a lively bar, EcoCamp is a glorious way to end your hike. EcoCamp also offers guided day trips to most of the popular sections along the W Trek, so this is a great option if you want to experience the hikes in Torres del Paine but don't want to backpack.

Consider a Tour Company

If you want to trek in Torres del Paine but would rather not juggle reservations and planning, consider booking through Cascada Expediciones. Many tour companies are popping up as the O Circuit and the W Trek gain in popularity, but not all are created equal in terms of delivery and professionalism. Cascada has been on the scene since 1991 and helps tourists book multi-day and day hikes in Torres del Paine, as well as other adventures around Patagonia, complete with reputable guides.

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