A Complete Guide to Hiking the W Trek Patagonia

Hiking the W Trek Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park

The Torres del Paine National Park is consistently listed as one of the most beautiful places in the world and is considered a world-class hiking destination. The most popular way to experience the Torres del Paine is to hike the W trek in Patagonia, so named because the trail forms a ‘w’ shape on the map. If you have more time your trek can be extended to the ‘O’ Circuit.

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W trek Patagonia

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The Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia welcomes 252,000 visitors each year, over half of which are international visitors. If you are one of the 100, 000+ foreign visitors coming to the region, read more about getting to the Torres del Paine. Those visiting the Torres del Paine national park should allow a day either side to get to/from Puerto Natales, the nearest city.

The W Trek Patagonia

The below itinerary outlines completing the W trek, without a guide, over 5 days, from West to East. Hiking in this direction leaves the highlight, the Torres del Paine, for the last day, and concludes the trek on a high note.

If solo hiking isn’t your thing, there are guided tours in the park including both multi day hikes and day trips.

Patagonia ferry Atlas Introspective

Where to Stay on the W Trek Patagonia

We camped at refugio’s within the park and brought our own camping gear. But you can also hire tents, sleeping mats and sleeping bags from refugio’s to lighten your load. Refugio’s also have dorms & hostel rooms and there are several free campsites also located within the park. Despite the many options for accommodation, it’s important to make reservations ahead of time. The W trek Patagonia is gaining in popularity and the sites often book up months in advance.

We stayed at the following campsites: Refugio Grey, Refugio Paine Grande, Refugio Los Cuernos and Refugio Chileno.

What to Pack for the W trek Patagonia

I hiked the W trek Patagonia during October, and we experienced one day of heavy rain and snow flurries. There was snow on the ground at the Torres del Paine. Other than that, we were lucky with the weather. For more information on what to pack for a self-guided hike and camping, you may be interested in What to Pack for the W Trek Patagonia.

Getting to the W Trek Patagonia

Read on for more information about getting to the Torres del Paine National Park from the Punta Arenas airport and/ or from Puerto Natales, the nearest city.

This post deals specifically with hiking the W trek Patagonia. The morning of Day 1 is spent travelling from Puerto Natales to the Torres del Paine national park, followed by an afternoon hike from the jetty at Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Grey.

day 1 gravel trail Atlas Introspective

DAY 1: Refugio Paine Grande – Refugio Grey

Distance: 11km / 6.8 miles

Time: 3.5 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Highlights: views of Grey Glacier & icebergs floating on Lago Grey

The catamaran docked at Refugio Paine Grande around midday. We had a quick bite in the lodge-style cafeteria and waited out the rain. Unfortunately, the rain did not let up and we had a cold and wet hike to Refugio Grey. As we approached Grey Glacier the temperature dropped and there were brief snow flurries.

The hiking trail between Refugio Paine Grande and Refugio Grey had inclines and descents, over loose rock paths. No rock climbing was required, but I had to scramble over some rocky trail sections during some sections.

Fiona glacier Atlas Introspective

Grey Glacier

Half-way through the hike on Day 1 the trail reached Mirador Grey and we had our first view of Grey Glacier.

Grey Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the third largest ice sheet in the world (after Antarctica and Greenland). It sits between Argentina and Chile and runs along the southern Andes. At it’s widest point it is 6km wide and over 30m high. Our views were hampered a bit by the weather, but it was still a spectacular site.

Grey Glacier feeds Lago Grey (Lake Grey) and you may see icebergs floating on the lake and and surrounding beach. In November 2017 the largest iceberg since the early 1990’s broke off Grey Glacier. It was 350m long by 380m wide and large enough to disrupt scheduled boat tours.

Refugio Grey

By the time we arrived at Refugio Grey, the heavy rain had gotten through our wet-weather clothes and my gloves and boots had filled with water. We were fortunate that our only day of hiking in rain ended at the cosiest refugio. Refugio Grey has a dry room so could dry our wet clothes and take turns warming up by the fire. Hot showers were available for guests. But here, as in refugio’s throughout the Torres del Paine national park, the hot water runs out early. Meals are provided for dorm guests, but not campers. But you can buy tea, coffee and there’s also a decent bar.

All the refugio’s we camped at, had a small store selling hiking essentials and food. But due to the remote location, the prices in the park quite steep. Make your peace with it and bring as much food as you can carry.

W Trek Patagonia
Refugio Grey, Torres del Paine National Park

Day 1 Extra Options

Had the weather been better, we could have covered more ground on Day 1. It’s possible to complete a return hike to Refugio Grey and back in one day with 7 hours of daylight.

Those wanting to get a closer look at Grey Glacier, can pitch their tent at Refugio Grey then hike a further 4km / 2.4 miles to the mirador. Kayaking tours are also on offer on Grey lake.

DAY 2:

Refugio Grey – Grey Glacier – Refugio Paine Grande 

Distance: 11km / 6.8 miles (+ an extra 8km / 4.8 miles if you hike to Grey Glacier)

Time: 3.5 hours (+ an extra 2-3 hours if you return hike to Grey Glacier mirador)

Difficulty: Moderate

Highlights: Southern ice field of Grey Glacier

Day 1 hiking to Grey Gacier
Torres del Paine national park

Grey Glacier

Those who missed the chance to hike to Grey Glacier on Day 1, can complete this section on morning of Day 2. It’s a return hike, so you can leave your belongings behind. Hike towards, but not all the way to, the Los Guardo campsite (part of the O Trek) for the best views of Grey Glacier and the southern ice field. After 1-1.5 hours turn back, collect your belongings and continue to Refugio Paine Grande.

Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande

For those who are short on time or don’t want to complete a 2 day return hike, there is the option to catch the catamaran further north on Day 1 and commence the trek from Refugio Grey.

The weather is unpredictable in Patagonia and subsequently so is the landscape. We didn’t mind repeating the section of trail in better weather.

The return hike to Refugio Paine Grande takes 3 and a half hours. We reached Refugio Paine Grande by mid afternoon leaving enough daylight to set up camp and have a rest in the common areas of the lodge.

Campsite Day 2 Atlas Introspective

Meals at the Refugio’s

The staff only make enough meals to cater for guests staying in the dorms, not the campsites. Campers who would like a prepared meal, should inform staff in advance. If you miss out there is a store selling camp meals, snacks and drinks. At the time of writing, a basic cafeteria meal at Refugio Paine Grande was approximately $30US.

DAY 3:

Refugio Paine Grande- Campamento Italiano – Británico/ Valle de Frances -Refugio Los Cuernos

Distance: 24km / 14.9 miles

Time: 5 hours or 10 hours, including a return hike to Británico/ Valles des Frances

Difficulty: Moderate. Relatively flat terrain on well-marked trail with a steep climb to the French Valley Mirador

Highlights: Lago Skottsberg, Valles de Frances, Lago Nordenskjöld

Mt view 2 Atlas Introspective

Day 3 was a really enjoyable part of the W trek Patagonia. Overall the inclines weren’t as steep and the views changed every couple of hours. To your left you have snow covered Paine Grande, highest peak in the park and to your right the turquoise waters of Lago Skottsberg and Lago Nordenskjöld. A river crossing over a rickety suspension bridge (one person at a time) crosses Rio del Frances to Camp Italiano. The ground is a little uneven and facilities are basic (composting toilets), but it’s a free campsite if you want to rough it for the night. There’s also a ranger station on site that’s staffed during the peak season.

If you’re stopping to prepare a meal at Camp Italiano there’s a small 3 sided shelter. Remember to only use your camp stoves within the designated areas.

Fee crossing bridge Atlas Introspective

Valles de Frances

The Valles de France trail is a return hike in the middle of the W trek Patagonia. Leave your pack at Camp Italiano and continue to the Valles des Frances. The trail is steeper during this section and the return hike takes about 5 hours (15km / 9.2 miles) .

Collect your pack from Camp Italiano and continue for 2 and a half hours (5.5km / 3.4 miles) to Refugio Los Cuerno. This section of the W trek Patagonia is pretty easy and the trail takes you to the pebbled shores of Lago Nordenskjöld.

Refugio Los Cuerno

A campsite at Refugio Los Cuerno includes a decking platform for your tent, access to decent bathroom facilities, hot showers, dinner, breakfast and a packed lunch.

Fiona turquoise lake Atlas Introspective

DAY 4:

Refugio Los Cuernos – Refugio Chileano

Distance: 16.5 km / 10 miles

Time: 5 hours

Difficulty: Moderate. Steady incline up to the short cut then a winding trail to Refugio Chileano. A shortcut is available which bypasses Refugio Las Torres & saves about an hour.

Highlights: Epic curving trail into the valley of Refugio Chileano, & the first glimpses of the Torres del Paine!

Head in the direction of Refugio Chileano / Las Torres. After 9km / 5.5 miles there’s a sign pointing to a shortcut- take it! It bypasses Las Torres and saves an hour.

There’s a steady uphill section of the W trek Patagonia, with spectacular views of the valley below. At the top, a goat trail snakes into the forrest before.

trail into refugio day 4 Atlas Introspective

Refugio Chileano

The Campsite at Refugio Chileano is similar to Refugio Los Cuernos as both sites are owned by the same company. Decking platforms for tents, decent facilities and meals are included. The camp decks are on a steep incline, & ropes are tied between trees to pull yourself up to your platform.

After pitching your tent, either knock off for the day and have an early night or continue up to see the Torres del Paine. Most people aim to see the Torres del Paine at sunrise as the colours at dawn are the most spectacular. If you want to hedge your bets with your morning self and the weather, you could see it twice.

refugio campsite day 4 Atlas Introspective

DAY 5:

Refugio Chileano – Torres del Paine – Hotel Las Torres (shuttle bus to Laguna Armaga; bus to Peurta Natales)

Distance: 6.4km / 4 miles + 11km / 7 miles

Time: Return trip to Torres del Paine- 3 1/2 hours; 2 hours from Refugio Chileano to Hotel las Torres

Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult. Very steep inclines to the Torres del Paine, including some rocky scrambles on the ascent. The trail zig zags through a stream- take care on wet rocks. At the peak use hiking poles to navigate foot placement if there is snow. Use caution if hiking before sunrise and remember to bring warm layers and a head lamp.

Highlights:Torres del Paine! Grand finale of the W trek!

view of TDP Atlas Introspective

Staff at Refugio Chileano can let you know when sunrise will be. Confirm the time the night before set an alarm for an hour and a half before. Alternatively consult this guide.

Take water, a snack, warm layers, hiking poles, head lamp and most importantly your camera. The first part of the trek winds through the forrest and is pretty straight forward. But the final kilometre is steep and the trail can be harder to see. Part of the final section involves zig-zagging up a stream. Take care on the rocks as they can be slippery, use your hiking poles for stability and look for the orange sign-posts marking the trail.

I found the section between Refugio Chileano and the Torres del Paine the most challenging part of the W trek Patagonia. Not because it requires a greater level of fitness, but because you need to take your time and watch your step.

Day 5 TDP Fee Atlas Introspective

The Torres del Paine

As we got close to the Mirador we reached the snow line (we hiked the W trek Patagonia in October). The ice was slippery and some patches of snow were quite deep and hid rocks. Use hiking poles to test out each patch of snow before taking each step.

The Torres del Paine is the highlight of the park and changes colour with the light, depending on the weather and time of day. Reaching the Torres del Paine on day 5, gives the hike momentum and concludes the W trek Patagonia on a high note.

The Final Stretch…

After experiencing the Torres del Paine, return via the same trail, taking care down the steep sections. Back at Refugio Chileano have a quick bite and pack up camp. Keep an eye on the time to ensure you don’t miss the shuttle bus leaving the national park.

The final stretch of the W trek Patagonia is downhill with fantastic sweeping views. Follow the signposts to Hotel Las Torres, a two hour trek. Once you reach the Hotel, ask for directions to the shuttle bus.

Torres del Paine mt Atlas Introspective

Leaving the W Trek Patagonia: Hotel Las Torres to Puerta Natales

It’s a good idea to contact the Hotel Las Torres before you commence your hike and confirm the shuttle bus timetable. At the time of writing it only ran twice per day (9am and 2pm).

The shuttle bus meeting point is a 15 minute walk from the hotel. If you arrive early, there’s a cafe with hot food and a Patagonia clothing outlet.

The shuttle bus stops at Laguna Armaga where you can switch to your pre-booked bus back to Puerta Natales. When you book the return ticket into the national park, review the shuttle bus timetable to ensure the schedule coincides with your arrival at Laguna Armaga.

Peurto Natales Atlas Introspective

Puerta Natales

Back in Puerta Natales you can celebrate with a hot shower, clean clothes and a calorie-dense meal! We stayed at Noi Indigo both the night before and after our hike, and were able to store some of our luggage there. Take some time to explore Puerta Natales- it’s a beautiful, laid back place.

What were your highlights on the W trek Patagonia?

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