Backpacking Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

These photos of Torres del Paine National Park will have you loading up your backpack and beelining it to southern Chile to explore some unbelievable landscapes.

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Photo By: Alisha Bube

Torres del Paine

An adventure in Patagonia can be summed up in three words: walking, wind and wine. The main draw for visitors to this remote corner of the globe is its unbelievable landscapes. Be warned though, while hiking these rugged ranges you’ll likely encounter equally rough weather. Be prepared for sporadic storms and gusts of wind strong enough to knock you over. If the weather is too dismal to make it outside, don’t worry, the wine in this region is delightful and can make even the rainiest day enjoyable.

Backpack the W or O Trek

While day hikes are always an option, many visitors opt to immerse themselves in the stunning landscapes of Torres Del Paine by backpacking either the W trek (~5 days) or the O trek (~9 days). Permitting can be difficult for these trails, so plan your hikes well in advance to guarantee reservations for camping or lodging within the park!

Puerto Natales

The small town of Puerto Natales is a great home base to kick off your adventures in Torres del Paine. There are daily buses that run shuttles the 1.5 hours from town to the park, and it acts as a launching point for many of the tour companies if you're looking for guided adventures. If you have some time to kill around town and want to grab a bite, I would recommend stopping in for a pizza at base camp, or if you’re looking for something more upscale and local, you absolutely will not be disappointed with anything you get at Lenga Restaurant. One of my favorite spots in town, though, was the Last Hope Distillery, definitely worth stopping in for a tour or at least to try some of their delicious cocktails made with local ingredients.

Transportation

If you’re planning on taking any ferries or shuttles to different trailheads once you're in the park, be sure to bring cash with you because they don’t take cards and there are no ATMs. There's a park entry fee of about $15-30 (depending on the season), and plan to be at the gate for a while because they require you to watch a video, and the lines can get backed up. If you're staying at the refugios or lodges, most of them take cards for food/beverage purchases and offer Wi-Fi for a small fee.

Glacier Grey

Part of the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the expansive Glacier Grey lies in the northwest portion of Torres del Paine.

Lago Grey

Lago Grey is a freezing but pristine glacially fed lake that is the headwaters for Rio Grey and offers beautiful panoramic views of the mountains and Glacier Grey.

Salto Grande

A short hike from Pudeto takes you to the short (about 30 feet) but powerful Salto Grande waterfall along the Paine River.

Mirador Cuernos

If you follow the trail from Pudeto beyond Salto Grande waterfall, you'll pass through the lush foothills and along the pristine blue shore of Nordenskjold Lake before reaching the Mirador Cuernos overlook with stunning panoramic views of the mountains to the northwest.

Glaciar del Frances

Spilling from the rocky peaks surrounding Cerro Paine Grande down to the valley floor is the frozen flow of Glaciar del Frances. Thunderous cracks of calving ice echo between the mountains as you take in the spectacular glacial views during the ascent to the heart of Valle Frances.

Rio del Frances

The icy blue Rio del Frances makes its short journey from Valle Frances to Lago Nordenskjold.

Valle Frances

After the bouldery ascent, you arrive at the beautiful forested cirque at the head of the French Valley with stunning views in every direction. It's absolutely one of my favorite sections of the park and well worth the hike up if they don’t shut the pass down due to weather.

Campamento Italiano

Campamento Italiano is a free, forested campsite at the base of Valle Frances along the east bank of Rio del Francais that has bathrooms, but no other facilities. (Reservations are required.)

Campamento Frances

Campamento Frances is a forested camping site between Campamento Italiano and Los Cuernos above the shore of Lago Nordenskjold. There isn’t much in the way of views from this site, but it does have bathrooms, showers and platform tent camping (option to rent gear). There are a limited number of private dome tents available to rent out that sleep up to eight and come with a full board option and views of the lake. (Reservations are required.)

Lago Nordenskjold

If you’re hiking in the park, odds are you will have a view of this immaculate blue lake at some point on your trip since it makes up most the southern boundary of the Cordillera Paine Range.

Cuernos

About midway along the north shore of Nordenskjold Lake is Cuernos, a small compound that boasts spectacular views of the granite peaks above and lake below. Lodging choices include camping (option to rent gear), a refugio and cabins, all of which have access to a restaurant, shop, restrooms, showers and have full board options. (Reservations are required.)

Chileno

About midway up the Ascencio Valley to the famous Base Las Torres is the Chileno camping (option to rent gear) and refugio, which has a small shop, restrooms, showers and full board options. (Reservations are required.)

Base las Torres

An iconic view in Torres del Paine, Base las Torres is a vista worth the steep ascent. At a little over 11 miles roundtrip with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain, it's doable as a day hike, but I’d recommend camping below at Chileno and making the ascent during sunrise or sunset for the best lighting and to avoid midday crowds.

Ascencio Valley

Ascencio is a steep, forested river valley on the east side of the park that leads to Base Las Torres.

Campamento Las Torres

A good home base for exploring the east side of the park, Las Torres has camping, a refugio and hotel options available, and it is only a short shuttle (~$3) and walk from the Laguna Amarga bus stop. The facilities available include bathrooms, showers, a restaurant, shop and full board options.

Wildlife - Foxes

There are two types of foxes that call Torres del Paine home: the culpeo (red fox) and chilla (grey fox).

Foothills of Cordillera Paine

The lush and rolling foothills surrounding the Cordillera Paine Range have subtle elevation changes and are an ideal destination to go to search for wildlife (or go trail running).

Wildlife - Guanaco

With this region being home to one of the largest populations of guanaco, you’ll likely see small herds of these llama-esque mammals roaming the foothills of the national park.

Kayaking

A number of companies offer paddling expeditions in Lago Grey to Glacier Grey, or down the Grey and Serrano Rivers offering unique views of the Cordillera Paine Range.

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