O’Higgins glacier hike. Off the beaten track in Patagonia

El Chico glacier, Patagonia, Chile
El Chico glacier, Patagonia, Chile

If you like to hike unknown areas with no other people both O’Higgins glacier hike and El Chico glacier are perfectly fit this description. Prepare yourself for amazing views at O’Higgins lake, glaciers, mountains and forest. Even more to have all of those for yourself and being free to camp, walk and stop wherever you want.

The hike can be quite demanding due to difficult weather conditions, badly marked path and remote location. Actually it can be easily combined (we did it) with O’Higgins – El Chalten walk, just bring enough food since there is nowhere to buy food on the way.

Mountains, Patagonia, Chile
Beautiful scenery on the hike. Patagonia, Chile

Budget for 4 days/person

Food – CLP 8000/12$.
Transport – CLP 37500/56$: boat (Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla) – CLP 35000/52$, bus (O’Higgins to the pier) – 2500/4$.

Total: CLP 45500/68$.

What will you need for the hike?

Good tent, during the hike we had all seasons weather: pouring rain, stormy wind, hail, sun and snow, so be sure your tent want fall apart or leak; warm sleeping bag, it can get very cold specially two nights on the top; mattress; cooking stuff (stove, enough gas, pots, lighter etc.); torch, waterproof shoes, jacket and pants for rain and wind; change of clothes for sleeping; beany; cap; gloves, sunscreen and food. Drinking water is not a problem, you can find it everywhere.

How to get to the starting point?

From Villa O’Higgins. Take one of the boats to Candelario Mancilla, go to Carabineros, register for the hike (compulsory), you can leave some extra luggage at their office, then walk 7km on the road to the starting point.

The starting point of O'Higgins hike
The starting point of O’Higgins hike, turn off from the gravel road towards Peninsula

O’Higgins glacier hike

Day 1. Carabineros – Camping #1, 23km, about 7 hours walk

Starting point 7km from Carabineros (every km is marked with a sign), after 7km on your right you’ll see the sign Peninsula, that’s the start of the trek (1,5 hours).

Follow the path, after 30min. you’ll get to the river, cross it in the most shallow place, on the other side the path is not very clear, right after crossing go to the right towards the hill, you’ll see broken bridge and the path going up to the pass.

River crossing, O'Higgins glacier hike, Patagonia, Chile
River crossing in the beginning of the trail. Don’t lose the trail on the other side! Look for a mark on the tree.

Up is quite steep sometimes, takes about 1,5-2 hours.

After up finishes it’s 3 hours flat till the end of the pass and start down, we found a flat hidden from the wind place for camping on the top, just before the down starts. By the way it’s very windy and cold there be ready.

O'Higgins glacier hike
First night camping on the top of the pass, O’Higgins glacier hike

Day 2. Camping #1 – camping El Chico, 17km, about 6 hours

Day starts with a steep long down to the peninsula, 2km, 1,5-2 hours, once at the bottom you’ll see the split; one path goes to the left (there is a big sign Sendero Glaciar Chico) along the lake and the other one goes straight to the peninsula (O’Higgins glacier).

Originally we were planning to go to O’Higgins glacier so we walked to the end of the peninsula where you need to cross a river. On the other side there is a house a local family lives there, here you have to shout till they notice you and someone comes in a boat to pick you up.

When the owner came his price was CLP 15000 per person and it included river cross to and back and camping on the island the land belongs to his family. The price seemed quite expensive for Stingy Nomads since the distance between two shores is just about 20 meters it takes 2 min. to row.  So we declined his offer. Unfortunately there is no other way to get to the island so we had to turn back.

Luckily on the way we remembered about El Chico glacier and decided to go there. From the split to the camping is about 15km, mostly up, sometimes difficult to find the path. The camping itself is just a flat piece of land with some kind of fence for the wind protection, don’t expect too much.

O'Higgins lake, Patagonia, Chile
O’Higgins lake, stunning beauty!

Day 3. Camping El Chico – Glacier El Chico – Camping #1, 20km, 9 hours

Next morning we left our tent in the camping (make sure it’s well attached) and went light without our backpacks to the glacier. There is none around except for cows so no need to worry about your stuff.

We walked about 1,5-2 hours to the viewpoint (standing out big rock), if the weather is good and you have time you can go closer to the glacier, there is no path to follow just walk towards the glacier and don’t come too close to the edge.

Unfortunately for us the weather wasn’t great; strong wind and rain. As a result after the viewpoint we had to turn back. We walked back to our tent, packed everything and started walking back, towards the peninsula (2,5 hours). Then all the way up to the pass and camped in Camping #1. The up is quite long and steep it took us about 4 hours to get to the top.

El Chico glacier, Patagonia, Chile
Amazing view on El Chico glacier from the trail.

Day 4. Camping #1 – Carabineros, 22km, 5,5 hours

It was the easiest day, flat in the beginning on the pass, then a bit downhill back to the river crossing and back to the road. Once back on the road you walk 7km more, mostly downhill, to the Carabineros, about 1 hour.

Although we were a bit tired, we decided not to stay in the camping at Candelario Mancilla. By the way it costs CLP 3000/person. And after getting Chilean exit stamps we walked about 10km towards Lago del Desierto and camped for free in the forest. If you run out of food after the hike you can go to the camping and buy some bread CLP 200 and jam CLP 1000 or cooked meal CLP 4000.

Laes O'Higgins and El Chico
Two lakes; O’Higgins (blue) and El Chico (grey). O’Higgins glacier hike

Distance and time wise hike to O’Higgins glacier is very similar you just have to pay CLP 15000 extra if you have time you can combine both, it’ll take 6 days.

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