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10 Fantastic long-distance treks in Patagonia

Patagonia is a wild region in the southern tip of South America with some of the best long-distance trekking routes on the continent. From the popular routes in Torres del Paine National Park to off-the-beaten-track trails in the remote Patagonia National Parks. One can spend a couple of months hiking in the region. The scenery on the treks is incredible; massive glaciers, turquoise lagoons, snowy peaks, hidden valleys, and breathtaking lookout points. We put together a list of the 10 best long-distance hikes in Patagonia.

Two lakes (grey and turquoise colors) in the Patagonian wild
Impressive scenery on one of the long-distance treks in Patagonia

If you prefer staying in the comfort of a hotel room to camping in the wild there are plenty of amazing day hikes in Patagonia that vary from easy routes suitable for hikers with children to more challenging trails for experienced trekkers.

Refugio Otto Meiling trek, Bariloche, Argentina

  • Distance – 30 km/18,6 miles, return
  • Required time – 2 days
  • Difficulty level – medium
  • Starting/finishing point – Pampa Linda
  • Accessibility –  by car or by bus, a 2-hour drive from Bariloche
  • Admission fee – ARS 350/US$3,5, camping ARS 300/US$3, dorm bed – ARS 900/US$9.
  • Accommodation options – dorm beds (mattress on the floor) or camping with your own gear.

The Otto Mering trek is basically one steep and long ascent to the Refugio Otto Mering (an overnight hut) and a subsequent steep descent on the next day. The total altitude gain is 1000m. Some parts of the trek are on rocky terrain but overall it’s not a technical route and doesn’t require a high level of fitness. The view from the Refugio over the area is stunning. The trail takes hikers through different landscapes; fields, rivers, the indigenous forest, and rocky mountains.

The Refugio is about 15 min. walk to get to the stunning Tronador Glacier. The glacier is quite impressive; it’s hanging from the top of the mountain with several waterfalls falling down a couple of hundred meters. You can visit the area and see the glacier with a day tour from Bariloche.

Places to stay in Bariloche

Bariloche is a charming town with many hotels, hostels, restaurants, and souvenir shops. It’s a great place to start your Patagonia adventure.

Otto Meiling overnight hut for the trekkers
Refugio Otto Meiling, the end of the long-distance trek in Bariloche, Patagonia

Cerro Castillo Circuit, Carretera Austral, Chile

  • Distance – 53 km/33 miles
  • Required time – 4 days, can be completed in 3 days
  • Difficulty level – moderate, two steep ascents and descents.
  • Starting point – Las Horquetas/Villa Cerro Castillo
  • Finishing point – Las Horquetas/Villa Cerro Castillo
  • Accessibility –  by car/bus from Coyhaique or Villa Cerro Castillo
  • Admission fee+camping in the park – CLP 29 000/US$33
  • Accommodation options – camping

The Cerro Castillo trek is one of our favorite long-distance treks in Patagonia. The route goes through the Cerro Castillo National Park. The trek offers a great diversity of landscapes; hanging glaciers, the indigenous pine forest, snowy peaks, turquoise lakes, mountain rivers, green meadows, and rocky passes with snow even in summer. Some parts of the trail involve steep ascents or descents and are quite challenging but the views are 100% rewarding. The highlight of the trek is the Cerro Castillo Glacier, a big hanging glacier dropping down into a small turquoise lagoon. The circuit can be done either way starting at Villa Cerro Castillo or at Las Horquetas.

Sometimes the Cerro Castillo National Park is described as the second Torres del Paine. Some hikers prefer it over the famous national park mainly because Cerro Castillo is less commercial and far less crowded. The infrastructure in the park is good enough, the route is marked, and there are designated campsites with very basic facilities. We really enjoyed the circuit but to be honest the scenery on one of the longer routes in Torres del Paine is more impressive.

Places to stay in Coihaique

Coihaique is the nearest big town with many accommodation options, restaurants, gear rental places, and shops. You can stay in Villa Cerro Castillo but it’s a really small place with a couple of campsites, hotels, and a small shop or two.

Alya on the Cerro Castillo trek in Patagonia
Alya on the top of the pass overlooking the Cerro Castillo Glacier and Lake in Patagonia

Travel insurance. If you’re planning a hiking adventure in Patagonia it’s highly recommended to have travel insurance that will cover you in case something goes wrong. Trekking might not be the most dangerous outdoor activity. Still, when you’re going to spend days in the isolated parts of Patagonia with its harsh weather conditions and challenging routes it’s better to be insured. If you haven’t chosen an insurance company yet we can recommend our partners World Nomads. It’s a reliable company that covers travelers all over the world. Their insurance policy is very flexible it can cover the entire trip or just a hiking part of it. It takes a couple of minutes to purchase it online. Get a quote right now!

Jeinemeni Áviles Valley trek, Patagonia National Park, Chile

  • Distance – 95 km/59 miles
  • Required time – 4-5 days
  • Difficulty level – difficult, very isolated area, several river crossing
  • Starting/finishing point – Jeinimeni lake or Stone House campsite, can be walked either way
  • Accessibility – by car. If you don’t have your own vehicle it’s better to arrange a shuttle that will drop you off and pick you up, with very few cars going that way.
  • Admission fee – free
  • Accommodation options – camping

The Áviles to Jeinmeni trek in the Patagonia National Park is for real adventurers. It’s probably one of the wildest long-distance treks in Patagonia. Before attempting this route make sure you have the right gear and enough experience to wander in the wild alone. You have to carry camping gear and food enough for the duration of the trek. It’s important to pack the right gear for Patagonia.

The route starts or finishes (depending on which way you go) at the beautiful Jeinimeni Lake followed by the even more impressive Lago Verde – a turquoise lake surrounded by mountains and forest. For the following 4-5 days the scenery in the Patagonia National Park will continue to surprise you; an isolated and untouched area with ice-cold rivers that you’ll have to cross, beautiful valleys surrounded by high mountains, pampa, and forest – here you can see all the diversity of the Patagonian landscape.

O’Higgins Glacier trek, Carretera Austral, Chile

  • Distance – 82 km/51 miles, return
  • Required time – 4 days
  • Difficulty level – moderate/difficult, very isolated area
  • Starting/finishing point – Candelario Mancilla
  • Accessibility – by boat from Villa O’Higgins, on foot from Laguna del Desierto
  • Admission fee – pay for a return boat trip and camping on the island (private land) CLP 25 000/US$30.
  • Accommodation options – camping

Villa O’Higgins where you start the trek is a small village at the end of the Carretera Austral. Any hike you do around Villa O’Higgins is an off-the-grid adventure and the O’Higgins Glacier trek is not an exclusion. The trail takes you through the Patagonian forest to the beautiful O’Higgins lake. There you have to take a boat to cross it, on the opposite side there is an established campsite that belongs to a family that lives there. From the campsite, it’s a day walk (return) to the viewpoint from where you can see the massive O’Higgins glacier. You walk back the same way. The scenery on the trek is truly spectacular: the O’Higgins and El Chico Glaciers, the turquoise O’Higgins Lake, several waterfalls, indigenous forest, and untouched nature. All these you can enjoy without crowds in total solitude.

Before coming to Patagonia we’d done several hikes in Peru but the O’Higgins Glacier trek was more remote than any routes we’ve done there. It’s compulsory to register at Chilean Carabineros for the hike and indicate a day you’re planning to return. This trek can be combined with the walk from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén.

Places to stay in Villa O’Higgins

Villa O’Higgins is a really small place with a shop, a couple of hotels and one or two campsites, and a couple of restaurants.

Scenery on the Glacier O'Higgins trek in Patagonia
View of O’Higgins Lake from the O’Higgins Glacier trek, one of the most remote long-distance treks in Patagonia

Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén trek, Chile/Argentina

  • Distance – 34 km/21 miles
  • Required time – 2 days
  • Difficulty level – moderate, depending on how much luggage you carry with you and if you walk the whole way or take a second ferry
  • Starting point – Candelario Mancilla, Chile/Laguna de Desierto, Argentina
  • Finishing point – Laguna de Desierto, Argentina/Candelario Mancilla, Chile
  • Accessibility – by car/bus from El Chaltén, by ferry from Villa O’Higgins
  • Admission fee – free
  • Accommodation options – camping

The trek can be done either way from Argentina to Chile or another way around. The walk from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén is getting more and more popular every year. The combination of walking and a ferry is the only way of crossing the border from Villa O’Higgins to El Chaltén. The whole traverse is a combination of one or two ferry rides, walking, and a bus or hitchhiking. It’s important to remember that you’ll walk with all your luggage so make sure it’s not too heavy.

The entire route starting from the ferry ride to the bus ride is absolutely stunning. In two days on the trek, you can see incredible turquoise lakes, indigenous Patagonian forest, snowy mountain peaks, and even some wildlife. The trek starts with a beautiful ferry ride across O’Higgins Lake from Villa O’Higgins to Candelario Mancilla. The last stretch of the trail is along the turquoise Laguna del Desierto. As an option instead of walking, you can cross it by ferry.

It’s important to keep in mind that the weather in this part of Patagonia is very unpredictable. You have to be prepared for rain, strong wind, and heil so make sure your camping gear is good enough.

Laguna del Desierto, Argentina, Patagonia
The stunning Laguna del Desierto, one of the highlights of the O’Higgins to El Chalten trek in Patagonia

Huemul Circuit, El Chaltén, Argentina

  • Distance – 70 km/43 miles, circuit
  • Required time – 3-4 days
  • Difficulty level – difficult, some technical parts  
  • Starting/finishing point – El Chaltén
  • Accessibility – on foot from El Chaltén
  • Admission fee – free
  • Accommodation options – camping

The Huemul Circuit boasts some of the most impressive scenery in this part of Patagonia: a massive glacier that is a part of the Southern Patagonia Glacier field; beautiful turquoise lakes; lookouts with stunning views over the area. This long-distance trek is an experience well worth of effort. The Huemul Circuit is a tough hike that we wouldn’t recommend attempting if you’re an inexperienced hiker as well as hiking it alone is not a great idea.

There are several challenging ascents and descents on the route over the passes with outstanding views. Some parts of the trail involve river crossings, walking on the edge of the cliff, bouldering, etc. For this route walking poles will come in very handy.

Registration at the ranger’s office is compulsory for this trek. It’s free and done for your own safety. If you’re not back in the predicted time rangers can start looking for you. If you are caught hiking without a permit you can get a fine.

If this trek sounds too tough there are many other incredible and less demanding treks in El Chaltén e.g. Laguna de Los Tres.

Places to stay in El Chaltén

El Chaltén is often called the adventure capital of Argentina. There are many great campsites in El Chalten with good facilities that are popular with hikers and rock climbers.

The O Circuit in Torres del Paine, Chile

  • Distance – 120 km/74 miles, circuit
  • Required time – 6-8 days
  • Difficulty level – moderate with a couple of challenging ascents
  • Starting/finishing point – Hotel Las Torres
  • Accessibility –  by car, by bus, on foot
  • Admission fee – US$49
  • Accommodation options – camping, refugios, hotels

The O circuit in Torres del Paine is probably one of the most famous hikes in the world. If you have time and like hiking, we’d definitely recommend completing the O trek. The scenery along the route is truly spectacular: aquamarine lakes, crystal-clear rivers, a massive glacier, breathtaking lookouts, beautiful valleys, and diverse wildlife. Backpacking in Torres del Paine you get a chance of spotting guanacos, foxes, condors, armadillos, and in less explored parts of the park even a puma.

The route takes hikers through both off-the-beaten-path parts of the park and must-see tourist attractions. Some of the highlights of the trek are the Grey Glacier, John Garner Pass, Grey Lake, Pehoé Lake, Skottsberg Lake, Vally Francés, and Mirador Las Torres. For inexperienced hikers, it can be quite a tough walk, especially the part of conquering the John Garner pass, but the views from the top are more than rewarding. The trail is well-marked. There are campsites, hostels, and refugios on the trek. 

Grey Glacier from the top of the pass on the O trek
The Grey Glacier from John Garner Pass on the O Circuit in Patagonia

The W trek in Torres del Paine, Chile

  • Distance – 100 km/62 miles
  • Required time – 4-5 days
  • Difficulty level – moderate
  • Starting point – Refugio Paine Grande
  • Finishing point – Hotel Las Torres
  • Accessibility –  by boat from Pudeto
  • Admission fee – US$49
  • Accommodation options – camping, refugios, hotels

The W trek in Torres del Paine goes through the most popular part of the park. It gives hikers a chance to admire the highlights of the park such as Mirador Las Torres, Grey Glacier, Pehoé Lake, Vally Francés, Los Cuernos, Nordenskjold Lake, etc. This trek is an easier and shorter alternative to the O circuit. The scenery on this trek won’t stop surprising you every dayñ a massive glacier, colorful lakes, green valleys, waterfalls and creeks, bizarrely shaped mountains, and indigenous forest.

The infrastructure of this part of the park is quite developed. the trail is marked very well, there are many campsites, hostels, and hotels with restaurants. Hikers don’t have to carry camping gear or food for the trek though staying at hotels and eating at restaurants inside the park is quite pricey. There are some tough parts on the route such as the ascent to the Mirador Las Torres, but overall, it’s not a very demanding enjoyable trek.

You can do the W trek with a tour from Puerto Natales. The tour includes transportation, accommodation, and meals.

Places to stay in Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales is the closest to Torres del Paine park. It has good infrastructure, many hostels, hotels, gear rental shops, restaurants, supermarkets, etc. It’s an excellent place to stay before or after trekking.

Mirador Las Torres at the sunrise on the W trek in Patagonia
Sunrise at the Mirador Las Torres on the W trek, one of the most popular long-distance treks in Patagonia

Cabo Froward trek, Punta Arenas, Chile

  • Distance – 75 km/46,7 miles, return
  • Required time – 4-5 days
  • Difficulty level – very difficult, many river crossings, have to plan the route according to tides
  • Starting/finishing point – south of Punta Arenas, where the road ends
  • Accessibility – by car
  • Admission fee – free
  • Accommodation options – camping

The Cabo Froward trek is the ultimate adventure in Patagonia for those who survived weeks of challenging hiking and camping in the region. This long-distance trek is very challenging, mainly because of its isolation and several difficult river crossings. Sometimes you have basically to swim with your backpack so it’s important to plan the trek according to the tides. This trek can be done only between December and March  – the warmest time of the year. Due to several river crossings, the trek might take longer than you plan it’s better to have food supplies for an extra day.

The scenery here is quite different from the rest of Chilean Patagonia. If you come here after trekking in Torres del Paine you’ll definitely notice it; no more snowy mountain peaks, glaciers, or pain forests. The landscape is predominantly open areas of grass-covered plains with many rivers and lakes. The trek ends at Cruz de Los Mares – a metal cross that marks the southernmost point of the continent.

Accommodation in Punta Arenas

Sierra Valdivieso Circuit, Ushuaia, Argentina

  • Distance – 48 km/30 miles, circuit
  • Required time – 4 days
  • Difficulty level – difficult
  • Starting/finishing point – Tierra Mayor Valley
  • Accessibility – by car
  • Admission fee – free
  • Accommodation options – camping

Just the idea of hiking somewhere at the end of the world is already quite exciting. The scenery on the Sierra Valdivieso Circuit is fantastic; snowy mountain peaks, forests, green valleys, and blue lakes. Add to this peace and tranquility that you can only experience in isolated places like this. Nature here is completely unspoiled; there are very few hikers venturing this way, and as a result, you can easily spot some wild animals e.g. foxes, beavers, and many birds.

The trek is quite challenging ascending up over the mountain passes and descending back to the valleys. The route is not marked but usually, the direction is quite obvious it’s recommended to use GPS for navigation. There are no established campsites on this route – wild camping in a suitable place is the way to go. Just remember, don’t leave any rubbish behind and don’t make wildfires.

Places to stay in Ushuaia

A scenery on a trek in Patagonia; turquoise lake, mountains, and guanacos
Beautiful Patagonian scenery on one of the long-distance treks

How to prepare for long-distance treks in Patagonia?

Patagonian weather is unpredictable; it might be a lovely sunny day and in an hour it changes to stormy wind, hail, and rain. Hikers have to be prepared to experience several seasons in one day.

Due to difficult weather conditions, it’s highly recommended to have reliable gear for hiking and camping especially if you’re planning to do some of the long-distance treks in Patagonia.

If you’re going to hike one of the less-popular treks in the isolated area of Patagonia (especially if you’re hiking alone) always let somebody know where you’re heading and when you’re planning to return.

For some routes, it’s highly recommended to use GPS navigation.

If you’re an inexperienced hiker rather choose treks in one of the popular areas e.g. Torres del Paine, El Chalten, Bariloche where there will be other hikers on the trail.

Having travel insurance is highly recommended for trekking in Patagonia.

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