Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek

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The Torres del Paine W Trek is the most popular multi-day trek in Patagonia. Our ultimate guide to hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek is designed to help you see the most sights and have the most enjoyable experience on the trail. Use this in conjunction with our guide to planning your Torres del Paine W Trek to successfully plan your trip.

Hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek

Hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek without a guide

One of the most common questions I get is whether it’s possible to hike the Torres del Paine W Trek without a guide or a tour. The answer is a resounding YES! If you are in reasonably good shape, have done a couple of big hikes in the past, and can carry 30lbs or so on your back while hiking, then there is no reason to hire a guide or tour for this trek. Additionally, the trail is well-marked throughout, so you’ll have to try pretty hard to get lost.

I recommend hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek with a buddy or in a group. However, if you want to go solo, you should still consider doing it. During peak season, there are enough backpackers on the trail that if you were to need help of any kind, you’d likely be able to find people around to help.

Hiking Torres del Paine W Trek

What to eat while hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek

Each of the paid campsites along the W Trek offer breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can either book in advance when you book your campsite, or you can book when you arrive at the campsite. If you want to join in on the formal sit down dinner (as opposed to buying a sandwich or pizza for take out), you’ll need to reserve your spot at the campsite before 5pm. You can read more about the campsites along the W Trek and how to make your bookings here.

Alternatively, you can bring your own food. Each campsite offers free hot water. Thus, if you are happy eating dehydrated meals that only require hot water, then you won’t need to bring anything more than the meals themselves. I really enjoyed the Mountain House meals from REI that I brought on my trek, which I ate for dinner every night. For breakfast, I brought oatmeal packets, and for lunch I would usually have a granola bar and some snacks. My favorite snacks to have on the trail were beef jerky, trail mix, and apple sauce on the go. Just remember to keep all of your food in its original, unsealed packaging so that you don’t risk having your food taken away at customs. Also, remember to carry all your trash out of the park.

If you want a fancier meal than a dehydrated meal, you can bring your own stove and fuel to cook at the campsites. All of the campsites I recommend below have cooking areas, except the last campsite, El Chileno. Cooking is prohibited at El Chileno, but there is free hot water and hot foods available for purchase. If you’re looking for a lightweight, compact backpacking stove, the Jetboil is an excellent option.

5 day itinerary for hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek without a guide

Below is a map of Torres del Paine National Park. The red outline shows the W Trek, and the blue outlines show the additional distances you’ll need to travel at the start and end of your hike to get to and from Puerto Natales.

Map of Torres del Paine W Trek

There are many different ways to hike the Torres del Paine W Trek. You can backpack overnight, or even take a day trip to the Las Torres lookout on the east side of the park. I spent a ton of time researching the best backpacking route before my trip and have made a few small adjustments to my itinerary based on my experiences. The detailed itinerary below is, in my opinion, the best way to see all there is to see on the W Trek while having the most enjoyable time on the trails.

Before diving into the details, here is a quick overview of distances and hiking times between key points on the map above:

  • Paine Grande to Grey Campsite: 11km (6.8 miles); 3.5 hours
  • Grey Campsite to El Francés Campsite: 21.6km (13.4 miles); 6.5 hours
  • El Francés Campsite to Mirador Británico: 6.7km (4.2 miles); 2.5 hours (one way) / 13.4km (8.4 miles); 5 hours (roundtrip)
  • El Francés Campsite to El Chileno Campsite: 17km (10.6 miles); 7 hours
  • El Chileno Campsite to Las Torres: 4km (2.5 miles); 2 hours (one way) / 8km (5 miles); 4 hours (roundtrip)
  • El Chileno Campsite to Welcome Center (just past Las Torres Hotel): 6.4km (4 miles); 1.5 hours

Hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek

Day 1: Puerto Natales – Pudeto – Paine Grande – Grey Campsite

6:40AM: Take the 6:40am Bus-Sur bus from Terminal Rodoviario in Puerto Natales to Terminal Pudeto in Torres del Paine. I booked all of my bus tickets in Patagonia on Busbud and recommend that you do the same. 

The bus ride from Puerto Natales to Pudeto should take around two hours. Along the way, you’ll make a stop at the administrative office to pay your park fees. If you plan to camp for more than three days, the entrance fee for adults is $50 USD. If you are only planning on staying for three days or less, the entrance fee is $35 USD. While most campsites along the W Trek now accept credit card, the administrative offices and ferries do not. Also, the credit card machines can stop working at any time if the signal becomes too weak, so it’s good to plan ahead and carry cash on you.

*Note: If you pay in USD and need change, you will receive change in Chilean pesos. Also, while all campsites and most establishments in Patagonia accept USD, they are quite picky about the quality of your bills. Make sure you use crisp, new bills to avoid getting turned away for having a tiny tear or ink blot on your bill.

9:00AM: You should arrive at Terminal Pudeto at around 9:00am. As soon as you arrive, walk toward the ferry and get on board. Nearly everyone will be going to the ferry, so it should be pretty obvious which way to go. The ferry will usually wait for all customers aboard the bus to get on board and will depart once it is full.

You won’t need a ticket to get onto the ferry, but you will need one to get off. During and after the ferry ride, you can purchase your ticket in the downstairs inside area at the bar. Tickets cost $35 USD per person, and the same rules about crisp bills and receiving change in pesos applies here as well.

Ferry ride across Pehoe Lake from Pudeto to Paine Grande

The ferry will take you across Pehoé Lake to the Paine Grande campsite. During this short, 30 minute ride, you’ll catch your first glimpse of the towering mountains and gorgeous landscapes of Torres del Paine. For the best views and photo ops, head up to the top deck of the ferry.

9:30AM: You’ll arrive at Paine Grande at around 9:30am, where you’ll start your trek to Grey, your campsite for the night. The first part of the trek takes you through a relatively flat valley. Then, you’ll start to climb uphill until you start to see gorgeous views of the glaciers at Lago Grey. From there, the trail levels off and eventually takes you downhill until you reach Grey Campsite.

Hike from Paine Grande to Grey

1:00PM: The hike from Paine Grande to Grey takes about 3.5 hours, so you should arrive at Grey Campsite around 1:00pm. After checking in and setting up your campsite, pack a daypack with water, snacks, rain gear, and your camera, and start hiking toward the Grey glacier lookout and the suspension bridges.

The hike to the glacier lookout is short. Continue on the trail you arrived on, past the campsite, until you reach a fork in the road. Here, you’ll see a sign pointing left to the glacier lookout and straight ahead to the suspension bridges. If you take the trail to the left, you’ll soon begin to glimpse the glacier again. While there are many lookouts along the way, if you continue on to the end of the trail, you’ll be able to get to water level, where you’ll find the most breathtaking views.

Grey Glacier

If you are exhausted from your first day of hiking, I would recommend skipping the hike to the suspension bridges. There are two suspension bridges, but the hike to the first bridge alone is pretty long and rigorous. Our entire group of 10 agreed that the view of the suspension was probably not worth the hike. However, if your adrenaline is in full gear and you want to keep hiking, then return to the fork in the road and take the other trail toward the suspension bridges.

Suspension bridge at Grey

Either way, you’ll be back at your campsite before dinner. Pitch your tent, make dinner, and relax the rest of the night. There is a cafe and shop with basic foods, beer, and other necessities, as well as a cafeteria where you’ll eat your dinner if you pre-booked it. There are also hot showers here, but they are only available in the evening.

Total Hiking Distance (not including the additional afternoon hikes): 11km (6.8 miles)
Total Hiking Time (not including the additional afternoon hikes): 3.5 hours
Campsite: Grey (Campsite: $9; Campsite w/rentals: $69; Refugio: $37; Refugio w/rentals: $87; Refugio w/half board: $82; Refugio w/full board: $94)

Day 2: Grey Campsite to El Francés Campsite

8:30AM: Pack up your campsite and start hiking back toward Paine Grande. This part of your hike will be the exact same as the day before, so you’ll have another chance to get your glacier photos if the weather on your first day was less than ideal.

Grey to Paine Grande

12:00PM: You should arrive at Paine Grande around noon. Take a short break here for lunch. If you brought your own stove, you can boil some hot water here and eat a dehydrated meal. There is also a small shop in the back of the building, where you can purchase food and drinks, as well as a cafeteria inside the building that serve more substantial meals. Depending on what time you arrive, however, the cafeteria may or may not be open. We arrived at noon and were told that lunch would not be served until 1:00pm.

12:30PM: Leave Paine Grande and start hiking toward El Francés, your campsite for the night. The trek will take you around Lake Nordernskjold and past Camp Italiano, the only free campsite on the W Trek. The trek to Camp Italiano should take around 2.5 hours. From there, keep walking for another 30 minutes until you reach El Francés. 

3:30PM: Arrive at El Francés Campsite. Pitch your tent, have dinner, and relax for the night. Camping here is on raised wooden platforms, with some shelter from bushes and trees. There are hooks in the wooden platform that you can use to secure your tent, but you may want to bring some rope with you to help with pitching your tent. Hot showers are available at the campsite, as well as a small cafeteria, where you can have your dinner if you paid for it. During dinner hours at El Francés, the cafeteria is completely closed to any campers who did not purchase dinner. You can enter to get hot water and buy snacks and beers, but otherwise you cannot sit or relax inside.

El Frances Campsite - Torres del Paine

El Francés Campsite was by far my least favorite campsite out of the three we stayed in on our five day Torres del Paine W Trek. The refugio, where the cafeteria and shop are located, is quite a hike from the campsite. Additionally, the kitchen, where you are able to cook your own foods, is very small and gets crowded quickly. There just wasn’t a good place for all of us to hang out at El Francés. Of course, if you choose to stay in the refugio and purchase all of your meals, then you wouldn’t experience any of these issues.

As an alternative to this itinerary, I would suggest looking into staying at Los Cuernos the following night. I’ll explain how to make this work in the Day 3 itinerary.

Total Hiking Distance: 21.6km (13.4 miles)
Total Hiking Time: 6.5 hours
Campsite: El Francés (Campsite: $21 + $11 for single occupancy; Campsite + rentals: $71 + $11 for single occupancy; Dome refugio: $111; Dome refugio w/rentals: $116; Dome refugio w/half board: $172; Dome refugio w/full board: $196)

Day 3: El Francés Campsite to Mirador Británico to El Francés Campsite

You’ll be staying at El Francés again tonight, so no need to pack anything up before you head out for the day.

8:30AM: Start hiking through the Francés Valley toward Mirador Británico (Británico Lookout). The weather in the Francés Valley is the most unpredictable, so this hike could be a breeze or a nightmare, depending on how the weather is that day. We lucked out with some pretty decent weather, but the day before we arrived, the weather was terrible.

Mirador Britanico - Torres del Paine W Trek

If the weather is nice when you leave, try to make a beeline for the top and skip all the photo ops along the way. The Francés Lookout and everything else in the Francés Valley will still be there when you return, but getting clear views from the top is more of a feat. You’ll be gradually climbing uphill the entire way from Campsite Italiano to Mirador Británico, but these are some of the most beautiful views on the trek, so it’ll be totally worth it. The final stretch up to the lookout involves a bit of a rock scramble, which makes getting to the top feel even more rewarding.

Mirador Britanico - Torres del Paine W Trek

Take your time on the way down, and don’t forget to stop at Francés Lookout for some photos.

2:00PM: Arrive back at El Francés Campsite. Relax, have some beers, and get an early night’s rest. 

An alternative to staying at El Francés for another night is to tack on a two hour hike to Los Cuernos Campsite and camp there for the night. The benefit to doing this is that you won’t have as grueling of a Day 4, and Los Cuernos looked nicer than El Francés from what I could see from passing through. However, this would mean that you would have to pack up your campsite in the morning of Day 3 and carry all your gear up to Mirador Británico. While it can be done, it will be much more exhausting than only having to carry a daypack.

Ultimately, the benefit of not having to carry all of my gear for a day outweighed the costs of being stuck at El Francés Campsite for one more night.

Total Hiking Distance: 13.4km (8.4 miles)
Total Hiking Time: 5 hours
Campsite: El Francés (Campsite: $21 + $11 for single occupancy; Campsite + rentals: $71 + $11 for single occupancy; Dome refugio: $111; Dome refugio w/rentals: $116; Dome refugio w/half board: $172; Dome refugio w/full board: $196)

Day 4: El Francés Campsite to El Chileno Campsite

8:00AM: Try to have everything packed and ready to go by 8:00am. Start hiking toward El Chileno Campsite, located about two hours from the bottom of the towers (Las Torres). Today’s hike will continue taking you along Lago Nordenskjold for the first 70% or so of the way, with gradual ups and downs. There’s not much shade along this trail, so if it’s sunny out, it can get quite hot. Make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen and reapply often.

Lake Nordernskjold

Even though today isn’t the longest day, it may feel like it is. Your body is getting fatigued, and the heat from the sun can really wear on you. Expect to spend close to seven hours on the trail today.

El Frances to El Chileno

The final stretch of the hike to El Chileno will be all uphill and will really test your physical and mental strength. Once you make it through this final push, however, you’ll just have a few easy downhills to go until you reach El Chileno Campsite. 

El Frances to El Chileno

3:00PM: Arrive at El Chileno Campsite. Pitch your tent, have dinner, and relax with some beers. Camping here is also on raised wooden platforms, so your rope will come in handy once again. Hot showers are available here, as well as a shop with basic food items and a cafeteria where you can have your dinner if you paid for it. There are no cooking facilities here, but you can get hot water for free from the refugio.

El Chileno has lots of communal seating, both indoors and outdoors, where you can gather with your group or make some new friends. It is also located right on the water, so if you need to cool down, you can go take a dip in the water.

El Chileno Campsite

Before going to bed, put together a daypack for the next morning, as you’ll be leaving the campsite very early. The goal is to reach Las Torres by sunrise (around 5:00-6:00am during peak season). You’ll want to have your headlamp, as it will still be dark out when you leave around 3:00-4:00am. You’ll also want to bring some snacks, water, and your rain gear in case it rains.

Total Hiking Distance: 17km (10.6 miles)
Total Hiking Time: 7 hours
Campsite: El Chileno (Campsite: $21 + $11 if single occupancy; Campsite w/rentals: $71 + $11 if single occupancy; Refugio: $111; Refugio w/rentals: $116; Refugio w/half board: $172; Refugio w/full board: $196)

Day 5: Las Torres; back to Puerto Natales

3:30AM: We left camp at 3:00am, which turned out to be far too early. It only took us 1 hour 45 minutes to reach the towers, so we were stuck waiting up there for nearly an hour before the sun came out. We all got pretty cold, so bring extra layers if you think you’ll want to stay up there for a while.

Heading out at 3am to Las Torres

Once the sun did come out, however, the views were incredible. Had I not been so cold from sitting up there for an hour, I would’ve stayed longer and enjoyed the views even more.

Las Torres - Torres del Paine W Trek

7:30AM: Get back to El Chileno Campsite. Relax, take a nap, have breakfast, and pack up your gear.

9:00AM: Leave El Chileno and start hiking toward the Torres del Paine Trailhead at Hotel Las Torres. This should take you around 1-1.5 hours. Once you reach the trailhead, continue down the path toward the welcome center, where you can catch a bus back to Puerto Natales. The path to the welcome center isn’t very clearly marked, but if you walk in the direction of where the large swarms of people are coming from, you should find it eventually. You’ll need to walk past Campsite Central, and then look for a large parking lot with lots of tour busses.

If your bus doesn’t arrive for a while after you reach the welcome center, don’t worry. The facilities at the welcome center are very nice, and you can order food and beers there while you wait.

Torres del Paine W Trek

Alternatively, you can also try to catch the bus from the welcome center to Laguna Amarga, and then take the bus from Laguna Amarga to Puerto Natales. Keep in mind, however, that Laguna Amarga only has bathroom facilities and nothing else, so you’re much better off waiting at the welcome center than at Laguna Amarga.

Total Hiking Distance: 14.4km (9 miles)
Total Hiking Time: 5.5 hours
Hotel: Kau Lodge, Puerto Natales

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