W Trek Patagonia – Everything You Need to Know

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Calling Torres del Paine National Park a dramatic landscape is an understatement. It’s a hiker's paradise with vertical granite peaks reaching for the sky, glacier-carved valleys with cascading waterfalls, and impossible blues. One of the absolute best ways to experience the highlights of Torres del Paine National Park is by hiking the W Trek. The W Trek is a “W”-shaped hiking trail to the Grey Glacier, the French Valley, and the Torres del Paine viewpoint. With unbelievable destinations, Patagonia’s W Trek is one of the most scenic mountain adventures in the world.

What is the W Trek? 

French Valley PatagoniaThe W Trek in Patagonia is an awe-inspiring hiking trail with the greatest highlights in the heart of Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile. It features three main points of interest: Grey Glacier, French Valley, and the Tower’s Base Viewpoint. Connecting these three points creates a wobbly “W”-shape on a map for which the trail is named. 

Located in Southern Chile, the W Trek explores three valleys carved by glaciers. With nearly the same latitude as the South Island in New Zealand, there are snow-capped peaks and relatively low altitude. The highest elevation on the trail is 1,190 metres (3,900 feet). 

Best W Trek Tours & Guided Treks

Hiking in PatagoniaWhat makes the W Trek Patagonia so enjoyable is that there are lodges and designated camping sites, so you’re not roughing it in the backcountry! You can slice and separate each section, making each W Trek tour different. To make the most of your travels, a guided trek is a great idea. You’ll soak in all the glory of time on the trail with the added expertise of a seasoned tour operator. Our guided W Trek tours offer multiple ways to experience the W Trek, plus other activities like kayaking, biking, cruising, and sightseeing with top-notch Patagonia guides.

Patagonia Hiking Adventure ‘Condor,’ 8 - 14 Days

“Jaw-dropping moment after jaw-dropping moment awaits your discovery on our Patagonia Hiking Adventure 'Condor' tour.” This is how we introduce our 14-day Patagonia W Trek tour. This tour kicks off with a cruise to see the largest penguin colony in Chile. Then we get right to the W Trek, where we have two options: hiking the W Trek from Refugio to Refugio or taking a base at one Refugio and day hiking or exploring certain sections. Either way, we guarantee you will see the incredible sights that Torres Del Paine offers. 

The W Trek is just the first half of the trip. If you decide to do the entire 14 days, we cross the border into Argentina to explore Los Glaciares National Park. The greatest wilderness area of Argentina, Los Glaciares National Park is also the most diverse, with mountains, glaciers, forests, lakes, and rivers. We hike/bike/explore Perito Moreno Glacier, Mirador Laguna Torre, Laguna de los Tres, Laguna del Desierto, Los Huemules Reserve, and Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado.

Read the full itinerary for our W Trek Tour here.

Northern Patagonia Explorer ‘Puma,’ 8 - 14 Days

As an alternative to W Trek, Active Adventures offers something a little different - exploring the pristine wilderness of Northern Patagonia. Northern Patagonia is known for being the most remote and rugged area in Chile. With no shortage of dramatic and diverse landscapes, Northern Patagonia features lush rainforest, scrubby steppe, volcanoes, hot springs, a maze of fjords, crystal-clear streams, and snow-capped peaks crowding the horizon. During this tour, we explore Cerro Llao Llao and Osorno Volcano to the calm waters of Reloncavi Fjord and Lake Machonico. 

While still primarily a hiking tour, we incorporate delicious local cuisine, and our expert guides share the ins and outs of Chilean culture. Our Northern Patagonia Explorer 'Puma' hiking tour might be the perfect fit if you love exploring by day and relaxing by evening. 

Read the full itinerary for our Northern Patagonia ‘Puma’ Adventure here.

Hiking the W Trek

Torres del PaineThe W Trek is a well-known and well-travelled route. There are certain elements that make hiking the W Trek a little easier, including the availability of refugios (mountain lodges), a relatively low altitude, non-technical hiking, generally gentle ascents and descents, and jaw-dropping scenery. That doesn’t mean the W Trek is easy. Each day requires a certain amount of mileage, while carrying a backpack, to reach the trail’s highlights. However, with jaw-dropping scenery to discover every day, it will surely motivate you to keep going.

Let’s take a look the main highlights on the W Trek:

Torres del Paine (‘Towers of Blue’)

The crown jewel, the pièce de résistance, and the most recognizable feature of the W Trek and all of Patagonia is the Torres del Paine, the national park’s namesake. It consists of three mammoth granite peaks that reach vertically toward the sky. At the height of about 900 metres (3,000 feet), they are believed to be the highest natural cliff faces in the world. The Torres del Paine has captured the hearts of hikers for centuries and acquired nicknames such as the "Dragon’s Backbone" or "Cleopatra’s Needles."

Although the peaks of Torres del Paine can be spotted at a distance, a trip to the southern Patagonia region is not complete without making the hike through the Ascensio Valley to the base of the towers. 

The French Valley

As the central arm of the W Trek, the French Valley is worth the detour. The Valley features multiple glaciers cascading down its steep sides, creating a patchwork of ice and rock. The glaciers are hanging at an angle, so you can hear the rumble of the ice breaking and watch endless little waterfalls as ice melt makes its way downhill. If you continue on the track up to Mirador Británico, the highest point in the valley, you will have incredible views of a massive natural amphitheatre with views of the French Glacier, the Paine Massif, and Cuernos granite towers.

Grey Lake & Glacier

Grey Glacier is a 200 metre (650 feet) high wall of ice that marks the northern end of Lake Grey. This is one of the largest calving glaciers in the world, with giant ice cliffs that plummet into the lake. Grey Lake features sculptural icebergs that slowly float away from the ice wall. The water is sometimes a brownish-grey colour or milky-blue colour due to glacial silt.

There are several ways to experience Grey Lake. You can hike to a vista point to see the glacier and lake from above, put on some crampons to walk on the glacier itself, kayak amongst the icebergs, or cruise across the lake for a closer view of the calving ice.

Wildlife 

Bird enthusiasts are spoiled in Torres del Paine, where they can spot Andean condors and eagles in the sky. Or head over to shallow lakes or even on land to see flamingos, rheas, and black-necked swans. You should also look out for guanacos, a South American llama, the majestic puma, and Andean deer.

The W Trek Route

Hiking in Patagonia

The W Trek usually is walked east to west, with one of the first main sights being the base of the Towers del Paine and finishing at the Grey Lake and Glacier. Here’s a breakdown of four primary hikes of the W Trek:

  • Base of the Towers: You’ll follow the Rio Ascensio Valley as it winds its way up to the park’s namesake. As you reach the top of the boulder field near the end of the hike, you come face to face with one of the most famous mountain landscapes in the world – Torres del Paine (‘Towers of Blue’). 
    • Hiking Distance: 22 kilometre (13.7 miles), 7-9 hours
    • Elevation Gain: 770 metres (2,524 feet)
    • Elevation Loss: 770 metres (2,524 feet)
  • Hike to Los Cuernos: This stretch is an easier hike; as you contour around the northern shore of Lake Nordenskjold, a glacial lake in the heart of the national park. As you head around the lake, you’ll see glimpses of Los Cuernos – Spanish for ‘The Horns’ – three fantastically sculpted grey and white sedimentary and granite peaks rising 244 metres (800 feet).
    • Hiking Distance: 13 kilometres (8 miles), 4-6 hours
    • Elevation Gain: 60 metres (196 feet)
    • Elevation Loss: 410 metres (1,345 feet)
  • Hike French Valley: Hike up the French Valley for a closer look at Los Cuernos. The track steepens as you ascend a ridgeline to the upper French Valley, past waterfalls and mountain tarns. At the top, you’ll have incredible views of the French Glacier, the Paine Massif, and Cuernos granite towers. 
    • Refugio Paine Hiking Distance: 13 kilometres (8 miles), 4-6 hours
    • Elevation Gain: 80 metres (262 feet)
    • Elevation Loss: 80 metres (262 feet)
    • French Valley Lookout Hiking Distance: 6 kilometres (3.7 miles), 2-3 hours (optional)
    • Elevation Gain: 660 metres (2,165 feet)
    • Elevation Loss: 660 metres (2,165 feet)
  • Hike to Refugio Grey: The W Trek hike finishes at the lake, where you can hike to a viewpoint or rent kayaks to experience the glacial icebergs close up.
    • Hiking Distance: 11 kilometres (7 miles), 3-5 hours
    • Elevation Gain: 250 metres (820 feet)
    • Elevation Loss: 210 metres (688 feet)

Accommodations for the W Trek

Refugio in PatagoniaWith the ability to sleep in a rustic lodge or rent a tent at a campsite, the W Trek is a way to experience multi-day trekking. There are four types of accommodations along the W Trek Route:

  1. Refugios: Rustic mountain lodges are known locally as refugios. Each Refugio sleeps 30 - 50 people with shared bunkrooms of up to 6 - 10 people, shared bathrooms, and hot showers. You’ll have a mattress with a pillow and use your sleeping bag – if you’re a light sleeper, we recommend earplugs and an eye mask to get a good night’s sleep; it’s all part of the adventure! Meals are served in the restaurant, and there’s a bar that accepts pesos, dollars, euros, and credit cards if you fancy a drink.
  2. Camping / Backpacking: There are designated campsites along the W Trek that are locally owned and operated. A few of the campsites are free, while the others have a fee associated with them. There will often be more amenities available at the paid campsites, and all campsites will have toilets and water. For camping, you can opt to bring all of your gear or rent a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad. The ability to rent at each campsite opens the door to bringing a lighter pack with you on the trail.
  3. Glamping / Luxury Camps: You can stay in a yurt or geodesic dome in Torres del Paine National Park! Glamping or luxury camps typically have comfortable beds, breakfast, a central gathering area, and the option to add on other excursions or classes. These camping locations are a quirky and more affordable alternative to the lodges in Patagonia.
  4. Lodges: With the highest quality food, architectural design, excursions, spa facilities, and incredible views, the lodges in Patagonia mix adventure and luxury. Often in remote locations, these properties are further away from the W Trek highlights but offer peace and a reprieve from the wind.

W Trek Versus the O Trek 

Cordillera del Paine PatagoniaPhoto by davidionut/Getty Images

For even more adventure, consider hiking the O Trek in Patagonia. The O Trek loops around the Cordillera del Paine mountains and overlaps with the W Trek. With more mileage, the O Trek is considered more challenging, longer, and requires two nights of camping. However, the benefits include significantly quieter trails and more to see in the Patagonia region. 

In addition to everything you’ll see on the W Trek, the O Trek allows a reprieve from the crowds without being too far from other people. You’ll camp in the backcountry and see views of Dickson Lake and Glacier, and the challenging yet rewarding John Gardner Pass. If you have a clear day while on the John Gardner Pass, you’ll be able to see the massive South Patagonian Ice Cap.

 

W Trek

O Trek

Days Required

4 - 5 days

7 - 9 days

Distance Covered

80 kilometres (50 miles)

110 kilometres (68 miles)

Elevation Gained

2,730 metres (8,956 feet)

4,050 metres (13,290 feet)

Highlights

Base of Torres del Paine, The French Valley, and Grey Lake/Glacier

Everything on the W Trek, plus the Dickson Lake/Glacier, and John Gardner Pass

Accommodation Types

Refugios or Camping are typical, can also stay in luxury camps 

Camping required for two nights. Otherwise, all other options become available again on the W Trek

 

FAQs about the W Trek

Hiking in Patagonia FAQsWhat should I pack for the W Trek?

Double-check with your tour operator for what specific items you should bring for the season you’ll be hiking. For Active Adventure’s ‘Condor’ Tour, we stay in refugios, where you will use your sleeping bag each night. Here’s what we recommend you carry on the W Trek: 

You’ll carry a trekking pack with all your gear required for the full five days. You’ll need to fit the following inside: your sleeping bag, rain jacket and pants, clothing for 5 days/4 nights, 1-2 litres/quarts of water, and a few toiletries. All meals are provided along the way though you’ll need to carry your packed lunch each day too.

How long is the W Trek?

The entire W Trek is roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles), but your exact mileage will depend on where you sleep each night and what your tour operator offers. 

Is the W Trek worth it?

We might be biased, but it is a resounding yes. With the most extraordinary sights packed into 5 days and comfortable lodging each night, it makes for one of the best multi-day treks in the world. With extraordinary views to be seen every day, and camaraderie with fellow hikers at night, there is plenty of motivation you keep you going.

How difficult is the W Trek in Patagonia?

The W Trek is not technical, meaning you do not need climbing skills to get to each destination, and the terrain is generally pretty gradual. In addition, the entire trek is relatively low altitude, with the highest elevation being 1,190 metres (3,900 feet).  However, the daily mileage makes the trail challenging, ranging from 11 - 22 kilometres (7 - 13.7 miles). Don’t forget you’ll be wearing a backpack too! 

Can you do the W Trek without a guide?

Although hiking the W Trek without a guide is possible, figuring out how to book accommodations and handling the logistics can be incredibly challenging. There is no permit requirement to hike the W Trek, but there are a limited number of campsites and beds in the refugios. With the limited number of spots to sleep, it can become incredibly competitive to get specific camps on websites that primarily operate in Spanish. Instead, we recommend letting someone else handle the logistics so that you can hit the trail each day without worrying about your next spot.

When is the best time to do the W Trek?

The best time to do the W Trek is during Chile’s summer when there are long days and the warmest temperatures. Late December to early March marks the summer in Patagonia, and daytime temperatures range from 21 - 27°C (70 - 80°F) in the sun. Nighttime temperatures in Punta Arenas, the capital of Chile’s southernmost region, range from 4 - 10°C (40s Fahrenheit) and can dip down to -1 - 4°C (30°F) on average the trail. 

Spring is another popular time of year to travel to Patagonia. The trails are generally a little quieter, and while the temperatures can be a little lower, the photography opportunities are endless as the winter snows hang around into spring on the high peaks. 

Autumn appears in March, April and May, in the South, the temperatures range from 10°C to 2°C (40°F - 20°F) on average but much colder at night so bring your thermals and coats! It’ll get chilly. The north is only slightly warmer!

 

Download our in-depth guide for hiking the W Trek in Patagonia here.

 

Testimonials

Kayaking Grey Lake PatagoniaWhat guests are saying about our Patagonia Tours:

“With a long history of hiking in Canada and elsewhere, we’ve seen many breathtaking places, but must say that our Condor trip in February 2020 exceeded all expectations. The landscape is spectacular, with rugged spires and peaks in all directions and immense glaciers and icefields. We were especially lucky to have clear calm weather almost every day - even the guides stopped to take photos!” - Linda, Condor Trip, February 2020

“Stunning scenery, challenging hikes, great accommodations. This my first guided trip and I was very impressed with the knowledge, professionalism and positivity of all of the guides. Zac was very good at keeping our group of 14 happy, healthy, and on track for 14 days. Great sense of humor, extensive knowledge of the area and all-around lovely guy!” - Ann, Condor Trip, March 2020

“Wow! What a difference. I was glad that I had the opportunity to do these, especially back-to-back. The south was cooler and more dry and the north was warmer, "greener", and lusher. If you have the time to do both please do as you will be impressed by both.” - Carol, Condor AND Puma Trip, March 2020

“It's my pleasure to praise the picturesque Patagonia Puma adventure. The itinerary is very well balanced with physical activity and relaxation, and the scenery is stunning throughout. Our accommodations and food were wonderful also, again well balanced with everything from the charming island motel to lovely high-end hotels, and with meals ranging from generous packed lunches to gourmet dining. Our guide, Mayra, was wonderful; she was able to connect with diverse personalities and fitness levels within our group, and ensured that everyone had a great travel experience! All of our local guides were excellent also.” - Judy, Puma Trip, March 2020

“Great trip from start to finish. Our group leader did a great job. For two of our meals she arranged asados with local cooks which provided some local flavor and a lot of fun. All the local guides were great. I'd recommend this trip to anyone interested in getting some exercise while having a good time.” - Tom, Puma Trip, March 2020

Written by Hanna Ashcraft

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