What is the Torres del Paine W Trek?

Heading to Patagonia? Or already in South America? You've no doubt been advised more times than you can remember to explore the famed W trek of Torres del Paine National Park. But what exactly is the W trek? Where is it? Why should you explore it? What is there to see? Let's answer all these questions and more as we explore just what this trek is, and your options for experiencing it.

Base of the Towers

Where is the W Trek?

First off, let's establish the location. We're way down south in the Arctic regions of Chilean Patagonia, in the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park. Famed for its stunning vertical mountain peaks, crisp blue ice sheets, pristine lakes, and elusive yet awe-inspiring wildlife. Hiking the W trek is one of the top bucket list adventures in the world.

What is the W Trek?

Typically, hikers follow the east-to-west route when undertaking the W Trek, the first day you will start at Refugio Las Torres and conclude at Refugio Paine Grande where you will take a catamaran across Lake Pehoé to the Pudeto ferry port and then be transferred back to Puerto Natales. The route traverses three valleys, which together form the distinctive W shape that characterizes the trek. Within each of these valleys lies one of the park's most famous landmarks.

Phenomenal trekking opportunities ring the park's massif, creating the seven- to ten-day Torres del Paine' O' Circuit. However, the shorter and more manageable portion of this ring is known as the W trek – so-called as your route through the park will resemble a W-shape, as you can see in the map below.

5 Day W Trek Map

Why Explore the W Trek?

Now that we've hammered out the what and where, let's dive into the most important question; why you should explore the W trek! Trust us, this hike packs the very best that Torres Del Paine has to offer into one adventure-filled day after another.

The primary sights will include the three iconic granite towers (torres), for which the park is named. The day-hike up to the main viewpoint is steep but well worth the sweeping views of steep mountain valleys and snowcapped mountains.

Your adventure will also take you deep into the park's inner realm via Frances Valley, where you'll see the magical indomitability of the massif's sheer granite walls, near-endless mountain top ice sheets, and raging rivers.

Continue following your distinctive 'W' path, and you'll find yourself overlooking the gargantuan Southern Patagonian Ice Field – which covers over 4,500 square miles! The sheer vertical ice wall that forms the northern end of Lake Grey (Lago Grey) is truly a sight to behold.

Base of The Towers
Glacier Grey viewpoint near Refugio Chileno

Torres del Paine Highlights:

  • Base of the Towers: The Iconic postcard viewpoint
  • Nordenskjöld Lake: The natural wonder of Lago Nordenskjold in southern Chile leaves travelers in awe with its magnificent scenery and the striking color of its waters.
  • Grey Lake and Glacier Grey: Get closer by booking a Glacier Hike or Kayak
  • John Gardner Pass: offers some of the most spectacular views in the park, including stunning panoramic vistas of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the Grey Glacier, and the surrounding mountain peaks.
  • French Valley: Witness the Hanging Glaciers “Mirador Britanico”
  • The Park’s famous spires, “Los Cuernos” (“the Horns”)
  • Laguna Amarga: One of the classic postcards of Torres del Paine National Park
  • Wildlife: Torres del Paine is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including guanacos, Andean condors, pumas, foxes, and even the occasional huemul deer.
  • Salto Grande: This impressive waterfall is located in the heart of the park and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers.
  • Hiking: Via the world class multi-day treks.

Length and Where to Stay

From start to finish, the Torres del Paine W Trek can last anywhere from four to seven days, depending on your time constraints and preferred travel style. An express four-day adventure is perfect for those quickly swinging through the region. However, a more relaxed seven-day eco dome trip is ideal for a slower and more relaxed experience with incredibly comfortable and modern digs.

Speaking of digs, let's spend a moment talking about lodging. Apart from the plush Eco Dome option, there are several campsites located along the W trek, offering ample opportunity for you to relax and take in the sights on a self-guided tour. If the tent life isn't for you, consider a Refugio hiking tour that utilizes several rustic, dorm-style huts that offer ample protection from the elements.

Torres del Paine is truly the gem of Patagonia. Every single day in the park with yield unforgettable experiences and views and the W Trek is your best option to bask in everything the park has to offer. Whether you elect to hike with a professional guide or manage your own adventure, you won't be disappointed!

EcoCamp in Torres Del Paine National Park
Camping setup at Paine Grande

How difficult is the W hike in Torres del Paine?

The difficulty of the W hike in Torres del Paine can vary depending on your fitness level, experience with hiking and the weather conditions at the time of your trip. However, in general, the W trek is considered a moderately difficult hike, without a lot of intense elevation gain. Across the 5 days of hiking, the trails are mainly flat, with the exception of your most demanding day reaching the Base of the Towers.

The W hike covers a total distance of approximately 50 miles (80 km) and can take anywhere from 4 to 6 days to complete. The terrain is rugged and includes steep ascents and descents, rocky sections, and uneven trails. There are also some sections where you will need to cross streams and rivers.

The weather in Patagonia can be unpredictable, and hikers should be prepared for strong winds, rain, and even snow. The weather conditions can make the hike more challenging, and hikers should always be prepared for changing weather conditions.

Do you need a permit to hike Torres del Paine?

Yes, visitors who wish to hike in Torres del Paine National Park are required to obtain a permit, regardless of the length or difficulty of the hike. The permit is known as the "CONAF Permit" and can be purchased online or in-person at the park's entrance. The permit fee varies depending on the length of stay and nationality of the hiker. It is important to obtain the permit before starting the hike as park rangers may ask for it at any time during the trek. Additionally, visitors are required to follow park regulations and Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the natural beauty of the park.

Fall Colors in Torres Del Paine

What is the best time of year to hike Torres del Paine?

The best time of year to hike Torres del Paine along the W circuit or O circuit,  is during the summer months of December through February (this is peak season in the park). This is when the weather is the warmest and the days are the longest, making it easier to complete longer hikes. However, the high season can also mean more crowds and higher prices. Spring (September to November) and Fall (March to May) offer cooler temperatures, fewer crowds, and the chance to see the changing colors of the park's foliage. However, hikers should be prepared for potentially unpredictable weather conditions during these shoulder seasons. Winter (June to August) is the least popular time to hike due to cold temperatures, snow, and shorter daylight hours.

What is the difference between the O trek and W trek in Torres Del Paine?

The O trek and W trek are two of the most popular multi-day hiking routes in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. While both routes offer breathtaking views of the park's glaciers, mountains, and lakes, there are some key differences between the two.

The W trek is shorter and less physically demanding than the O trek, making it a great option for hikers with limited time or experience. The W trek takes around four to five days to complete and covers approximately 50 miles (80 km). The route is named after the W-shaped path it follows, which passes through the park's most famous landmarks, including the Grey Glacier, the French Valley, and the base of the Torres del Paine granite towers.

The O trek, on the other hand, is a more challenging and longer hike that takes around eight to ten days to complete. The trek is named after the circular path it follows around the entire Paine Massif, offering stunning views of the park's glaciers, mountains, and forests. The O trek covers approximately 70 miles (110 km) and includes more rugged terrain, steep climbs, and river crossings than the W trek.

Both the W trek and O trek offer unique and unforgettable hiking experiences in Torres del Paine. Hikers should choose the route that best suits their physical abilities, time constraints, and personal preferences.

W Trek Trail Map
O Circuit Trail Map

Short on time?

Take a look at the 4-day/3-night W Circuit Express option, which begins early on the first day and involves trekking to the Base Las Torres Lookout on the same day as arrival at the park. This hike is an excellent choice if you have limited time but want to experience all the highlights of the trail.

W Circuit Express option:

Day 1: Regular Transportation from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine, hike to Las Torres Base, lodging at Central Sector.
Day 2: Hiking to Francés Sector (or Cuernos), lodging Francés Sector
Day 3: Hike to the Francés Valley, lodging at Francés Sector (or Italiano).
Day 4: Hike to Grey Glaciar first Lookout Point, then cross Pehoé Lake in *catamaran and take transport back to Puerto Natales from Torres del Paine on Regular Transportation

Express W Trek 4 Day - Trail Map

Self- Guided vs Guided?

Whether to do a self-guided or guided trek in Torres del Paine National Park ultimately depends on personal preferences, experience, and comfort level with navigation.

A self-guided trek can offer more flexibility and independence in terms of pace and route, as hikers can plan their itinerary according to their preferences and interests. It can also be more cost-effective, as there is no need to pay for a guide's services. However, hikers must be experienced and confident in basic navigation, wilderness survival skills, and have the appropriate gear and equipment. In general the trails are very well marked and easy to follow, for this reason a guide is not needed even for first time hikers.

A guided trek can provide additional safety, support, and knowledge of the area from a local guide. The guide can help with navigation, offer insight into the flora and fauna, and ensure that hikers are properly equipped and prepared for the trek. However, guided treks can be more expensive and less flexible than self-guided options, and hikers must be willing to follow a set itinerary and pace of the greater group.

Where does the hike start and end?

You will fly into either Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales typically via Santiago,Chile or another location in Chile. All of the hikes depart from Puerto Natales via bus or private transfer. There are more consistent flight into Punta Arenas, however if you can book one into Puerto Natales that is typically more ideal saving you the 3 hour drive to Natales from Punta Arenas.

The starting and ending points of the hike in Torres del Paine National Park depend on the specific route or circuit that hikers choose to take. However, the most popular trekking routes in the park are the "W" Trek and the "O" Circuit.

The "W" Trek is a 4-5 day trek that starts and ends at Refugio Las Torres, located in the eastern part of the park. The trek takes hikers through the highlights of the park, including the base of the famous Torres del Paine, the French Valley, and Grey Glacier.

The "O" Circuit is a more challenging 7-9 day trek that covers a longer distance and includes additional areas of the park, such as the John Garner Pass and the backside of Grey Glacier where you will see the amazing hanging bridges. The trek starts and ends at the same location as the "W" Trek, Refugio Las Torres.

Both treks can be accessed by bus or private transfer from the nearby town of Puerto Natales, which is approximately 1.5-2 hours away by road.

Do you want to forget about the planning, permits, accommodations, meals, transportation.... We offer full package trips in camping, or the mountain refugios self guided or guided. Check out our full list of hiking packages here.

Central Refugio and Campground
Common Area in Central Refugio
Chileno Refugio
Frances Refugio and Domes
Bunk (Dorm) Rooms at Central Refugio in Torres Del Paine
Private Cabins at Los Cuernos (the only private rooms available along the W Trail)

Refugios or Camping?

Refugios (refuges) are established rustic style lodge accommodations within Torres del Paine National Park, usually made up of shared bunk beds or private rooms, with shared amenities like kitchens, bathrooms, dining areas, and some spotty wifi that you have to pay for. They are generally more comfortable and convenient than camping, as you don't need to bring or rent your own tent, sleeping bag, or cooking equipment. All of the meals are served in the dining areas of the Refugios and bedding is also included.

On the other hand, camping along the W Trail in Torres del Paine involves pitching your own tent and carrying all your own gear, food, and water (or book our camping program where all the gear and meals are included and camp is setup each night allowing you not to have to carry and camping supplies or food). While it requires more preparation and effort, camping can offer a more immersive and authentic outdoor experience. It also allows you to be closer to nature and enjoy the stunning scenery of the park without any walls between you and the wilderness.

In terms of cost, Refugios are generally more expensive than camping. Additionally, Refugios and camping options require advance reservations, and typically the trails accommodations can book out well in advance 6+ months out.

Whether choosing the camping or refugio option, you can utilize all of the common areas of the refugios, including the dining and cooking areas, bathrooms, and buy snacks, beer or wine, and use outlets to charge your devices and stay warm after a long day of hiking.

Book a Self Guided Package: We recommend booking one of the self guided packages that include everything you need for the 5 Day W trek or the 8 Day O circuit. These packages allow you to arrive in Puerto Natales and all logistical aspects of your trip are made, accommodations booked weather camping or refugees, all meals, transportation via bus to/from the park, your catamaran tickets, park permits, entrance fees....etc -  if camping all gear is setup and included on each night of your trip. You don’t really save any money by booking it all on your own and it can be a real pain.

Want more comfort or a private room each night? We suggest booking our EcoCamp program or the Hotel Program at Hotel Las Torres. Both of these utilize private accommodations and guided day treks and activities into the iconic parts of the park. Please note that the refugio or camping option can be done guided or self guided, but these accommodations are the only way to hike the W or O trek in a thru hike way from lodge to lodge or campsite to campsite.

The EcoCamp - W Trek Experience

W Trek: East to west vs West to East

The W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, is one of the most popular treks in Patagonia. It can be done in either direction: east to west or west to east. Each direction offers different experiences and has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here's a detailed comparison to help you decide which direction might be better for your trek:

East to West

Advantages:

  1. Iconic Finale: Finishing at the Grey Glacier can be a grand finale to your trek, leaving you with the stunning views of the glacier as your last memory.
  2. Gradual Build-Up: The trek starts with the iconic Torres del Paine (the Towers), giving you an early highlight and then continues through scenic valleys and lakes. Your legs will be fresh for the biggest climb of the 5 days.
  3. Crowd Management: Many guided tours and independent trekkers prefer the west to east direction, so going east to west might offer a slightly less crowded experience.

Disadvantages:

  1. Potential Wind Challenge: Patagonia is known for its strong winds, which often blow west to east. Hiking against the wind can be challenging and exhausting.
  2. Early Major Ascent: The trek to the base of the towers involves a significant ascent early in the trek.

West to East

Advantages:

  1. Wind Advantage: The predominant winds are usually at your back, making the hike physically easier and more enjoyable.
  2. Easier Start: Starting from Paine Grande to Grey Glacier is a relatively moderate start, allowing you to ease into the trek before tackling more challenging sections.
  3. Scenic Progression: The scenery becomes progressively more dramatic as you approach the Towers, making for a climactic end.

Disadvantages:

  1. Crowded Finale: The approach to the base of the towers can be crowded, especially on the final day, as many trekkers converge here.

Key Considerations

  1. Weather: Check the weather forecast and wind direction during your planned trek dates. Strong winds are a significant factor in Patagonia.
  2. Fitness Level: Consider your physical condition. If you prefer to start gently and build up to more strenuous sections, west to east might be better.
  3. Accommodation and Campsites: Ensure that you book your campsites or refugios well in advance (book here), as spots fill up quickly. Availability might influence your direction choice.
  4. Personal Preferences: Think about whether you prefer a gradual build-up to a dramatic finish (west to east) or starting with a major highlight and ending with a spectacular glacier (east to west).

Both directions offer stunning landscapes and unforgettable experiences, so your decision should be based on what kind of trekking experience you prefer and the logistical aspects of your trip. Opinion - Both are great options, in the end it doesnt really matter what direction you go.

Hiking the W Trail Alone

Should I solo hike the W trail? Embarking on a solo journey along the W Trail can be a thrilling and rewarding experience for many hikers. The trails are well used so it is easy to make new friends along the trails and in the camping and lodges along the trails. You can also book a group trek in one of our fixed guided departures if you prefer to hike with a group.

Recommendations for hiking alone:

Firstly, it is crucial to register with the park authorities before you commence your hike. This allows the rangers to keep track of your whereabouts and ensure your safety.

Secondly, be sure to pack appropriately for the conditions you will face along the trail. This includes adequate clothing, equipment, and provisions. It's also advisable to bring a reliable map, compass, and/or GPS device to help navigate the trail and SOS anyone in the case you are not near anyone on the trail and you need help.

Thirdly, make sure you are familiar with the trail's route, terrain, and potential hazards. Stay alert for changes in weather conditions, which can be unpredictable and potentially hazardous in this region.

Lastly, it's recommended that you inform someone of your plans and expected return date, so that they can alert the authorities if you fail to return on schedule.

By following these precautions, you can have a safe and enjoyable solo adventure on the W Trail.

Suspension Bridge on the O Circuit

Packing List For the W Trek:

CLOTHES & GEAR:

  • 1 base layer for sleeping and post-trek clothes
  • 1 or 2 pairs of trekking pants
  • 2 pairs of merino wool socks (antibacterial and odor-free)
  • 1 long-sleeved top base layer (preferably merino wool)
  • 1 rain pant and jacket
  • 1 synthetic lightweight jacket for hiking in cool weather
  • 1 down jacket for colder weather
  • 1 pair of sandals or crocs
  • 1 towel
  • 3-4 pairs of underwear
  • Bra
  • 2 hats (sun hat and beanie)
  • 1 buff
  • Sunglasses
  • Hiking Boots (Gore-Tex is nice)

TOILETRIES:

  • Shampoo and conditioner bars
  • Small toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Lotion/ Sun Screen
  • Toothbrush
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Comb/Brush

EXTRAS:

  • Trekking poles
  • External battery pack for charging camera/phone
  • Cell phone with videos, podcasts, and books for entertainment
  • Compression dry sack for sleeping bag and clothes.
Laguna De Los Tres Hike - El Chalten Argentina Patagonia

Trip Add Ons & Extensions:

Glacier Trekking and Kayaking to Glacier Grey

Glacier trekking and kayaking to Glacier Grey in Torres del Paine is an exciting and adventurous way to experience the stunning natural beauty of the park's glaciers. These can be added on to your W trek or the O circuit program, they require booking a night at Refugio Grey as the trips depart in the mornings and evenings each day, weather permitting. Here's an explanation of what these activities entail:

Glacier Trekking - Torres del Paine

Glacier Trekking:

Glacier trekking involves hiking across the surface of a glacier with specialized equipment like crampons, harnesses, and ice axes. The Glacier Grey trek usually starts with a boat ride across Lake Grey, followed by a hike along the glacier's edge. During the trek, you'll be able to explore the glacier's ice formations, deep crevasses, and stunning blue meltwater pools. You'll also have the opportunity to learn about the glacier's formation, geology, and environmental significance from your experienced guide. Glacier trekking is a physically demanding activity that requires good physical fitness and prior hiking experience.

Kayaking to Glacier Grey- torres del paine

Kayaking to Glacier Grey:

Kayaking to Glacier Grey is another popular way to experience the glacier's beauty up close and witness the majestic icebergs. This activity involves paddling across the turquoise waters of Grey Lake, surrounded by spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. As you approach the glacier, you'll be able to witness massive chunks of ice breaking off and falling into the lake, creating waves that can rock your kayak. This activity is suitable for all levels of kayakers, but it's important to note that it can be physically demanding, especially in windy or choppy conditions.

Glacier Grey Kayaking Trip
Puma Tracking in Torres Del Paine

Add on a Day Tracking Pumas in the Park

Puma tracking in Torres del Paine National Park is a thrilling experience that offers travelers the opportunity to observe these elusive predators in their natural habitat. The park is home to a significant population of pumas, also known as mountain lions or cougars, and expert guides lead visitors on foot through the park in search of these magnificent animals. The tour provides a unique opportunity to learn about the biology and behavior of pumas, as well as the importance of conservation efforts to protect these top predators. It is important to note that puma tracking tours are strictly regulated to ensure the safety and well-being of both visitors and the pumas, and visitors are encouraged to respect the animals and their environment. Not to mention this is the best place in the world to observe these amazing animals and it is almost a guarantee that you see one on one of these tours! You can book direct with a local puma tracker here, for one or multi day tracking and photography tours.

Penguin Tour in Punta Arenas

Go on a Penguin Tour

Punta Arenas, located in the southernmost part of Chile, is a popular destination for penguin watching tours. These tours provide a unique opportunity for travelers to observe penguins in their natural habitat and learn more about these fascinating birds.

One of the most popular destinations for penguin tours is the Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve, which is located about 30 miles northeast of Punta Arenas. The island is home to over 150,000 Magellanic penguins, making it one of the largest penguin colonies in South America. The island can only be visited during the summer months, from October to March, when the penguins are breeding and raising their young.

The tour usually begins with a boat ride from Punta Arenas to the island, which takes about an hour and a half. During the ride, travelers can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Strait of Magellan and the surrounding islands. Upon arrival at the island, visitors are greeted by the sight and sounds of thousands of penguins, as well as other wildlife such as sea lions, cormorants, and seagulls.

Visitors can walk along designated paths that wind through the penguin colony, allowing them to observe the penguins up close without disturbing them. Along the way, knowledgeable guides provide information about the behavior and biology of the penguins and answer any questions that visitors may have.

In addition to the Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve, there are other destinations for penguin tours in the area, such as the Marta Island Penguin Reserve and the Seno Otway Penguin Colony. These tours offer similar experiences, but each location has its unique features and attractions.

A penguin watching tour in Punta Arenas is a must-do activity for any traveler interested in wildlife and nature. The opportunity to observe these fascinating birds in their natural habitat is a truly unforgettable experience that should not be missed.

If you are looking for the best itinerary linking the W trek to additional activities such as Penguin tours check out this Highlights of the Chilean Patagonia - 9 Days Tour.

The Iconic Fitz Roy in the distance

Visit the Argentina Patagonia

El Chalten and El Calafate are two popular destinations in the Argentine Patagonia that offer a wide range of outdoor adventure activities for adventurous travelers. Most travelers will book a bus from Puerto Natales following their time in Torres del Paine, linking to the town of El Calafate in Argentina. The only way to link the two towns is via a land boarder crossing as there are no regional cross country flights. Here is some information about each of these destinations:

El Chalten: is a small town located at the base of the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre massifs in Los Glaciares National Park. It is a popular destination for hikers and climbers, offering numerous trails and routes of varying difficulty and length. Book a popular extortion such as our Los Glaciares & Fitz Roy Trip - 6 Day or Best of El Chaltén - 4 Days. Here are some adventure activities to do in El Chalten:

located about 3 hours north of El Calafate, is known as the "trekking capital of Argentina" and is a paradise for hikers and mountaineers. The town is located within Los Glaciares National Park, which is home to some of the most spectacular mountains and glaciers in the world. The most popular hiking trail is the Fitz Roy Trek, a challenging 2-day hike that offers breathtaking views of Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding glaciers. Other popular trails include Laguna Torre, Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, and Cerro Huemul.

In addition to hiking, El Chalten offers other outdoor activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, and kayaking. Visitors can also take a boat tour to see the Viedma Glacier or go fly fishing in the nearby rivers.

El Calafate is a small town located on the shores of Lake Argentino and is the gateway to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier is a must-see attraction for any traveler visiting Patagonia, as it is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still growing. Visitors can walk on the glacier, take a boat ride to see it from different angles, or even go ice trekking to explore the hidden crevices and caves of the glacier.

Following your time in El Chalten or Calafate, travelers will book a flight out of El Calafate to their next destination or flight back home.

Check out all of our Hikes and Package Trips throughout Chile and Argentina here. Or contact one of our travel specialists to arrange the custom trip of your dreams.

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