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Torres del Paine National Park, in Chilean Patagonia, is an incredible destination for day hiking and overnight treks. One of the park’s most famous routes is the W Trek, a 4-5 day hike that visits three stunning valleys with overnight stays in refugios or campsites.
If a multi-day backpacking trip doesn’t appeal to you, the good news is that you can do most of the W Trek as day hikes and still see all the main highlights.
Why Do the Torres del Paine W Trek as Day Hikes?
The main reasons to do the W Trek as day hikes is to save time, save money on a tour, and avoid some of the headaches that come with planning and embarking on a multi-day trek, namely having to carry more gear and figure out trail accommodations in advance.
We really wanted to hike the W in Torres del Paine, but I quickly realized during the planning phase that the classic route wasn’t going to work for us.
First of all, we didn’t have 4 or 5 days to dedicate to the hike since we wanted to visit other places in Patagonia. By doing day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park, we could explore all the arms of the W and one of the connecting trails in 3 days.
Second, to do a self-guided W Trek we would need to carry more gear, plus reserve all our campsites or shelters months in advance. These were logistics I just didn’t want to deal with.
Our last option was to book a guided tour, but we didn’t have the budget for that since we had just returned from a cruise to Antarctica and South Georgia.
So as an alternative, I figured out a way to experience all the best parts of the W Trek on day hikes, returning to our accommodations at the southern edge of the park each night.
About the W Trek- The Classic Route vs Day Hikes
Just like the name suggests, the W Trek forms a round-bottomed W when looking at the route on a map.
The eastern arm of the W is formed by a trail that leads through the Ascencio Valley to Mirador Base de las Torres, a lookout at the base of the park’s iconic granite peaks. This segment is an out and back hike regardless if you’re doing the full W Trek or the day hike option.
The trail that connects to the middle arm of the W follows along the shoreline of Lago Nordenskjold until it reaches the entrance to the French Valley. On the classic W Trek this segment is a one-way hike, but if you’re doing the W Trek day hikes it would be a very long out and back to go the full length of the trail (at least 11- 12 hours).
Since we only had 3 days to do day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park, and the Lago Nordenskjold trail didn’t offer anything unique that we couldn’t experience on the other legs of the W, we cut out this section entirely.
The middle arm of the W consists of the French Valley and offers great views of the French Glacier on route to Mirador Britanico. On the classic W Trek you would have enough time to hike the whole out and back trail to Mirador Britanico, but if doing the W Trek day hikes you will have to turn around at the glacier.
The trail that connects the French Valley to the western arm of the W runs alongside Lago Skottsberg. On the W Trek this is a one-way hike, but for a day trip it would be an out and back. Since the W is typically hiked from east to west, the best views of Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns) would be at your back during this section, but on the day trip this distinctive mountain is in your line of sight.
The western arm of the W leads from Lago Pehoe to Grey Glacier, roughly following the shoreline of Lago Grey. On the self-guided W Trek this is commonly done as an out and back route, but on guided hikes/tour packages it’s usually a one-way journey (returning via ferry on Lago Grey). For the day hike option, it’s best done as an out and back due to a lack of public transportation from the Lago Grey ferry to the hike’s starting point.
How to Do the W Trek as Day Hikes- 3 Amazing Day Hikes in Torres Del Paine National Park
We did 3 day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park that visited all the most iconic landmarks of the W Trek.
In order to accomplish this, you have to be staying in or near the park and have a vehicle. A lot of people travel to Torres del Paine by bus from Puerto Natales, but this adds 2-3 hours of travel time each way and you wouldn’t catch the first ferry across Lago Pehoe, which takes you to the trailhead for two of the hikes. Without getting on that first ferry, completing the full hikes in time for the last return ferry would be very challenging, if not impossible.
Since the W Trek is normally walked from east to west, we did our day hikes the same way. Starting with the eastern arm of the W means you’ll do the most difficult hike of the trek first. However, you’ll want to keep weather in mind when deciding the order of your day hikes. Definitely plan to hike to Mirador Base de las Torres on a clear day otherwise you might not get a complete view of the famous towers.
Here’s a brief description of the segments of the W Trek we did as day hikes, our recorded distances, and links to our more detailed trail guides/trip reports.
Day Hike #1: The Towers
Distance: 20.7 km/12.86 mi
Time Required: 8- 10 hrs
The hike to Mirador Base de las Torres is the most popular hike in Torres del Paine National Park and most grueling leg of the W Trek.
The hike starts at the Torres del Paine Welcome Centre and follows a trail through a valley and up some very steep terrain to a teal coloured lake at the base Torres del Paine, the towers from which the park takes its name.
After leaving the Welcome Centre and passing by Hotel Las Torres, the trail descends towards a river then begins climbing into the scenic Ascencio Valley. During the hike through the valley you’re surrounded by mountains and overlooking the Ascencio River.
At the bottom of the valley you’ll reach refugio Chileno where you can take a break, fill up with water, and use the toilets.
The trail then proceeds through the forest before arriving at a steep pile of boulders that you have to climb to reach the lookout.
This last section can be very windy and hazardous because of the rocky trail you have to navigate.
Once you reach the top of the rock pile you’ll see the three iconic towers overlooking a small lake framed by mountains. Take some time to relax and enjoy the views from the boulder-covered shoreline before returning the way you came.
Day Hike #2: The French Valley
Distance: 18.5 km/11.5 mi
Time Required: 7- 8 hrs
The hike to the French Valley was our favourite leg of the W Trek because it’s packed with beautiful scenery and is only moderately difficult.
The trail begins at the Paine Grande refugio and passes by two pretty lakes on route to the French Valley where it then ascends to a viewpoint across from the French Glacier.
To reach the French Valley on a day hike, you first have to take a ferry across Lago Pehoe from Cafeteria Pudeto to the Paine Grande refugio.
After leaving the refugio, the trail follows alongside the shoreline of Lago Pehoe then changes course to traverse an area of rolling hills. Once you reach Lago Skottsberg there’s a nice viewpoint overlooking the lake where you can admire Cuernos del Paine.
The trail continues beside Lago Skottsberg then eventually arrives at a small suspension bridge crossing Rio Frances. On the other side of the bridge is the Italian Camp at the entrance to the French Valley.
The last part of the hike follows a rocky trail to Mirador Glaciar del Frances then climbs through the forest to Mirador Frances, across from the French Glacier.
Both the lower and upper lookouts offer stunning views of the French Glacier, so even if you only hike to the first viewpoint you’ll still get to experience the beauty of the glacier.
In order to catch the last return ferry of the day, you won’t be able to hike to the end of the trail at Mirador Britanico. Instead, turn around at Mirador Frances and retrace your steps back to the trailhead at Lago Pehoe.
Day Hike #3: Grey Glacier
Distance: 22.9 km/14.2 mi
Time Required: 7- 8 hrs
The hike to Grey Glacier is the least trafficked trail by day hikers, perhaps because it’s the most ambitious, in terms of distance, of the W Trek day hikes.
The hike starts at the Paine Grande refugio and follows a trail through a valley to Lago Grey then Grey Glacier at the far end of the lake.
To reach the trailhead, you again have to take the Lago Pehoe ferry from Pudeto to the Paine Grande refugio.
The first portion of this hike passes through a valley, gradually gaining elevation until the trail arrives at Laguna Los Patos. The path then follows the lakeshore before travelling through an open area of land that overlooks Lago Grey. You’ll be able to see small icebergs floating in the lake below.
Continuing to hike above the lake, the trail eventually starts climbing up towards Mirador Lago Grey. The top of the hill is a great place to stop and rest because there’s a wonderful view of Grey Glacier in the distance. This is also the point where you need to assess if you’ll have enough time and energy to get to the end of the trail and back in time for the last ferry to Pudeto.
Beyond the viewpoint the trail makes a long, steep descent towards the glacier. After some time hiking in the trees, you’ll pass by Refugio Grey and then arrive at a viewpoint near Grey Glacier. After enjoying the scenery, head back on the same trail to return to the ferry dock.
Final Thoughts About the Torres del Paine W Trek Day Hikes
We loved day hiking in Torres del Paine National Park and didn’t feel like we missed out on anything by not doing the full W Trek. Since we were more interested in the hiking and sights than the camping or hostel experience, the way we chose to explore the W gave us the adventure we were hoping for.
By doing the W Trek as day hikes, we got to see all the most significant landmarks without having to carry a huge pack. Every time I passed a tired looking backpacker I was thankful we weren’t burdened by a lot of gear. The only stress we had was making sure not to miss the last ferry of the day, which was really only a concern on the hike to Grey Glacier.
The one downside to doing the W Trek as day hikes was that the Lago Pehoe ferry tickets were expensive. We each had to buy 4 tickets (2 per day x 2 days), and at $35 US or $23,000 CLP a ticket, it added up!
Regardless of the ferry price, we still had an unforgettable experience and wouldn’t change a thing. There’s no doubt that the W is made up of three of the best day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park!
Tips for Doing the W Trek Day Hikes in Torres del Paine National Park
Time Required and Distance: To do the W Trek as day hikes you need at least 3 days to visit each arm of the W and see all the most iconic sites- Torres del Paine (the towers), Cuernos del Paine (the horns), the French Glacier, and Grey Glacier.
- The total distance for the three day hikes, as recorded by my GPS, was 62.1 km/38.6 mi. We could have walked a little closer to Grey Glacier, but were worried about not having enough time to get back to the ferry.
- If you have a fourth day you could complete all sections of the W by adding in a day hike along Lago Nordenskjold (leaving from the Torres del Paine Welcome Centre near Hotel Las Torres).
Best Time to Hike: The best time to hike in Torres del Paine National Park is in summer (December to February) because of the warmer temperature and long daylight hours.
Park Pass: You must have a park pass to go hiking in Torres del Paine National Park and there are ranger stations where you could be asked to show it. Buy your park pass at one of the park gates and bring it with you on your hikes.
Facilities: Along the trail there are shelters/refugios where you can buy food and drinks and use the washrooms (some you have to pay). At the campsites there are outhouses.
Gear/What to Bring: Wear supportive, sturdy hiking shoes and bring hiking poles. Dress in layers because the weather can change quickly. The park is known for its strong winds, so keep that in mind when deciding what clothing to bring.
Lago Pehoe Ferry: The ferry ride across Lago Pehoe takes 30 minutes. The boat leaves from the dock behind Cafeteria Pudeto. The ferry schedule changes throughout the year and an up to date itinerary and rates can be found here. Plan to catch the earliest ferry leaving Pudeto in the morning (9:00 am in high season) and the latest one leaving Paine Grande in the evening (6:35 pm in high season).
- Ferry tickets are paid for with cash once you’re on the boat. The ferry’s website gives prices in U.S. dollars for foreigners but we were able to pay in Chilean pesos. I suggest bringing both currencies, just in case.
- The first and last ferries of the day are the most popular and people start lining up before the departure time, so it’s best to arrive early.
Accommodations in Torres del Paine National Park
For your convenience, here is a list of HOTELS IN TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK and PUERTO NATALES. Please consider booking your accommodations through the included link. It costs nothing extra and helps support this website. Thank you!