Torres del Paine is one of my favorite hiking regions in the world. Every day the scenery changes with a new dramatic setting before you – expansive glaciers, fabulous peaks, roaring rivers, verdant forests and beautiful lakes. Understandably the area has gotten extremely popular, especially during summer, January and February, making it more difficult for independent trekkers to book accommodations.
Making matters worse part of the east end of the park is privately owned, jacking up the prices of camping and refugio facilities in this sector. The National Park has also restricted the number of through hikers that are allowed to start the trail each day. Day hiking is still unrestricted. Even with these additional headaches I still believe the experience is well worth the effort but pre-planning is essential.
W Route – Red line
O Route – The red line + the yellow line
The W or the O – The first difference of course is the amount of time required. The W is generally 3 to 5 nights while the O takes 6 nights. Don and I did the W independently in April of 2010 when there were fewer restriction. Generally, the most dramatic scenery is on the W portion of the trail, especially if you allow yourself some extra time to hike along Grey Glacier north of Grey Refugio and up the French Valley north of Camp Italiano.
If you can swing a guided trek, however, going over Oggioni Pass, which connects Camp Japones to Refugio Dickson, may be the most stunning spot in the park. As there is no actual trail on this section a guide is required. Camping at Japones is also restricted to climbers and those doing the Oggioni Pass with a guide.
I should also clarify that I have not seen the section of the O route from Hotel Las Torres to Refugio Dickson. From Dickson to Grey Refugio is a beautiful trail that passes through some of the greenest and wettest forest on the circuit, passing several smaller glaciers and ending with the amazing walk along Grey Glacier to the refugio. There are also fewer people on this back section of the O.
The W has the advantage of being able to stay in a refugio every night while the O will require at least 2 night of camping; at Camp Serón the first night and Camp Los Perros on the third.
When to go – January and February are supposed to be the driest months, but during the 2018 summer season we had plenty of rain and the trails were muddy, very muddy. There was also a lot of wind which is normal for that time of year. In March of 2018 a friend reported that there was a heavy snow that closed part of the trail. In April of 2010 we had a little bit of rain, not much wind and generally good weather with cool but not too cold temperatures for hiking. The point is, it’s a bit of a crap shoot, and you may want to consider taking your chances with one of the shoulder months to avoid the crowds.
Hiking independently or with a guide – My favorite way to hike is independently, just Don and I on a trail doing our own thing. All the trails, except for over the Oggioni Pass, are well marked and easy to follow. So if you are used to hiking and camping it is no problem to do these trails independently.
From talking with other travelers, the big problem is getting reservations for camping and the refugios as you have to deal with both the National Park and the private concessions and people are not good about responding to inquiries. Agencies like Dittmar Adventures can help you organize your trip and make reservations for you without requiring you to do a guided hike.
The advantage of a guided hike is that you don’t have to worry about reservations, organizing your food or setting up and taking down your tent. It’s a great option for those not used to camping and hiking on their own.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these trail or if you have a question please leave a comment.