Hiking in El Chaltén
El Chaltén is the capital for trekking in Argentina. It’s located 220 km north of El Calafate, and it lies at the foot of the Fitz Roy and Torre Mounts. In this post, we’re sharing which are the main iconic hiking trails, dividing them in location and duration. These are mainly hikes to be done within a day. However, we mention as well some multiday treks and expeditions. After reading the post, we invite you to check our Patagonia hiking trips.
- Referential times are “return”, meaning, in total.
- Most of them can be self-guided, however, a trekking guide can give a lot of value to your experience.
- These treks are mainly suitable to be done between September/October and March/April.
- Make sure to complement this information with the one provided by Los Glaciares National Park, for your safety and enjoy.
1). El Chalten hiking trails, starting from the village
One of the great advantages of El Chaltén, is its strategic location, allowing you to start walking right at the edge of the village. These hikes can be self-guided or you can hire a local trekking guide.
1.1). Short & half-day treks
These ones are ideal if you come to El Chaltén during a full-day tour from El Calafate, or if you are not so keen on doing long hikes. Furthermore, are great options for your day-in (or day-out), if the weather is not so nice, and to combine as well with the other treks.
Mirador Margarita: 2 hours – easy
This viewpoint is on the way to Laguna Torre, and allows you to see (if the weather permits) a panoramic of the Cerro Solo, Adela mountain chain, Cerro Torre, and part of the Fitz Roy. There is also a picturesque cascade next to it.
Mirador de Los Cóndores / Las Aguilas: 2 hours – easy
These are two viewpoints (one next to the other) that allow you to see a panoramic view of the village, part of some popular mountains, the steppe, and the lake Viedma. This area is frequently visited by Condors, which fly around the valley of the Fitz Roy river.
Chorrillo del Salto: 2-3 hours – easy
This is a 20 meters cascade surrounded by Nothofagus forests. It’s a soft trek without considerable elevations, following the road that leads to Lago del Desierto. If you want to visit the cascade in a faster way, you can take a transfer to the parking lot close to it.
Mirador del Torre: 3-4 hours – easy
This is the continuation of the previously mentioned „Mirador Margarita” (about 1 hour from it). Likewise, it’s also part of the trail that leads to Laguna Torre. The viewpoint offers a fabulous perspective (if the sky is not clouded) of the Torre valley, Torre Mount, Adela Chain, and Cerro Solo.
Laguna Capri: 4-5 hours – easy
This is part of the famous Fitz Roy trek and culminates in the peaceful Capri Lagoon. To reach, you need to take the trail that leads to Laguna de los 3. The first part requires some effort since you need to cross some slopes, with beautiful views to the valley of De las Vueltas river. The trail leads you through a dense forest of Nothofagus (Lengas & Ñire trees) until you reach the lagoon. Along the way, and also near the lagoon, you will find some nice panoramic views of the legendary Fitz Roy Mount and the Piedras Blancas Glacier.
1.2). Day hikes from El Chalten (full day)
The following ones are the most popular treks in El Chalten, and they offer awesome views of the Fitz Roy Mount and the Cerro Torre. It’s important to highlight that if the weather is bad, the mountains can be covered by clouds. However, the good thing about an unstable weather, is that you can have the four seasons on the same day, offering a bright sky after snow or rain!
Laguna Torre: 7-8 hours (19 km) – moderate
This is one of the most legendary hiking trails in El Chaltén. It leads to the Torre lagoon, at the foot of the Torre Mount, an impressive granite tower with an ice mushroom on the top. Along the way, you will pass by Mirador Margarita and Mirador del Torre, already mentioned in this text. The trail goes through forests, rivers, an open valley, and slopes, to reach, finally, to the lagoon. The lagoon has erratic ice chunks floating around, which fall from the Glacier Torre, also part of the landscape.
Laguna de los Tres: 8-9 hours (25 km) – moderate
This is the most “wanted” trek in El Chaltén. It leads to “de los Tres” lagoon, at the foot of the spectacular Fitz Roy Mount (a.k.a Chalten Mount). There are three ways to reach the lagoon; one is through Laguna Capri (mentioned above), another one is through Lagunas Madre & Hija Trail (it connects with the Torre trail), and the other one is through El Pilar – Glacier Piedras Blancas (mentioned below).
Some people go back and forth from Laguna Capri, some others make a circuit starting from El Pilar (a transfer is required), and other ones prefer to combine with Cerro Torre (with overnight in a campsite).
The trail has a moderated difficulty, however, in the last part (from Rio Blanco, after Poincenot) you’ll have to walk up a pendant of 45 degrees, for about one hour (it’s 400 mts. height). Once you reach the lagoon, the satisfaction will make you forget about any pain, and the views will remain in your memory for a long time. There is also another lagoon (Laguna Sucia) on the side of Laguna de los Tres, and some picturesque glaciers hanging around.
The elevation difference of this trek is around 770 mts.
Loma del Pliegue Tumbado: 7-8 hours (21 km) – moderate
This is probably the third most popular hike in el Chaltén. It‘s a trail with an elevation difference of around 850 mts, which leads to a slope with breathtaking views of the Fitz Roy Mount, Cerro Torre, Torre Valley, and its peripherical attractions. What makes it special is that it offers views from another perspective, since the trail is in the opposite direction of the main paths.
The first part until the viewpoint, is all up, which makes it tiresome. The last part is on top a slope without vegetation, which leads to the viewpoint at 1500 meters above sea level. The return is all way down, ideal to go straight ahead to the Cafeteria 😉
2). Hikes in the valley of “de las Vueltas” river
Between El Chalten and Lago del Desierto (37 km) there is a valley called “de las Vueltas” (from the river de las Vueltas). From this valley you can start different trails, some of them even connected with the main trails of El Chalten. The most popular ones, have their starting point between 13 & 17 km away from El Chalten. You can reach there with a transfer, since there is a road that goes all the way to Lago del Desierto.
Piedra del Fraile: 4-5 hours – easy
This hike runs along the Electric river valley and offers great views of the northern face of the Fitz Roy Mount. Furthermore, there are other attractions such as the Electric Hill, and the shelter „Piedra del Fraile“. While walking in the woods, pay attention and check for Giant Woodpeckers (they are in other parts as well). This trail is also taken by adventurers that go further up to the Continental Ice Field, Paso del Cuadrado, Glacier Marconi, and other attractions.
Piedra del Fraile is a shelter where you can get (on high season) food, and even overnight (with your tent). If you reach early (2 hours one way from the starting point), and you’d like to have some more adventure, you can go to the Glacier Pollone (about 4-5 hours return from the shelter), and then return to El Chalten. It Will be a long day but nice!
Laguna Azu: 2 hours – easy
This trail is within a private reserve called “Los Huemules”. This reserve has also a nice refuge to stay for a night, and different alternatives to enjoy outdoor experiences. For instance, those around the Glacier Cagliero. Going back to the trail mentioned in the title, it’s a nice path that reaches a blue lagoon surrounded by lush vegetation. If you walk for other 500 meters, you reach “Laguna Verde”, another lagoon with nice views to the Electric Hill and the north face of the Fitz Roy Mount.
Laguna Diablo: 5 – 6 hours – moderate
Same as “Laguna Azul”, this trail is within Los Huemules reserve. It leads to the lagoon where is located the Puesto Cagliero refuge, a beautiful shelter where you can overnight if you want. This lagoon (Laguna del Diablo) is next to the Glacier Cagliero. This area is also home to the Huemul, an endemic, endangered beautiful deer species. The Huemul lives also in other parts of Patagonia (Chile & Argentina). Even though is not easy to find them, chances improve on this place.
There is also the chance of doing a guided trek over the Glacier Cagliero.
Glaciar Piedras Blancas : 3-4 hours – easy
It starts from the area where is located Hosteria El Pilar, and it runs next to the Blanco River. It leads to one of the Glacier Piedras Blancas viewpoint. Most importantly, this trail connects to the path that leads to Laguna de los 3, which makes it very interesting if you want to do a full day circuit ending in El Chalten (explained above, in “Laguna de los Tres” ).
3). Trekking in Lago del Desierto
Lago del Desierto is a lake close to the border with Chile. It’s about 37 km from El Chalten, along the 23 Route (gravel road). There are different kinds of activities in the area, such as trekking and navigations. Let’s check the most popular hikes:
Laguna & Glaciar Huemul: 2 hours – easy/moderate
This is most popular hike in Lago del Desierto. It leads to a lagoon (Laguna Huemul) at the foot of the Glacier Huemul. The first part isa ll the way up, through a forest and then an open part. This attraction is within a private sector, therefore, you need to pay a fee to enter (approx. USD 3). If the sky is not clouded, you can also see the northern face of the Fitz Roy.
Laguna Larga Hito Fronterizo (milestone border with chile) – 4-5 hours – moderate
This is a hike that leads to the milestone that marks the border between Argentina and Chile. The circuit is through a pristine forest of Nothofagus, and it passes by the hidden „Larga“ lagoon. It offers great views of the Lago del Desierto, Vespignani Mountain chan and its glaciers, and the Fitz Roy Mount (northern face).
To reach you need to navigate to the opposite side of Lago del Desierto, to a place called “Punta Norte” (where starts the trail). During the high season (October to March), there is a navigation service that allows you to do it within a full day.
Border crossing from Lago del Desiero to Villa O’Higgins (Chile) – 2 days / 1 night – moderate
This is an adventurous way (and the only way) to connect El Chaltén with Villa O’Higgins, without having to do a detour of hundreds of kilometers.
It consists of a combination of land transportation, navigation, and trekking. It runs from November till April, and can be done in any direction (in case you come from Chile to Argentina).
First you’ll take a transfer from El Chaltén to Lago del Desierto (37 km). Then, you’ll get on board a boat and cross to the northern shore of the lake (1 hour). After passing through customs (Argentina), you’ll do a trek of about 4 hours, and do migrations to cross to Chile. Overnight in “Candelario Mancilla”. The next day you’ll cross the Lake O’Higgins on a tour boat, and get a transfer then to Villa O’Higgins. You have the alternative to visit the Glacier O’Higgins as well.
- Sometimes, this crossing can be done during a full day instead of two.
- It’s important to highlight that Villa O’Higgins is where it finishes the legendary “Carretera Austral”. Therefore, you could consider renting a car and do a road trip!
4). Multiday hikes & expeditions in El Chalten
El Chalten counts with multiple circuits to immerse yourselves in the mountains for more than just one day. Many of these circuits include parts of the trails mentioned in this text, connecting them in strategic points, allowing you to see things that otherwise you may miss. For instance, the orange-red colors of the Fitz Roy granite walls during the sunrise.
Among the most famous ones we can find Paso del Cuadrado, Huemul Trail, Laguna Toro & Paso del Viento, and the iconic Expedition to the Continental Ice Field. They require different amounts of days, and different difficulty levels.
Even though some of them can be done by yourself, the participation of a trekking guide adds on a lot of value to the experience. Most importantly, it helps you to achieve your goal, avoiding missing parts, bringing awareness about different topics, and providing useful and interesting information.
The advice of a local expert
The list continues with other places and activities, and we would love to help you find those that match the best with your travel plans. We offer tailor-made tours in Argentina and Chile, and count with a network of awesome local experts that can help you to make the best out of your trip. As a kick-off, we invite you to check some of our hiking tours, such as Fitz Roy Trek & Patagonia, El Calafate & El Calafate hiking tour (group departure), or Huemul Circuit
Don’t hesitate to contact us, and let’s start to plan your next adventure!
Other useful information about El Chalten:
How much time do you need in El Chaltén?
To do the classic treks, from 3 to 5 nights. To include other hikes, from 5 to 10. And if you do an Expedition or multiday trek, add to that time some spare days to visit other attractions or to have a back up in case of bad weather. One of the keys in El Chalten is the weather. You can get the four seasons all in one day, therefore, having some spare time can help you to improve your chances of having good views of the Fitz Roy and Torre Mounts.
What is El Chaltén known for?
El Chaltén is the capital for trekking in Patagonia Argentina, and it lies at the foot of the legendary Fitz Roy and Torre Mounts. “Chalten“ is also one of the ways to name the Fitz Roy Mount, and means (in Tehuelche –native language): „smoking hill“.
Is El Chaltén safe?
Yes. El Chalten is generally very safe for tourists. However, you need to be careful with nature, in order to avoid getting lost in the mountains.
How do I get to El Chaltén?
The fastest way is through the airport in El Calafate, with frequent flights from Buenos Aires. El Chalten is about 3 hours northwestern from El Calafate (220 km), and you can reach there by taking public or private transportation. There are other ways to reach, such as coming from northern villages along Ruta 40, or through the adventurous border crossing with Chile (Villa O’Higgins). This border crossing takes one or to days, using different kinds of transportations (including trekking).0