Hiking the Glaciers National Park

Day 1 – Hike to Laguna Torre

My first day hike was an 18 kilometre round trip to visit a lagoon at the foot of a glacier which has a lot of nature-sculpted icebergs in.

The first step is to hike to the top of the village up this rather fancy staircase.

This is a view looking back down over the village.

You hike around a corner behind some houses and then up a steep path before coming to this sign.

Then the trail winds its way along the valley for about 9km, sometimes following the river closely and at other times climbing up for better views of the Cerro Torre.

The trail is all well marked and easy to follow.

And there is some interesting flora along the way too.

There is a nice sheltered woodland after about 7km and this is the final rest stop before the last 1.5km to the lagoon. Once you emerge from the wood you might well be battered by the wind which whips up river water and grit, sand and stones and pelts you all the way to the end of the trail.

The lagoon itself is interesting as the ice has all blown towards the shore you can access and is sculpted by the wind and the spray.

Tasty glacier fresh!

The hike back was down the same trail and took a fairly similar amount of time as it wasn’t steep either up or down. Total hike time 5 hours 45 minutes from the hostel (closer to 20 km round trip).

I have NEVER experienced such strong winds as today. They picked up so strongly that it was hard to walk with your back to the wind without tripping yourself up! When we arrived back in the town we found there was a powercut due to some wires making contact in a strong gust and catching fire! The power was back online within an hour or so.

Day 2 – Hike to Laguna de los Tres

This hike is badged as the slightly more challenging of the hikes from El Chalten, but realistically it’s not too tough. Except for the last kilometre, but we’ll get to that.

The trail is just over 10km each way as the sign at the trailhead (above) says. There are some excellent viewpoints along the way.

The first 2km are quite cheeky, fairly steep uphill on mainly mud track with some steps up past the first viewpoint (0.7km) with a sweeping view over the valley of River de las Vueltas.

After about 3.4km you get to a fork in the trail (which the signs don’t warn you about). You can either continue to the right for the first Fitzroy viewpoint or go left towards Lago Capri. My recommendation is to hit the viewpoint on the way up and visit the lake on the way back. Both trails are approximately the same distance.

From the viewpoint, on a clear day you will see the tops of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy.

After the first 2km, the trail flattens out completely and you get a really pleasant hike through a variety of different terrains.

Some is loose and rocky.

Then you walk through an amazing marshland with great wooden walkways.

You walk along and across deep, narrow channels with fast-flowing glacial meltwater. The log bridge pictured above was my favourite. It has no clearance over the channel and the water below is crystal clear and very deep!

Next, after you cross multiple rivers, some a simple hop, and some with bridges, you get to a wide sandy/rocky area which stretches on across the valley floor until you reach the 8km point and enter a small woodland and the Poincenot Campsite. I loved the atmosphere in that woodland with the tents spread out, knowing that the residents were all on a sort of pilgrimage to the mountains.

After Poincenot are the best rivers to get drinking water, and I highly recommend topping up your bottles for the final stint.

At around 9.9km you reach a little sheltered area with benches, a hut and a toilet. It’s a good idea to take a rest here.

Then you go past this sign to follow the trail as it goes from a super easy stroll to a near-vertical scramble for the last kilometre. The next photos are a few of my favourites from the steep section.

The sign reckons it’s an hour for the last kilometre. I made it in 50 minutes without any breaks. If you like trekking poles then I would actually recommend them for this stretch.

The view from the top is beautiful. The glacial Lago de los Tres is a stunning turquoise.

If your legs permit then make the steep short decent down to the lake. It’s incredible how quickly it gets deep.

I walked round to the spit of rock that juts out into the lake on the right hand side. It was super peaceful and I stayed listening to music and to the wind for about an hour. Here is a shot of Wilhelm and I enjoying the view.

If you look back the way you hiked from the top you can see two lagoons, Madre y Hija (mother and daughter) and a great view over the whole valley back towards El Chalten, which is out of view and looks very far away!!

The return hike is the same route – so make sure you’ve saved some energy in your legs for the steep descent!

The return journey is slightly quicker (but not enormously because so much of the hike is flat), and it’s nice to take the Lago Capri route. There’s a nice beach and you can relax and read in the shade or give swimming in the lake a go – the water is freezing!

The official estimated hike time is approximately 8 hours. I made the return trip in 7 hours including a 1.5 hour stop at the lake and I jogged most of the last 3km downhill section.

I did that hike solo but joined up with my fellow hostel hikers for a celebration dinner involving cocktails and steaks all round!

Day 3 – Hiking the Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado Viewpoint

This hike was the longest of the day hikes, somewhere between 11-12km each way and none of the trail was flat (as had been suggested) except a small valley in the middle.

You can head for a short hike to the viewpoints (left as you go through the gate) or you can turn right for the main trail. This trail is the least well signposted of them all and there aren’t any facilities (toilets) but it’s still very easy to follow.

The views of the mountains are impressive and you can see an excellent vista for a huge amount of the trek.

I would say the only downside to the lack of signposts is the difficulty keeping track of the distance (and therefore progress). The hike isn’t steep but it’s almost all uphill so it would be nice to know when you’ve done another kilometre (as with the other trails).

The flat part of the trail has wild cows inhabiting (and the only non-English sign in El Chalten!).

You are being encouraged not to approach and to let them pass if they are crossing the trail. Shortly after this sign the trail goes up into a peaceful woodland that seems to stretch on for a long time uphill.

Stick with it and it brings you to a nice area for a picnic or a break (worth pausing as the last stretch is very exposed). From here it is about 45 minutes to an hour to reach the viewpoint. The weather turned fairly nasty for about 25 minutes so I waited it out in the shelter of the wood before heading out.

The views are nice along the way and it’s not a tough hike.

Unfortunately the weather when I got to the top was pretty foul so the valley was misty. I met some hostel buddies sheltering at the top and we hiked back down together after calling it a day waiting for the cloud to clear. Still a nice hike though!

Again, the guide reckons it is 4 hours out and 3 hours back but I did the hike, including breaks and the pause in the hope of nice weather, in 5 hours 20 minutes without running back down. Trekking poles would be handy for almost the whole hike too.

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