Pocket-sized El Chaltén might be just another small Argentine Patagonian town, were it not for the unparalleled access it has to many of the hiking trails within the Argentine national park of Los Glaciares. This is the same park where the Perito Moreno Glacier tumbles into the lagoon below, but the two parts of the park have different entry points, with no access in between. This area is frequently called Fitz Roy, for the 3359-meter high peak easily seen on the drive into town from El Calafate and again from within the park.
On a short walk from the tiny town, is the trailhead into the park, and from there, you must only decide what you seek. Is it the best possible in-park view of the sunrise? Then we hope you’re an early riser, especially in spring and summer, when an early sunrise will get you up and hiking in the wee hours to catch the fiery red sunlight as it hits Mount Fitzroy. If it’s glassy lakes you’re after, you’ll have to choose between Laguna de Los Tres and Cerro Torre. Or if you want a wild overview from above the valley, a true panorama, check out Pliegue Tumbado. Or maybe you’re after more ice having not gotten enough of it at Perito Moreno. From El Chaltén, it’s a short drive to the beginning of the hike for the Caglieri Glacier.
Need more information? Here’s a brief on each of the hikes so you can best plan your days in El Chaltén. Up on the trails, it’s a fairytale with gnarled trees and giant swooping Magellanic woodpeckers. Back in town there are good restaurants and bakery/cafés to refuel you no matter how long you’ve spent out on the trails. Please note that the weather here is notoriously unstable, and visitors should expect the mythical four seasons in one day. If you see sunny skies, you should take full advantage, because Mount Fitzroy can easily get socked in for a couple of days at a time.
Laguna de Los Tres
This hike is one of the best known, and toughest of the day hikes that you can do from the town of El Chaltén. The first hour of ascent takes you up and past the valley of the De las Vueltas river, continuing on along a meandering stream. The vegetation is mostly ñirres (Antarctic beech) and as these become denser, you will soon come to an open, rocky area from which you can see Mount Fitzroy in all of its glory (this would be a good spot to watch the sunrise if you’re an early riser). Continue on past the Laguna Madre e Hija and past the Poincenot campsite, and take a few deep breaths before starting on the last 400 meter climb (over about a kilometer, expect to spend about an hour here), which is the steepest part of the trail, and mostly scree and loose rocks. But it’s all worth it when you arrive at the ridge of the moraine made by the de Los Tres glacier. Enjoy the reflections in the glassy lagoon and enjoy the unspoiled, Patagonian landscape.
This is another favorite of ours in this part of the park and it is often overlooked by people who only have time to do one hike, and tend to choose Laguna de Los Tres. But this day-long hike holds its own with views of mountains. After only 15 minutes you’ll hit the first viewpoint with views over several peaks, including Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy. Continuing on, about halfway to Cerro Torre there is an overlook with panoramic views of many peaks including the Adela Range, Cerro Torre and the spires frequently referred to as the “granite needles” which attract some of the world’s most skillful and daring climbers. Cross the De Agostini campground and ascend about fifteen minutes over the crest of the glacial moraine, and from here hike down an additional two kilometers for stunning views at Laguna Torre. The craggy peaks that surround the lake and the interplay of light, clouds and snow will keep you captivated.
Unlike the other hikes in the park, this one does not descend into a valley, but rather rises above it, giving hikers the opportunity to see sweeping panoramic vistas of the entire region. This hike starts at the visitors’ area, at the other side of town, and unlike the other hikes which go through scrub and forest, it is almost completely unprotected from wind and weather, so plan accordingly. It’s a steep climb, with about 1100 meters of elevation gain. After hiking for about an hour, you cross a flat area called the Pampa de las Carretas, where there are great views of Mount Huemul, Viedma Lake and part of the Andes, where you can see Cerro Torre And Cerro Chaltén.
After traversing through a forest for a while, the vegetation shifts to scrub, and the rocky, wide open expanse is delineated by trail markers to guide you to the top of the Pliegue Tumbado, from which there is a spectacular view over the whole area, and you can really get a sense how the land was sculpted by glaciers and eons of wind. While the payoff is enormous, and the views really worth the hike, this is not a trek for people who are iffy on trekking, but rather is better suited to those who love hiking for hiking’s sake.
This trip requires a drive out of El Chaltén, and rewards travelers with a valley walk, a via ferrata climb and a glacier trek on the Cagliero Glacier. It can only be done from the beginning of October to the end of April and is weather-dependent.
The hike starts in Estancia Los Huemules, which is a private natural reserve en route to the Lago del Desierto. After hiking for an hour and a half through native lenga forest, Cerro Chaltén becomes visible, as you hike on to Laguna Diablo. From here, follow the lakeside along irregular, rocky terrain to arrive to the via ferrata. This is a set of anchors and cables that allows people without technical skill to hike and climb on rough, sometimes vertical terrain. As you go further, with all of the adrenaline of the via ferrata, we gain altitude and the view changes as the glacier lies before us. Strap on crampons and hike along the surface of the glacier, noting its changing surface, colors and textures before having a snack and something warm to drink and heading back down to Estancia Huemul, to drive back to El Chaltén where restaurants and cozy hotels await.