Hiking in El Chalten, Argentina is a top Patagonia itinerary thing to do. Given how remote El Chalten is, it can feel more challenging to plan, especially when you don’t want to miss out on everything that is spectacular about Los Glaciares National Park and Mount Fitz Roy.
In this El Chalten hiking guide, I share my experiences hiking Laguna Torre and Laguna de Los Tres. You’ll also find information about taking the bus from El Calafate to El Chalten, where to stay in El Chalten, and resources for planning your Patagonia and El Chalten itinerary.
Hiking in El Chalten Argentina (as a Non-Hiker!)
The village of El Chalten, Argentina, located in the northern area of Los Glaciares National Park, is known as the Trekking Capital of Argentina. The El Chalten trekking outpost, with less than 1000 residents, sits at the base of Mount Fitz Roy and exists largely to meet the food and lodging needs of the hikers who visit.
When I planned my Patagonia trip, I knew the multi-day W Circuit trek in Torres del Paine was not a fit for me. The El Chalten day hikes suited my style and abilities and got me closer to the mountains in Los Glaciares National Park.
I’m writing this post specifically because I’m not a hiker. At least I’m not in the same way as someone who’s an avid hiking enthusiast who hikes often and has all the right gear. Most El Chalten hiking guides I’ve seen are written by serious hikers for serious hikers.
And for anyone who doesn’t hike often but wants to do some Patagonia hiking and visit Patagonia generally, I wanted to show it’s more than possible. In fact, El Chalten’s day hikes are a perfect fit.
I decided to spend 3 nights and 2 days in El Chalten doing the Laguna Torre and Laguna De Los Tres hikes.
Remember, if you’re someone who doesn’t hike often like me, be sure to pack lunch and plenty of water. You’ll need to hydrate and refuel along the way and El Chalten’s shops sell prepared foods for hikers. From sandwiches to baked goods to delicious empanadas, it’s convenient and quick to prepare yourself for the day.
And, don’t forget to grab an El Chalten hiking map from your hotel or hostel. You never know when you might need a point of reference while your on the trails.
Laguna Torre El Chalten
Access the start of the trail from the metal staircase in the village. The national park lists the Laguna Torre hike level of difficulty as easy to moderate. Think more moderate than easy because the trail winds up around the mountains, down into the Fitz Roy River Valley, and back up to Laguna Torre.
Hiking Laguna Torre could take up to 4 hours one-way and 8 hours round trip. I’ve read that others have done the one-way in 2.5 hours, and while there were certainly people on the trail moving faster than I was, that pace seems to leave no time for any stops.
In total, the round trip hike took me the full 8 hours. First off, I wasn’t in any hurry. I was also taking a lot of photos. The 8 hours also included a lunch break and stopping for about 45 minutes to watch a pair of male and female huemuls, an endangered species of South Andean deer.
The trail is well-marked and well-maintained, but you’ll still want to wear sturdy hiking boots. About 10-15 minutes into the hike, you’ll notice the Fitz Roy River on your left.
The mountains are ever present throughout the hike. I was so thrilled to visit in late March. The Southern Hemisphere brilliant fall foliage adds another level of WOW to an already breathtaking landscape.
The final section of the hike includes walking through the flat river valley until you reach the lake and its glacier. As you can see from the photos, what started out as a sunny day, turned into a cloudy and even temporarily drizzly afternoon. No matter which El Chalten hiking trail you choose, be mindful of the weather, especially if you visit toward the end of the peak visiting season like I did.
And of course, keep an eye out for wildlife along the way. Birds and small animals like foxes are more common, but if you’re lucky, you just might spot an endangered Huemul or two.
Hiking in El Chalten soon?
Laguna de Los Tres El Chalten: the Fitz Roy Trek
When it comes to Patagonia trekking, the El Chalten Fitz Roy hike (a.k.a. Laguna de Los Tres) is near the top of most hikers’ bucket lists. Speaking from just my own limited experience here and in Ushuaia, I’m not sure hiking in Argentina gets any better than this.
The access point for the Laguna de Los Tres hike is about a 10-minute walk just outside of El Chalten. I walked it but there’s also a shuttle that brings hikers to the start.
Los Glaciares National Park lists the level of difficulty for trekking Laguna de Los Tres as medium to hard. Much of the 10 km path meanders through a forest and into a flatter river valley. But, the first 2 km are up a tougher incline and the last kilometer is downright killer, as you claw your way up the rocky mountainside to the glacier-fed lake at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy.
But, if I can do it, so can you!
Plan to do this hike on a clear day so you can clearly see Mt. Fitz Roy. This hike is a lot of work to do without the reward of seeing the granite spires clearly or having bad weather at the lake.
I hiked with a friend I met at my hostel in El Calafate. It was great to hike with someone, but either way, I was planning to complete this hike solo. If you’d rather, there are guided Fitz Roy trekking excursions.
In order to make the 6 p.m. bus back to El Calafate, I made a 7:45 a.m. start and returned to El Chalten by 5:30 p.m. There were few stops and the pace was quicker than the previous day’s hike to Laguna Torre. I knew if I began my return by 1 p.m., I would make the bus.
The sun was just rising as I began the Laguna De Los Tres hike. You’ll see the river valley on your right.
As with Laguna Torre, the trail is clear and easy to follow. After making it up the steeper 2km at the start and walking a bit further along the path, it opens up to a viewpoint perfect for taking photos of Mount Fitz Roy. As tempting as it is to take tons of photos, it’s important to keep moving.
The trail becomes flat and much easier for the middle portion of the hike. In fact, there are sections where the trail was very easy, feeling more like a brisk walk than a difficult hike.
The path through the river valley is the lowest point of the hike. These log pathways take you through the grassy wetlands. With the colors of Fall in full radiance, I don’t think I’ve seen a more gorgeous yellow landscape.
Arriving at the final kilometer, you’ll see signs warning of the steep, rocky trail ahead. You’ll also see it’ll take about an hour to complete the last bit of this 10km hike.
The trail continues up the rocky mountainside. There are yellow arrows pointing you in the right direction. But, you’ll have to plot each footstep according to the rocks on the trail. The arrows are there only as a guide because there isn’t a clear pathway.
The views of the valley below are breathtaking, particularly in Fall. I made frequent stops to catch my breath and to drink water. It was still before 1 pm, the time when I needed to begin the return trip, so there was no stress about not making it back to town in time.
Reaching the top and seeing the glacier-fed lake at the base of Mount Fitz Roy was and still is one of my biggest hiking triumphs. That last kilometer was so much work but it was so worth it!
Bus from El Calafate to El Chalten
Chalten Travel runs buses several times a day between El Calafate and El Chalten. At the time of my trip, I paid about $62.50US for a round-trip ticket between these 2 towns. The ride takes about 3 hours. Most travelers will be coming from El Calafate where it’s easy to purchase tickets at the bus terminal. Your hotel or hostel in El Calafate should also be able to help you purchase bus tickets.
Where to Stay in El Chalten
I had a great stay at the Nothofagus Bed and Breakfast and would happily recommend it. It was a quiet and cozy place to stay with private rooms and modern bathrooms. My rate also included breakfast. Payment must be made in U.S. dollars, which is the case with many places to stay in El Chalten. Recent trip reports from El Chalten are there are no more ATMs. (When I visited, there was 1 and it was usually out of cash.) Get all the cash you need from El Calafate or before you arrive in the region.
Hiking in El Chalten is not only for experienced hikers! You’ll find some of the best hikes in Patagonia in El Chalten. Even for (non)-hikers like me, Fitz Roy trekking and other beautiful day hikes are possible for your Patagonia trip.
Is hiking in El Chalten on your Patagonia itinerary?
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