Home / Campaigns & Trips / #HolaGringo / Trekking Guide: How to hike the Circuit in Torres del Paine, Patagonia (Chile)
endless ice of the southern icefield
endless ice of the southern icefield

Trekking Guide: How to hike the Circuit in Torres del Paine, Patagonia (Chile)

This post is also available in: German

If you are in Patagonia you should spent as much time as possible out there in the nature. Therefore the Circuit Trail in Torres del Paine is the perfect Trekking option for experiencing the full awesomeness of the park including the southern ice field as the absolute highlight. Let me show you how to hike the circuit in Torres del Paine on your own including all information & costs needed! (updated May 2016)

Download my Torres del Paine Trekking guide!
I published all information needed to plan your trip to Chile in one clear and concise 100 page eBook based on my experience. This eBook includes travel guides for each region of Chile and is designed to save you a lot of time & make your trip much easier!

Like in the other Guides for the shorter W trail I’ll first explain the standard route and then give examples of longer & shorter itineraries afterwards. Please plan your trips always with regard to your physical ability and your experience. If you have no or just a bit of hiking experience keep it low and plan more time for each trek.

To prepare for trekking in Torres del Paine checkout my other post named ‘How to prepare for hiking in Torres del Paine’ with information about transport, accommodation in Pto. Natales, Gear and prices.
Moreover I recommend a good health & travel insurance: the one I used from WorldNomads is perfect for this trekking trip as it covers also adventure activities!

Please Note: Since 2016 the CONAF limits the number of people on the circuit to 80 per day and you are only allowed to hike it counterclockwise. Make sure to make your reservation ahead of time at the CONAF office in Puerto Natales. Moreover you should also reserve all camp sites in advance, especially for the part where you join the “W” (for Torres, Italiano and Chileno it is mandatory!)

This map shows the trail you are supposed to hike (green path).

This map shows the trail you are supposed to hike (green path).

1) The circuit (a.k.a. ‘O’) in 8 days, 7 nights

(130 km, around 71.800 CLP)
With the standard itinerary you will have the big experience of hiking Torres del Paine without being in a rush. Especially the first days are pretty relaxed and perfect to get used to the whole hiking thing.
Nevertheless I recommend to plan always 1 day more, because sometimes the John Gardner Pass is not doable due to very bad weather conditions – in that case you might have to go back and stay one night more at Campamento Los Perros (make sure to take some extra food with you).
Moreover I describe everything with stays in campsites / campsites next to Refugios (it’s not possible to do the described trek with refugio stays only).

Day 1: Puerto Natales – Campamento Serón (12 km, 15.000 CLP + 18.000 CLP + 8.500 CLP)
Leave Puerto Natales with the early bus (15.000 CLP return ticket) and get off at the park entrance (fee: 18.000 CLP) where you start walking. For this head to the river and cross it, walk along the street until you see a path to your right which goes to Serón.

After a nice walk through the woods and open grasslands you arrive at Campamento Serón in the early afternoon. We keep it low for today and start setting up the tent for the night (8.500 CLP).

Day 2: Campamento Serón – Refugio Dickson (18 km, 6.000 CLP)
Today you’ll have to walk only a bit more than yesterday to get to the most beautiful campsite in the park. Because you’ll walk approximately 5 hours you can get up late, pack your stuff and leave the camp after having a relaxed breakfast.
The path goes along a river and little lakes and heads uphill over a little pass where you are able to experience heavy winds.

Depending on the time you left Serón you’ll arrive in the afternoon at the lake Dickson where you find a campsite located directly on the river with a Glacier in the background.

Day 3: Refugio Dickson – Campamento Los Perros (11 km, 6.000 CLP)
Isn’t it beautiful here? As you see you have another short, nice walk ahead – enough time to enjoy the scenery at Dickson for a bit longer, having a nice breakfast at the mirador before you get ready to hike.

Start your hike to Los Perros at around 11 a.m. You’ll hike a bit uphill and through the forrest before you reach a mirador with a nice view back to the Lago Dickson area and to the valley you are supposed to walk up. A bit later you have the chance of seeing a waterfall (you’ll here when you are next to it).
Keep going after a short break. The path leads through a forrest and after that you’ll cross the River twice. Now it goes up, across stones and rocks – believe me: it’s worth it!
Up there you reach the Mirador Britanico with a great view to the Glacier Los Perros and the Glacier lake. Take your time as the campsite is only a 10-15min walk from here.
With all the breaks you’ll reach Los Perros between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.. Go to bed early today as the pass and with this the steepest part awaits you tomorrow. Set your alarm to 5 a.m. as it is best to cross the pass in the morning.

Day 4: Campamento Los Perros – Paso (12 km, free)
Oh, 5 a.m. – it’s still dark and cold which makes you want to stay in your warm sleeping bag. Try to resist and head out to treat yourself with a nice breakfast and a hot coffee to be ready for the tough pass. After packing again -now you should be an expert in doing that- you leave the camp (6 a.m.) and head uphill for the next 2-3 hours.

After walking through the woods you’ll reach an open area where you basically walk on stones and rocks. Before continuing make sure the weather conditions are good enough to see the orange/red poles that mark the trail. If not: turn around and head back as it might be to dangerous to continue (it get’s much rougher the higher you get).
If everything is fine you will have an amazing walk, though it might be exhausting walking uphill and experiencing the strong winds. When you reach the highest point chances are high that you have to crouch due to strong winds – you can find a windcover on the left hand side to celebrate the climb. When continuing the wind will calm down but your breath will be taken away due to the stunning view you’ll have for the next hour. Enjoy it and 5-6 hours after you left Los Perros you should arrive at Campamento Paso (11 a.m. – 12 a.m.) where you can enjoy some views nearby and have enough time to charge your batteries.

Day 5: Campamento Paso – Refugio Grey – Paine Grande (21 km, 7.000 CLP)
Wow – day number 5 and you already experienced a lot of cool stuff, eh? Stay excited and leave the Camp around 8 a.m.

It took me 5 hours to walk to Refugio Grey and it was my personal highlight as you walk along the cliffs right next to the Glacier Grey. Moreover you have to climb some ladders and cross some bridges. 3-4 hours after you left Paso you arrive at an old campsite here you should use the chance to visit the Mirador nearby and continue afterwards to the Refugio Grey where you can have lunch (arrival around 1 p.m.).
Pack your stuff and head back down (at around 2 p.m.) to Paine Grande where you spent the night (7.000 CLP), it will take around 3-4 hours – make sure to find a nice place next to the little hill to avoid a bit of the massive winds down there.

Day 6: Valle del Frances – Los Cuernos (22,5 km, 8.500 CLP)
Today is a long & tough day, so get up early again and walk (start at 8:00 a.m.) to Campamento Italiano (around 2 hours = 10 a.m.), leave your big backpack at the camp and head to the Mirador Frances with your daypack (take lunch, water, suncream). After 2,5 hours you’ll reach the Mirador and have lunch (12:30 pm.m.). Go back down to Italiano, grab your backpack and keep going to Los Cuernos (03:00 / 3:30 p.m.). After another 2 hours you should reach the campsite (at 5:00/5:30 p.m. – 8.500 CLP).

Day 7: Los Cuernos – Campamento Torres (20 km, free but reservation mandatory)
On your last full day you have a nice hike ahead – starting flat and going up at the end to the base of the Torres. Start your walk around 9 a.m. to Campamento Chileno. The trail goes along the Lago Nordernskjöld, after around 3,5 hours you’ll reach the shortcut to Chileno (it’s hard to miss as there is a big sign saying “shortcut to Chileno”). Another 2 hours later you’ll arrive at the Refugio Chileno (around 2:30 p.m. / 3 p.m.) you can make a short break and afterwards head uphill to the free campsite Campamento Torres, this will take around 1 hour. After setting up your tent use the chance to visit the Torres for the first time – it’s a 45 min walk uphill.

Go to bed early today as you have to get up very early tomorrow to see the sunrise at the towers. Depending on the time of the sunrise (ask the rangers) set your alarm 1 – 1,5hours before and prepare a daypack with mat, sleeping bag and breakfast as well as rain jacket)

Day 8: Torres – Puerto Natales (10 – 15 km, 2.800 CLP optional)
In summer the sunrise is around 6 a.m., therefore leave the camp with your daypack at 5 a.m. to arrive at the Mirador of the Towers on time. Set up your little picnic and enjoy – if you are lucky you’ll see amazing colors with a clear view, having the best breakfast ever. If you are not lucky like me you’ll have rain and clouds – in that case you’ll love the fact that you’ve been up here the day before. Don’t make the fault to skip the way up when it is raining in the camp – the weather changes really quick and you might regret it later. Go for it anyway as it is your last day and it doesn’t matter if your sleeping bag gets wet up there ;)

After your return take down your tent, pack your stuff and leave the camp at around 9 a.m. Head down to the Hotel Las Torres – it’ll take around 3 hours to arrive there. Depending on the time you arrive (should be 12 p.m.) you can decide if you want to walk from the Hotel to the entrance (1 hour, 7,5km along the road) or pay 2.800 CLP extra to take the minibus which leaves around 2 p.m.
The Bus back to Puerto Natales leaves at 2:30 p.m. from the entrance as already described in the preparation Guide.

Congratulations! You’ve done the circuit / ‘O’ and with that around 125-130 km by foot.

Trail to Seron

Trail to Seron

2) The circuit in 7 days, 6 nights

(130 km, around 71.800 CLP)

Ok, you feel good, you made some hikes before or just have a limited time? Then you can also do the circuit in a day less. Please consider anyway to take food for an additional day as the pass might not be doable due to bad weather conditions.

Day 1: Puerto Natales – Campamento Serón (12 km, 15.000 CLP + 18.000 CLP + 8.500 CLP)
see standard itinerary

Day 2: Campamento Serón – Refugio Dickson – Los Perros (29 km, 6.000 CLP)
Today and tomorrow are quite challenging – so get a good breakfast and start early (7 a.m.) to get to the most beautiful campsite in the park around lunchtime.
The path goes along a river and little lakes and heads uphill over a little pass where you are able to experience heavy winds. You’ll arrive at lunchtime at the lake Dickson where you find a campsite located directly on the river with a Glacier in the background (12 a.m.).

Isn’t it beautiful here? As you see you have another 9 km walk ahead – enjoy the scenery at Dickson for a bit, having a nice lunch at the mirador before you get ready to hike (1 p.m.).
You’ll hike a bit uphill and through the forrest before you reach a mirador with a nice view back to the Lago Dickson area and to the valley you are supposed to walk up. A bit later you have the chance of seeing a waterfall (you’ll here when you are next to it).
The path leads through a forrest and after that you’ll cross the River twice. Now it goes up, across stones and rocks – believe me: it’s worth it!
Up there you reach the Mirador Britanico with a great view to the Galcier Los Perros and the Glacier lake. Take your time as the campsite is only a 10-15min walk from here.

With all the breaks you’ll reach Los Perros between 6 – 7 p.m.. Go to bed early today as the pass and with this the steepest part awaits you tomorrow. Set your alarm to 5 a.m. as it is best to cross the pass in the morning.

Day 3: Campamento Los Perros – Paso – Refugio Grey (22 km, 6.000 CLP)
Oh, 5 a.m. – it’s still dark and cold which makes you want to stay in your warm sleeping bag. Try to resist and head out to treat yourself with a nice breakfast and a hot coffee to be ready for the tough pass. After packing again -now you should be an expert in doing that- you leave the camp (6 a.m.) and head uphill for the next 2-3 hours.

After walking through the woods you’ll reach an open area where you basically walk on stones and rocks. Before continuing make sure the weather conditions are good enough to see the orange/red poles that mark the trail. If not: turn around and head back as it might be to dangerous to continue (it get’s much rougher the higher you get).
If everything is fine you will have an amazing walk, though it might be exhausting walking uphill and experiencing the strong winds. When you reach the highest point chances are high that you have to crouch due to strong winds – you can find a windcover on the left hand side to celebrate the climb. When continuing the wind will calm down but your breath will be taken away due to the stunning view you’ll have for the next hour. Enjoy it and 5-6 hours after you left Los Perros you should arrive at Campamento Paso (11 a.m. – 12 a.m.) to charge your batteries before you continue to Grey.

It took me 5 hours to walk to Refugio Grey and it was my personal highlight as you walk along the cliffs right next to the Glacier Grey. Moreover you have to climb some ladders and cross some bridges. 3-4 hours after you left Paso you arrive at an old campsite: here you should use the chance to visit the Mirador nearby and continue afterwards to the Refugio Grey where you’ll spend the night (arrival around 5 p.m., 6.000 CLP).

Day 4: Refugio Grey – Paine Grande (11 km, 7.000 CLP)
Yes, the last 2 days have been exhausting – we will use this day to relax a bit more to have enough power for the upcoming highlights. Therefore you can sleep longer and have a long breakfast.

Pack your stuff and head down (at around 11 a.m.) to Paine Grande where you spend the night (7.000 CLP), it will take around 3-4 hours – make sure to find a nice place next to the little hill to avoid a bit of the massive winds down there.

Continue with Day 6 of the standard itinerary

Dickson is the best located Campsite

Dickson is the best located Campsite

3) The circuit in 9 days, 8 nights

(130 km, around 71.800 CLP)

Ok, you can’t get enough and want to have a really relaxed trekking adventure – use this itinerary to enjoy it the best way.
For stretching your stay it’s the best to split day number 6 and change the stops afterwards a bit. Therefore start with the standard itinerary and continue on Day 6 with this:

Day 6: Valle del Frances – Campamento Italiano (17,5 km, free but reservation needed)
You don’t need to get up so early today (start at 10:00 a.m.) to Campamento Italiano (around 2 hours = 12 p.m.), leave your big backpack at the camp and head to the Mirador Frances with your daypack (take lunch, water, suncream). After 2,5 hours you’ll reach the Mirador and have late lunch (14:30 pm.m.). Go back down to Italiano and get your tent ready for the night – as it is a free campsite you don’t have to pay tonight.

Day 7: Campamento Italiano – Refugio Chileno (22 km, 8.500 CLP but reservation needed)
Again you can take it easy. Start your walk around 10 a.m. to Campamento Chileno. The trail goes along the Lago Nordernskjöld, after around 5,5 hours you’ll reach the shortcut to Chileno (it’s hard to miss as there is a big sign saying “shortcut to Chileno”). Another 2 hours later you’ll arrive at the Refugio Chileno (around 5:30 p.m.).

Day 8: Refugio Chileno – Campamento Torres (5 km, free but reservation needed)
As you see you have the most relaxed day ahead because you just move from one campsite to another. Have a slow start and head uphill, set up your tent and use the huge amount of time to spend some hours at the Torres in the afternoon.
Go to bed early today as you have to get up very early tomorrow to see the sunrise at the towers. Depending on the time of the sunrise (ask the rangers) set your alarm 1 – 1,5hours before and prepare a daypack with mat, sleeping bag and breakfast as well as a rain jacket.

For Day 9 continue with Day 8 of the standard itinerary.

Consider: The free campsite Torres is very popular, therefore you can stay only for one night there.

the southern ice field can only be seen on the circuit trail

the southern ice field can only be seen on the circuit trail

Download my Chile Guide incl. TdP itineraries

 
backpacking in chile ebookBackpacking in Chile: my Chile Travel Guide
 
This is a clear and concise 100 page eBook based on my experience from 4 months traveling through Chile.
 
It includes travel guides for each region of Chile as well as a complete trekking guide for Torres del Paine, plus route itineraries. Checklists are included to help make sure you don’t forget anything.
 
This eBook is designed to save you a lot of time & make your trip much easier. Download it now and take it with you!
 
more information >>


 

Videos

I produced 3 videos from my experience hiking the circuit – have a look to see what it’s like:
 

 

Info:
During my time in Patagonia I hiked the W, the circuit and the Q. I hiked the “Q” in 2013 and did the circuit again in 2016, altogether I spent 3 weeks in the park. All times here are based on my experience (i hiked all the trails I’m writing about) – i would say I’m a bit faster in hiking than the average hikers but i made some stops in between for taking photographs and filming. The prices mentioned are for camping and per Person.
A good hiking map will be provided for free once you enter the park, you should consider getting a waterproof map beforehand for planning purposes.
 
This article is part of a whole series of free guides for Backpacking in South America.

Have you ever been to Torres del Paine? Anything to add to the itineraries ‘How to hike the circuit in Torres del Paine’? Tell us more!

If you have any tips or hints feel free to join the conversation – post a comment below and share your experience!
Moreover you can share this article with your friends on Twitter, Facebook or Google Plus by using the related buttons on the left.

  • Pingback: How to prepare for hiking in Torres del Paine, Chile - Back-Packer.org()

  • Pingback: #HolaGringo – Pinguine, Patagonien & Pures Gletschereis | Reiseblog von HostelBookers()

    • I’m not sure about this certain trail – but: every minute you spend more in this area is totally worth it! ;)

  • LittlBigExplorations

    Really useful post Steve, thanks!

    Planning to hike the circuit myself in January.
    One question about the free camping site: my understanding is that you can’t book them in advance am I right? Then what happens if you arrive quite late and everything is full? Thanks in advance!

    • No – you can’t book campsites in advance but no worries: there will always be a spot for you. I never had a problem finding a place…even when I arrived late.

  • amy

    Which month did you hike? Can I charge my phone and camera batteries at the refugios and campsites? I need a plug in socket, I do not have solar charger.

    • I hiked in February – at some refugios you are able to charge as there are plugs e.g. at paine grande. Another way is to take a power bank with you (find it in my packing lists).

      Have a great time at TdP :)

  • Melissa

    Hi there! Hoping someone still reads these. I was wondering if anyone had skipped the valle del frances on the circuit for the sake of time? We will only have 13 full days outside of air travel from the states to enjoy the Patagonia and area. We want to fit in a little relaxing, penguins maybe a day kayaking too. So we are trying to really figure out what to do schedule wise at this point.

    • Sure – you can easily skip that part to save time!

      • Linh

        Thanks Steve for sharing…this is such great info! Is it realistic to think we can cover the circuit in 6 days? We have a limited amount of time but would really like to do the O. Any other side hikes besides the Valle del Frances you would recommend cutting out to save time? Many thanks again!

        • Hey Linh – 6 days is a bit to tough I’d say as you always need to consider that the weather at the John Gardner Pass could be tough. This is why I calculate always 1 day more. Moreover you need to be very fit to do the O in a short amount of time!

  • Hi Diana this is simply BS if you’ve some hiking experience. The trails are well marked and it’s actually quite hard to get lost as there is mostly only one trail.

    Nevertheless you should be fit and in good conditions to have an enjoyable journey. Use the guide I wrote and consider getting my Chile guide on Amazon to have it all in one place (it’ll be published by September just in time for the season start).

    Have fun in Chile!

  • Michelle Sands

    Hi Steve – Your posts are so helpful! Will be going with a friend in January to Torres del Paine. We’re both mid-20s and really active hikers, so definitely looking forward to doing one of the circuits. I’ll actually be staying in South America for a month or 2, so have some packing questions about that.
    I actually just get back from 6 weeks in Europe (hiking 1.5 of those in the Alps and in Montenegro), but got food along the way, so this trip will be a bit different. Do you have any tips for packing/carrying both food as well as clothes/stuff for 1-2 months of city travel and outdoors? Did you leave any of your stuff somewhere while you went hiking in TdP? Thanks!

    • I only carried food for the multiple dayhikes with me and when I went hitchhiking in very remote areas. In general I packed very light but left some of my stuff at a hostel when I went out to hike for several days – this is possible almost everywhere. In Puerto Natales all hostels/hotels offer this service!

  • I actually hiked the whole circuit solo – during high season this shouldn’t be a problem. Also you will meet fellow hikers at the camp sites – a great option to team up for parts of the trek!

  • Emily Marshall

    Hi steve! This website so far has helped me plan for a trek in just two short weeks! The final questions I have are in regards to food and tent options. Did you bring your own tent? Do you know if each campsite offers tents for rent? And if so, do those ever all get booked if you arrive late? And second, do all campsites have places to do cooking? I thought I may have read that somewhere…. Thank you for the help!

    • Hi Emily – thx for your nice words!

      tent – I brought my own but in certain campsites you can also rent, the avaiballity is limited (check the websites of the providers to make a reservation!). especially in high season those can be booked out.

      cooking – all campsites have a place to cook. while the free ones offer a basic shelter with tables, the refugios have mostly indoor cooking spaces and some more facilites which makes it more comfy

      have fun!

  • Thank you so much for helping me out with this valuable information. Much appreciated!!!!

  • Andrew Hafliger

    Hey Steve – great stuff! I have a transportation question.. A friend and I are going to rent a car in Punta Arenas and make our way up there. Is it possible to drive ourselves into the park and leave the car at a hotel or visitor center for the duration of our circuit hike (or W, not sure yet)? thank you in advance!

    • I’ve never done it with going in by car but I know that there are parking spots and I’m pretty sure that this is possible. You can double check at the Conaf office in Puerto Natales before you head to the park though!

  • MossMan

    What do you think about doing the full circuit in 5 nights, 6 days. Would this be a good sequence – bus from punta natales in the morning and hike to Seron; then hike to Dickson; then hike to Los Guardas; then hike to Italiano; then hike to Los Cuernos? Do you recommend a different sequence, or not attempting to do it in 6 days? We land in Punta Arenas on a Thursday at 2pm, and depart from Punta Arenas on Saturday (9 days later) at 5:30pm. We should have one buffer day in case we are too tired or experience bad weather. Perhaps we should just plan for your 7 day recommendation??

    • This schedule would be to tight, you’d need at least the minimum of days I recommended. Even if you are a fast hike you should take the partially rough weather conditions into account. After all you want to enjoy your time – so you might consider doing “just” the W ;)

  • Wade A. Henry

    Great site! A few questions as a group of 4 of us plan to trek the Q-circuit in January 2017:
    1) We plan to stay at several Vertice Patagonia campsites (Paine Grande, Grey, Dickson) – are reservations required or strongly advised at all of these
    campsites? I assume reservations are strongly advised if staying at the
    Refugios, but we are uncertain if they are needed for these
    campsites.

    2) For Campamento Los Perros specifically, we are wondering whether this
    campsite gets full and, if so, if we arrive without a reservation
    whether we will be turned back (coming from Dickson)? If the John Gardner Pass is closed and we can’t continue, and don’t have a reservation at Los Perros, what do
    we do?

    3) are the restaurants at Refugios Paine Grande,
    Grey, and Dickson open to those staying at the campsites? If so, is advance notice required that we wish to buy dinner, breakfast and a boxed lunch before we arrive? Or can we just show up for dinner or breakfast without any notice?

    • Hi Wade –

      1) if you are planning ahead I’d suggest booking it in advance as January is high season & also the number of people for the circuit are now restricted

      2) Less people are doing the circuit and the number is limited. I easily found a spot at los perros as the campsite is rather big – again: if you know your dates you can book it in advance

      3) As far as I know you can just show up, but I’m about to do the circuit again in about a week and will update the whole post after my return with the latest findings, prices and dates!