The W Trek in Torres del Paine, National Park is one of the most famous hiking trails in the world. This 4-5 multi-day hike takes you through some of the most stunning landscapes and lookout points in the park. The W Trek has been increasing in popularity in recent times and therefore, advance planning is a must. This post covers everything you need to know about hiking the W Trek in Torres del Paine, from an itinerary to booking accommodation.
What is the W Trek?
The W Trek is one of the two multi-day hikes that you can do in Torres del Paine National Park.
Why is it Called the W Trek?
It is called the W because the trail marks out a “W” shape on the map.
How Long is the W Trek and How Many Days are Needed?
The distance is 48-50 miles/77-80 kilometers and takes 4-5 days. The number of days really depends on you and what you want to do. You need 4 days at a minimum but you can even take 6 days if needed.
What is the Best Time to do the W Trek?
The W Trek can be done all year through. However, you can hike the W without a tour guide from October through April but will need a guide the rest of the months.
Is Hiking the W Trek Difficult?
Compared to some other famous hikes (i.e., Everest Base Camp), the W is not considered a difficult trek. It is not technical, neither is there an altitude challenge. It does however, involve 6 hour -10 hours of hiking each day, sometimes covering more than 20 km.
Another challenge, especially in the summer time is the wind. Patagonian winds are no joke. When the wind is bad, it can slow you down on the trail.
Highlights of The W Trek
The main highlights of the W are on the three top pointers of the W. They are from left to right, the Grey Glacier, the French Valley and the Base Towers or Torres.
The Grey Glacier first comes into sight at Mirador Glacier Grey but the best viewpoint is just passing Refugio Grey. This glacier is one of the largest in South America. It is 6 km wide and 30 meters high.
Lots of people are pleasantly surprised by the French Valley. The stunning French Glacier and Mirador Frances seem to be a favorite among hikers. Another 3.5 km from Mirador Frances is Mirador Britanico, offering even more breathtaking views.
Mirador las Torres
Mirador las Torres or Base Torres or the Base Towers are all names used for what is known as the crown jewel of Torres del Paine and what the park is named after. This is perhaps the hardest hike on the W, especially the last bit, but it is totally worth it!
From valleys to aqua lakes and eerie beech forests, there’s no end to beauty and mountain views on the W trek.
East to West or West to East
This is up to you! There are pros to doing both.
- East to West – You start with hiking to the base towers, which is considered the hardest hike on the W first and get it done before you get tired hiking everyday
- West to East – You save the base towers, which is known as the crown jewels of Torres del Paine for last.
Assuming you are coming from Puerto Natales by bus…
- To hike the W Trek from east to west, you will get off the bus at the park office at Laguna Amarga, then catch a bus to Hotel las Torres which is the trail head for the base tower hike
- To hike the W Trek from west to east, you can get off at the Pudeto ferry station and catch the catamaran across Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande
My recommendation is to do it from east to west. The reason is simple. It’s the ferry. Let me explain..
- If you are coming by bus from Puerto Natales, you may be late to catch the ferry. Even in the height of summer the ferry does not run throughout the day
- You get to the ferry line but it’s crowded and the ferry cannot accommodate everyone in the line and has to come back to get you (it is first comes first served and people line up early). This sets you back quite a bit
- The weather (wind, rain) can delay the ferry crossing and throw the ferry schedule off
You are not dependent on the ferry to start the trail when you go from east to west and even if the bus from Puerto Natales delays a bit, it’s not as bad as once you get off the bus (and catch the frequent shuttle to the trail head), you start the hike immediately from there.
How to Breakdown the Days
I am going to assume an east to west hike.
- Day 1 – Arrive at Torres Central, hike up to the three Towers and back down to Chileno
- Day 2 – Chileno to Cuernos or Francés
- Day 3 – Cuernos or Francés to Frances Valley and back down to Paine Grande
- Day 4 – Paine Grande to Grey
- Day 5 – Grey to Pudeto where you catch a bus back to Puerto Natales
Notes on the Itinerary
- Day 1 – Alternatively, you could also stay in Central or North the first night
- Day 2 – You have a choice of Cuernos or Frances
- Day 3 – You can extend the hike and go up to Mirador Britanico but this adds 3.5 km or 2 hours one way to the trip
- Day 4 and Day 5 – You could either do a glacier hike or kayak session on/around Glacier Grey. More below.
Optional Activities on the W Trek
You can either do a glacier hike or go kayaking around Glacier Grey. You can do this either the afternoon of day 4 or the morning of day 5. If you do it the evening of day 4, you will have to factor in the 5.5 hour hike to Grey from Paine Grande. However, if you do it on the morning of day 5, you will have to factor in the hike back to Paine Grande and make sure you catch the ferry on time. .
Overall, day 4 is the safer bet! Here are some options:
Company that offers a 3 or 5 hour AM or PM tour
Company that offers only a 5 hour AM or PM tour
Company that offers 3 time options – 3 hour duration
Company that offers 4 time options – 2.5 hour duration
If you want to skip staying at Grey and the activities, you could easily cut out day 4 altogether and end your W Trek hike on day 4. You would just hike up to Grey and hike back to Paine Grande on the same day. You would need to start the day early however to make sure you have enough time to catch the ferry.
Accommodation on the W essentially consists of camp sites and refugios. A refugio is a dorm with 4-8 beds. You have the option of carrying everything you need for the 4-5 days like food, tent, sleeping bags etc. with you or you have the option of booking all these things when you book your accommodation. Of course this all-inclusive option is a lot more expensive.
Camping & Refugios
There are a total of 6 campsites and refugios embedded into the W Trek. They are run by 3 companies, 2 of which are private and the 3rd is government run. The private companies run both camp sites and refugios together in the same location.
- Vertice Patagonia – Grey and Paine Grande
- Las Torres Patagonia (Formerly Fantastico Sur) – Francés, Los Cuernos, and Chileno
- CONAF – Italiano – Government run with free camping but currently closed. The facilities are basic (toilets only). You need to bring everything. There is no update on when they will open again but you can check this site just in case
I cover accommodation at great lengths in the post below. I go into the facilities of every single campsite and give a cost breakdown from booking the bare minimum to booking the all-inclusive option.
You have to book accommodation well in advance. Figuring out if you want to hike the W Trek from east to west or west to east is important because you will have to book accommodation based on this decision. Once booked, changing will be very difficult as camps sites and refugios fill up fast.
If you cannot find accommodation at Chileno, an alternative could be Central or North campsites and refugios run by Las Torres Patagonia. While technically not in the W itself, it is relatively close by.
What if You Can’t Find Accommodation?
So you cannot book camp sites or refugios along the W? You can still do the 3 highlights of the W Trek as day trips. I cover this in more detail HERE
If you do these as day trips you also only need 3 days as opposed to 4-5 days. The one caveat is getting to the start of each hike. The start to both the Grey Glacier hike and the French Valley hike requires a ferry crossing that costs 25 CLP or 30 USD each way. That’s essentially 120 USD for the 2 hikes. Alternatively, if you manage to get accommodation at Paine Grande refugio and camp site for one night, you can hike to the Grey Glacier the first day, stay the night at Paine Grande and hike to the French Valley the second day, only having to pay for the ferry once.
Permits and Entry
There is no permit needed to trek the W, however, you do need to buy an entry pass to the park. You can only do this online HERE.
How to Get to the Park
There is really no point renting a car if you are doing the W Trek as you won’t be using it for 4-5 days and it will sit idle. Furthermore, the trek does not start and end in one place so you will need to make arrangements to retrieve it from where you started.
The best way to get to the park is to use Bus Sur. They operate a bus service from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. See HERE for more.
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