Epic Adventures Los Glaciares

Hiking the Huemul Circuit in Los Glaciares

Los Glaciares National Park is packed with beautiful day hiking trails. From the mountain town of El Chaltén, you can set out on any number of brilliant hikes from the door of your hotel to enjoy the spectacular Fitz Roy Massif, while returning to sleep in a cosy bed at night. But there are plenty of options for those wanting to get remote and push themselves a little more on the trail. Foremost among these is the Huemul Circuit. 

The Huemul Circuit is a demanding trekking route that takes you through some of the most dramatic scenery that Los Glaciares has to offer. Over four days and 40 miles (65km) it delivers everything from rolling valleys carpeted with flowers to windswept mountain passes, craggy mountains and wild glaciers. 

Landscapes of the Huemul Circuit

As a former trekking guide in Torres del Paine, tackling the Huemul Circuit had always been high on my wishlist. To join the trail I flew south from my home in Pucón in the Chilean Lake District to El Calafate and followed one of the most spectacular roads I know to El Chaltén in the heart of Los Glaciares. 

Preparing for the Huemul Circuit

My night in El Chaltén was the last night I’d be spending in a hotel for a few days. Unlike most of the treks in Torres del Paine where you stay in a refugio, Los Glaciares is all about tents and camping. For the Huemul Circuit, this means remote wild campsites to get you really close to nature.

Early on that first morning I met our guide and the rest of the group. We meticulously arranged all camping gear and distributed our meals among us. This is another key point about the Huemul Circuit: it’s entirely self-supported and everything you need has to be carried by someone.

View of El Chaltén
El Chaltén town

It’s possible to arrange porters to lighten the load, but our group was all about doing it in the most adventurous way possible. Everyone had brought a 60-litre backpack for the trek and the gear was divided up between us to carry accordingly. Into my backpack I had part of a tent, a harness, a sleeping bag, my personal clothing, sandals for river crossings and a headlamp. For meals, I would also be carrying three dinners and breakfasts, four lunches and plenty of snacks for the trail. 

And with that, we were off!  

Day 1: El Chaltén to Laguna Toro

The Huemul Circuit trail kicks off in El Chaltén, and there’s always something particularly thrilling about just walking straight out of town with a sizable pack on your back, catching the gaze of onlookers aware of your coming adventure. 

The Túnel river valley on day one of the Huemul Circuit

The goal for day one was a pretty straightforward one – to get into the rhythm of the trail with a full day’s hike to a campground at Laguna Toro. Entering the national park, we enjoyed views of the Torre Group and Chaltén Massif on the right and endless rolling hills on the left. 

It was an easy day walking through meadows and forests with no significant changes in elevation. This was more about getting used to our backpacks and warming up for the climbs ahead. The splendid view of the granite Fitz and Torre served as a prelude to the coming days.

Views on day one of the Huemul Circuit

Under blessedly sunny skies, we followed a smooth trail all day until we crested a small hill to look down on the Río Túnel, a river that led us all the way to our campground. After navigating more rolling hills and wetlands, we reached the camp nestled in a beech tree forest, offering protection from the winds. The nearby Túnel River provided a convenient water source for cooking, drinking and washing. 

Day 2: Laguna Toro to Paso del Viento

If the first day of the Humuel Circuit was all about finding our legs, the second day was definitely about putting them through the paces. This was both the longest day on the trail and one of the most breathtaking. It was the reason why we were all here. 

Crossing the Túnel River by zipline

Our first challenge of the day was crossing the Túnel river. With no bridges and a deep gorge between us and the other side, there’s only one way to cross: by zipline. In turn, we strapped ourselves into our harness and clipped ourselves and our packs onto the line. Pulling yourself across, hand over hand, above the rushing water was certainly a nervous thrill, but having done so felt like crossing a real threshold into adventure. Our leafy campsite of the morning suddenly felt a long way away, with only mountain passes and glaciers ahead of us. 

From here, the trail rose straight up into the mountains. Any hint of softness in the landscape disappeared to be replaced by glacial moraine, granite crags and towering snowy spires.

Climbing to the Paso del Viento on day two of the Huemul Circuit

After navigating steep and frequently scree-covered terrain we reached the Túnel Glacier, the first great glacier of the hike. We hiked above and then alongside it, thankful for our guides, whose experience always found the right path through what often felt like an imperceptible trail. 

From here, we headed uphill – always uphill – towards the Paso del Viento. This is known in English as the Windy Pass, and as we climbed higher across the scree and drifts of snow, it soon became clear how it got that name. Patagonia’s winds are famously wild, and this was no exception. With our heavy packs on our backs and trekking poles in each hand, all we could do was lean into it and keep pressing forward. 

Tomas and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field from Paso del Viento

At the summit of the col (4301 feet high, or 1311 m), we got our reward. What a view! The whole of the Southern Ice Field seemed to be laid out before us in an immense scale that was hard to comprehend. It was a vast expanse of ice framed by giant peaks, as if it was a playground for giants and heroes. 

Exploring around Paso del Viento

Now it was a playground for trekkers too. We had earned the view, and drank in every drop of it as we followed a gentle downhill slope on the far side of the pass down towards our camping site for the night. This was the simply named Paso del Viento camp, little more than a clearing for us to pitch our tents next to a pristine creek and lagoon. Filling our water bottles, it seemed like no water had ever tasted so clear and fresh. It was no surprise given the giant ice field it had filtered down from! 

Campsite below Paso del Viento on day two of the Huemul Circuit

Day 3: Paso del Viento camp to Bahía de los Témpanos

Our third day dawned with the promise of another pass – this time, the Huemul Pass that gives the circuit its name.

Views over the Viedma Glacier

Leaving the campsite we traversed the hills that still gave us wonderful views of the icefield. Before turning left to circle the Huemul mountain, our guide Luis, made a stop and pointed to the right, revealing the breathtaking sight of the Viedma Glacier flowing slowly towards Lago Viedma (Viedma Lake). This is now one of my favourite views in Patagonia. It made me think of Antarctica or even the Moon; it seemed so otherworldly.  

Approaching the Huemul Pass on day three of the Huemul Circuit

The Huemul Pass awaited us. Rocky uphills challenged us as a group, as the winds from the ice field shook us in all directions until we were at the pass. However, a steep downhill awaited, and we cautiously descended using hiking poles on the gritty trail. Again the views were the reward for our labours: where the tongue of the glacier entered the lake we could now pick out icebergs lying in the bay. 

It took an hour to reach Lago Viedma. The bergs that seemed like tiny ice cubes on the trail were now revealed to be the size of buildings. This was Bahía de los Témpanos, the majestic Bay of Icebergs. 

The Bay of Icebergs, where we camped on day three of the Huemul Circuit

We pitched our tents in the forest next to the beach, then spent hours exploring this peculiar iceberg parking lot, contemplating how that incessant wind could sculpt the ice into such strange architectural wonders.

Day 4: Bahía de los Témpanos to El Chaltén

Waking up next to beech trees and icebergs was certainly a first for me. We were in no rush to leave on our final morning, so I strolled to the  beach with a cup of tea. It was early – we had descended to lower ground so the sun was already climbing high at 5am. 

The Túnel River valley on the fourth and final day of the Huemul Circuit

The last leg of the circuit was a shade over ten miles (about 17 km) and mostly flat, albeit a Patagonian sort of flat. We crossed wetland, accompanied by upland geese and finches flitting about the bushes. It was a gentle wind-down after the challenges of the second and third days, and a chance to spend time in our heads while walking, processing everything we’d experienced. 

Before we got to El Chaltén, there was one last hurdle. A final zip line over the Túnel river. This time we felt like experienced adventurers and pulled ourselves across with ease. 

One final challenge: another zipline

A short walk away we could see a vehicle that would whisk us back the final miles to town. As we approached, our driver Sergio appeared and swapped out our water bottles for a can of beer. We cracked them open, toasted, and drank in celebration. After four days on the trail, two incredible mountain passes and one enormous ice field, it truly felt like we had earned them.


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Tomas Hernandez

Patagonia specialist

After several years years working in the ski areas of Santiago, Tomas spent five seasons working as a trekking guide in Torres de Paine, followed by two more years in La Araucanía on the edge of Chile's Lake district. He lives in Pucón, under the shadow of Villarrica volcano. He has a degree in ecotourism.