Advice on hiking the W Trek
- The 4-5 day route takes you to the three iconic highlights of the national park, Valle Francés, Base of the Towers, and Glacier Grey
- It's the perfect introduction to multi-day trekking, with a roof over your head each night. More challenging routes are available for experienced hikers
- This trek does get busy, especially in December and January. Those looking for remote trails and solitude are better exploring some of the stunning off the beaten track options in the park
- Accommodation is in shared dorms - ask us about private, yurt or luxury alternatives
- Hiking isn't the only option - experience a whole different aspect of the park by kayaking, horse riding or mountain biking at the end of your trek
What is the W Trek?
The W Trek is normally walked east to west, starting at Refugio Las Torres and ending at Refugio Paine Grande. It runs up three valleys, creating the W shape that gives it its name. In each of those valleys lies one of the iconic sights of the park:
- Ascencio Valley in the east takes you all the way to the base of the famous towers. The ascent to their base is a demanding 800m climb as part of a six to eight hour day of hiking.
- French Valley - the central spur of the W is dominated by the hanging glacier Francés. This glacier cracks and crumbles ahead of you as you climb rocky terrain into the heart of the valley.
- The final leg runs alongside Lago Grey, flecked with cobalt blue ice floes, up to the face of the enormous glacier that stretches out towards the ice cap.
The last section on the slippery scree and loose rocks is a bit of a slog, but that first time, when the towers came into view... I just wasn't ready for the scale of them.
Harriet Pike Trekking, Mountaineering & Cycling Specialist
W Trek FAQs
The W Trek is a moderately difficult hike lasting around four to five days, covering 46 miles on mainly gentle terrain, with more challenging days involving climbs of 600-800 metres. You need to be in good shape, with some experience of multi-day hiking and prepared for extremely variable weather. The longest days are six to eight hours of hiking, which allows for plenty of snack and photo breaks, both of which you'll definitely want to take.
More experienced trekkers can include the W as part of the Full Circuit, or dip in and out during some of our off-the-beaten-track trips into Paine's hidden valleys and mountain passes.
You can also break up the trek, or enjoy it in more comfort at luxury lodges or eco accommodation around the park.
Please get in touch if you'd like to talk to us about how the hike might compare to others that you've done before.
Every year we help dozens of solo travellers find a hiking group in Torres del Paine. There are scheduled group trips with fixed departure dates organised by our local operators, but we also put like-minded hikers together to create more flexible itineraries. Let us know when you're going and we'll happily find a trek or a group to suit you.
Yes, it is possible to walk the W Trek unguided, which is an option if you're on a tight budget and have sufficient hiking experience, but a guide can really add to your trip.
While safety and navigation are an important part of what a guide offers, our customers always talk about the knowledge of wildlife, history, geography and culture that their guides brought to the trek. If you do want to hike alone, we can organise a self-guided hike with all the logistics and transport taken care of and there's also the option to combine an unguided W Trek with some guided hiking off-the-beaten-track.
Refugios are the youth hostels of the trails, with six-person dorm rooms, bars, basic restaurants and showers and - most of the time - hot water. There are refugios at all the major stops on the trek, most of which are open year round. They are fun and friendly places, even if the service can be a little disappointing now and again.
Camping gives you a slightly wilder experience of the trek and it doesn't necessarily mean carrying all your gear. You can of course bring your own tent, or rent everything you need in Puerto Natales, but it's also possible to hire tents at each of the campsites as you go. Do bear in mind that the wind regularly reaches 80km/h hour. It won't do you any harm, but you might need earplugs to sleep.
With one exception - the cabins at the Los Cuernos - the refugios do not have private rooms. If you want to spend every night in a private room, consider splitting the W Trek into day hikes, where your transport between hotels will be arranged. Otherwise, there is an option to do the multi-day trek with most nights in rooms, and only one in a shared dorm.
The end of December and early January are the busiest times in the park. Places in refugios get booked up by the end of September, flights arriving at this time can be more expensive if you leave it late and there will be more people on the trails.
If you book well in advance then the trek is still a great experience, but it is definitely worth considering the shoulder months or the low season if your schedule is flexible. Alternatively, avoid the busier trails and experience the off-the-beaten-track treks in the wilder areas of the park.
The park is a very different place in winter, which is from April/May to August/September. There are far fewer visitors and the wind is calmer, but the days are shorter, transport and accommodation options are limited and there is a good chance you'll be trekking through snow, so it is only possible in a guided group.
We've worked with our local partners to design special itineraries that get you to the highlights of the W Trek in spite of the above restrictions. Guided treks are few and far between in winter, so please get in touch to see what's available, or read more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter.
While the W Trek visits each of the park's main highlights in 4-5 days, the O Circuit Trek is for more experienced hikers aiming to get a little more remote and spend 7-9 days trekking. You'll still see the main sights, but will then loop around the northern side of the park where you'll have views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and the Grey Glacier.
It is undoubtedly more challenging and you'll need to be prepared to camp, but the sights are spectacular.
W Trek: Hut-to-Hut
Budget and self-guided W Trek
If you follow the specific W Trek route then you will need to sleep in the mountain 'refugios' on at least two of the nights. Refugios are the youth hostels of the trails, with six-person dorm rooms, bars, basic restaurants and showers and - most of the time - hot water. There are refugios at all the major stops on the trek, most of which are open year round. They are fun and friendly places with a convivial atmosphere to share with your fellow hikers.
Camping is available for all of the nights on the route. You can even rent a tent in each location if you don't want to carry your own. Please note that you must book your place in the campsite well in advance.
Glamping and luxury lodges
If you want private accommodation, or to enjoy the experience of sleeping in a yurt or eco-dome, then you can still see the highlights whilst following an adapted route with vehicle transfers at the start of each day.
There are also three luxury lodges from which you can explore the highlights of the W Trek route and get into some of the more remote corners of the national park.
W Trek from a hotel base
A gentle-paced W-Trek for peace- and nature-lovers: based in a secluded, all-inclusive camp of luxury yurts, you'll wake up each morning in a forest over-looking Lago Toro before journeying through breath-taking scenery to complete the world famous W-Trek. Looked after…
3-4 day shorter W Trek options
Off the beaten track W trek options
What Our Customers Think
The landscapes were unlike anything I could of ever imagined. Our group instantly bonded with the other 3 girls in our hiking group. We have plans to meet up in the future. I’ve told my friends that it was the best trip I’ve ever been on! No surprises - everything went as planned. The most magical moment was bonding with everyone in the Refugio the first night and meeting so many people from so many other cultures.
Nicole Doria United States Of America January 2019
Booking the refuges / camping independently is stressful! If you don't want to spend a long time watching the websites for availability, Swoop and their local partners provide a welcomed solution.
Clare Hodgson United Kingdom November 2018
Patagonia was exactly what I needed to get reconnected with the outdoors. You are surrounded by unique beauty everywhere you look and it's vastness reminds you how big this world is.
Sarah Tocco United States Of America December 2018
Just do it!! The east-to-west route Swoop does for the W trek is preferable, you get the hard part of the hike done first and it's awesome to finish the trek with the boat ride along the glacier as the "reward".
Casey Schorr United States Of America December 2016
The trip was amazing. We highly recommend the W-Trek and adding the ice kayak / glacier hike adventure options!
Jordana Kozel United States Of America December 2016
Our trip was amazing, the W is well worth the work, you get to see a lot and meet people on the way. I would recommend eating at the refugios so you don’t have to carry so much and plan as much. You can also rent their tents, less to carry is better.
Wendy USA November 2017
I am 100% confident that our trip was flawless and so exhilarating because of our guide’s leadership. We will definitely be sending our friends to Swoop when they ask for recommendations.
Clara December 2015
My trip has really left me at a bit of a loss for words. While I tremendously enjoyed every piece of my trip (hiking, kayaking and then day hiking with an afternoon of horseback riding), I really loved hiking the W. I was traveling solo, but I enjoyed my time with our small group during the W trek. The Patagonian landscape was breathtaking - I've never been in a place quite so beautiful.
Anne Helen-Evans United States Of America December 2016
The W Trek was the highlight of my 2-week trip - the scenery was beautiful and my guide, Paz, really made the experience incredible. She was so knowledgeable and that made the experience very special and unique.
Liz New York March 2017
The highlight of my trip was reaching the Grey Glacier after a long distance hike and having lunch facing the glacier in silence - a moment of pure tranquility. The landscapes we saw varied day-to-day and we were lucky to see a herd of guanacos, condors and even a wild puma! We learned a lot from the other people in our group - they inspired us and gave us more locations to add to our holiday bucket list!
Ruby Birk United Kingdom May 2018
Landscape was incredible. Feeling of accomplishment I felt every night and being able to sit down at dinner with people of all ages from around the world and drink a toast to the days accomplishment was amazing.
Sherry Wilson Canada February 2018
The French glacier and Mirador Brittanica were the highlights of the W trail. Saw a surprising amount of wildlife like foxes, hawks and small forest birds. At the refugios, which were almost too comfortable, met fellow hikers and had a cosy place to chat and unwind after a long hard day of trekking.
Naveen Netherlands March 2017
We especially loved hiking the W. It was so beautiful, with dramatic mountains of towers and glaciers, and hillsides in prime flower blooming season. We met lots of other travelers and shared stories, and ibuprofen for our sore muscles, at the dinner table.
Mary Lou Fairweather United States Of America December 2018
The landscapes of Patagonia are literally other-worldly. When we left the park, my nephew said it was like leaving Jurassic Park- it was so unreal. We saw grey foxes, condors, guanacos, and hawks (not to mention many other birds). The weather is as INTENSE as the beauty...every minute, it changed. The trail, though well-traveled, is not for the faint of heart. As times it was difficult. But never once did we regret the strain or aches. The people we met along the way were diverse and friendly. If we said "hola" one time a day, we said it fifty. it was truly a spirit-lifting trip!
Julie Emery United States Of America January 2017
The W Trek is undoubtedly Patagonia's most famous hiking route, and for good reason, so it does get busy and the high footfall is eroding the land around the trails. If you're looking for a quieter experience, or would like to reduce your impact on the land, then here are some alternatives for hiking in Patagonia:
- For experienced hikers, and those looking for a longer trek or a more remote route, then the O Circuit will likely be more rewarding
- If you're looking to experience the Patagonian Andes at their most remote and wild, we'd recommend the hiking in either Aysen or Tierra del Fuego
- If you're short on time, then the peaks and glaciers in nearby El Chalten might be a more accessible alternative, especially if you're basing yourself in Argentina during your trip
The W Trek is rightfully popular and undoutbedly a great experience, but it can be very busy in peak season, mainly around Christmas. If you're looking for a bit more solitude, you can go in winter, explore other parts of Torres del Paine or head for some of Patagonia's other great trekking spots.
Combine Torres del Paine & Fitz Roy
The trail of trails. Explore Patagonia's most famous hikes in two of its most iconic areas.
El Chalten sits at the base of Mount Fitz Roy and on the edge of the South Patagonia Ice Cap. From your hotel in El Chalten you can walk straight out onto hiking trails around Mount Fitz Roy, or use it as a base for 3-4 treks up to the Ice Cap, or 8+ day expeditions onto the Ice Cap itself.