El Chalten, Argentina is Patagonia’s “trekking capital” and for good reason! Dozens of walks ranging in difficultly from casual strolls to epic treks originate from in and around the town, and once you find your way to El Chalten (usually via several planes and buses) there’s no need for a rental car. I’ve detailed my Patagonia trekking and mountaineering adventures in my previous two blog posts, so now it’s time to talk about the equally awesome day hiking opportunities in El Chalten!
When myself, David, and Mike were in El Chalten in mid-January, we packed our itinerary with too many activities and didn’t have a ton of time for day hikes, but we still managed to hit all the major ones and had generally cooperative weather. In no particular order, here are the day hikes we completed:
We hiked to Laguna Capri on our first full day in El Chalten and had crazy clear weather and amazing views of Fitz Roy. Laguna Capri is ::mostly:: an out and back hike, but you can make it into a lollipop by hiking to the campsite and then the viewpoint at the end (don’t worry, there are many clear signs marking the trail and your options).
This hike has some moderate elevation gain (less than 1000 ft) but would be considered easy by a frequent hiker. There are many signs at junctions and throughout the hike marking the distance traveled. The trail is also super easy to follow due to the thousands of hiker feet pounding it down every day. The day hiking trails in El Chalten were seriously crowded when we visited in peak season!
On our “lollipop” hike we decided to go clockwise and visit Laguna Capri and the campsite first. Fitz Roy was peeking out from above the lake in all its glory, and we thought the view couldn’t possibly get any better …until we walked some more and saw an EVEN BETTER VIEW… and then ANOTHER ONE! This hike is so full of views you’ll just get sick of how many views it has 😛
Laguna de los Tres:
Laguna de los Tres isn’t a separate hike from Laguna Capri, but instead of turning back at Laguna Capri, you… don’t do that. And keep going instead! Again, signs are obvious and numerous to guide you on your way.
Full disclosure: I did not hike Laguna de los Tres, because David and Mike wanted to hike it on our rest day between the Huemul Circuit trek and the climb of Cerro Electrico. And I wanted a rest day that didn’t involve walking 12 miles.
David and Mike say: After the moderate elevation you gain getting to Laguna Capri, the trail really flattens out after that. You’re lulled into a false sense of security until BAM, there’s another ~1000 feet of elevation gain in the last kilometer. David and Mike commented on (delighted in) the increasingly miserable looking faces of the casual hikers who found themselves on a steep final ascent to reach the end of the trail.
For your efforts, you’re rewarded with a spectacular view of Fitz Roy that you’ll be totally sick of because of all the amazing views you already saw along the way.
Bonus info: There are actually two approaches to Laguna de los Tres; one that starts in El Chalten and one that starts a bit north of town. You can arrange transport to the trailhead outside of town and then return via the trailhead that starts in El Chalten. David and Mike didn’t do this because we knew it would cost money and we were already spending enough of that as it was! But it’s a nice option if you don’t want to do 12 miles out and back on the same trail!
Laguna Torre, for a change, does NOT provide a view of Fitz Roy, but shows you some other pointy mountains instead! You’ll see Cerro Solo, a “beginner mountaineering” mountain that can be climbed in 2 days. You’ll also see the impressively pointy Cerro Torre, except when we hiked this trail we couldn’t see any of the pointy mountains because their heads were chopped off by some clouds 😦
Laguna Torre is another out and back trail, gaining ~200 meters over 5 miles (one way) so it’s pretty darn flat. Consequently, those 10 miles round trip won’t take as long as you might think. We got from the trailhead to the lagoon in ~2 hours, walking at a brisk pace but not jogging. Once you get to the lagoon there’s an optional extra kilometer you can walk to a viewpoint, but since the weather was not great, David and I sat around while Mike went to the view 🙂
Supposedly the wind at the lagoon is completely nuts, but on our particular hiking day it was pretty calm by Patagonia standards. This afforded us the ability to sit at the base of the lagoon without getting blasted, watching the icebergs bob around the green water.
These three hikes are the only ones we had time to complete. There are soooo many more day hikes out of El Chalten, and I wish we’d had another week to do them all!
Random tips n’ tricks:
- I had a really hard time finding a map for this trip, but apparently the one I picked up is the “only good map” according to our Huemul Circuit trek guide! If you don’t want to invest in a map, fear not, the information center in El Chalten has a free little day hiking map (which I think we probably used more than the big one).
- Both my big map and the free map give distances in terms of travel time instead of actual distance, which is annoying. If you are an avid hiker, you will find that the travel times are a conservative estimate.
- The day hiking trails are all VERY well marked and very frequently traveled (especially if you go during peak season) so don’t worry about heading out into the woods! Someone will definitely find your body.
- This is probably obvious, but the sun in Patagonia is STRONG, y’all. Make sure you bring that sunscreen! Also bring a UV buff, not only for sun protection, but for protecting your face against the blasts of wind you are likely to experience while in Patagonia!