Backpack Torres Del Paine's "O" Circuit
Chile › O Circuit, Torres Del Paine NP
Added by Ian Glass
Internationally regarded as one of the best hikes in the world, this iconic hike should be on everyone's bucket list.
The hike can be broken down a few different ways. The first and most popular is "W" (3-5 days), where you will stay on the frontside of the park and experience a lot of foot traffic. The second version of the hike, which will be discussed in detail below, is the "O" (8-10 days), which leads the hiker around the circumference of the park. Lastly, the longest version of the hike is known as the "Q" (9-11 days), wherein the hiker hikes into and out of the park themselves.
Before getting to the "O" hike, a few preliminary details should be addressed. First off, the best time do this hike is between December and late March (summer in the Southern Hemisphere and winter in the Northern Hemisphere). Next, the best place to stay in Puerto Natales is a hostel, Erratic Rock ( $14 per night). The hostel is comfier than Grandma's House, has its own gear shop and brewery, is located three blocks from the Park Service Station, and gives daily talks about hiking in the park (PLUS they have real coffee... it's hard to find down there).
The next thing to address is gear. Patagonia is one of the windiest places on Earth and the weather has a mind of its own. Make sure you have bomber layers, rain/wind gear, and hiking poles. The hiking poles not only help with pack-weight, but help you from being blown over (for real). Regarding water filters, you don't need them. The water in park is so clean, you can fill your bottle up in any stream (which are everywhere).
The next detail is campsites (free - $18) vs. refugios ($50). Go campsites, they are way cheaper and you're in Patagonia. Be outside. That said, you should have some 'rainy-day' money set aside just in case the weather gets so gross that all you want is a warm shower and a comfy bed.
The last detail is to give yourself some buffer-days, for a few reasons. Traveling in a foreign country can be confusing and sometimes buses don't work out the way you want them to. More importantly, once in the park, the weather can turn sour and you might need an extra day or two to hike (i.e. waiting for clear conditions on John Gardener Pass). With all of that in mind, you should have an awesome trip. Note: All prices listed below are approximate. Exchange-rate prices fluctuate.
Day 1: Puerto Natales – Campamento Serón (7.5 miles)
The day before the hike, be sure to purchase a return bus ticket at your hostel ($18). Day of, buses leave Puerto Natales at 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and will need 2.5 hours to arrive at the park entrance. Get off at the park entrance ($25) and start your hike towards Serón. After hiking through mellow grasslands and forests, you will reach a small stream you'll have to ford. There are two different mentalities about fording streams. 1) F'it and hike through 2) Boots off (but Chaco up if you have them). I'm not a fan of hiking with wet shoes from the start, but chances are you'll get rained on eventually, so it's your call. Set up camp at Serón ($7), make some new friends, and rest up for the next day.
Day 2: Campamento Serón – Refugio Dickson (12 miles)
You will leave Serón and the frontside of the park. The scenery on the way towards and at Dickson is the reason people go to Patagonia. You will see glaciers tucked up on mountain tops as you walk through open meadows. When you set up camp at Dickson ($8) be sure to check out Lake Dickson behind the campsite. There is a massive glacier across the lake that shouldn't be missed.
Day 3: Refugio Dickson – Campamento Los Perros (5.5 miles)
Because of the short distance from Dickson to Perros, you should have a relaxing morning at Dickson and give yourself a late morning start. On your way to Perros take your time to soak in all of the glaciers and lakes, because Perros itself doesn't offer much in the way of views. When you set up camp at Perros (free), be sure to get to bed early. You will want get up early (5am-ish) in the morning to get an early start on John Gardener Pass. If you start too late in the morning, weather will move in and you'll be forced to spend an additional day in Perros.
Day 4: Campamento Los Perros – Paso (7.5 miles)
Try to break camp by 5am. If you're breaking camp by 6am, you could be pushing it with the weather. You'll leave Perros and hike with headlamps up the trail. As you gain elevation up the Pass, the trees will give way to boulder fields. By this time, there should be enough daylight to see the top of the Pass. If you can't see the top of the pass because of the weather, turn around. If the weather is all clear, you will find red poles that denote the trail up to the top. After summiting the Pass, you will reach the Paso campsite (free). Rest up for another big day.
Day 5: Paso - Campamento Italiano (23 miles)
Give yourself an early start to enjoy the long day ahead of you. You will start off by hiking alongside Glacier Grey as you head towards the front side of the park. Be ready to be bombarded by people at Campamento Italiano (free). After spending a few days on the backside of the park, you'll be on people overload. However, Italiano is a great campsite that offers forest dispersement camping. Also, by camping in Italiano, you have positioned yourself perfectly for tomorrow's day-hike up Mirador Frances.
Day 6: Campamento Italiano - Los Cuernos (10.5 miles)
Leave your tent and grab your daypack (with lunch, layers, and water) to head up to Mirador Frances. This beautiful hike (2.5 hours to summit) along a valley with hanging glaciers. While you're hiking you'll hear parts of glaciers calving and dropping into the valley (a great distance way). Just another feature that makes this hike so unique. After having lunch at the top, head back down, pack up your tent, and set out to Los Cuernos ($12). Los Cuernos will have campsites available on platforms so you don't have to camp in the shrubs. However, if it's a windy night, you might find yourself getting blown off. If you can, see if you can camp in a clearing in the shrubs/trees.
Day 7: Los Cuernos – Campamento Torres (12.4 miles)
This is your last full day in the park and you'll be hurting just a little. However, making the push to Campamento Torres is worth it. After leaving Los Cuernos, you will start off hiking on a flat trail that will eventually gain elevation towards Refugio Chileno. This place could be a bit of an international circus, so rest up and continue uphill for another hour until you reach Campamento Torres (free). Again, this campsite is prime positioning. You are a 45 minute hike from Los Torres. So you can check them out right after you set up camp and/or go to bed early to watch the sunrise at Los Torres (do that).
Day 8: Torres – Puerto Natales (14.3 miles)
Last day in the Park, make it count! Sunrise in the summer is around 6am (which you'll have learned from Los Perros), so you'll want to be up to Los Torres around 5am. So grab your daypack and lots of warm clothes (even your sleeping bag) and leave camp around 4am. The weather changes rapidly in the Park so if it's gross outside, chances are by the time you get up to Los Torres, it'll be great (hopefully). Regardless, it's an adventure and just think whatever happens you'll be having a warm shower later that day. After watching an amazing sunrise, break camp, and head back down to Hotel Los Torres. From the Hotel, it is an hour hike back to the entrance of the Park. The bus back to Puerto Natales leaves at 2:30 p.m. from the entrance. Be sure to plan accordingly. ALSO, you want to make sure you have a place to go back to, soooo it's wise to make post-trek reservations at your hostel before you set out to the Park on Day 1.
After getting back to Grandma's House (i.e. Erratic Rock) enjoy a warm shower, a nice beer, and curling up next to the fire with new friends to plan your next great adventure.
You'll be hiking with people from all over the world and you are all there for the same reason, to enjoy the beauty of Patagonia! Make new friends. That's what life is about.
- Tent (best if designed to stand against high wind)
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Dry bags
- Camp stove
- Extra stove gas
- 9 days of meals
- 9 days of snacks
- Water bottles
- Breathable base-layers
- Wind/rain pants and jacket
- Warm layers
- Warm jacket (puffy)
- Sun hat
- Sun glasses
- Warm hand
- Hiking poles (optional)
- Map (optional)
- Extra cash (just in case)
- Return bus ticket
- Camp shoes (optional... but Chacos and wool socks are awesome)
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Add the 'Q' section to your circuit
If you are planning on doing the full 'O' circuit already, then you have made a great choice! It is a fantastic trek and you will find many marvels along your path. Most people find that they can finish the 'O' in 7 or 8 days. If you do and have given yourself a buffer day, definitely consider finishing the trek strong on the last section to complete the 'Q' circuit. I know what you are thinking, "after 8 days of trekking I will be exhausted and completely over it". Maybe thats not you, but it definitely was me. However, the hike from Refugio Paine Grande to the Park Administration is the easiest section of trail in the whole park. Your packs will also be at their lightest since you have already gone through most (if not all) of your food. Trust me when I say you will fly through this section. However, flying through this section of the trek might take the glory away from it. Since you will be leaving the park, you will have the marvelous views of the 'Torres' over Lago Pehoe to your back. Every time you need a breather, just remember to look behind you and take it all in. The further you get from the mountains, the more impressive your experience seems. I remember that I could not stop thinking, "I really hiked all the way around THOSE mountains?". Don't get me wrong, seeing the towers from up close is incredible, but seeing them from a distance also gives your journey a rewarding sense of scale. The last great thing about this section of trail is that there are no crowds! If you get a relatively early start from Camp Italiano or Camp Grey (depending which direction you are coming from), you can get to the Park Administration center well before the last Bus leaves the Park at 6pm.
I was traveling with my family when we decided to take this trip. I was surprised because my expectations about it were like "difficult, technique, expert, level" and when we get there we saw tons of other families with children and even grandparents doing the W and the O circuit. I highly recommend to visit Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas y Tierra del Fuego while traveling South... Theres a lot of diferent places to see, eat and Wonder
Spend 8 days chasing glaciers!
Can't decide between climbing mountain passes, a leisurely walk through the forest, or endless meadows of wildflowers? That's ok because you will experience it all (and much more- did I mention glaciers, rainbows, lakes...and more glaciers) on the Torres Del Paine "o" trek! During a 5 week adventure through Patagonia we spent 8 days doing this hike which was the highlight of our whole trip. Ian provides a great overview of each day and I would completely agree with the schedule and route he shares! Because the weather is so unpredictable I would advise seeing the towers on the first day (assuming it is sunny). This will make your Day 1 hike much longer but this means you will have already seen them so if it is cloudy (we had snow) on the last day you won't be greatly disappointed that you did the whole trek without seeing the main part! And the towers are well worth the climb up (I thought that they were being talked up by tourists but they are breathtaking and unlike anything I have ever seen before). You can rent gear from many outfitters in Puerto Natale but I would highly recommend bringing your own tent- and make sure it is good quality made for extreme conditions. Rent a stove for a small fee as well as trekking poles (I would usually not use them but I could not have come down from the pass without them). Bring a thermos! Warm coffee throughout the day will keep you going! Finally, if you speak Spanish (or Spanglish works too) make friends with the Porters! They are true mountain explorers who have so much wisdom and great stories to share. They are also great camp chefs and if you get lucky they will share some gourmet dinners with you! Stake down your tent, take care of your hiking partner, carry out your trash, and embrace this magical setting!
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