If you’ve heard about Torres del Paine National Park, you’ve probably heard about some of Patagonia’s most spectacular hikes. Here, you can go on a full day hike to some of Chile’s most beautiful places. The towers’ base viewpoint (22km/13mi), the French valley (20km/12mi) or the Grey glacier trail (12km/7.5mi) are worldwide known as must-do hikes.
But not everyone wants to wake up early and sweat on the trails. And if you’re not a professional hiker, be happy! Torres del Paine is a huge national park (227,298ha) full of easy trails and epic spots for nature lovers. So if you planned a relaxing trip to Chile’s finest national park, you’d better include these beautiful excursions in your checklist.
1. Laguna Azul
In the eastern side of the park, you will find a beautiful blue lagoon known as “Laguna Azul” (the “blue lagoon”). This spot offers one of the best views of the granite towers that gave the park its name. The first tourist to reach Torres del Paine (Lady Florence Dixie in 1879) reached the area through Laguna Azul - she even did a drawing of the place in her book “Across Patagonia'' (1880). By reaching the area, you will drive through the plains of the park and spot the local wildlife, including guanacos, condors, armadillos and eventually the elusive puma. An easy one-hour hike can be started at Laguna Azul, where you will reach a spectacular view of the blue waters of the lagoon with the towers as a backdrop.
Near Laguna Azul, you will find one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park, Cascada Paine. You can also hike (or even bike!) through the nearby plains on the “Cañadon Macho” trail, and go for a wild horse tracking excursion to look for the local herd of wild horses (a full day adventure).
2. Fauna Trail
As the years went by, Torres del Paine’s popularity grew up, and not just thanks to its world class hikes. Another aspect of the park attracts plenty of travelers : wildlife. Torres del Paine has one of the highest densities of pumas, condors and guanacos on earth. A wildlife safari in the park will never disappoint you, even if you opt to stay in the car.
A great way to look for the local wildlife is by foot, and “Fauna Trail” may be the best easy hike to encounter wild animals. This 8km/5mi (roughly 3 hours) hike is relatively flat and offers some nice views of the Sarmiento lake (the largest inside the park) and Torres del Paine mountain range. An added bonus - a cool one! - are the indigenous cave paintings, composed of lines and dotes estimated to be between 3,000 and 8,000 years old.
3. Grey Lake navigation
The southern Patagonian ice fields are the world’s third freshwater reserve. 49 glaciers can be found in these emblematic ice fields, including Grey glacier. This spectacular glacier located in the western side of Torres del Paine is retreating at an increasing rate yet it is still a large glacier (about 25 kilometers in length). Unlike many other glaciers in Patagonia, Grey glacier is fairly accessible. You can reach the blue ice of Grey glacier by foot on the W Trek and O Trek. But the best way to see the incredible shades and colors of the ice is while navigating through Grey lake.
This 3-hour navigation starts at the shore of Grey lake, and an easy walk (one hour round trip) is enough to reach the boat. The boat will take you to the three faces of the glacier, so you’ll get some epic close-ups of the glacier walls and even see some huge icebergs.
If you still want to walk, you can hike through the peninsula near the beach (close to the starting point of the navigation). This small hike offers a beautiful viewpoint of the lake, with the glacier in the distance.
4. Nordenskjöld Lake
The Nordenskjöld lake was named after swedish geologist Otto Nordenskjöld, who discovered the lake in the early 1800’s. Today, it is a highlight for travelers hiking the W Trek and an accessible spot for those staying at EcoCamp Patagonia (a one to two-hour round trip walk from the hotel).
The turquoise blue waters of the Nordenskjöld lake are fed by the Paine river (the main river in the park) and look even more intense on a sunny day. You can walk at the shore of the lake to observe the surrounding mountains, including Mt. Almirante Nieto. You can even bike or do horseback riding at the shore of the lake, so the experience becomes even more epic.
Some trails in Torres del Paine can still be tagged as “unspoiled”. It’s the case of the Pingo/Zapata trail, an easy hike through a lush green nothofagus forest in the western side of the park. To access the trail, you need to park your car near Grey lake (the starting point of the Grey glacier navigation) and get a special permit with CONAF, the national park administration. You can’t enter this trail without a guide, so you’d better be on a guided trip with EcoCamp to fully enjoy this secret spot!
The short hike will bring you to a beautiful waterfall in the heart of the Pingo woods, with silence as your best companion. It’s a 3-hour hike that is rather flat, but some spots can be muddy if you come in Autumn or Winter.
If you do the full 2-day hike (not qualified as an easy hike), you will reach the Zapata glacier viewpoint, to observe one of the largest glaciers in the area.
6. Toro Lake Viewpoint
The Toro lake is the largest lake in the region and while only 30% of its waters are inside the national park, you can contemplate this 202km2 lake on a one-hour easy hike in the park. To do so, head to the national park administration (near the Serrano entrance) and look for the trail. It starts near the Weber bridge, with a spectacular view of los Cuernos (“The Horns”), some of the most stunning spires in Torres del Paine.
As an added bonus, there is a nice museum in the building of the administration, a cool way to learn about the geology of Torres del Paine after a nice walk. This is definitely a nice thing to do on a full day to Grey glacier (the starting point of the hike is near the road), which can be done with EcoCamp.
7. Salto Grande & Los Cuernos viewpoint
Willing to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Patagonia? Head to Salto Grande near Pehoe lake, in the very heart of Torres del Paine national park. An easy walk (30 minutes round trip) will take you to a spectacular viewpoint, with a beautiful 360° to contemplate the mesmerizing beauty of the Paine mountain range and the waters of Pehoe lake at the same time.
Salto Grande is where the waters of the Nordenskjöld lake flow into the Pehoe lake. A place to witness the power of nature (be careful, it can be very windy here!). But a trip to Salto Grande won’t be complete without a hike to the Cuernos viewpoint. If you keep hiking for an hour and a half, you will reach this superb viewpoint, one of the best panoramic views in the park (and an incredibly photogenic spot to capture the mountains that made the park so famous).
8. Pehoe Lake
Pehoe Lake may be the “crown jewel” of Torres del Paine. Its turquoise blue waters, the majesty of the background and its changing shades are a must-see on a trip to Patagonia. Pehoe Lake is featured in most postcards of the area and even made the cover of National Geographic once.
There are plenty of spots to photograph Pehoe Lake, which are accessible by car. Some short walks can be done nearby. You can walk from the Pehoe campsite to reach a few beautiful beaches, or do the Condors’ Viewpoint hike - a 2-hour hike that is a bit demanding but offers an epic view of Pehoe and Patagonia’s most beautiful mountains. See? Torres del Paine is famous for its demanding hikes, but it’s also a fabulous place to stay for a relaxed vacation - and a kind-friendly destination, too! The best way to do these easy excursions is to opt for a Wildlife Safari with EcoCamp, so you’ll be able to do an easy hike every day - or mix it with a demanding one if you feel like doing so!