9 Off the Beaten Path Treks and Day Trips from Puerto Natales in Patagonia

The W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park is by far the biggest reason why thousands of travelers from all over the world make their way to Southern Patagonia on a yearly basis. Some 250,000 visitors come to Torres del Paine to do a Patagonia tour and admire the stunning scenery of the famous peaks that soar 2,000m above sea level.

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There is no denying it, hiking the W trail or the Full Circuit (also known as the O Trail) in Torres del Paine is an incredible experience and those that choose to set off on this 5-10 day journey will be grateful that they did, but there is so much more to Torres del Paine and to Patagonia hiking than the famous W and O treks.

We had the luxury of spending more than 3 weeks in Chilean Patagonia this past April. Like many others, we came here to trek the W but had an opportunity to check out lots of other beautiful spots inside and outside of the park that offered fantastic views, insights into the culture and history of the regions, and the ability to experience the area without the crowds.

If you are looking for Patagonia hiking trails and day trip ideas that go beyond the W, these are the hikes and Patagonia tours we recommend.

Laguna Sofia

Difficulty: Easy to Challenging

Time Required: 1/2 Day

Max en route to the top of Cerro Queso
En route to the top of Cerro Queso
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Chile Puerto Natales Laguna Sofia 9933

Dramatic cliffs at at the top of Cerro Queso, Laguna Sofia
Dramatic cliffs at the top of Cerro Queso, Laguna Sofia

Located just 30kms (19 miles) outside of Puerto Natales, Laguna Sofia offers an ideal day trip option for any type of traveler. If you love a tough workout, you’ll love the 2 hour hike to the top of Cerro Queso that offers incredible views of Laguna Sofia and the surroundings. But if a tough hike isn’t your favourite, the views from the bottom are also lovely. You can take an easy walk around the lagoon, enjoy a picnic with a view, visit nearby waterfalls, and even saddle a horse (must arrange in advance) for a taste of a Patagonian tour with a touch of adventure.

Laguna Sofia, Puerto Natales, Chile
Laguna Sofia, Puerto Natales, Chile

How to visit: Although you can visit Laguna Sofia independently (if you have a rental car), we made our way here on a Peurto Natales day trip with Armadillo Expeditions.

Sierra Baguales

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Time Required: Full Day or Multi Day

Baguales range in the distance
Baguales range in the distance

The region of Baguales is a hidden gem offering an opportunity to experience a Patagonia hiking trip without the crowds. The region earned its name from the word “bagual”, a type of wild horse that used to dominate the valley many years ago. Today, the wild horses still roam the area (although they are not as easy to spot), as do wild guanacos, pumas, ñandús, foxes, armadillos, eagles, and condors.

Rio Baguales and Sierra Baguales have not yet been declared a National Park and thus there are no rangers, no entrance fees or permits one can acquire prior to visiting the area. In fact, the trails around Baguales are accessible only via private property, but luckily a few hotels and tour guides have access to the area.

Baguales Estancia. Puerto Natales. Patagonia, Chile
Baguales Estancia

If you are just visiting Baguales for the day, you’ll get a chance to explore the area on a few short day hikes. Those looking to get further into the region should consider an overnight trip to give yourself more time in the area.

Chile Puerto Natales Baguales 9744

How to Visit: To hike in Baguales, you need a guide. A few high end hotels, like Awasi and the Singular, offer this as a day excursion for their guests. We traveled to Baguales on a day trip with Armadillo Expeditions.

Estancia Lazo/ Laguna Verde

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Time Required: Full Day

The area around Laguna Verde is another wonderful spot for Patagonia tours. It’s located on the edge of Torres del Paine National Park and is not frequented by travelers. Estancia Lazo is located about 110kms (68.3 miles) outside of Puerto Natales, but offers lovely accommodation options for those that want to extend their visit and not have to rush back to Natales at the end of the day.

Chile Puerto Natales Lazo 9943 Chile Puerto Natales Lazo 9940

The Estancia itself is worth a visit, but it is the trail that curves around Laguna Verde, Torres del Paine, sitting at the doorstep of the Estancia, that draws in nature enthusiasts to this spot. The hike in this area makes for a perfect Patagonia day trip. It can be customized to be as short as 2-3 hour hike to Laguna Honda and back, and as long as a 6-hour return hike all the way to Puente Weber Lookout and back. 

The trail passes through a beautiful lenga forest, where you’ll have a chance of spotting lots of birds, including some species endemic to the region.

Chile Puerto Natales Laguna Verde hike 9979

Laguna Verde
Laguna Verde

How to visit: Although you can visit Laguna Verde independently (keep in mind that Estancia Lazo is only reachable by car), we visited this spot with Armadillo Expeditions. We were grateful to have their help spotting birds and other wildlife along the trail.

Patagonian Pampa

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 1/2 Day

When it comes to exploring Patagonia, it’s not all about hiking in the mountains and peaks. The Patagonian flats (also referred to pampas, Quechuan for “flat surface”) can offer an alternative Patagonia hiking experience for those interested in fauna, flora, and ancient history of the region.

Chile Las Torres Patagon pampa hike 01
Patagonian flat

The beauty is, that you can experience the pampas without going too far out of the National Park. A small trail starts at the Laguna Amara ranger station and runs south across the valley locally known as the “Puma Restaurant”, where pumas are known to hunt their prey. You’ll see plenty of skeletons along the trail, along with guanacos, foxes, and often condors. Pumas are almost impossible to spot during the day.

Chile Las Torres Pampas 1652 1

The trail leads to a large rock formation with ancient Aónikenk rock paintings and ends at Sarmiento Lake Ranger Station.

Chile Las Torres Patagon pampa hike 0859

Chile Las Torres Patagon pampa hike 1653
Ancient paintings

How to Visit: We visited this area on a half day trip Las Torres Hotel inside the Torres del Paine National Park. It is possible to do this Patagonia hiking trip on your own, although it’s not really well marked.

Salto Grande/Cuernos Lookout

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 1/2 Day

Salt Grande is a beautiful waterfall located inside Torres del Paine National Park. It’s easily accessible via a short 2km loop trail from Pudeto, where the catamarans arrive twice a day from Lago Grey. If you are making your way out of the park after completing the W or the O, take the early catamaran out of Lago Grey to give yourself a few hours “layover” in Pudeto before hopping on the 6pm bus to Central.

Chile Torres del Paine Salto Grande OM 1791 1

Salto GrandeYour “layover” will give you plenty of time to check out Salto Grande and from there hike for another 5km (3 miles – return) through a portion of the forest affected by the great forest fire of 2011-12 until you get to Cuernos Lookout. This is a beautiful part of the park that’s often missed by those that come to the park to hike the W. The area offers a spectacular view of Los Cuernos, Mount Paine Grande, the French Valley and the French Glacier rising from Lago Nordenskjold.

Chile Patagonia Salto Grande hike 1780 Chile Patagonia Cuernos Lookout OM 0910

How to Visit: You can visit Salto Grande and the Cuernos Lookout on a half day trip either solo or with a guide. We were taken here on one of our Patagonia tours from Las Torres Hotel.

Huella de Puma

Difficulty: Challenging

Time Required: Full Day (8-10 hours)

Huella del Puma, also known as Cerro Paine, is the most exclusive and probably the most difficult trek in the region, but one that offers an incredible 360-degree view of the Torres Massif, the Paine River Valley, Laguna Azul, and lakes Nordenskjöld and Sarmiento.

Making our way tot he top of the Cerro Paine mountain in anticipation of the views of the Torres Towers!
Making our way tot he top of the Cerro Paine mountain in anticipation of the views of the Torres Towers!

The Cerro Paine hike to the summit (over 1,500m) is offered exclusively to guests of Hotel Las Torres and can be undertaken either completely on foot or with the help of a horse. The combined horseback/hiking trip consists of about 2 hours in the saddle, as you travel along a scenic lenga forest of the Ascencio Valley and another 2-3 hours on foot as you hike to the top of Cerro Paine’s windy summit. The weather at the top is often harsh which makes this hike incredibly difficult not just physically, but also mentally, but if the sky is clear, the views from above can be absolutely incredible!

How to Visit: This Patagonia hiking trip is exclusive to Las Torres Hotel as the trail is located on their private property and thus only be undertaken with a guide from the hotel.

Serrano Glacier

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: Full Day (8-10 hours)

Serrano Glacier is located inside Bernardo O’Higgins National Park, about 50kms (31 miles) to the Northwest of Puerto Natales. To access the park from Puerto Natales, you must travel by boat along the Serrano River and through the Ultima Esperanza Fjord from Puerto Bories and take a zodiac ride to get up close and person with the glacier.

Note: Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fit the Serrano Glacier into our Patagonia tours due to availability restrictions, but this trip came highly recommended by the guides at Las Torres Hotel.

How to visit: A number of agencies and many hotels in the area can help arrange the trip to Serrano as a day trip from Puerto Natales. It’s not something you can undertake on your own and even guests at the Las Torres Hotel have to pay extra for the navigation portion of this trip.

Serrano Glacier
Serrano Glacier image by Grom HellScream via Flickr CC

Condor Lookout

Difficulty: Moderate

Time Required: 1/2 Day

The Condor Lookout, Torres del Paine National Park is another excellent Patagonia hiking trip, reachable on foot, by car, or on a day trip. The trail to the lookout starts at nears Lago Pekoe Campsite and climbs 200m (656 feet) to Mirador Condor where you can overlook the Paine Massif and the French Valley with the Paine River in the distance.

Chile patagonia condor 1773

Note: While we didn’t get a chance to experience this hike ourselves, it came highly recommended to us by the guides from Armadillo Expeditions.

Cabo Froward (Cape Froward)

Difficulty: Challenging

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Time Required: 4-5 Days

This is the most difficult trek on our list of Patagonia tours and one that required time, physical fitness, and a certain level of endurance. This trek leads to the southernmost point of the South American continent marked by a large cross, Cruz de los Mares, and passes through diverse terrain ranging from dense forest to cliffs and tundra and includes a couple of major river crossings. You carry your own gear and food and camps each night along rivers, deserted whaling stations, abandoned ranch houses and  Patagonian forests.

This example of Patagonia trekking isn’t for everyone, but it is meant to be one of the most unique experiences in the region.

How to Visit: The path isn’t well marked and the trek covers a remote territory where help could be days away. That’s why it is HIGHLY recommended to do this trek as part of an organised Patagonia tour with a licensed guide and in a group of at least 3-4 people. Erratic Rock (in Puerto Natales) is known to be the best tour provider for this experience. Learn more about the expedition HERE.

Cabo Froward
Cabo Froward image by alejandrup via Flickr CC

Note: We were in discussion with Erratic Rock about undertaking this trek, but limited time made us back out of the trip last minute. Bummer!

Have you taken any Chilean Patagonia tours? What were some of your favourite hikes and stops to explore in the region?

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9 Amazing Treks and Day Trips in Chilean Patagonia

Disclaimer: We experienced some trips mentioned above as guests of Armadillo Expeditions or Las Torres Hotel, but, as always, opinions expressed in this article are our own.

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