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A Potted Guide to the Unmissable Landmarks of Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park in the far south of Chile is dominated by the Paine Massif, a spur of the Andes Mountain Range that looms above the Patagonian steppe.The dramatic landscape was formed by the collision of the South American and Nazca Plates, and has been carved and shaped over thousands of years by the force of colossal glaciers. The resulting geographical features create a spectacular natural exhibit on a scale that has to be seen to be believed. With such unique beauty on offer, it’s no wonder that hiking trails in the Torres del Paine National Park often rank highly on lists of best treks in the world. To ensure you don’t miss a trick, here is our potted guide to the stand-out natural monuments to take in on your trip.

John Gardner PassJohn Gardner Pass

One of the most challenging treks in the park, the climb up and over the John Gardner Pass forms part of the larger Paine Circuit of Torres del Paine National Park. The pass itself provides breathtaking vistas across the Grey Glacier and if you’re lucky, and the weather holds, you’ll see out across the South Patagonian Ice Cap. The legendary Patagonian winds are especially strong at the top of the pass, so take trekking poles for extra stability and allow yourself time to soak in the sights that very few people will ever see, at an altitude of around 1,200 metres above sea level.

glacier greyGrey Glacier

Torres del Paine has no shortage of glaciers, but Grey Glacier has to be one of the most impressive. Those following the Torres del Paine Circuit approach the glacier from the John Gardner Pass above, but the western leg of the W Trek also takes you right up to the glacier until the enormous, furrowed expanse fills almost your whole field of vision. Due to a trick of the light on the ice, Grey Glacier actually appears to be more of an eery mouthwash-blue color than grey. It’s well worth taking a moment to wonder at the chunks of ice floating on the surface of Lake Grey, into which the glacier calves.

Los Perros GlacierLaguna Los Perros

Due to its location in the northern part of Torres del Paine National Park, Laguna Los Perros is another of those sights reserved for those hiking the Torres del Paine Circuit. This small but picturesque lake is fed by Glacier Los Perros and drained by the river of the same name. As with many of the crystalline glacial lakes in the park, small icebergs can be seen bobbing prettily on the surface. The trail then wends its way onwards along the Los Perros River, through some areas of southern beech forest, where certain species of Patagonian woodpecker and parakeet can be spotted.

torres del paineTorres del Paine

The Torres, or Towers, that lend the National Park their name are the most well-known and striking peaks of the Cordillera del Paine and are a prime example of the sculpting power of glacial ice over the natural landscape. The base trek of the towers takes you along an uphill path to the Ascencio Valley, and as you crest the moraine you are greeted with a full view of the towers in all of their glory. The solid columns of granite rise almost vertically from the glacial lake in which they stand, and can’t help but inspire awe in all who look upon them. As the biggest single attraction of the park, most hiking trails, including Short and Long W treks and the Torres del Paine Circuit pass by the towers sooner or later.

lake dicksonLake Dickson

Lake Dickson and the glacier that feeds it are located in the northern part of the park and is another shining example of the glacial lakes that are dotted throughout the region. Located on the Paine Circuit trail, only 5% of visitors to the park come far enough to see this magnificent lake, but if you have the time and the energy to make it all the way, you won't regret the hike. Lake Dickson also represents an interesting geopolitical landmark since it used to stand entirely within Chile’s national boundaries, until 1998 when it merged with another lake. As a result, the lake now straddles Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia.

los cuernosLos Cuernos

Los Cuernos, or The Horns, are a series of imposing black-tipped slate peaks sitting atop the ubiquitous grey granite at over 2,000 metres high. Forming a ring around the natural basin of the Valle Frances, Los Cuernos are best appreciated from the top of the valley. The trail continues along the north shore of Lake Nordenskjöld, leading visitors between the lofty peaks of Los Cuernos and the azure lake. This is also a great spot for appreciating the park’s varied flora and fauna as you follow the gentle hiking trail along either the Paine Circuit or the W Trek.

valle francesValle Frances

Trekking to the top of the Valle Frances (French Valley) is considered a side trek to the main routes by many, but as a spectacular natural viewing platform for Los Cuernos it is highly recommended. The entrance to the valley lies at about two to three hours hiking from Camp Pehoe where the trail becomes steeper and begins to wind upwards through moraine rocks. From the top you’ll enjoy a striking view down into the valley where the granite peaks and walls of the glacial corrie suggest a natural amphitheatre. Equally magnificent are the hanging glaciers that sheer off at intervals and drop into the valley below with a thunderous boom.

lake pehoePehoe Lake

Located in the very heart of Torres del Paine National Park, Pehoe Lake is a scenic stop off on either the W Trek or Torres del Paine Circuit. Its glassy water - so blue you might have to pause to remind yourself it’s real - provides a mirror for the Cordillera del Paine Mountains, contrasting the rugged beauty of the peaks against the serene water. This is a great place to reflect on the huge variety of terrain, that brings together mountains, lakes, snow, grasslands and forest in an incredible natural spectacle.

 

If this post has got you thinking about planning your own trip to Torres del Paine National Park, why not check out Cascada's many Patagonia tour options with accommodation at EcoCamp Patagonia?