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Torres del Paine: W Trek vs Paine Circuit

You know you want to visit Patagonia. You know you want to spend some time in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. And you know that there are only really two main options, the W Trek or the Paine Circuit. But when it comes to deciding which trek to do, you’re still on the fence. Everyone has an opinion on which trek rules the roost but the truth is that these are both fantastic options, it just depends on what kind of person you are and what you’re looking to get out of your trip to Torres del Paine National Park.

Here’s our quick glance guide (with clickable links for detailed information) to the W Trek versus the Paine Circuit!
 

EcoCamp Patagonia - Torres del Paine W Trek & Paine Circuit Comparison Chart
  7 Day W Trek Torres del Paine 9 Day Torres del Paine Circuit
Length 7 days (5 days trekking + 2 days travel) 9 days (7 days trekking + 2 days travel)
Accommodation
  • Nights 1, 4, 5 & 6 in EcoCamp Patagonia
  • Night 2 in Refugio Los Cuernos
  • Night 3 in Refugio Paine Grande
  • Nights 1,7 & 8 in tents at campsite near EcoCamp Patagonia (optional upgrade to standard or superior dome)
  • Nights 2 to 6 in tents at campsites
Excursions
  • French Valley Trail
  • The Tower’s Trail
  • Los Cuernos Trail
  • Grey Trail
  • Cycling Laguna Azul
  • French Valley Trail
  • The Tower’s Trail
  • Los Cuernos Trail
  • Grey Trail
  • John Gardner Pass
  • Dickson Lake Trail
  • Los Perros River Trail
Trekking Map 7 day W Trek trekking map 9 Day Paine Circuit trekking map
Physical Level Demanding Thoroughly demanding
Special Interest Connect with nature, Hiking, Cycling Connect with nature, Hiking, Camping
Start Day Monday Wednesday
Season Dates
Book Cascada Tour 7 Day W Trek 9 Day Paine Circuit

 

Length

The amount of time you have available to spend in the park is often the deciding factor when choosing between the W Trek and the Paine Circuit. As a much longer circular route, the Paine Circuit takes a full two days longer than the W Trek. Either way, both treks involve a day travelling in - and then out - of Torres del Paine National Park itself (2 days travelling in total). The national park really is located in a wild and remote corner of the world and getting there takes some time. But don’t worry, the inward journey is an adventure in itself, with a delicious local lunch in Puerto Natales and a stop off at a cave system where the remains of a prehistoric giant sloth were once uncovered.

Accommodation

ecocamp patagoniaTorres del Paine W trekkers spend four of their six nights in Standard Domes at EcoCamp Patagonia, a speciality eco-friendly dome hotel ideally located for trekking in Torres del Paine National Park, and two nights in refugios, which are rustic but cosy mountain lodges out on the trail. They also have the choice to upgrade their time at EcoCamp and spend the night in a Superior Dome for added comfort. The Paine Circuit is an altogether wilder affair, with the first and last nights spent camping at EcoCamp Patagonia and the intervening nights spent camping at sites around the park. However Circuit Trekkers can also choose to enhance their stay at EcoCamp with an upgrade to a Standard or even a Superior Dome.

Excursions

French Valley Trail
(W Trek & Paine Circuit)
This challenging trek takes you along a steep trail into the the very heart of the mountains, to see the dramatic rock formations resembling a craggy, natural amphitheatre on a giant scale.

The Tower’s Trail
(W Trek & Paine Circuit)
Surely the most famous of all Torres del Paine treks, the classic journey to the looming towers themselves. As you crest the final moraine slope you’re rewarded with an exceptional view of these monolithic pillars of stone, standing like sentries looking out over the Paine Massif.

Los Cuernos Trail
los cuernos peaks(W Trek & Paine Circuit)
This trail winds along the shores of the beautiful Lake Nordenskjold, with plenty of time to enjoy and appreciate the varied flora and fauna of the park. You’ll also admire the black slate horns, Los Cuernos, reaching into the sky.

Grey Trail
(W Trek & Paine Circuit)
On the W Trek the trail winds along the shores of Lake Pehoe until you reach the northern tip of Grey Lake where you board a boat that sails up alongside the spectacular blue-white Grey Glacier. Circuit trekkers approach Grey Lake from the opposite end and finish the day alongside Lake Pehoe.

Cycling Laguna Azul
(W Trek only)
And now for something a little different. Whilst trekking is a great way to explore the park, cycling is perfect for allowing you to range further afield. This route takes you all the way to the picturesque Laguna Azul where you’ll enjoy a delicious boxed lunch with unbelievable panoramic views.

John Gardner Pass
(Paine Circuit only)
The John Gardner Pass is the highest point on the Paine Circuit Trek, with unparalleled views across the craggy surface of Grey Glacier. It’s a hard slog and the winds whistling over the pass can really pack a punch, but it’s a must for any serious trekker.

Dickson Lake Trail
(Paine Circuit only)
The first leg on the Paine Circuit, this trail winds along the eastern bank of the Paine River, heading for the stunning Dickson Lake. As well as the ever-present mountains of the massif, this trek takes in some of the park’s wide open grasslands.

Los Perros River Trail
(Paine Circuit only)
This is the least accessible area of the park where you’ll encounter the fewest fellow trekkers and find yourself truly out in the Patagonian wilderness. You’ll pass under the Los Perros Glacier and traverse virgin beech forest on your way to the picturesque Los Perros Laguna.

Physical Level

The Torres del Paine W Trek is classed as demanding, meaning it’s great for intrepid travelers with a taste for adventure. The Torres del Paine Circuit, meanwhile, is described as thoroughly demanding as a reflection of the extra stamina and hardiness required for the longer duration and back-to-back nights spent camping out. The less-frequented areas of the park that you’ll cover on the Paine Circuit Trek are also more likely to be subject to particularly severe weather, which can take its toll on morale during the hike.

Special interest

torres del paine campBoth the W Trek and the Paine Circuit are perfect for lovers of the outdoors and the natural world. You’ll get in plenty of trekking and still have lots of time to admire the unique natural environment and the animals and plants of Torres del Paine National Park. The W Trek also now includes a day of cycling for those who’d like to try something a little out of the ordinary, whilst anyone with a passion for spending the night under canvas will enjoy the camping involved in the Paine Circuit.

Start day

The W Trek sets out on Mondays while the Paine Circuit sets out on Wednesdays and they each tackle the park in opposite directions.

Season dates

The 7 Day W Trek runs from around the beginning of September until about the end of April. Since the Paine Circuit passes through some of the more remote and climatically challenging areas of the park the season is shorter for this trek, running from the very end of October to mid-March.


We hope that’s answered another of the most common questions we get asked here at Cascada, but if you still have queries, let us know using the comments section below and we’ll be happy to get back to you!

Or if you’re still weighing up your options, why not take a look at our comparison of the 7 day W Trek alongside our 5 day W Trek instead!