How To Hike Glacier National Park Like A Pro

Where We Were

We spent 10 days, 9 nights in Parque Nacional Los Glacieres (Glacier National Park) located near El Chaltén, Argentina in the Patagonia region. It was an exceptional trip and we’d recommend it to any other nature-lovers. If you go, we hope these details will help.

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How We Got There

We flew to El Calafate, Argentina (by way of Buenos Aires, Argentina). We hear it’s possible to bus from Buenos Aires to El Chaltén via Bariloche–quite a long but beautiful journey that skirts the Andes. Once in El Calafate we bussed to El Chaltén (3 hours, tickets bought on arrival in El Calafate). We purchased a package deal for 510 Argentinian pesos each from Mundo Austral. It included roundtrip transportation to El Chaltén as well as a guided tour (during the bus ride) of Perito Moreno, an accessible and awesome glacier.

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Where We Hiked

While we were there (end of December through beginning of January) we had daylight from about 5am until 11pm, so there is plenty of time to cover the distances and make the most of your time.

Day 1 (7 km)
Arrived by bus from El Chaltén around 4pm. Explored the town to get a feel for what was available, and enjoyed food and drinks from one of the many quaint spots in town. Hiked 7km to Campamento Capri for the night.

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Day 2 (14 km)
Left our things at camp, and with only a daypack hiked back to town, rented our cookstove and kit, bought gas, and (since I lost my rain shell on the bus) rented a jacket. Returned to camp and were too tired for anything more.

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Day 3 (34 km)
Left our things, and with a daypack hiked back to town to catch the trailhead to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, which is 1500 meters above sea level and provides a nice overlook of the area and Cerro Torre. Returned for the night at Campamento Capri with a sense of accomplishment.

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Day 4 (9 km)
Packed up camp and hiked north to Campamento Poincenot. We set up camp and then hiked on toward Hotel El Pilar, a foresty trail that crosses out of the park and into private property. Returned to Poincenot for the night.

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Day 5 (19 km)
This day we left our stuff and walked to a viewpoint of Cerro Fitz Roy. Unfortunately it was cloudy, but we got to see new trails. After lunch we hiked Laguna de los Tres, which is a rocky up-hill climb for an up-close look at Cerro Fitz Roy. We descended and hiked to Piedras Blancas before returning to camp by dusk.

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Day 6 (18 km)
We had planned to wake up and move on, but it was a stunningly clear day so we knew we needed to climb Laguna de los Tres again. Well worth the effort to be nose-to-nose with Fitz Roy. Then we descended, packed up camp and moved on by way of the Madre e Hija trail, stopping on the beach of the “daughter” lake to soak up some sun and wonder at the magical floating rocks. We set up camp and spent the night at Campamento De Agostini.

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Day 7 (6 km)
This day was incredibly windy. We left our stuff and hiked to Prestadores. Then we tried a couple of times to make our way to the Maestri viewpoint, but the mix of knock-you-down winds and a very overcast sky led us to sit and enjoy the view of Laguna Torre.

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Day 8 (26 km)
We packed up our camp and headed to town in order to catch the trailhead for Laguna Toro. We loaded up on a good lunch from a restaurant in town and then hiked the 16 km to Campamento Laguna Toro, which is located way down in the valley. This was our furthest distance with full packs and the most interesting / challenging hike with having to cross over many marshy areas using strategically placed fallen logs and the like. Crossing a stream using big stones left us both with soaked feet when the rushing water crossed the tops of our shoes. Luckily, we were only a few kilometers away from our destination at that point.

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Day 9 (5 km)
This was a very windy and low-key hiking day. We explored around the Laguna Toro area and hiked up (and fell off, but no harm done) some boulders to sneak a peek at the glacier. Slept again in our wind-protected nook in Campamento Laguna Toro.

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Day 10 (16 km)
We packed up camp and journeyed through mighty winds and sleet, over the streams and marshes back to town. We cheered victory and loaded up on delicious restaurant food and tried to remember how to be civilized people who ate at tables and used utensils. Around 6:30pm we took a bus back to El Calafate.

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What We Packed

Keeping our packs as light as possible while still having what we needed was the name of the packing game. For our 13-day (total) trip, here’s what we loaded up with that served us perfectly.

Patagonia Light Packing List

Clothing (per person)
Pants – 2 hiking pants, 1 long underwear
Tops – 2 long-sleeved, 1 short-sleeved, all quick-dry
Underwear – 3 pair, quick-dry
Socks – 3 pair, wool
Bras (for the ladies, or any well-endowed men) – 2 sports bras
Coats – 1 rain shell, 1 warm (light, packable down), 1 fleece (option: ditch the fleece) (my jacket rental was 50 pesos/day)
Stocking hat – 1
Gloves – 1, medium weight
Shoes – 1 pair waterproof hiking shoes

Gear
1 tent that can withstand fierce wind
1 sleeping pad, per person
1 sleeping bag, per person (rating to 15 degrees F was comfortable)
1 hiking backpack, per person (we used a 70L and a 55L)
1 propane cook kit (stove, pot, bowls) – can be rented in El Chaltén (30 pesos/day)
1 small gas tank – can be bought in El Chaltén (60 pesos)
Water bottle or bladder, per person
1 knife (handy for cutting salami and cheese!)
1 headlamp (although with the long daylight hours, we didn’t have to use it much)
Camera

Food
Food can be bought in El Calafate and El Chaltén, but you’re not going to find the individually packaged hiking food like we imagined. Freeze-dried anything? Forget about it. Plan to buy nuts and dried fruit in El Calafate. The rest of our list below can be found in El Chaltén. Or you may want to check border control requirements and bring your own food, supplementing in town.

Breakfast – boxed oatmeal mixed with trail mix
Lunch – bread, cheese, salami
Supper – rice or noodles with sauce or spices
Snacks – trail mix, dried fruit, granola bars, dark chocolate
Water – straight from the streams and lagunas!

Toiletries
small towel, quick-dry
small washcloth (came in handy for sponge baths)
bar soap (used for washing clothes, hands, body, hair)
toothpaste
toothbrush
deodorant
sunscreen
small first aid supplies (band-aids, ibuprofen, elastic bandage, antiseptic wipes)
roll of toilet paper

What We Recommend

We intended to be immersed in nature, so enjoyed camping and hiking everyday. El Chaltén has a plethora of lodging options from the budget hostel to the fancy hotel, all at the base of the gorgeous mountains. This option is perfect for those looking to shower and sample the many restaurants while taking day hikes.

Also note that anything can be rented for fair prices in El Chaltén. Cooking stoves, tents, jackets and coats, hiking packs, walking sticks, even pants and shoes and clothes. So if this is part of a larger trip, you could avoid lugging around your camping gear and just rent it when you need it.

Speaking of walking sticks, we didn’t use ’em. Once I picked up some fallen branches to use for the purpose, but even that didn’t last long. People say they help distribute some of the hard work from your legs to your arms so could fit the bill for some, but to us they looked like one more thing to drag around. Plus, we liked having our arms free for balance as we hopped boulders or ran down steep slopes.

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Patagonia is breathtaking and Glacier National Park didn’t disappoint. Is it a destination on your travel dream list? Is anyone planning a trip in that direction? Feel free to leave any questions or requests for info in the comments. We, okay mostly Allison, did a ton of research before the trip and we’d love the share the love.

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10 thoughts on “How To Hike Glacier National Park Like A Pro

  1. Pingback: Pretty Patagonia | Gold Stars & Double Rainbows

  2. That picture of the bird (hawk?) is awesome…

    Also, Isaiah totally looks like one of the Boards of Canada guys in that picture with the red puffy coat.

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