Top Tips for Hiking the W Trek Patagonia
A trip to Patagonia is towards the top of many adventurers’ wish lists and for very good reason. The scenery is unparalleled and the experience of hiking the W Trek will be one you’ll remember forever. Hiking 50 miles, most of them with your pack, will make you feel accomplished. It can feel intimidating to plan, especially from far away. To help, read my top tips below for hiking the W Trek in Torres del Paine!
Note some of the hotel links are affiliate – I appreciate your support!
When to go
The typical season for hiking the W Trek is approximately October through April. We went in November which was pretty ideal. Weather will always be unpredictable on your hike. (E.g. snow, rain, sun, wind, etc.) – but in the November/December time frame, you’ll likely have less snow. I had also read campsites are less likely to have unwanted creatures (e.g. rats) at the start of the season .
How to get there
You can either 1) take a ~5 hour bus from El Calafate in Argentina or 2) fly to Punta Arenas, Chile and then take a ~3 hour bus to Puerto Natales before ultimately taking a bus to the national park (another ~50 min). We did Option 2 since we wanted to explore more of Chile. Plus, staying overnight in Puerto Natales before entering the park to start the hike is highly recommended to prepare! (see more on this below)
To book the bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, I used: BusBud
To book the bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine, I booked the tickets directly at the bus station 1 day before we wanted to go to Torres del Paine. It’s recommended to take the 7AM shuttle from Puerto Natales to the park so you can get on the first ferry (if hiking West to East) or just to make the most of your time in the park.
Where to start
You can do the W hike West to East or East to West. We went West to East so we could end with the stunning Torres hike, but either direction truly is fine. If you start on the West side, you’ll stay on the bus from Puerto Natales until the Pudeto stop and then ferry to the Paine Grande refugio to start your hike. If you start on the East side of the W trek, you’ll exit the bus at Laguna Amarga and then take the shuttle bus (cash only) to the Refugio Central area.
One other option is to take the boat from Hotel Grey to the Grey Refugio (or vice versa) with a stop at the glacier en route so you don’t have to double back from Refugio Grey to Paine Grande.
Check out the latest times for buses and ferries here since they can change.
Where to Stay (before, during and after the trek)
We stayed at Pire Mapu B&B in Puerto Natales one night before starting our trek in Punta Arenas. This was a great idea so we could have a big meal the night before at Cafe Artimaña, attend the famous free 3 o’clock talk at Erratic Rock to prep for the hike, and stock up on snacks and dried fruit at Frutos Secos.
Torres del Paine (4-5 nights): Book 6 months+ in advance as they fill up!
Grey Refugio (1st night)
We hiked from where the ferry dropped us off at Paine Grande to the Grey Refugio on the first day. Grey Refugio was very nice. We shared a dorm room with 2 other people (which worked out well but bring ear plugs just in case!). We bought the meal plan for our stay at Grey but you could also order a la carte once you arrive (this is a better value). If you’re up for it, hike about 1-1.5 hours north of Grey Refugio to enjoy the swinging bridges by the glacier!
Paine Grande (2nd night)
We hiked back to Paine Grande from Grey on the second day and enjoyed meals a la carte. We were given a bunk bed room for just two of us which was great! The lake views here are incredible and also a good place to soak your feet if they swell like mine did.
Frances Domes Refugio (3rd Night)
After leaving Paine Grande and hiking the French Valley, we stayed at Frances Refugio one night. These were really fun dome accommodations – try to arrive early for bunk beds with windows! Note – when you hike the French Valley, you’ll leave your bigger packs behind (no one wants to steal a heavy pack!) so bring a smaller backpack to put your valuables, snacks and water into. We enjoyed pizza and pisco sours here for dinner, a la carte, after this longer hike day.
Central Refugio (one night – but you could do 2 nights for a better chance of seeing the famous Torres on a clear day)
This was where we stayed after hiking from the Frances Domes (a relatively shorter hike day). We rested here – there are great common spaces with big windows – and geared up for an early morning hike up to the Torres (like a 3AM start – bring a headlamp!). This was a nice refugio with really good food – a la carte was the way to go once again to save money! We stayed in a room with 4 others in bunk beds. People are generally so exhausted from hiking that you’ll all likely go to bed early!
Note: you can also select campsites at the refugios. There are other refugio options than what I’ve listed but after a lot of research, I found the ones above to be the best reviewed and we liked them all. Bathrooms are all shared.
Punta Arenas (one-two nights)
What to eat
As briefly mentioned in the “where to stay” section, we enjoyed dinners a la carte at most of the refugios. There is an option for the meal plan but it can get pricey and you need to select it in advance. We brought our own granola, snack bars, sandwich ingredients and dried fruits to enjoy for breakfast and lunches during the hikes. Paine Grande has a great sandwich a la carte option you could grab for fresh lunches too.
What to wear
Waterproof layers! It’s so important to have waterproof everything – shoes, pants, jacket, backpack covering – because you will inevitably get rained or snowed on at some point. At points, I was hiking in a t-shirt and at others I had on a sweatshirt and jacket. A warm hat and sunglasses are also great to carry with you. Baseball hats are harder to wear given the wind but Ryan managed fine. Keep tissues, lip balm and snacks handy.
What to bring
As much as you need and as a little as you must. The packs get heavy! Waterproof layers, flip flops for the refugios to give your feet a break, toiletries, changes of clothes, food, tissues, lip balm, sun screen, bug spray, hat, sunglasses, flashlights, chargers, camera, phone, first aid kit, resuable water bottles (you’ll be able to refill in some freshwater streams!), etc. A headlamp would be a good idea if you plan to wake up for the sunrise Torres hike (we just brought super bright flashlights).
How to train
We had grand goals of training by taking long walks with our backpacks on filled with weights but of course life got busy and that didn’t happen. If you’re able to train, that’s great. We were in reasonably good shape from normal exercise 4-5x/week doing circuit training, strength training, running and yoga. Nothing will truly prepare your body for wearing a big pack and hiking 50 miles so do the best you can to prepare and then bring ibuprofen!
Are you ready to plan a trip of a lifetime of hiking the W trek in Patagonia? Let me know of any other questions in the comments!