The trek to Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres is arguably the best day hike near El Chaltén, Argentina. The iconic spire of Mount Fitz Roy defines the town, and this hike takes you as close as non-climbers will get its base.
This gorgeous El Chaltén hike will take most of the day and is moderately challenging, but within reach of most casual hikers if you start early and take it slowly. In this guide to hiking Cerro Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres I’ll tell you everything you need to know to enjoy the trail.
- Distance: 12 – 13 miles (19 – 21 km) depending on route
- Elevation gain: about 2300 feet / 700 meters
- Start: Either directly from the town of El Chaltén, or 14 km north of town at Hostería El Pilar
- Finish: El Chaltén, north edge of town
- Time: 7 – 10 hours, depending on how fast you hike and how long you spend enjoying the view and taking pictures
- Season: December to March, the southern hemisphere’s summer
- Cost: Free except what you pay for transport if you choose the one-way route
- Permits: not needed
- Trail difficulty: mostly moderate, with a short section of challenging rocky climb and descent
- Crowds: high during summer. See tips below for avoiding the worst of it.
Downloadable Trail Guide
Getting to the Start (both route options)
The base for this hike is El Chaltén, a relaxed outdoorsy tourist haven in Argentina near the border with Chile.
There are two routes commonly used. Both are great and the distance is very similar, but one is a point-to-point and one is an out-and-back.
Out And Back from El Chaltén
No transport needed. The trailhead is at the northern edge of town, right where Ruta 23 becomes Avenida San Martin and intersects Albert Konrad Street.
This route is about 12 miles / 19 km total, with a gradual climb up to the short steep out-and-back to the high point, then a long flat section and a steep downhill to the very end.
One Way from Hostería El Pilar
Get a ride out of El Chaltén to Hostería El Pilar, about 14km north on Ruta 23.
This route is just a tad longer at 13 miles / 21 km. The climb at the start is steeper, but then the trail flattens out for a long time until the short steep climb to the top. Then you just reverse back the way you came.
To get to the trailhead, check with one of the several tour agencies in town. The one we chose, right on main street, had three departures: 8am, 9:30am and noon. They picked us up on time at our hotel and the cost was 350 Argentine pesos per person, a bit over $8 USD (and USD was accepted).
I would recommend the early departure if you go this route. The trail gets crowded later and you want to leave plenty of time to make it to town. Once the car drops you off at the trailhead, you’re pretty much committed to the full distance.
You might also have luck hitchhiking, especially solo or in a pair, if you stand at the northern edge of town and look friendly.
Which route is better?
You can’t go wrong with either, and the most spectacular part of the trail is included in both. If you want to pinch pesos, hike from town for free. If you hate retracing your steps and have some extra pesos to spend (or the time to hitchhike), do the one-way. The view of Fitz Roy as you approach from El Chaltén is gorgeous; we had to keep stopping to turn around and appreciate it since we had approached from the other side.
I did the one-way with a couple of friends and enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed the out-and-back almost as much. Fortunately we had just finished bicycling the amazing Carretera Austral and camped for free on many nights, so the extra pesos didn’t hurt too much.
Navigating the Laguna de los Tres Trail
The trail is obvious and well marked. Follow signs for Laguna de los Tres. The route is marked accurately on Maps.me as Sendero al Fitz Roy. You can also get an overview map from the tour agencies in town.
The section between El Chaltén and Laguna de los Tres has one small loop where it’s possible to go either direction, to Laguna Capri or Mirador Fitz Roy. Both options are lovely and meet up with each other shortly.
Weather on the Laguna de los Tres Trail
This hike is spectacular on a clear sunny day, but those are hard to come by in Patagonia, even in the summer. We were fortunate to choose a perfect bluebird day, but the days before and after were both cloudy. Unfortunately this would seriously obscure the views and make the hike much less exciting.
Rain and poor visibility could also make the final climb to the lake miserable and even dangerous. Ice is another potential hazard, even in summer (there was a light dusting of snow in February). Try to pick your day carefully if you can, and be prepared for sudden changes in weather and temperature no matter how nice the weather looks when you start.
Laguna de los Tres Trail Description
Below is the gps track from the one-way hike. The out-and-back route is a variation on what you see here: it starts from the end (bottom), goes up to the lake, and returns back the same way.
Here’s a quick overview of what to expect on each route:
Out and Back from El Chaltén (13 miles)
Walk to the trailhead at the north edge of town, where Ruta 23 becomes Avenida San Martin and intersects Albert Konrad Street. The first two miles are steep uphill, then the trail flattens out for 3 miles with the gorgeous views of Fitz Roy beckoning you closer. At the junction to Laguna Capri choose either direction; they rejoin shortly.
At five miles you’ll hit a junction; turn left for the climb to the lake. From here the directions are the same as the one way route described below: You’ll pass a campground and a stream where you can filter water. From the junction it’s a steep and very rocky 1.5 mile climb up to the lake, where you can rest, enjoy the seriously jaw-dropping view (I know it’s a cliche term but I don’t use it lightly!) and clamber around on the rocks.
When you’re ready to turn your back on Fitz Roy (which is difficult to do), descend back to the junction, turn right, and retrace your steps back to town.
One Way from Hostería El Pilar to El Chaltén (12 miles)
The first 4 miles are a gradual climb through forest along Rio Blanco, with occasional views of the gorgeous Piedras Blancas glacier. Try not to trample the plants in all the places where the signs say to stay on the trail despite the tempting viewpoints.
Around 4 miles you come to a junction; turn right for the out and back to the lake. You’ll pass a campground and a stream where you can fill up on water. From the junction it’s a steep and very rocky 1.5 mile climb up to the lake, where you can rest, enjoy the seriously jaw-dropping view (I know it’s a cliche term but I don’t use it lightly!) and clamber around on the rocks.
When you’re ready to turn your back on Fitz Roy (which is difficult to do), descend back to the junction. This section was quite crowded when we were coming down; take a deep breath, wait your turn and enjoy the stunning views. Back at the junction refill on water if needed (you might want to filter or purify it) and turn right.
From the junction enjoy 3 miles of flat trail and don’t forget to look behind you at the amazing views, if you haven’t already had enough of Fitz Roy. At the junction to Laguna Capri choose either direction; they rejoin shortly. The final 2 miles are steep downhill and then you’re in town and it’s time for a beer!
What to Wear and Pack
Patagonia weather is notoriously fickle, so it’s wise to be prepared. Here’s what I hiked in for most of the day:
- Lightweight merino wool t-shirt baselayer
- Heavyweight merino wool long-sleeve base layer for extra warmth
- My favorite hiking pants, anything comfy will do
- Merino wool panties and sports bra, my favorite hiking and travel underwear
- Altra trail running shoes, my favorite hiking footwear (you can use sturdier hiking boots if you prefer, but they’re not needed for this trail)
- Lightweight running socks
Here’s what I had in my pack on a lovely summer day (and I used most of it!):
- Water bottle or bladder with at least 2 liters, plus filter or other treatment method if you want to refill with stream water along the way (chlorine dioxide drops are convenient and effective).
- Snacks and a lunch to enjoy at the lake.
- Good quality waterproof jacket, essential to keep you safe if it gets wet and cold.
- Puffy jacket or other warm layer. It was cold near the lake, even on a sunny summer day.
- Rain pants, always a smart idea in Patagonia.
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- Gloves and hat: optional but recommended for anyone who gets cold easily.
- Hiking poles: optional, I hiked without but both my friends rented them from gear shops in town and appreciated them on the steep rocky climb near the lake.
- Camera!!! I love my Olympus Tough TG-5 for trips like this because of its combo of nice pictures plus waterproof / drop-proof durability
- Headlamp (optional but recommended): summer days are long in Patagonia, but if you think there is ANY chance you might be racing the sunset on this hike you should pack a headlamp to help you navigate the trail in the dark. I strongly recommend you start early enough that this isn’t a risk, and bring a light anyway.
Tips for Avoiding Crowds
This is a popular hike, so there’s no avoiding crowds completely on a nice summer day. If you’re looking for solitude on the trails, this is not your hike.
Your best bet is to start early. We started at 8:30am from Hostería El Pilar and already the trail was frustratingly clogged with large, slow, talkative tour groups. I had to just take a deep breath and remind myself I was there to enjoy the outdoors, not to set any speed records.
The biggest bottleneck is the 1.5 mile out-and-back to the lake, so getting to this part early pays off. In the middle of the day when lots of people are going both up and down this steep rocky trail, some of them rather unsteadily, you may have to wait for groups to pass so you can have your turn. It’s not too bad, just enjoy the views and know it will get better when the trail opens up again soon.
I would definitely hike this trail alone, at least in summer and in good weather. I’m very used to solo adventures though, but I feel it’s a pretty safe hike because of the well-established trail and the number of other hikers on it.
If hiking alone it’s always important to take extra precautions in terms of being prepared with the right clothing (see What to Pack) and placing your feet carefully. You’re probably not going to die alone on this trail if something goes wrong (phew! I know you were worried), but it would still be quite a hassle to be evacuated. Also try to let someone back in town – the owner of your hostel or a responsible friend – know where you’ve gone and when to expect you back.
As for solo female hikers specifically, I don’t think there’s any particular risk. The trail is just full of other tourists out enjoying the views. You’re as safe from hassle and crime here as anywhere.
Around El Chaltén
El Chaltén is a fun outdoorsy town, very touristy, but in an enjoyable way if you’re outdoorsy too. The Laguna de los Tres hike is only the beginning of El Chaltén’s offerings, which include more great hikes, rock climbing, glacier trekking, boat rides, horseback rides, mountain and gravel biking, and fishing.
Take your pick from a range of hostels and hotels that fill the town, but beware, many fill up in high season. There’s a supermarket in the middle of town where you can stock up on snacks or buy food to cook in your hostel’s kitchen, and plenty of souvenir and gear shops. Celebrate your hike with empanadas (or burgers) and beer at one of the many relaxed restaurants, almost all of which have a happy hour every evening.
If you’re considering a trip to Patagonia, be sure to check out these other posts about the region:
- Guide to hiking Vinciguerra Glacier and Laguna de los Témpanos (Ushuaia, Argentina)
- Guide to bicycling Chile’s Carretera Austral: A Rugged Patagonian Adventure on Two Wheels
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