As I mentioned in my post about El Chalten, it was hard to find information about family friendly hikes prior to our Patagonia trip. In fact, many people, even people in the local tourist industry, warned us against it. But in reality, hiking and travelling around the Torres Del Paine national park, is very much achievable. We did it with a four year old and a three month old.
Now I do understand why people warned us against trying to do the W circuit. The weather is very unpredictable in this region and can rapidly change. One minute it’s a lovely sunny day, and the next moment you are stuck in ferocious winds. The winds are actually extremely intense – at some points even threatening to blow me off my feet.
Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time visiting the park and Puerto Natales. We ended up spending about a week based in Puerto Natales and with a rental car.
Now it is possible to stay in the park – there are a couple of very luxurious hotels as well as a campground – but facilities are limited and/or prices are very, very expensive. We decided to take the more budget friendly option of staying in a hostel in Puerto Natalas. There were pros and cons to that decision. On one hand we had access to grocery stores, restaurants, shops and wifi, but on the other hand, it was a three hour round trip drive to get to the park.
But lets talk about the hiking. There are a couple short hikes which you can easily do with children in the park within easy access of the road which loops through. There are also a couple of hikes which you can do via ferry access, and in effect, you can complete part of the W circuit. We didn’t do any of these hikes though, as the wind was just too strong during our visit.
Hike 1 : Mirador Cuernos
This short walk was my favourite in Torres del Paine for families, and it is an easy, scenic, and enjoyable walk. The route is very flat and there is tons to see. The only thing to be aware of is that the wind can get quite strong (which is a consideration for all of these walks), but we found that the wind was only bad for about 1/3 of the track, and once we passed the windy section, the walk was very enjoyable.
This walk takes you past a waterfall, a picturesque lake, past areas where literally dozens of guanacos can be spotted (we even saw babies!), and finally to the Cuernos lookout.
The walk is about 3 km’s in each direction and takes about two hours.
Hike 2 : Mirador Condor
This short walk up a steep hill offers fantastic views of the Torres del Paine park. It was too windy during our visit for us to do it, but a hitchhiker we had picked up had done it and his photos looked incredible. If your kids don’t do well on ascents, I would stick to Hike #1 instead, as it offers similar views, but without the uphill.
Hike 3 : Glacier Grey
At the south west end of the park, just past Hotel Grey, you will find another great short walk for families. The walk takes you over a swinging bridge and on to the beach of Lago Grey. This is where the ferry’s and boat trips depart from. You can continue further past where the boats depart from to a small headland which offers views of the lake and glacier. We made it about halfway through this walk, before the wind just got too strong. Despite not making it to the mirador, we still had fun watching icebergs floating in the lake and playing in the sand.
Other possible day hikes:
If you have more time and want to explore a couple sections of the W there are a couple options available. Firstly, you can drive to Hotel Las Torres and complete the walk to the Torres viewpoint. This is a pretty big day hike, and the last section of ascent might be too difficult for younger children. We were going to attempt this one as well, but again, it was too windy on our visit. No one was attempting this section of the hike when we visited, not even the people without children.
Other options are to take the Lago Grey ferry to Refugio grey and walk a section of the W before returning back on the ferry. You can also take the ferry from Pudeto and walk another section of the W. You could theoretically do most of the W by doing these three day hikes.
Also in the region….
Another great day trip in the region is a visit to the Milodon Cave. The cave is located halfway between the town of Puerto Natales and the southern entry point of the park. This cave is where bones, skin and hair of the extinct ancient giant sloth were found. But more than just giant sloth bones were found here. Human remains and other artifacts have also been found here from some of the earliest inhabitants of Patagonia. The cave still has active archeological digs to this day.
At the parking and ticket office there is a small museum which details the ancient flora and fauna of the region and is really well presented. It is only a short walk to the cave, and at the entrance you can see a statue of a milodon. Kids will love learning about all the ancient creatures which used to inhabit this region.