Before traveling to Patagonia with my four year old and three month old sons, I did quite a bit of research and asked quite a few questions in forums about family hikes in Patagonia. The result of my research was a whole lot of not much – there just was not that much information out there about family travel in Patagonia.
El Chalten was our favourite spot in Argentina, and probably our favourite spot in Patagonia (both Argentinian Patagonia and Chilean Patagonia). El Chalten is Argentinas youngest town – it was pretty much established to service the growing tourist industry in the region. Being a town that was established for backpackers means that the town is pretty much a haven for foreigners. All the restaurants and cafes cater to the western palate, and the massive selection of accommodation means that there is healthy competition for your tourist dollar,
But back to the hikes. What I loved about the hikes around El Chalten is that most of the best hikes are actually rather short day hikes. While there are a few longer walks, I felt that I was able to experience all the best that the region had to offer even by sticking to hikes under 10km return. The other great thing about the hikes around El Chalten is the accessibility. All the short day hikes start either within the town itself, or just a short walk from it. There is absolutely no need for a rental car unless you want to do some of the other walks a little further afield.
There are four family friendly day hikes that depart from El Chalten, all of which are in the 6km – 8km range. All but one of the hikes do involve a bit of uphill, but our 4 year old was able to complete them all with only minimal assistance.
I have organized the hikes here in the order of which I found them to be easiest.
Hike 1: Chorillo del Salto
The waterfall hike is the only one of the four which did not really have any uphill component. The walk leaves from the north side of town from the same spot that walk number 4 leaves from. The walk meanders along the river, passing along a road (be aware of vehicles) and cutting through a small forested area before coming to the waterfall. The walk is about 3 km’s each way, and you return the way you came.
Hike 2: Mirador de los condors and Mirador las Aguilas
This hike leaves from the south side of town. Leave town by the bridge near the tourist information office and walk down highway 41 for a few minutes until you reach the ranger station. If you are doing any of the longer walks, you need to register with the ranger station, however for this short walk you do not.
This walk does have an uphill component, but everything is pretty straight forward. There are no steep steps or rocks to navigate around or over. The only hazard on this short walk is the wind, which can be quite strong at the lookouts. The wind was quite strong on the day we did this walk, and it actually blew our 4 year old off his feet and on to his butt.
This walk offers spectacular views of the town of El Chalten and Cerro Torre.
The walk is about 1 km to the first viewpoint, and then another kilometer to the second view point over the lake, making this walk with both viewpoints about 4 km’s in total (including the return).
Hike 3: Senda a Laguna Torre to Mirador Cerro Torre
This hike is more technically difficult than the other three, but our four year old has done quite a bit of hiking and did not find it challenging. I am placing this hike as number 3 instead of number 4, as the ascent was easier despite requiring a little more care on the rocky steps and narrow paths.
This walk was probably my favourite of the four. The sheer variety of landscapes that you will encounter on this 8km return walk will keep you from getting bored. You will pass through barren shurbland, through forested areas, past viewpoints, and finally you will reach a viewpoint of Mount Fitzroy. Those with older kids can continue on to Laguna Torre which is an additional 3 km’s return. Simon continued on this section of the hike, but the kids and I turned back after the view point.
Hike 4: Mirador del Fitz Roy
I placed this hike as number 4 because we found the ascent to be the most difficult. This could possibly be because this was the last hike we did and perhaps are legs were just tired of us making them go up and down mountains though. However, the view from the viewpoint at the end of this walk made it all worthwhile.
The hike starts from the same point as the waterfall hike.
This is another hike where there is an option to continue on if you want, and there are even campsites along the way if you want to do it over several days. Since we have young kids, we were happy just going to the main viewpoint.
This hike is 4km’s each way, making it 8km’s in total.
As I said, El Chalten was by far our favourite place in Argentina. The hotels and restaurants were fantastic, and the hiking was superb. It was perhaps the most family friendly outdoor destination we have been to so far in South America.