Fitz Roy Trek – A Fantastic Day Hike in Patagonia

The best hike in Los Glaciares National Park

Hiking beside the lake to get the best view of the Fitz Roy Towers

The Fitz Roy trek in Los Glaciares National Park is one of the best hikes in Patagonia – and is considered the most beautiful hike in Los Glaciares National Park. The park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981, is located in the Austral Andes of Argentina. The gateway town is El Chalten, about a three-hour scenic bus ride from El Calafate – where there is a decent-sized airport.

Los Glaciares National Park is best known for its day hikes rather than multi-day backpacking trips, though there is a three day trip that is recommended. There are seven main hikes in the park if you start in El Chalten – but the standout is the Fitz Roy trek with the hike to Torre a close second.

The Fitz Roy trek is very worthwhile though I’d really recommend doing it during a good weather window The trail is obvious, well-marked and easy to follow. As a side note, the trail was litter free – which was great to see. 

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Fitz Roy trek summary

Distance: About 20 km (12.4 miles) return whether you’re coming from El Chalten or via a scenic trail from Patagonia Ecodomes.

Elevation gain: 750 m (2,462 feet)  from El Chalten and 610 m (2,001 feet) from the Patagonia Ecodomes

Time needed: Allow 6 – 8 hours to do the trek to Fitz Roy from either direction.

Best time to do the Fitz Roy trek: In summer between October and April. Outside of summer, many of the support businesses like restaurants and hotels are closed. Be aware that the area has a reputation for horrific winds.

Other hiking options: It’s possible to do a two-day, 34 km Fitz Roy and Torre circuit trek.

Before you go: Outdoor hiking apparel and equipment is on the expensive side in Argentina – so pack smartly. 

Where to find water on the trek: Water bottles can be filled at a river near the Poincenot Campground – and I’d recommend purifying it just to be safe.

We started the Fitz Roy trek at the Patagonia Ecodomes
We started the Fitz Roy trek at the Patagonia Ecodomes

Where we stayed to do the Fitz Roy trek

We had three nights in the El Chalten area planned with a stay booked at the Patagonia Ecodomes which I highly recommend. We knew we could hike into the park right from the back door of the Ecodomes but actually didn’t appreciate that it was the Fitz Roy trek – one of the two top hikes in Los Glaciares National Park – that was the one available to us.

Our stay at the ecodomes ended up being one of the highlights of our Patagonia trip!

You can see the Fitzroy Towers from the Patagonia Ecodomes
You can see the Fitz Roy Towers from the Patagonia Ecodomes

Los Glaciares National Park

Los Glaciares National Park is notorious for extraordinarily high winds and crappy weather. We got lucky on the day we did the hike to the Fitz Roy Towers – as it’s considered dangerous when it’s windy and rainy according to the parks people. 

After a leisurely breakfast we got going about 10 AM figuring it would only take us about six hours round-trip to complete the return Fitz Roy trek. It did not. We weren’t back until 6 PM though we did spend at least an hour up at the top soaking in the views and eating our lunch. Budget eight hours to be on the safe side.

We’d just finished hiking the O Circuit in Chile and were in shape too.

There are two ways to do the Fitz Roy trek

All told we figure we hiked 20 kilometres with 610 metres of elevation gain from Patagonia Edocdomes.

From the main trailhead in El Chalten the park suggests allowing four hours one way, so eight hours round-trip. That Fitz Roy trek is also 20 kilometres round-trip with 750 metres of elevation gain – so they’re very similar.

The two trails meet up just before the Poincenot Campground.

Leaving from Patagonia Ecodomes to do the Fitz Roy trek
Leaving from Patagonia Ecodomes to do the Fitz Roy Towers hike

The Fitz Roy trek from Patagonia Ecodomes

The first 2.5 hours of hiking is very lovely – with most of it in a pretty forest following a river. The trail is in terrific shape and there’s really no need for heavy leather boots.

As we climbed gradually towards the Poincenot Campground, we did enjoy the spectacular Piedras Blancas viewpoint of both the lake and glacier bearing its name. It was even more beautiful in the late afternoon light.

Entering Los Glaciares National Park to do the the Fitz Roy trek
Entering the park – and there is no entrance fee
Hiking through open woods on the Fitz Roy trek
Lovely walking for several hours through open woods
Oogling a glacier at the Piedras Blancas Viewpoint
Ogling this glacier at the Piedras Blancas Viewpoint
Glacier ice making up the Glaciar Piedras Blancas
Close-up of the ice which is so blue especially with the sun at this angle

And then we met the masses coming from El Chalten

Once we met up with the main trail we ran into the masses of people. The trail we hiked from the Patagonia Ecodomes was positively quiet by comparison. From the intersection of the two trails it’s not long before you start climbing.

While it’s only a 1,000 foot climb the steps are big and there’s a lot of stopping and starting to let people pass by. Look back and take in the scenery when that happens.

The start of a 1000 foot climb
The start of a 1,000 foot climb
Walking through the basic Poincenot Campsite to get to Laguna de los Tres
Walk through the basic Poincenot Campsite to get to Laguna de los Tres
Scenery on the Fitz Roy trek
Don’t forget to look back to admire the scenery
Lots of people on the way up to see the Fitzroy Towers
Unless the weather is atrocious don’t go expecting solitude
Almost at the ridge line on the hike to the Fitzroy Towers
Almost at the ridge line

Views of the Fitz Roy Towers

Once we got to the top the views were nothing short of jaw-dropping, especially if you make the extra effort and hike up to the knob to the left of the photo below. It’s quite obvious when you’re there. If it’s a high wind day be extremely cautious as these winds could literally knock you over the edge.

Spend some time wandering down by the lake. Peer over – on a low wind day – to the lake below the towers and marvel at the colours you see. 

 Hanging out just admiring the incredible view - and counting our blessings we got good weather
Hanging out just admiring the incredible view – and counting our blessings we got good weather
Hiking beside the lake to get the best view on the Fitz Roy trek
Hiking beside the lake to get the best view of the Fitz Roy Towers
Peering down into the lake beneath the Fitz Roy Towers
John peering down into the lake beneath the Fitz Roy Towers
Beautiful turquoise lake seen on the Fitz Roy trek
If you stay on the ridge you’d never know there was a lake here
The beautiful Laguna de los Tres
Turn slightly to your right and you get this view
Laguna de los Tres is a scenic backdrop
Splendid mountain scenery everywhere you look
This gives you an idea of the sheer number of people that have made the 6 - 8 hour return hike
This gives you an idea of the sheer number of people that have made the 6 – 8 hour return hike
Heading back to the Patagonia Ecodomes via a trail that heads towards Highway RP41 to the north
Once away from the winds of the glacier it felt positively balmy by Patagonian standards
Continuing into the trees on the way back to the Patagonia Ecodomes
Truly exceptional hiking – especially for the effort – reward ratio
Return to the Patagonia Ecodomes with a splendid and colourful mountain backdrop
Full circle and back at the Ecodomes after about 7 hours of hiking

Where to stay in El Chalten

Most people who do the Fitz Roy trek stay in El Chalten. There is lots of choice across a range of price points.

The Chalten Suites Hotel, rated superb, is just 100 m from the main square in town. 

If you’re after a hostel experience, Rancho Grande, rated very good, would be a top choice. There is a choice of mixed dormitories with shared bathrooms or private rooms with en suite bathrooms. 

Hotel Poincenot is located within Los Glaciares National Park. close to the starting point of several trekking circuits. It’s also just 10 minutes from Viedma Lake. 

Before you go to Los Glaciares National Park

Before you head to Patagonia be it Chile or Argentina I highly recommend purchasing a guidebook or two. I found it very difficult to get good information online – and some websites didn’t translate from Spanish into English. Lonely Planet’s Argentina guidebook is very useful as is Fodor’s Essential Chile: with Easter Island and Patagonia.

Fitz Roy trek location map

                                                           

Further reading on travels in South America

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The Fitz Roy Trek - an outstanding hike in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

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