Los Glaciares National Park: The Complete Guide

Perito Moreno Glacier Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
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Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

Address
Santa Cruz Province, Argentina
Phone +54 2902 49-1005

People worldwide journey to Los Glaciares National Park for mainly two reasons: to see the advancing Perito Moreno Glacier and to hike the trails of Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Torre. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest national park in Argentina (2,806 square miles), Los Glaciares contains independent glaciers, part of the Southern Patagonian Icefield, subantarctic forests, and the Austral Andes. Located in the Santa Cruz province, it's divided into two sections—the northern section by El Chalten and the southern section by El Calafate. Estancias (ranches) dot the surrounding area, while the park's varying landscapes make for breathtaking glacier walking, kayaking, rock climbing, boat cruises, and camping.

The Argentine government seized the park's lands from the native Aónikenk people in a violent military takeover in 1879. However, Los Glaciares didn't become a national park until 1937, when the area became part of a land-grabbing competition with Chile. The nearby town of El Chalten was christened with the Aónikenk name for Mount Fitz Roy, meaning "smoking mountain."

Things to Do

Most of the park's southern sector activities revolve around the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that's growing instead of melting. Ice sometimes falls from the glacier and crashes into the Canal de Los Tempanos, making for a great photo opportunity across the Peninsula de Magallanes boardwalks channel. Perito Moreno is also one of the most accessible glaciers globally, and Hielo y Aventura offers short and long ice hikes on top of it. It's' possible to take a boat to see the glacier up close via a Southern Spirit catamaran or kayak on a Miloutdoor tour. Entrance to the park's southern section costs 1,800 pesos ($18).

Hiking is the most popular activity in the northern sector, though some of the world's best mountaineers will go further, summiting Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Torre. Ice climbing, trekking, and dog sledding can all be done as well. Casa de Guias offers multi-day ice trekking tours over the Southern Patagonian Icefield. Lake cruises, fly-fishing, kayaking, and rock climbing are also available in the northern section. Though not permitted in the park, just outside of it, you can horseback ride with guides from estancias or book with companies like El Relincho.

People hiking on the Perito Moreno glacier, Argentina
© Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

Best Hikes & Trails

Entrance is free for all the trails within the national park that begin in El Chalten. El Chalten’s website provides maps and estimated times for many treks.

  • Laguna Torre: This trail leads to Laguna Torre, where trekkers can see the imposing snowcapped spire of Cerro Torre surrounded by a garden of glaciers. Visitors can take one of two trails that start in El Chalten that eventually merge into one long trail. The trail is about 6.4 miles one way, so account for about three hours of hiking.
  • Laguna de Los Tres: At the end of Avenida San Martin, this trail winds for 8 miles past waterfalls, through forests, meadows, wooden bridges, and above the treeline to the Laguna de Los Tres and views of Mount Fitz Roy. Hiking time is about eight hours.
  • Piedras Blancas Glacier: An easy hike of about 5 miles, this trail leads to a turquoise lake filled with bobbing icebergs. The path starts from the bridge over the Blanco River on Provincial Route 41 and continues through the forest where white orchards and Magellanic woodpeckers can be seen. The hike takes about four to five hours round-trip.

Where to Camp

Los Glaciares has camping in its northern and southern sections, ranging from backcountry sites with no services to a few with hot water and general stores. Many are free and do not require a permit or reservation. Bring a gas stove if you plan on cooking, as making fires is prohibited. You'll also need to pack up your trash. If camping doesn't suit you, you can stay at a hotel or estancia inside the park.

Southern Campsites

  • Lago Roca: A well-equipped campsite located inside the park, Lago Roca has grills, cabins, complete baths, a general store, ping pong, a public telephone, a restaurant, and it issues fishing licenses. Find it on Ruta 15, 30 miles from El Calafate.
  • Bahía Escondida: This campground offers stunning views of the Perito Moreno Glacier, about 4 miles away. Hot water showers, a general store, grill, and picnic tables make it a comfortable base just off Ruta 11.

Northern Campsites

  • Poincenot Campground: A primitive campground with a single pit toilet and perfect sunrise views of Mount Fitzroy, find it along the Laguna de Los Tres trail (about an hour to 75 minutes after the Laguna Capri turn-off), just over 6 miles from El Chalten.
  • Agostini Campground: Located in a forest about 6.5 miles from El Chalten, this primitive campground has a single pit toilet. Nearby science viewing sports offer panoramas of Laguna Torre and the Southern Patagonia Icefield.
Wooden entrance to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Chalten, Argentina
Westend61 / Getty Images

Where to Stay Nearby

Though there’s lots of accommodation in El Calafate and El Chalten, you will need to book in advance if you plan to come during the high season (December through February and Easter). For considerably lower prices, travel in the shoulder seasons of fall and spring. Winter can also bring about reasonable prices, though some accommodations close for the season.

El Calafate

  • America del Sur Calafate Hostel: Only a seven-minute walk from downtown, this hostel offers impressive views of the mountains and lake from the communal lounge’s floor-length windows. Both dorm and private rooms with heated floors are available, as is Wi-Fi, a decent continental breakfast, and booking services.
  • La Cantera: This rustic boutique hotel has rooms outfitted with big beds and private balconies with lake and town views. Family-friendly, it has Wi-Fi, a buffet breakfast, an on-site wine cellar, and an on-site restaurant specializing in Patagonian cuisine.
  • EOLO: Situated outside of town halfway between El Calafate and Los Glaciares, this luxury lodge’s 17 rooms feature views of the surrounding lake, steppe, and cordillera. Its remoteness allows guests a quiet atmosphere for uninterrupted sleep, and the head chef of the on-site restaurant formerly worked in a Michelin-starred kitchen.

El Chalten

  • Pioneros del Valle: Situated on Avenida San Martin, this hostel is only three blocks away from hiking trails and offers dorm and private rooms, Wi-Fi, a fully equipped kitchen, and a large-screen TV.
  • Chalten Camp: This glamping outfit is just 2 miles away from El Chalten and contains geodesic domes set above native forests with uninterrupted views of Mount Fitz Roy. Each dome comes with a wood-burning stove, private bathroom, and slippers, while the central dome offers a lounge and dining area.
  • Destino Sur Hotel & Spa de Montaña: Located at the edge of town, only 0.3 miles from Los Glaciares, this hotel’s proximity to trekking, comfy rooms, and spa make for a convenient and luxurious stay. Book a massage and swim a few laps in the heated pool to unwind after a trek.
Road to El Chalten and Mt Fitz Roy, Patagonia, Argentina
© Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

How to Get There

Flights run daily from Buenos Aires, Bariloche, and Ushuaia to El Calafate, as well as to Río Gallegos. Both El Calafate and Río Gallegos have buses to the southern section of Los Glaciares. The park's southern section is most easily reached by driving about an hour west on Ruta 11 from El Calafate. To go to El Chalten (the gateway town to the park's northern section), take one of the daily buses from El Calafate that operates from November through March. Reach Los Glaciares from El Chalten by walking, as several of the most famous trails begin on the outskirts of town.

Accessibility

The southern section of the park offers more wheelchair-accessible activities than the northern section. The two highest floors of the Perito Moreno Glacier's boardwalk trails can be accessed from the upper parking lot, and there are ramps and an elevator to reach the ground floor. You can also see the glacier via a wheelchair-friendly Southern Spirit boat cruise, which takes passengers around the glacier's north face. There's wheelchair-accessible hiking to a waterfall at the northern section's park entrance, the Chorrillo del Salto. For the visually impaired, the Los Condores Trail has Braille signage.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Bring cash. Lodging and touring businesses will often give you a small discount if you pay with cash. Bring U.S. dollars and exchange at the blue market rate in Buenos Aires before flying to Patagonia for the best exchange rate.
  • Pets are not allowed in Los Glaciares.
  • Pack layers as the weather can be unpredictable with strong winds and rain during summer, and even snow, depending on how high you hike.
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Los Glaciares National Park: The Complete Guide