Hiking the “W” Day 1: Paine Grande –>Glacier Grey
Day 1: Puerto Natales–> Visitors Center –> Lago Pehoe –> Glacier Grey
We took the bus from Puerto Natales (another conversation in and of itself) into the Park. This took roughly 2 hrs and 20 minutes. The bus will automatically stop at the Visitor’s Center where you must either pay an entrance fee or demonstrate prior proof of payment. There is also a short video played discussing park rules. I mention this because you should know you’ll lose some time here, and you need to account for that. Here is the website for the most up to date information regarding fees, as they just changed in January of 2020: http://www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl/en/tarifas-de-ingreso
Time: Total: 2 hrs 45 minutes: ~2 hrs from Puerto Natales-Visitors Center and then ~40-45 minutes at Visitor’s Center
Tip: The Visitor’s Center had the largest and most accurate trekking map we ever found and it’s great for route distances and verification of trailhead locations before you get started. There are also bathrooms here.
From there, we hopped onto a second bus and headed to Lago Pehoe (15-20 minutes). From Lago Pehoe, we took the ferry (approximately 20-30 minutes) across the lake and into Paine Grande. At the time of our visit (shoulder season) the cost of the ferry was USD $10 per person. I’ve heard this varies depending on season, but regardless they only take cash so be ready. Again, for the purposes of timing: we missed the first ferry (it was completely full) and while waiting for the second one we had time to buy a cup of coffee and snack. We then waited in line for roughly 15 more minutes to gain access to the next ferry. All in all? We probably lost 45 minutes to an hour here, and I would increase that if you’re in high season.
Time: ~65-70 minutes from Visitor’s Center to Ferry
The ferry ride was roughly 20 minutes across the lake. You can’t hold your baggage on you- there isn’t enough room on the ferry so if you have a commonly used bag, it helps to have some type of marker on it so you don’t pick up someone else’s stuff. It’s a bit of a madhouse, with everyone trying to get their bags and get out of the boat, so be ready. I saw three other people with my exact same color and brand of bag and picked up the wrong one initially but thankfully opened it and realized my mistake. Unless you’re first off the boat, allocate 10-15 more minutes to find your stuff.
Time: 25-35 minutes to get across Lago Pehoe and off the boat
And finally, the real fun begins! After roughly 4 hours, you’re ready to start the hike. It’s easy to see how important it is to time this. Your first day in the park is not the day to sleep in. The faster you can get from your starting city to the park gates, the better off you’ll be. There are other ways into the park and depending on how you want to trek, you may find them easier to use.
IF YOU WANT TO MOVE SLOWER: From the ferry, it’s a super short walk to Paine Grande lodge where you can stop, eat, and spend the night at the refugio (or the campsites), making day 1 just the trip in from Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas, depending on your preference. Here is a picture of the lodge:
IF YOU WANT TO KEEP MOVING: You can hike one of two directions from Paine Grande- towards Glacier Grey or towards Camp Italiano. We opted to do an out-and-back from the Glacier with an overnight break in between. We were not looking to rush our hike. Paine Grande to Glacier Grey is 11 km, while Paine Grande to Italiano is 7.5 km. We headed up the trail towards Grey. The photos below show parts of the trail.
I would describe this section of trail as very rocky and a little rough in patches. It’s alot of up and down, but nothing brutal. This section of the park is appropriately named- there is alot of grey and rocky terrain, although as you can see it is majestic. There are really no good places for the ladies to relieve themselves, sorry if that’s TMI, but use the restrooms at Paine Grande before you head onto the trail. Both days we were on the trail to and from the Glacier were brutally windy days and very cold, however I thoroughly enjoyed this section of the hike.
I am not even going to attempt to time this section of trail for you- the official park website says to estimate 3.5 hours for this stretch. Not gonna lie, it took us longer. We knew of people who buzzed past us and were done much faster than 3.5 hours and those who leaned in closer to the 5 or 6 hour mark. Base it on your previous hiking experience in moderately rocky terrain with mild changes in elevation. Once you get close to the refugio at Glacier Grey, the trail goes downhill and then starts to level out until you reach the promised land of warm showers and soft fields for your campsite.
For info about our second day on the “W,” check out: Hiking the “W” Day 2: Refugio Grey –> Camp Italiano