Hike the Fitz Roy Trek in Patagonia’s Glacier-Sculpted Terrain
by Barbara Greco - Patagonia local, hiker and mountaineering enthusiast
Leading you to the base of the towering Mount Fitz Roy, this trek snakes through vast valleys, among jagged spires and past glistening glaciers.
Carved out by glaciers eons ago, Mount Fitz Roy towers over a treasure trove of awe-inspiring trails in Patagonia’s stunning landscape. Fitz Roy sits right on the border between Argentina and Chile, guarding “Argentina’s Trekking Capital,” El Chaltén. Winding through the heart of UNESCO World Heritage site, Los Glaciares National Park, the Fitz Roy trek is the gateway to the walls of Patagonia’s iconic granite massif. The serrated peaks pose as a majestic backdrop on many of the national park’s hikes, and the Fitz Roy trek is no different.
The stunning view of the mountain competes with panoramas of giant glaciers across the rugged terrain. The otherworldly glacial peaks meet forests, lagoons and valleys, all thanks to the dynamic and every-shifting landscape of the sprawling South Patagonian Ice Field. This ice cap is where Fitz Roy can be found.
Pros and Cons of Hiking the Fitz Roy Trek
Experience picturesque landscapes sculpted by glaciers
There are a variety of rewarding hikes in the area
Classic trek at the foot of Fitz Roy is a bucket-list adventure
Expect company on the trails
Sudden weather brings snowstorms to strong winds
Discover icy, turquoise lakes with hidden swimming holes on one of the best hikes in the world. Travel past vast grasslands pummeled by the ruthless Patagonian winds. Then, soak in the panoramic views of the wilderness while hiking in the shadow of the legendary Fitz Roy. This is the other Patagonia trek you didn’t know you were waiting for.
Hiking and mountaineering have a special place in my heart. Now based in Northern Patagonia, for a few months of the year, I live in El Chaltén, the village where the company I work for, Walk Patagonia, is based. I’ve hiked the classic trails winding around the legendary Fitz Roy trek countless times, and also off-the-beaten-path. Tours in Patagonia feature everything from kayaking or horseback riding in the surroundings of Los Glaciares National Park to hiking in Torres Del Paine National Park to the south. While I’m not a guide myself, I provide personalized recommendations to our clients, based on their previous experiences and expectations.
I consider Patagonia to be paradise on Earth. My favorites have to be the hikes that have escaped the hype. There’s nothing I love more than helping people find a hike they’re going to enjoy — be it a crowd favorite or a hidden gem.
What does Fitz Roy mean?
Originally, Fitz Roy had the name Cerro Chaltén, which translates in the native Aonikenk language to “smoking mountain.” The ever-present clouds made it seem as if the jagged peaks were smoking, inspiring the name. Many of the region’s names go back to the Aonikenk language. Petroglyphs and other artifacts reveal that early inhabitants of the area once lived near the peaks. Mount Fitz Roy, or Cerro Fitz Roy as it’s called locally, was renamed after captain Robert Fitzroy who set out to chart the desolate Patagonian coast in 1834. Even though the name Fitz Roy is the more common name these days, the clouded Cerro Chaltén still very much applies.
Where is Fitz Roy located?
Mount Fitz Roy is located on the border between Argentina and Chile, part of the Andes Mountains in southwest Argentina. The mountain rises from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, a 13,000 square kilometer expanse covered in flowing glaciers, fjords and mountains stretching to the most southern tip of the South American continent. The massive ice sheet contains the third largest amount of freshwater ice, and the largest in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica. This also means Patagonia is one of the windiest and wettest places on Earth.
Fitz Roy is also part of the Los Glaciares National Park. The peak is walking distance from the village of El Chaltén, the gateway to the mountain, as well as a coveted rock climbing and hiking spot. El Chaltén was actually founded in 1985, and I dare to say it didn’t really get popular until the start of the 21st century. In 2015, the area was dubbed “Argentina’s Trekking Capital.”
How high is Fitz Roy?
Towering Mount Fitz Roy is about 3,400 meters (11,000-plus feet) high. Whether you choose to hike to the foot of this iconic mountain or climb it, the sight of Fitz Roy will leave you wondering how is it possible such epic landscapes exist. You’ll see this jagged mountain rising from the distance on most of the hikes in the park. It’s truly inspiring to see its three spires piercing the bright-blue sky. The Fitz Roy hike difficulty isn’t to be underestimated — it’s considered one of the most challenging hikes in the world. Fortunately, there are several options to accommodate a range of fitness levels.
Hiking the Classic Fitz Roy Trek
Many hikers wish to discover Patagonia, and for good reason. Due to the scenery, sights and adventure, it can be difficult to decide between the W Trek in Torres del Paine and the Mount Fitz Roy trek. Fortunately, the proximity and access in the area means you can take in the highlights. It’s easy to build an itinerary that matches your goals. If you work with locals, your tour can link the best of the trails, vistas and lakes.
Experience Fitz Roy day hikes like Lagunas Torres and De los Tres
Los Glaciares National Park offers glacier-fed lakes, imposing peaks and challenging treks that take you high up into the mountains. Choose from crowd favorites like the Lagunas Torres and Lagunas de los Tres to get the full effect of glaciers reflecting off turquoise lakes. If you’re up for a challenge and have plenty of experience under your belt, make your ascent along the steep ridges of Loma de Las Pizarras or Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. Waiting for you at the top are the most rewarding panoramic views of your life. A day hike isn’t impossible for the average hiker, but it’s worth the sweat and challenge.
Join up with the Laguna Torre Trek with an overnight stay
Reserving just one day for this bucket-list destination is not enough. Trust me. Most people opt for a joint Fitz Roy and Laguna Torre trek. The two days it takes to hike this unforgettable trek are jam-packed with unimaginable photo-ops. Get ready for turquoise lakes dotted with chunks of ice, narrow trails winding through impressive granite massifs and formidable glaciers fed by the massive Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. Here is an overview of what might await you on two-day Fitz Roy trek tours.
The adventure starts at El Pilar trailhead. You’ll be able to see Mount Fitz Roy rising from the distance from this vantage point. Once you pass through a wooden archway signaling the beginning of the trail, you’ll make your first ascent. The path will take you through a thick forest, providing a gentle warm up for what’s to come. As you make your way, your eyes will drift towards a tall, glistening feature hidden behind the trees. That’s the Piedras Blancas Glacier. Not long after, you’ll reach the first mirador, also called a viewpoint. Get a better look of the stunning ice giant. After a narrow patch of bush, the trail opens up to a vast grassland.
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Conquer the hardest part of the trail to reach Laguna de los Tres
Patagonia has been merciful thus far and it’s time to get those lungs going. The most challenging part of the trail awaits. One steep, trying ascent and you’ll find yourself catching your breath not only from treacherous hiking, but from the beauty of Laguna de los Tres. This is the crowning glory of the Los Glaciares National Park. It combines the views of a lagoon that looks like it’s not from our world. Soak in the majestic glacier and, of course, Mount Fitz Roy standing proudly in the distance.
You’ll then head towards the Poincenot campground. The sooner you set up your tent, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to admiring the peaks. Make sure to get plenty of rest, as you’ll have an early start in the morning.
Day Two: Witness the legendary Fitz Roy sunrise
Make the effort to rise before the sun does and get your camera ready. If the weather allows it, you’ll witness the most magnificent sunrise of your life. As the first sunbeams reach the snow-covered peaks, they start to glimmer with life. Shortly after, the rays set Fitz Roy’s pristine granite ablaze, turning the otherwise white mountain a fiery orange. With this awe-inspiring backdrop, you’ll trek past turquoise Madre and Hija lagoons.
End the Fitz Roy trek by heading to Laguna Torre
The trail drops down into the Torre Valley. Here you’ll find its namesake peak and glacier waiting on the other side. Most hikers have lunch while overlooking the ice floating in the lagoon. It’s a moment to catch your breath — and count your blessings. The Fitz Roy river will show you the way back. A valley with a couple of moraine crossings will be your last challenge before you reach the city of El Chaltén.
Insider Info for Your Fitz Roy Trek
I’ve lost count of how many times I ventured to the classic trails at the foot of Fitz Roy. That being said, Patagonia’s wilderness is unforgiving. Luckily, all it takes to coexist with this wild space is good preparation and endurance. Willingness to be flexible can also go a long way. Here are my tips and insights for everything you need to keep in mind while planning your trip.
How long is the Fitz Roy hike?
The classic Mount Fitz Roy tour is 24 kilometers (15 miles) long. The hike doesn’t follow a specific route, but most start from either the village of El Chaltén or El Pilar trailhead. How long it takes to hike to the base of Fitz Roy is completely up to your fitness level and desired pace. Most hikers complete the trek in around eight hours. You can opt for a day hike or extend your Patagonia adventure and stay overnight. By staying the extra night, if the weather allows it, you’ll witness the legendary Fitz Roy trek sunrise. In addition to that unforgettable experience, clear Laguna Torre lake and its glacier reflecting on the calm water are a must-see. These sights alone are completely worth the trip.
The best time of the year to hike Fitz Roy depends on your comfort level
The skies are typically clear anywhere from late October to early April, but the weather in Patagonia can’t always be trusted. Come October, this sleepy mountain village is brimming with life as the community gathers at the gateway to Fitz Roy. It’s easy to tell why Lonely Planet rated El Chaltén as one of the best cities to visit in the world. As long as you have experience with hiking in snow, you can hike the Fitz Roy trek route year round. Keep in mind that its steep trails become even trickier with a layer of powder and ice.
Patagonia’s microclimate is something else. A sunny, calm day can quickly turn and have you shivering in a matter of minutes. The photos that drew you in don’t show the always present, invisible force of nature that can cause difficulties even on the nicest days. I’m talking about the wind! My advice: Be like an onion. Wear plenty of layers to guard against the elements, and you’re good to go.
How hard is the Fitz Roy hike?
The Fitz Roy hike difficulty is moderate and builds up to a hard ascent, gaining 400 meters of elevation in the last kilometer of the trail. The terrain changes from a forest floor ridden with bulky roots sticking out of the ground into a rocky, steep trail where you’ll need to mind the boulders. It’s not recommended you take your first steps towards mountaineering on the Fitz Roy trek. To get the most out of your trip, make sure you can easily hike on an about 40 percent incline, while carrying a small daypack. That said, you can hire porters to take the load off your back, literally.
Do you need a permit?
There are no permits needed for your stay in the Los Glaciares National Park. You do need to pay an admission fee. One of the perks of using a guiding service is that fees will be taken care of, so you don’t have to worry about the logistics.
Patagonia’s Mount Fitz Roy lodging won’t leave you wanting
Whether you want to set up a tent in Patagonia’s wilderness or be pampered in a luxury hotel, you’ll have plenty of options. Both El Calafate and El Chaltén have high-end hotels, so people can stay at luxury hotels in both. In 2021, the Explora chain is set to open a hotel in the area and in El Chaltén itself, there are hostels where you’ll get to meet fellow adventurers. The Internet connection is less than ideal and you won’t find a nightclub, but you’ll find a sense of peace and relaxation in El Chaltén.
Find plenty of free camping near Fitz Roy
When I hike in the mountains, I prefer to camp out. Like-minded people who desire a more rustic experience can head to Los Glaciares’ many campgrounds. Free camping can be found at Poincenot near Laguna des los Tres. Agostini campground near Laguna Torre has similar accommodations, such as a simple toilet. There are also campsites in town, but they aren’t free. Make sure to arrive ahead of time, as the number of hikers eager to explore the Fitz Roy trek grows every year.
Prepare for your Fitz Roy trek by packing for all four seasons
If you stick to the classic routes, a simple daypack and your average hiking gear will do the trick. This includes sturdy and waterproof hiking shoes, merino wool base layers, thick socks that are moisture wicking, and a hat or even light gloves to keep you warm. Also, you’ll most likely feel like you’ve experienced all four seasons while hiking in Patagonia, so you can’t go wrong with layers. A trusty windbreaker will be your best friend. The rumors about the wind are true! As for the shoes, a sturdy pair of hiking boots should be your go-to. Make sure you break them in by wearing on a couple longer hikes before the Fitz Roy trek and that they offer optimal ankle support. Your feet will thank you for it.
The more challenging trails feature technical ascents and call for advanced gear like crampons, harnesses and carabiners. I always prefer to stay in the mountains when I’m hiking, and I advise you to do the same. In that case, leave room for camping supplies. Pack light and don’t forget your camera!
How do you get to Fitz Roy?
Most hikers get to Mount Fitz Roy by flying into El Calafate, Argentina, from Buenos Aires. You’ll then drive to the town of El Chaltén at the base of the mountain. You can easily get to the Fitz Roy trailhead from El Chaltén. Once you reach the peaceful village of El Chaltén, it will take you about half an hour to transfer to the trailhead, or you can opt for a scenic stroll to the base of your hike.
Is the Fitz Roy trek safe?
The Mount Fitz Roy trek is safe long as you’re mindful of your surroundings. Like on any other outdoor adventure, you’re completely safe if you are mindful, bring a first aid kit and keep an eye on the weather. Patagonia boasts a rich wildlife, but its habitants are shy and uninterested in visitors. If you’re an avid birdwatcher, you’re in for a treat. You’ll see many condors and woodpeckers flying overhead on your hikes. You might hear a rustling in the bushes or see footprints in the snow, but that’s only a rabbit or a fox passing through.
You do not need a guide to hike the Fitz Roy trek. You’ll find plenty of markings along the way and the trail is easy to follow. If you opt for any of the more challenging treks, you should consider hiring a guide to ensure safety over glacier traverses and highly technical ascents.
Even though you can hike most of the trails solo, a guide will provide additional info on the stunning area surrounding you. Accidents can happen even to the most seasoned of hikers. You also won’t find phone coverage on the trek, so having someone experienced pays off. The icing on the cake is discovering all the hidden gems you otherwise wouldn’t even have heard of.
Experience the best of Los Glaciares National Park has to offer on a 2-day Mt. Fitz Roy & Laguna Torre hiking trip! This might only be two days, but these 30km of hiking are sure to deliver memories to last a lifetime!
Patagonia local, hiker and mountaineering enthusiast
Barbara is a hiking and mountaineering enthusiast. With Walk Patagonia, she helps clients discover the many trails of Los Glaciares National Park and find one that was made just for them. When she isn’t planning adventures, you’ll find her far from the beaten path, among the many hidden gems of Patagonia.