If you’ve ever seen photos of Patagonia, chances are Mount Fitz Roy has popped up. This peak has become an icon of natural beauty and people come from all around the world to see it. We arrived to El Chaltén early on a cold winter morning and immediately headed out to begin our hike to this magnificent beauty.
There are multiple trails through Los Glaciares National Park that will offer a view of Fitz Roy and its surrounding peaks. This post will provide details on reaching the famous viewpoint at Laguna de Los Tres via the Sendero al Fitz Roy.
Getting to the Sendero al Fitz Roy Trailhead
One of the amazing things about El Chaltén is the many trails accessible right from the town. The Sendero al Fitz Roy begins at the far north end of town. The trailhead just off Avenida San Martin is well marked and there is a parking area for tour transportation and those with their own vehicles.
If you want more information on the trail conditions, wildlife, camping, and more, stop at the visitor’s center before heading out on your adventure.
There are no fees to hike and camp in this area of Los Glaciares National Park.
Hiking the Sendero al Fitz Roy to Laguna de Los Tres
Hike Type: Moderate/Difficult out-and-back trail. You can combine this with other trails if desired
Distance: 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) roundtrip
Duration: 7-10 hours depending on your fitness level and how long you spend at the viewpoint
Elevation Gain: About 2300 feet (700 meters)
Regulations: Camp only in designated areas. Do not disturb wildlife and practice Leave No Trace principles. Pets and drones are not permitted.
After taking an early bus from El Calafate, we dropped most of our belongings at a hostel, rented our camping gear and began the Sendero al Fitz Roy. It was winter, so the sun was still low in the sky and the air was brisk.
At the start, the path climbed through a wooded area as we headed away from El Chaltén. The scenery was beautiful the whole way up as we wound through the valley with rugged peaks in the distance. Follow the signs for the mirador, and you’ll reach it a ways into the hike. The view of Fitz Roy and its surrounding peaks were stunning, and we felt lucky to be there on a clear, sunny day.
After taking in the view, we continued towards the Poincenot Campground, stopping only to eat our packed lunch. Since we were there in the winter, there were hardly any people sharing the trail with us. Eventually, we made it to the campground. We set up our tent because we planned to watch sunset at Laguna de Los Tres and didn’t want to set up in the dark. Leaving our tent and heavy packs behind, we began to hike to Laguna de Los Tres. This section of the trail is definitely the most difficult, climbing steeply up the rocky hillside in a short distance.
We arrived at Laguna de Los Tres as the sun began to set. The clouds concealed the peaks and we were a little bummed. But to our delight, they moved after a while of waiting. The view from the lake is truly breathtaking. We had it to ourselves minus a couple tiny skiers cruising down a glacier in the distance. The sun dipped below the horizon and dusk set in. It was a moment we’ll never forget. We hustled back to camp as night fell on the park.
The Return Trip
From Poincenot Campground, we planned to make the hike back up to Laguna de Los Tres again for sunrise. However, nature had other plans. We woke up to blizzard conditions and a blanket of snow on the ground.
Instead of heading back to El Chaltén the way we came, we headed past Madre and Hija Lakes with hopes of making it to Laguna Torre. When we reached the turnoff for Laguna Torre, it was still snowing heavily and visibility was less than ideal. So, soaked and tired, we headed back to El Chaltén via the Sendero a Laguna Torre.
Notes About Hiking to Fitz Roy
We think that staying in El Chaltén for a few days if you have the time will allow you to have the best experience possible for a few reasons.
Firstly, the hike to Laguna de Los Tres via the Sendero al Fitz Roy is one of the most iconic and popular hikes in all of Patagonia. Staying in El Chaltén and beginning your hike early in the morning will help you beat some of the crowds, especially the tours that frequent the trail. Many visitors stay in El Calafate and drive or take a tour from there, and it’s nice to get a start before they arrive.
The Sendero al Fitz Roy is also a long and somewhat challenging hike, so you’ll want to leave early to ensure that you have time to complete it. This was more difficult in the winter when daylight hours were much shorter.
Clouds often cling to Mount Fitz Roy, obscuring the view. Spending a few days in El Chaltén and hiking on your own (without a tour) will give you a little more flexibility on choosing to hike on the day with the best weather, how you spend your time on the trail, and which trails you decide to hike. If the peaks are covered in clouds, leaving early will also give you a little more time to spend at the lake in hopes that they clear.
The Poincenot Campground is the most popular campground in the area. The site sits about 5 miles (8 kilometers) into the hike. It is free to camp here and spots are first-come, first-served, so this is another reason to leave early during peak season. There are a couple pit toilets here and water sources nearby. If you need to rent gear, there are some options in El Chaltén.
When we were there in the winter, we were the only people camping there, but when Lia’s parents visited in the summer, the campground was absolutely packed. We have some mixed feelings and other notes about camping here that we’ll discuss in another post. If we weren’t planning to hike to Laguna de Los Tres for sunrise, we probably wouldn’t have camped here, but it is a great option if you’re trying to hit the trails early. Not to mention you’ll be spending the night among some of the most stunning landscape!
What to Bring to Hike the Sendero al Fitz Roy
Sturdy Shoes: The trail is steep, rocky, and can be muddy and icy.
Crampons: If you are there in the winter, some recommend crampons for the steep, icy sections. Some gear companies have them for rent if you need them.
Mini First Aid Kit: Another just-in-case item we always like to have.
Camera: You’ll definitely want to snap some photos of this incredible place!
Water: This is a long hike, so we recommend bringing plenty of water. You can fill your bottles directly from the rivers if you need a refill!
Food: We brought a packed lunch (sandwiches and snacks) to enjoy on the trail. If you don’t bring a full lunch, definitely bring a few snacks for fuel.
Layers: Even in the summer, it can be chilly, especially with those notorious Patagonia winds. A rain jacket and some layers that are easy to take on and off are necessary. In the winter, we were in heavier jackets atop other layers. A beanie and gloves are good to pack in the winter as well.
Sun Protection: Portions of the trail have very little to no shade, so pack sunscreen, a hat, and/or sunglasses.
Headlamp: If you plan to visit Laguna de Los Tres for sunrise or sunset, a headlamp will be useful when hiking the uneven trail in the dark.
Hiking Poles: Some may find hiking poles helpful on the rocky, steep trail.
Camping Gear: If you camp, you’ll need extra food and gear, including a tent, sleeping bag, cookware, etc.