Hiking to Grey Glacier in Torres Del Paine is for many a bucket list adventure. This mighty glacier forks like a snake tongue as it reaches the edge of the magnificent Grey Lake. Jettisoned icebergs are dispersed across the lake by frigid katabatic winds which hurtle down from the Southern Patagonian Icefield. Meanwhile, hikers edge along the slopes of mighty but misty Cerro Paine Grande hoping to catch more than a glimpse of this spectacular scenery should the weather permit them.
The Grey Glacier hike is normally done as part of the 5-day ‘W’ trek or 9-day ‘O’ trek. We had taken a somewhat DIY approach to Torres Del Paine and were doing multiple day hikes given we had our trusty campervan as our bed for the night. Also, the Refugio’s along the Torres Del Paine were both expensive and also sold out. The Grey Glacier hike was a must-do section of the ‘W’ trek so we waited for the clearest weather possible in this tempestuous, four seasons in one day, climate.
This is a guide to doing the hike in one day. This assumes you have your own transport arranged to and from the Pudeto catamaran wharf. See here for public buses from Puerto Natales to Pudeto. You can, of course, book the Refugio’s which need to be made well in advance and at considerable cost. More details on Refugio bookings are at the end of this article.
Getting from Pudeto Wharf to Refugio Paine Grande
The Torres Del Paine Catamaran service leaves from the small wharf at Pudeto. Tickets are purchased on board the catamaran and there is no need to reserve in advance. Services run quite regular but check the most up to date ferry times. It is a scenic 40-minute cruise across Lake Pehoe to reach Refugio Paine Grande, one of the more well-appointed ‘W’ trek Refugios. It is advised to get the first catamaran of the day (approximately 9:30am) to give as much time as possible to make a return trip in one day.
The trailhead to Grey Glacier begins just past the Refugio at a well-marked left turn just past the National Park office. You may be asked about your intended destination here, just say you are returning on the catamaran the same day. Rangers need to make sure people have pre-made plans for staying at the Refugios as they don’t take walk-ins.
Grey Glacier – Midway Lookout
The first quarter of this hike is about 5km and ascends gradually at first but then steepens sharply. A few elevated lagoons can be seen along the way making the height above Grey Lake, when you reach it, a little deceptive.
Eventually, you reach a high rocky plateau from where you will get panoramic views of Grey Lake. On a clear day, both forks of Grey Glacier will also be visible entering the lake. For some, this may mark the turnaround point. A decent 10km return hike which is not to be sneezed at. Similarly, if you left your departure a little late or your pace was a little slow you need to return here to make the return ferry (the last ferry is around 6 pm). If you are looking to pre-book accommodation on the trail, I’d recommend booking Refugio Grey to reach that on the first day and then return the next.
If you are making the trek to the endpoint, good on you, it’s worth it! The increasingly rocky trail will now turn steeply downwards. You will see the trail winding along the cliff edge in the distance with a glacier as a backdrop so it will be often a distraction from the job at hand. Icebergs litter the lake, some the size of office buildings.
The trail takes you back down under the forest canopy and across a number bridges providing access over canyons rushing with water. This section drags on a bit before reaching the site of Refugio Grey, another well-appointed Refugio with rooms ranging from $300 USD to meagre tent sites. Bookings must be made in advance at verticepatagonia.cl so don’t confuse this with Lago Grey Hotel which is a more upmarket hotel on the far end of the lake accessible by car.
Grey Glacier Final Lookout
After walking past Refugio Grey for about 10 minutes the trail begins to descend towards the lake edge. The best views, however, are had on top of the large rock on the left. The trail is a little precarious in some spots but reasonably doable. Just take your time and watch your footing. Very soon you will emerge with expansive views of the glacier face. It is very likely you will be the only person at this unmarked and impressive lookout. Nestle into a crack in the rock and enjoy your lunch while taking in the views!
The return is a simple backtrack along the trail on which you have come. There is only one trail so you can’t get lost even if the trail forks in a few spots, it will rejoin the same trail. Keep an eye on the time to meet your designated catamaran. Should you just miss it you can get shelter in Refugio Paine Grande while you wait. But remember the last ferry is at 6 pm!
The catamaran will drop you back at Pudeto wharf where your relevant transport option is hopefully waiting for you. A small cafe operates here to wait at should you need to and if you have more than an hour to kill, take a short walk to the Salto Grande waterfall.
Grey Glacier Hike Tips & Tricks
- Keep your wet weather gear handy on this trail as Grey Lake creates it’s own mini-climate and rain will undoubtedly come at some point in the day.
- Bring plenty of snacks and a packed lunch as the trail is 22km in total. The Refugios serve some snacks although full meals cater mostly to guests.
- Keep an eye on the time as catamaran is the only way out. We made the third last ferry quite easily so the full distance is definitely doable in a day.
- Refugio’s must be booked well in advance, both Paine Grande and Refugio Grey are booked online at verticepatagonia.cl
- See our full article Torres Del Paine DIY Guide for more tips.