A Self-Guided Tour of Torres del Paine With Little Kids
Torres del Paine With Kids
Want to explore the majestic Torres del Paine National Park, but aren’t sure what is possible with little kids? Then you’re in the right place.
We have three little boys — three, six, and nine years old. Obviously, that precludes the epic multi-day hiking adventures through wilderness and glaciers that non-encumbered adults get to have. But that doesn’t mean we missed out!
We chose activities that we could do in one or two hour chunks. Some involved some serious hiking. Others you could drive straight up to a lookout point.
We split these activities into two consecutive days. A lot of time was spent stopping at the miradores [lookout points] along the road, which I won’t list here because they’re along the main route and easy to find.
This post is entirely child-centered. The difficulty rating is from the perspective of a 3-year-old. Our “time to complete” figures are what it actually took our family to complete the trails. That’s according to Google’s creepy moment-by-moment tracking that I can’t bring myself to turn off. The total duration included the hiking pace of a three-year-old, stops to pee in the bush, pausing to resolve disputes about who hit whom with a stick first, snack breaks, and stopping to take copious family photos. In other words, the times are realistic for a family with kids.
Driving to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales
The following route and hiking trail recommendations were made assuming you are exploring the park from the Chilean side. In that case, you are most likely staying in Puerto Natales. But of course there are also hotels within the park.
There many car rental companies in Puerto Natales, including a few that you can book online (like Europcar).
For South America, driving is relatively tame around here. We took an economy manual transmission car without 4×4 and had no problems on any of the roads. Just note that some of the roads leading up to and within the park had major potholes. So drive carefully in those areas.
It does take almost two hours to get from Puerto Natales to the park entrance, so make sure to take that into account when planning your day. The drive is gorgeous!
You will need to buy tickets in advance online. If you arrive at the park entrance without them, they will ask you to use an internet connection and your phone to purchase them before coming back to the park ranger.
Coming back you have two options. One is to go back the way you came, which is a beautiful drive. The other is to loop back to the East (as shown on the following map). It was a very interesting drive, since the landscape changes drastically on that side. It was also kind of annoying because much of the highway was under construction when we went and we drove more than half the way on gravel.
Our Recommendations on a Map
1. Lago Grey
3-YO Difficulty Rating: Moderate
Time to Complete: 1h 30m
Trail Description: Mostly flat. Some moderately difficult terrain around beach and bluff.
To get there, you must park your at Hotel Lago Grey. From there take a trail that crosses the bridge and comes out at a sandy beach. You walk left, up the length of the beach until you get to another trail along the bluffs. At the end of that trail you’re supposed to be able to cross along a sand bar in the lake that ends at an island. (Unfortunately, the water was too high for us to get to the end point). From there you can see the glacier.
When we returned to the hotel, we found a secluded spot along the lake where we could see the glacier from afar.
2. Mirador Condor (and Picnic)
3-YO Difficulty Rating: Difficult
Time to Complete: 1h 45m
Trail Description: A lot of hiking uphill. We had to carry the 3-yo part of the way. The other kids did fine.
Before making the climb, we ate lunch at the picnic tables near the trailhead. There we were surprised by a wild fox that suddenly appeared and timidly investigated us from afar before disappearing into the tall grass.
The hike takes you to the top of a cliff. Condors nest in the side, where you can see them take flight from time to time. The entire path offers increasingly breathtaking views as you ascend. This was the only hike where we had to carry the three-year-old part of the way. He could have made it, but he was acting his age.
3. Mirador Salto Grande and Mirador Cuernos Hike
3-YO Difficulty Rating: Easy \ Moderate
Time to Complete: 2h 30m
Trail Description: Well groomed trail that is mostly flat. The only difficulty is its length. We promised chocolate if the three-year-old did the whole trail himself. He succeeded.
This there-and-back hike required the biggest investment of time. But it was well worth it! It was our favorite and most memorable hike.
Very quickly, you reach the Mirador Salto Grande. An other-worldly waterfall cutting through a pristine hillscape of shrub covered rocks.
The rest of the hike covers a flat or lightly hilly trail. We stopped by the lake to bottle and drink some of the ancient melted glacier water. The boys skipped and pranced through the sublime panorama, stopping to pick calafate berries along the way. We witnessed an avalanche from afar and spotted a guanaco up close.
4. Cascada Rio Paine
3-YO Difficulty Rating: Easy
Time to Complete: As long as you want to stay and take pictures.
Trail Description: You drive right up to it. Very little walking.
The Cascada Rio Paine is a short walk from the parking lot. Located at the top end of our driving route, it’s a great stop for the end of the day when you have a car full of exhausted kids (and parents). You can stroll around and take pictures of this mind-blowing natural wonder to your heart’s content.
Then drive back, find a nice restaurant in town, and eat one of those tasty local roasted lamb dishes. You earned it!