A Q&A guide to the Fitz Roy day hike, telling you exactly what you need to know to reach this iconic peak
We had unfinished business with Fitz Roy. We first visited in 2015 after a disappointing trip to Torres del Paine in Chile. It was winter in Patagonia and thanks to awful weather we saw absolutely nothing.
A local guide told us to try El Chaltén in Argentina where one of the most beautiful mountains in the world looms over the village itself. In an effort to redeem the journey south, we followed his advice and headed to El Chaltén.
Alas, it was not to be. After hiking 18km (11mi) to Laguna Torre, we suffered the same fate: a complete and utter whiteout. Peter was especially crushed. As a mountain junkie, he couldn’t believe that he had missed seeing these iconic peaks.
What he didn’t know then is that we would be back seven years later on our trip to Antarctica. This time around, we made a different faux pas. Lulled into a false sense of security given our experience in travel, we failed to pre-book a room. We assumed that we could work it out when we got there. To our surprise, El Chaltén was completely full. Not a single room was available.
Determined not to miss out, we opted to stay in El Calafate a three-hour drive away and use the public bus to do the Fitz Roy day hike (also known as the Laguna de Los Tres trail). As a result, we had to do the hike in a rush to catch the returning bus. We managed it, but by god it was exhausting. To help you have an easier time, we’ve put together this essential guide.
What is Fitzy Roy?
Fitz Roy is a picturesque mountain in Patagonia, on the border between Argentina and Chile. At 3,375m (11,073ft), it is the highest peak in Los Glaciares National Park and one of the most popular sights in the region. Access is via the village of El Chaltén, named after Fitzy Roy’s Tehuelche name, meaning ‘smoking mountain’, likely due to the fact that it’s often shrouded in cloud.
Atlas & Boots
We were lucky with the weather this time
Explorers Francisco Pascasio Moreno (aka Perito Moreno) and Carlos Moyano later named it Fitz Roy after the captain of the Beagle, the ship that took Darwin on his famous expedition.
What distance does the Fitz Roy day hike cover?
The Fitz Roy day hike is 24km (15mi) from the trailhead at Sendero al Fitz Roy to the glacial lake of Laguna de Los Tres.
If you are walking to the trailhead from the bus terminal (Terminal de Ómnibus El Chaltén), add an extra 2km each way, making the overall total 28km (17mi).
The elevation gain is 1,067m, much of which occurs at the end, so conserve your energy with snacks, breaks and plenty of water.
How long does the Fitz Roy day hike take?
Allow yourself 8-10 hours to complete the Fitz Roy day hike. We covered 28km (including the walk from and to the bus stop) in 7.5 hours but this was at quite a pace. Give yourself plenty of time for photos and breaks, and start early to beat the heat.
It’s also worth noting that what we regard as normal hiking etiquette didn’t seem to be in place there (i.e. moving to the side to let faster hikers pass). As such, you may find yourself stuck behind slower hikers. If this happens, try to find an appropriate place to pass, or politely ask, ‘Disculpe, podemos pasar?’ (or ‘Disculpe, puedo pasar?’ if there’s only one of you).
How hard is the Fitz Roy day hike?
Fitz Roy should be approached as a challenging hike. While much of it meanders along well-beaten paths at level terrain, the last hour is punishing, especially in the heat. Most of the 1,067m elevation gain is in this last section and the terrain varies from large boulders to loose gravel. Give yourself plenty of time and go slowly.
Where does the Fitz Roy day hike start and finish?
The Fitz Roy day hike begins at Sendero al Fitz Roy and finishes at the glacial lake of Laguna de Los Tres.
What should I pack?
As with any hike, you should pack plenty of water, food, sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, layers of clothing, and some form of navigation (paper/digital map and compass). Wear comfortable hiking boots, ideally with some ankle support for the last section of the hike. It’s also worth packing a good camera given the extraordinary views.
When’s the best time for the Fitz Roy day hike?
The best time to hike to Fitz Roy is December to February. We visited in January and had glorious weather. This is, however, peak season so expect price hikes and busy trails.
The shoulder months of Sep-Nov and Mar-Apr are also good times to go. Be warned, however, that the weather in Patagonia is highly changeable so pack for all eventualities. Whichever month you choose, start the hike early to beat the heat and the crowds.
Can I do the Fitzy Roy day hike alone?
Yes, you can do the Fitz Roy day hike alone. Make sure you read this guide from start to finish so that you’re well prepared.
Can I do the Fitz Roy day hike from El Calafate?
Yes, but we would not advise doing so via public transport like we did. Instead, hire a car or book a private tour. Some well-reviewed options are below.
If you’re determined to do it with public transport, you can book tickets for the public bus online. We caught the following buses, but times vary outside of peak season. Also note that our bus arrived into El Chaltén late (at 11am), which cut into our hiking time. Plan accordingly.
08.00 – 10.40 bus from El Calafate Bus Terminal to El Chaltén (2h 40m)
19.30 – 22.20 bus from El Chaltén to El Calafate Bus Terminal (2h 50m)
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Lead image: Atlas & Boots