El Calafate is one of the most popular destinations in the Argentinean part of Patagonia.
It’s a prime location for adventure-lovers, thrill-seekers and outdoor people.
El Calafate is the perfect place to enjoy bird-watching, mountain-biking, kayaking, and (best of all) hiking.
This article is your ultimate guide to hiking in El Calafate.
These are all-day hikes, so they’re perfect for travellers who plan to stay in El Calafate town.
To get to some of the hikes on this list, you’ll be best served by renting a car.
El Calafate is a popular Patagonian destination because it’s easy to get to.
There’s a small airport just outside of town that hosts regular flights from Buenos Aires and Ushuaia.
At the El Calafate airport the Comandante Armando Tola International Airport there are car rentals.
Be sure to reserve an automatic transmission early, as they are harder to come by.
Patagonia is known for relatively unpredictable weather.
The high season for is summer, December and February.
If you want to avoid the crowds, then the best time to visit El Calafate is the months of October – November, or March – April.
Regardless of when you visit, you should be prepared for chilly temperatures, rain, or snow.
Best Hikes Near El Calafate
El Calafate is a moderate-sized town by Patagonia standards. There are all kinds of shopping opportunities, from luxury boutiques to artisan craft fairs.
You’ll also find plenty of restaurant options, ATMs, and hotels to choose from.
El Calafate is a civilization compared to El Chalten. Many travellers visiting El Calafate elect to visit El Chalten.
El Chalten is the ‘hiking capital of Argentina,’ and it’s only a 3-hour drive from El Calafate.
It’s a popular backpacking and climbing destination.
Many of the things to do in El Calafate are outside of town. For most convenience and ease of travel, renting a car is strongly encouraged.
Otherwise, you will be forced to book tours to visit certain destinations, or you’ll have to hitchhike. There are some bus routes, but the connection is spotty, and the frequency is limited.
Laguna Nimez Sanctuary
The Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary is the best place in El Calafate town for a short easy hike. If you are staying in one of El Calafate’s downtown hotels, you’ll easily be able to walk to the reserve.
The Laguna Nimez trail is a 1.5-mile loop rated as easy.
Laguna Nimez has been designated as an IBA or Important Bird Area. IBS means internationally significant regions with extensive biodiversity.
They are important conservation sites that ensure the survival of large numbers of species.
At Laguna Nimez Sanctuary, there are over 80 species of birds. You’ll find waterbirds like upland geese and black-necked swans.
There are also land birds and shorebirds. Although the most famous residents are the flamingos.
The hiking path at Laguna Nimez loops around the lagoons, through Patagonian steppe bushes and nesting areas.
You’ll enjoy some scenic lookouts along the way.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most unforgettable places to hike near El Calafate.
The most legendary thing to do at the Perito Moreno Glacier is to trek across it! You can drive to the national park on your own, but you won’t be able to hike across the glacier unless you book a tour ahead of time.
If you choose not to sign up for a glacial trek, you can still enjoy hiking around the Perito Moreno walkways.
The Perito Moreno walkways are built on a set of cliffs that directly oppose the glacier.
There are over just under 2 miles of walkways, and staircases that take you 1,300 ft! You’ll encounter several scenic walkways on the route.
If you choose to book an ice trekking tour, you’ll have some time to enjoy the walkways, but not enough time to explore them all.
Then, you’ll sail out to the glacier and get up close and personal with Perito Moreno.
The excursion involves some hiking on and off the ice.
To get to the place where you’ll get on the glacier, you’ll hike about 1-2 miles.
Next, you will set out onto the glacier with crampons on your feet.
There are two options for the ice trekking experience, the ‘mini ice trek’ and the ‘big ice trek.’ If you choose the mini ice trek, you’ll be led on a designated path through the ice.
This tour involves 1 hour of trekking on the ice.
The big ice trek involves 3 hours of glacial trekking on an undetermined path. The guide sets out on a new adventure each day!
The big ice trek is most suitable for athletic individuals who can tolerate some strenuous activity.
La Leona Petrified Forest
The La Leona Petrified Forest is one of the best places to hike near El Calafate. Visitors will be in awe of the unbelievably unique landscapes.
Unfortunately, the La Leona Petrified Forest is on privately owned lands, so the only way to visit is to book a tour.
What exactly is a petrified forest? Petrified forests are formed when plant materials are buried and protected from decay.
Over time, the original plant material is replaced with silica, calcite, and pyrite — this is a fossil.
Petrified forests are named for the petrified wood (or plant fossils). The La Leona Petrified Forest reveals remnants from living beings that existed roughly 70 million years ago.
You’ll find more than just fossils at La Leona! There are also sea creatures and dinosaur fossils to discover.
There are different tour options available for visiting La Leona. Most tours offer round trip transportation from your hotel in El Calafate.
The forest is less than an hour’s drive from town.
You can choose from tours that include kayaking along the La Leona River, or tours that focus on hiking.
The Walichu Caves offer an easy hiking opportunity just outside of town. While the caves are only 15 minutes outside of town, the easiest way to get there is by car.
You don’t need to book a tour to visit the Walichu Caves. Just drive over and purchase your admission ticket once you arrive.
The Walichu Caves are a rustic open-air museum. During the short walk, you’ll learn about the primitive humans that lived in Patagonia 15,000 years ago.
It’s almost unbelievable that their cave paintings remain.
One of the most significant cave paintings near El Calafate is the Cave of Hands. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It is thought that the hands were stenciled and that the dye was imprinted using a spray pipe. At the Walichu Caves, you can see similar handprint paintings.
Besides leaving handprints, these indigenous Patagonian peoples drew guanacos, puma, and other animals they encountered.
It is believed that the pictures represented hunting maps and techniques.
The dyes used in the cave paintings were made with iron oxides, kaolin, and natrojarosite.
As you hike around the small pathways, be sure to tune into the audio guide that accompanies your admission ticket.
El Chalten is a famous hiking destination in Argentina. It’s a primitive town known for hiking and backpacking, and it’s also considered the ‘hiking capital of Argentina.
You can get to El Chalten in 3 hours driving from El Calafate.
Visit El Chalten on your own, or book a tour. There are an abundance of hiking opportunities to choose from.
With so many options, you may consider spending a few nights in El Chalten.
It is especially beautiful when the sun comes out, as you’ll be able to see some awe-inspiring jagged peaks, including the famous Fitz Roy.
Some of the shorter day hikes in El Chalten include Mirador Los Cóndores, Chorrillo del Salto, and Laguna Capri.
Mirador Los Condores is a popular 2-3 mile round trip hike that takes you to a scenic panoramic view over El Chalten town.
Some of the top-rated full-day hikes include Laguna Torre and Laguna de Los Tres.
These hikes are each around 9-11 miles. They shouldn’t be attempted if you are fitting in a drive to El Chalten or a drive back to El Calafate. If you want to do these hikes, you should book a hotel in El Chalten.
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine National Park is in Chile, but it’s easy to get to from El Calafate.
The park is a 3-hour drive from El Calafate.
Although, be sure to account for time and resources for a border crossing.
You’ll also need to bring your passport.
You can choose to visit Torres del Paine from El Calafate on your own or with an organized tour.
Some of the shorter day hikes in Torres del Paine include Cuernos Lookout, The Fauna Trail, and Lago Skottsberg.
These can all be completed in less than 4 hours.
They are ideal for travellers planning to head back to El Chalten.
If you elect to spend a few nights in Torres del Paine, you may consider some of the more challenging day hikes.
The top-picks include Base La Torres, Laguna Azul, and Grey Glacier.
Looking idea for more hikes around South America?
Calafate Mountain Park
Calafate Mountain Park is one of the lesser-known hidden gems. In the wintertime, it doubles as a ski resort.
In the summertime, you can enjoy hiking and kayaking. Guests arriving in Calafate Mountain Park will take the Mountain Chairlift to the top.
It’s a lovely scenic ride with panoramic views. The mountain is relatively flat, so it’s a perfect place for beginners learning how to ski.
It’s also perfect for hiking in snowshoes! Snowshoes are available for rent on-site, and you can choose to hike alone or take a guided tour.
There is a 2k and 5k trail for snowshoeing.
Fossil Canyons at Estancia Cristina
Besides La Leona, there’s another amazing place to discover fossils while hiking near El Calafate.
Fossil Canyon is located at Estancia Cristina – a remote boutique ranch outside of El Calafate.
Estancia Cristina offers all-inclusive experiences for travellers who are seeking solitude.
To get to Estancia Christina, you have to sail across Lake Argentino.
This exclusive accommodation is located in a pristine corner of Los Glaciares National Park.
Within Fossil Canyon, you will discover remnants from 170 million years ago.
This region is especially rich in marine fossils, so be on the lookout for imprints of tentacles from squid and jellyfish.
This gorgeous privileged location is only possible to access with an organized tour.
There is no way to reach Estancia Cristina without taking the ferry.
It is a challenging but rewarding experience!
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