There are dozens of incredible places to visit in Argentine Patagonia, but none quite capture the remote aspects of the region better than the small mountain village of El Chalten. Built in 1985 to secure the disputed border with Chile along the Southern Patagonia Icefield, El Chalten now only exists for tourism. Inside Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten is recognized as the trekking capital of Argentina. Only a handful of restaurants and hotels offer Wi-Fi or many amenities, and combined with the remoteness of the city, it helps to create an atmosphere of enjoying the natural setting over the busyness of modern life. Many hiking paths leave directly from the town, which negates the need for a car. Most people travel to El Chalten by bus from El Calafate. The two most popular treks to view the iconic peaks of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy both leave from town and can easily be combined into a two- to three-day loop. Depending on how much time you wish to spend, this loop can be done easily in either direction.
This write-up will describe doing the loop as a three-day trek in the counterclockwise direction. Starting on the northern-end of El Chalten, take the Sendero al Fitz Roy Trail and immediately begin a fairly steep 2-mile climb up 1,600 feet with some incredible views north along the Rio de Las Vueltas Valley. The trail levels out and offers a fork to either go toward Laguna Capri or a rocky outcropping that has an open view. Both directions offer similar distance, so it comes down to preference. Leaving the trees, the trail starts to dry out and follow the Chorillo del Salto creek. It then makes its way to the intersection with the Sendero Madre e Hija Trail, which will be taken on the second day to get to Laguna Torre.
Take a right here and you will soon reach another intersection with another trail in an open meadow. Follow signs to Poincenot Campground just below Laguna des los Tres. After setting up camp, a detour over to the Mirador Glaciar Piedras Blancas is worth a side trip to view the Piedras Blancas Glacier and lake. Get to bed early because an alpine start is recommended to catch the best light at Laguna des los Tres.
The trail to Laguna des los Tres is only 2.5 miles one-way, but it climbs steeply up 457 meters on steep switchbacks over about 2 kilometers. The view on top of Cerro Fitz Roy, Laguna des Los Tres and Laguna Sucia is nothing short of breathtaking. Make your way back down to camp and back up to move to the next campsite. Retrace your steps to the Sendero Madre e Hija Trail to hike alongside two massive lakes that you saw while descending from Laguna des los Tres. From when you leave Poincenot, your next campground at Agostini will be about 6.5 miles away, mostly downhill.
On the morning of your third day, enjoy the morning light over Laguna Torre. If your legs allow it, the view from Mirador Maestri is worth the side trip. Return to break down camp and hike back toward El Chalten while keeping an eye out for the elusive huemul deer, a very rare sighting in Patagonia. If you spot one, it is requested to report the sighting to a ranger for study. The trail from here will be mostly downhill, though a small climb will greet you about halfway back to El Chalten. A very different kind of gorge on your right that was carved by Rio Fitz Roy makes for an interesting change in scenery just before re-entering the town. By backpacking this loop rather than doing two day-hikes, you can enjoy a lot more solitude on the regularly-traveled trails from El Chalten.