Although these are technically two hikes, I’m going to combine them into one post. Most people do both lookouts in one day since they both start from Lago Pehoe (although from different sides of the lake). We did them over two days thanks to the unpredictable Patagonia weather! Both lookouts offer classic, and amazing, views of the famed Paine Massif and they’re a great way to spend a day (or two) if you aren’t up for one of the longer hikes in the park.
Mirador Los Cuernos
The Mirador Los Cuernos hike starts at just past the launch point for the catamaran across Lago Pehoe, which grants you access to Valle Frances for a day trip. At the parking lot for the hike, there are signs warning trekkers of the strong winds in the area. Although it was windy when we were there (about 30 mph winds aka strong enough to make hiking uncomfortable) we luckily didn’t experience the famous Torres del Paine winds that can easily gust to hurricane force and blow you off the trail. If it’s very windy, I’d recommend another hike.
The trail starts out as a wide, well-traveled trail to Salto Grande. Salto Grande is a large waterfall at the inlet to Lago Pehoe. The classic view of the waterfall is actually from the other side, which involves a boat ride and an approximately 6 mile roundtrip hike. The “easier” viewpoint is still beautiful, but you don’t get the Paine Massif in the background. We didn’t spend very much time at the waterfall because we arrived at the same time as a tour group and were a little turned off by all the people.
Instead, we continued on the trail to the lookout. It’s very apparent that most visitors only go to the waterfall, because the trail immediately became single track. It wound through the Patagonian brush and the scarred remains left from the fires that devastated Torres del Paine in 2005 and 2011. Although the trees are a sad reminder of the impacts of irresponsible tourism, they do add to the starkness of the landscape.
Although you can see Los Cuernos for the majority of the hike, when you arrive at the mirador the view is by far the best. The only thing between you and Los Cuernos is the aqua blue waters of Lago Nordenskjöld. We enjoyed the views, and the fact that we were the only people there for the majority of the time. On the way back we were able to enjoy Salto Grande without the hordes of people, in fact the wind scared every single other person away so it was just Jason and I at the overlook!
Hike Stats: 3.9 miles, 1076 feet elevation gain, 1:38:43 (moving time 1:11:21), Strava details here
The next morning we woke up to a flat tire, which immediately squashed our plans of a longer hike. Instead we wasted away the morning trying to get the WiFi to connect at our hotel so I could post a photo on Instagram, while also editing photos and writing my journal. Around 10:30 we finally mustered up enough motivation to go for a hike to Mirador Condores. There are two trailheads for this hike and, luckily for us, one was only 1/10th of a mile from our hotel!
After the brief 1/10th of a mile along the dirt road, the trail immediately began climbing up the side of a hill. And it continued to climb until we got to the lookout! Seriously, this trail is pretty short but very steep. Similarly to the Los Cuernos hike, this one also passes through the remnants of the Torres del Paine fires. Unlike the burn area of Los Cuernos, this one has many tiny trees, supported against the harsh elements by white biodegradable splints.
The view from the top is stunning. On a clear day you can see the entire Paine Massif, as well as Lago Pehoe, Largo Sarmiento, and, if you look close enough, part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Sheet. While we were there, a little grey fox paid us a visit (second fox we saw in Torres del Paine). This one was a little more shy than the first one and didn’t try to approach us. I still got a photo of him looking pretty darned cute!
While at the top, we decided to hike down the other trail instead of back the way we came. This would put us back on the road close to Salto Chico and the Explora hotel. The food at Hosteria Pehoe was terrible so we were hoping to get lunch at the Explora hotel! As we started down the trail, I was completely absorbed in thinking about whether or not the hotel would let people who were not guests eat there. Suddenly, Jason told me to stop walking and slowly back up. There was a puma less than 10 feet away from us. We slowly backed up the trail while keeping our eyes on the puma. He seemed surprised to see us and kept running higher up the hill, stopping to look at us, and then running up higher. Once we were a safe distance away I snapped a photo of the puma.
After the puma sighting we gave up on the plan of hiking down the other trail. Instead we went back the way we came. Once we made it back to the hotel we got to work changing the tire on our rental car. When we got there, there were people taking photos of a bird that was perched on our sideview mirror. We were able to get the spare out of the back and set up the jack but couldn’t find the jack point under the car. Jason asked me to look in the owner’s manual, which was useless since it was all in Spanish!
From the angle I was standing the people taking photos looked like they were taking pictures of us changing the tire, so I took a picture of them taking pictures of us. I think my photo may have snapped them out of their birding frenzy and they offered to help us. Within minutes they had the flat tire off the car and the spare on it! The people of Patagonia are some of the most friendly people I have ever met. We ended our adventures with another unappetizing meal at Hosteria Pehoe. Luckily the rest of the day more than made up for our eating and sleeping arrangements!
Hike Stats: 2.4 miles (from Hosteria Pehoe), 1,145 feet elevation gain, 1:42:43 (0:49:30 moving time) Strava details here