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Trekking the Patagonian Ice Cap

Trekking on the Ice CapThe IceCap is the world's 3rd largest mass of ice and trekking and living on it is a truly unique, and at times bleak, experience. Whilst you don't need technical expertise or experience you'll want plenty of resolve to face the extreme conditions that the Patagonian weather will throw at you. Find trips based out of El Chalten, longer expeditions or expeditions on the Northern IceCap.

You can also read our guide and check out the map showing key landmarks for Ice Cap Expeditions.




South Patagonian IceCap, around Fitz Roy  

South Patagonian Ice Field Expedition

Trek across the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap over 6-9 days with a local mountaineering operator based in El Chalten. You'll be supported and lead ...

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10 days


Southern Patagonia IceCap Expedition

Trek out onto the South Patagonian IceCap, via the Marconi Pass, with a local operator who specialises in trekking and mountaineering in Patagonia. You'll ...

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10 days


Patagonia Ice Cap Trek

Trek onto the South Patagonian Ice Cap with an American mountaineering company that specialises in the Andes. You'll spend at least 2 days and ...

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10 days


South Ice Field Circuit

Hike out onto the Southern Ice Cap and spend 3 days trekking and living on the ice, with a local specialist. You'll take in ...

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12 days


Longer Expeditions (>8 days on the Ice)  

Skiing Patagonia - Northern Patagonia

Spend 13 days on the North Patagonian Ice Cap, exploring the Neff glacier, skiing to the base of the highest mountain in Patagonia (San ...

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17 days


Volcan Lauturo, Southern IceCap

Trek across the ice cap to climb an active volcano, spending up to 13 days on the Ice. Your guide is an Italian who ...

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19 days


Patagonia Ice Cap ski expedition

You'll spend 11 days on the IceCap, covering over 90km, and will attempt to climb the remote Cerro Moreno (at 3,505m). This is one ...

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20 days


Northern Ice Field  

Aysen Glacier Trail

The proximity of this trek to the glaciers of the Northern Ice Cap, the variety of landscapes you will see means the Aysén Glacier ...

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10 days


Skiing Patagonia - Northern Patagonia

Spend 13 days on the North Patagonian Ice Cap, exploring the Neff glacier, skiing to the base of the highest mountain in Patagonia (San ...

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17 days


Trekking on the Patagonian IceCap - your questions answered

What is the Patagonian IceField/IceCap/Campo de Hielo?

Map of the Patagonian Ice CapsTwo vast caps of ice up to 1km thick, one in the North and one in the South.

The North Patagonian Icefield defines the huge Laguna San Rafael National Park in the Aisen Region of Chile. It covers 4,200 square kliometres and feeds 28 exit glaciers including San Rafael and Neff.

The larger South Patagonian Icefield (Campo de Hielo Sur) is 350km long and up to 40km wide. It influences and dominates nearly all of Southern Patagonia's must-see destinations; it feeds the Grey Glacier of Torres del Paine National Park in the South, and the famous Perito Moreno in the North. It provides the meltwater that makes Bernardo O Higgins park a truly unique kayaking destination. It sets a vast backdrop to Mount Fitz Roy and the Los Glaciares National Park.

And yet, very few people can really say they've set foot on either IceCap!




Where are the main trekking routes?

On the Northern IceCap routes tend to focus on the area around the Neff glacier.

There have been a few expeditions that have attempted the full length of the South Patagonian IceField from North to South - some more successful than others. Crossing West to East is more realistic and a number of expeditions have done this.

But if it's more of a 1-3 week expedition that you're after then then most treks focus on the area to the West of Mount Fitzroy, starting out from Los Glaciares National Park and the small town of El Chalten in Argentina. You'll typically head onto the Ice Cap via the Marconi Pass or Paso del Viento, and key landmarks include the Circo de Los Altares (a huge natural amphitheatre at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy), Volcan Lauturo (roughly 12 miles to the NorthWest of the Marconi Pass, and yes, there is a volcano underneath this Ice Cap!), Gorra Blance to the North, and Cerro Moreno (West of the Paso del Viento).

Some trips give you a taster with just 1 or 2 days trekking on the ice, on others you'll live on the ice for 3-5 days. For those who can get away for 3 or more weeks the longer expeditions spend 8 days+ on the ice and allow you to climb several of the peaks mentioned above.

What equipment do you need?

To get across the ice you need snow shoes, skis and sledge (all of which would be organised by an operator), in additional to all your standard personal gear.

Do I need a guide?


What are the weather conditions like?

Expect wind, lots of wind, and highly changeable conditions (very exposed the weather patterns of the Pacific Ocean) and, of course, snow.

Where do you sleep overnight?

There aren't many refugios out here! You'll be in tents each night, completed surrounded by snow and ice.

What experience do I need?

For the 5 to 12 day trips where you'll spend 4 to 5 days on the IceCap you don't need specific experience or technical expertise - your guides will provide you with all the training you need at the start of your trip. However you should have a high level of fitness and the mental resolve to be able to handle the extreme weather conditions.

For the longer expeditions guides do require you to have experience in this kind of environment.

Map of key landmarks visited on IceCap expeditions

Google Map

Questions? Need help?

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Los Glaciares Guide

Read out guide to the Los Glaciares National Park and find tours that visit the Perito Moreno glacier.

Trekking in Los Glaciares:


See Hotels in El Chalten and Calafate and nearby Estancias

See our El Chalten Map

Hotels Los Glaciares NP

Find our recommended hotels in:


or see estancias around El Chalten

When are you
thinking of going?


See Patagonia at the height of the season, when you'll have 18 hours of daylight and feel Patagonia's infamous wind at its strongest. There are just so many options open to you in addition to hiking, why not try glacier trekking, mountain biking and white water rafting on the rapids of the Futaleufu River?

If you want to visit last minute, the key is moving quickly and booking your flights. Availability in Chalten shouldn't be too difficult but in Torres del Paine it's likely that refugios will be fully booked. Don't worry though, it's warm enough to camp under the stars. If you're still in the planning stages of your trip but hope to go this season, it's a good idea to get flights booked as early as possible and make the most of Patagonia's summer before autumn sets in April.


February is a great time to trek Patagonia's national parks, in particular Torres del Paine quietens down as Chilean visitors head back to their cities. In Feb you can expect temperatures of between 5 and 19 degrees in Torres del Paine, and this could be a good time to trek the W Circuit independently if you want to save some money to go kayaking for example.

If you want to go in February but you've left it last minute, you may be able to find a late deal on our Exclusive Deals page. Your best bet is finding a Patagonia Tours which tend to have lots of departure dates to join during February.

If you're considering visiting next season, (starting in October), why not getting your flights booked good and early? If you're lucky you may be able to get flights from London to Punta Arenas for £850.


March is the tail end of the season for adventure in Patagonia so the infamous Patagonian wind will be on its way out, there'll be fewer people in the national parks so generally quieter on the trails. This is great as you may find prices come down slightly as the locals and tourists leave, but it's more difficult to get a group together, so could be harder if you're travelling alone (although we'll strive to pair you up with someone). However, most longer, multi-location trips run by our global operator partners still run in March and they tend to have bigger groups, but prepare for rain if your trip visits the lake district!


In April the season is coming to an end, so try to get there in the first half of the month for more availability and better weather conditions. If you're hoping to stay in the Eco Camp in Torres del Paine or do an adventure cruise round Cape Horn, they finish for the season in early April, so get going! Luckily it's about this time that skiing in Bariloche becomes available in the Argentinian Lake District. Remember that many mountain lodges and estancias close around this time making it hard to do the W or Full Circuit for example. Plus certain services become unavailable such as the catamaran across Lago Pehoe in Torres del Paine and glacier hiking, so it may be a good idea to go earlier in the season if these are on your list of things to do.

Find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>


Winter is getting into full swing now so you may want to try out volcano skiing in the Patagonian Lake District or tailor made tours that take into account the potentially difficult weather conditions. As many operators and lodges wind down for the winter, fewer travellers visit the trails and parks so private departures on most trips are likely. The weather will be a bit like trekking in wales in Dec, are you up for that challenge?

Find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>


At this time of year, the snow is starting to settle in Torres del Paine National Park and the trees are brown and orange, a very beautiful time to see the highlights. June is also when operators launch their Winter W Circuit and Fitz Roy trips, which vary from the usual itineraries as many refugios are closed and van transfers are required because the catamaran across Lago Pehoe stops. Although days are short and weather temperamental, if you can see Patagonia in winter, it will be serene and picturesque.

Find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>


Mid winter, July is equivalent to our January in terms of weather. This is a great time to take advantage of the skiing Patagonia has to offer, particularly in the Chilean and Argentinian Lake Districts. Araucania offers off piste skiing, whereas Bariloche is home to the popular Cerro Catedral Resort but also caters for off piste skiing. For adrenaline junkies, you can ski down the slopes of several volcanoes on certain trips. If you're planning a trip for next season, start looking at flights as the sooner you book them, the cheaper they are.

If you hope to visit Torres del Paine this month, find out more about visiting Torres del Paine in winter >>


This is a great time for snow shoeing in Bariloche, or skiing in the Patagonian Lake District. There are also some winter trips in the Torres del Paine & Fitz Roy areas. Come prepared - cold temperatures, snow and short days means that your trip may not go 100% according to plan, Chalten is known for snow blocking the roads for a day or 2. Alternatively, August is a great time to plan and book trips for the early part of the season ahead, at this time operators will be starting to release availability and rates to help with that.

August is the last month to take advantage of specially designed winter trips in Torres del Paine. If you're keen to see the park covered in snow, find out more about hiking in Torres del Paine in winter >>


In September, it's still pretty chilly in Patagonia, with snow and temperatures of 5 degrees in El Calafate for example. If you're hoping to trek the main national parks, you may find that operators don't have any groups heading out, so you may have to go on a private trip with just your guide. The season really kicks off at the end of September/beginning of October with W Circuit and Full Circuit trips as well as estancias and lodges opening their doors to clients.

However, winter trips are still running in Torres del Paine. Find out more here >>


Get in before the crowds - you won't see many people on the W Circuit and you'll have the northern part of the park pretty much to yourself on the Full Circuit (you may even come face to face with the endangered Huemul deer). It's still a bit too early for horse riding and rafting trips, you're best off doing these from November onwards. So if you're thinking about visiting Patagonia this season, get your flights and trips booked, as availability really starts to tighten up over October/November.


November is a good time to visit: late spring/early summer. Not too busy but a full range of trips and itineraries to choose from. If you want to visit this month, you need to move fast. Refugios are getting booked up until January, but the operator will work hard to fit you in. Don't forget it takes at least a week to organise a tour, so don't leave it too late!


Mid summer, 18 hours of daylight and there will probably be days when you're hiking in shorts and t-shirt. Many Chileans and Argentinians will come down to Patagonia for their Christmas break so availability may be tight and you should expect the National Parks to be busier.

It's essential that you get your flights and tours booked asap, as flight prices are also increasing.

Guide to Patagonia

Patagonia spans over 1,000 miles north to south and landscapes ranging from forests, to glaciers, to volcanoes and deserts. Read our Patagonia Guide to find out: how to get there, when to go, what to see and how to find the best trip. Or find out about:


Read our Patagonia Guide >


How can we help you?

We are Patagonian specialists, and have helped all sorts of different people arrange their perfect adventure holiday in Patagonia. Whatever your budget, group size, length of stay, preferred activity or appetite for adventure we're here to help you.

  • Join a group trek or tour
  • Plan an independent day by day itinerary
  • Organise your group's trek, expedition or multi-sport adventure
  • Tailor-made luxury holidays


Find out how we can help you >>

About Swoop

We've spent 15 years exploring Patagonia, and arranged holidays for over a thousand customers. We have a network of trusted guides, lodges, and local operators across the region and delight in helping people plan and arrange a great holiday.

You can book directly with our local partners in Chile and Argentina, or with our ATOL certified company here in the UK.

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