Distance: 15.4 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3,582 Feet
Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile
A trail that leads to the center of the Paine mountain range in Patagonia, Chile, the Mirador Valle del Frances is a long, but relatively flat trail with beautiful panoramic views of the Torres del Paine National Park. The trail begins at the Paine Grande Refugio, a small campsite that many of the park's "W Trek" hikers use. The hike is broken into three main ecosystems - the "steppes", "shrubland" and finally the "subpolar forest."
As you make your way up the first incline you're given a close up at the park's tallest peak - Paine Grande - which stands at just over 10,000'. As you continue on the trail you enter the a much damper biome, referred to as the "shrubland". Here you'll encounter small creeks running alongside the trail and occasionally through it. A bit of balance and maneuvering may be necessary to cross these streams depending on the day. Further along the trail you'll have to cross over a swinging bridge which, due to the strong winds of Patagonia in the summertime, swings quite a bit.
About 5 miles into the trail you'll reach the Italian basecamp - here you have an opportunity to rest, recharge and refill. While there used to be the option of camping, a recent forest fire in 2014 has shut down the camp. There are still a few options for rest nearby via the French and "Horns" Camps.
Finally, you'll enter the subpolar forest, a beautiful collection of windswept trees that line the nearby river flowing with glacier water from the mountains above. The trail gets a bit rocky but it's nothing you haven't seen before on this trail.
One last vertical climb gets you to the final lookout point of the trail. Here you'll have views of three glaciers, the Horns Mountains, the Paine Grande and a snowpacked mountain where, if you're lucky, you can hear and see small avalanches from the glaciers melting in the summertime.
This long but rewarding hike offers you a vast amount of natural spectacles. In the summertime, the weather can vary with winds often cooling off a warm summer day. Pack a water and some snacks, bring a camera and enjoy all that Torres del Paine National Park has to offer.