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French Valley Torres del Paine Hike (Mirador Britanico & Frances)

French Valley Torres del Paine Hike (Mirador Britanico & Frances)

When it comes to day hikes out in Torres del Paine National Park, the Valle del Frances (or French Valley) is certainly towards the top of the list.

During a hike up you will get some of the best views you can ask for of Lago Pehoe, Lago Skottsberg, Lago Nordenskojld, Cuernos del Paine and much more.

Once you reach the Valle del Frances itself, you will also be able to visit two lookouts at Mirador Frances & Mirador Britanico (if time permits). When it comes to viewpoints at Torres del Paine, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Learn more about the Valle del Frances day hike and how it can fit into a longer W or O Trek itinerary.

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1) Valle del Frances (French Valley) Overview

The Valle del Frances makes up the middle section of the famed “W” Circuit. While many people add it onto a multi day trek (O or W Circuit), it is also possible to visit the valley as part of a Torres del Paine day hike.

Now, completing this as a day hike comes with some logistical and timing considerations. That is because you must take a car/bus to a catamaran dock, and then take a boat to the starting point at Paine Grande. At day’s end, you must then be sure to make that last catamaran across so you don’t get stuck in the National Park.

While I will go into logistics in the following section, I did want to lay out some high level hiking details below.

Since there are some logistical and timing concerns here as part of a day hike, many people will not be able to visit both Mirador Frances & Mirador Britanico.

As Britanico is further up the valley, many simply head to Mirador Frances before turning around.

Valle del Frances (Mirador Frances Only)

  • Round Trip Length: 11.5 miles / 18.5 km
  • Elevation Gain: 2,175 feet / 663 meters
  • Duration: ~6-7 hours

Valle del Frances (Mirador Frances & Mirador Britanico)

  • Round Trip Length: 15.6 miles / 25.1 km
  • Elevation Gain: 3,250 feet / 990 meters
  • Duration: ~8-9 hours

Closing Time

An important consideration when heading up the Valle del Frances are the closing times of the trail. Now these can change over time, so you will want to check once you arrive.

However, during my time in Torres del Paine, there was a sign at the Italiano Camp (around 4 miles / 7 km into the hike), that mentioned two closing times.

The trail from Italiano towards the first lookout at Mirador Frances closes at 3:00PM, meaning you can’t begin your hike after that time (this shouldn’t be an issue). It also mentioned you cannot continue onwards to Mirador Britanico after 1:00PM.

From my understanding, the closure is saying you cannot continue onwards from Italiano to Mirador Frances after 3:00PM, and you cannot then continue from Mirador Frances to Britanico after 1:00PM.

If you are trying to get all the way to Mirador Britanico, this means you will need to hike very quickly to make the cutoff further up the valley.

Frances Trail Closure

Torres del Paine National Park Entrance Fee

Note that there is an entrance fee for Torres del Paine that should be purchased ahead of time online. If taking part of a day hike, the “up to 3 day” ticket is $35 USD. A 3+ day ticket costs $49 USD.

Hike to Mirador Britanico

2) Hike Logistics

The below is going to be more geared to the logistics of a day hike. However, I will talk about the W & O Circuit as well in the following sections.

Before starting the Valle del Frances hike, you will have two logistical parts to figure out:

1) Puerto Natales to Pudeto
2) Pudeto to Paine Grande

Puerto Natales to Pudeto

The first part of the day will entail getting yourself from Puerto Natales to the catamaran terminal at Pudeto. There are two main ways to go about this – rental car or bus.

Rental Car

To remove any logistical concerns throughout a trip to Patagonia, you can simply rent your own car during your time in Chile.

This will be helpful with those opting for day trips (like Mirador Las Torres) instead of longer multi day routes. The drive should be faster and easier than the bus and you can park right at Pudeto.

Feel free to check out for plenty of rental options across various price points.

Renting a car also gives you a chance to road trip along to other places in Patagonia like Tierra del Fuego National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier, and other top highlights (such as Laguna de Los Tres).


Instead of renting a car, you can instead take a bus to Pudeto. Bus Sur runs busses throughout the season from Puerto Natales, with the earliest one at 6:45AM.

The bus will first stop at the Amarga park entrance, before continuing onto Pudeto. The total length of the bus ride should be just around 3 hours (arriving closer to 10:00AM).

The last bus leaves Pudeto at 7:45PM and arrives in Puerto Natales at 9:50PM.

Please be sure to check the latest schedules before you go, and purchase your tickets ahead of time.

If you do not want to do this on your own, you can also join a day trip guided tour of the Valle del Frances

Amarga Bus

Pudeto to Paine Grande

Once at Pudeto, you will then need to hop on a catamaran to get to the starting point of the hike at Paine Grande. These cost $30 USD each way and do not need to be reserved ahead of time.

The first catamaran leaves at 9:00AM (not possible to make it with the bus) and the second at 10:30AM. The return catamarans leave Paine Grande at 5:00PM and 6:35PM.

Note that catamaran schedules change throughout the year. Please be sure to check out Hipsur and this Torres del Paine website for latest departure times for the catamarans.

If all of these timing still hold true, you could take the 6:45AM bus, get to Pudeto at 9:45AM, take the 10:30AM catamaran, and begin your hike just past 11:00AM.

That will give you 6-7 hours to complete the round trip hike before catching one of the last catamarans at day’s end. If you drive yourself, you can get an additional 1.5 hour head start with the earlier catamaran (a definite advantage to remove any worry).

Again, please check the latest bus and catamaran schedules before you head out.

Cuernos del Paine Patagonia

3) Hiking Map

Below you can find the hiking map that shows the route and logistics for the day. This includes:

  • Route from Puerto Natales to Pudeto
  • Catamaran from Pudeto to Paine Grande
  • Round trip hike up Valle del Frances

4) Day Hike vs O & W Circuits

As mentioned, there are a couple main ways to go about the hike up to the French Valley.

French Valley Day Hike

The simplest of ways is to just make this a day hike – an out and back trail from Paine Grande. If you opt for a day hike, you will need to make your way by bus or rental car from Puerto Natales to the National Park. By now you should have a good idea of what those logistics would entail.

If you do not want to worry about doing this on your own, you can also join a day trip guided tour of the Valle del Frances.

W Circuit or O Circuit

While a day hike is one way to go about it, taking part of a multi day hike around Torres del Paine is another way to do so.

The W Circuit is a 4-5 day hike that takes you towards some of the top highlights that the National Park has to offer (including Valle del Frances). On the other hand, the O Circuit is an 8 day hike that includes all of the W, in addition to exploring the “backside” of Torres del Paine.

The W trek can be done in either direction as a one-way route, while the O can only be done as a counter clockwise loop trail.

W Circuit

If taking part of the W Circuit, you will be visiting the Valle del Frances in the middle of your trek.

Going east to west, the Valle del Frances will most likely be your third day out on the trail. You will begin at the Frances campsite, visit the valley and then continue onwards to the Paine Grande campsite.

Going west to east, the valley may also be your third day out on the trail. The night before you would be staying at the Paine Grande campsite, before heading out to the Valle del Frances in the morning. After visiting the valley, you can then stay at the Frances campsite.

Learn more about the W Circuit and everything that it entails.

O Circuit

The O Circuit will be somewhat similar to the west to east option mentioned above.

The night prior you can stay at the Paine Grande campsite before taking the hike to the valley. It is then back down to the Frances campsite, where you will stay the night.

Learn more about the O Circuit and everything that it entails.

O Trek Map

5) Weather & Forecasts

One of the most important considerations when hiking in Patagonia will be the weather. For those that are not aware already, the Patagonian weather can be quite crazy.

Not only on a day to day basis, but also on an hour to hour basis.

During my time hiking up the French Valley I had all sorts of weather. The sun, clouds, wind, rain, and even snow all came into play throughout the hike.

I remember at one point while I was at the Mirador Britanico, that it was sunny above me, but there was snow blowing in from further up the valley.

If you are doing this as a day hike, you should have more flexibility in picking a day that looks best on the forecast. The last thing you want is to arrive at the viewpoint and it all be covered in thick low lying clouds.

For weather forecasts, the locals seem to favor Windguru (linked to the Valle del Frances). Be on the lookout for days that have little/no precipitation and low lying clouds.

While forecasts are never going to be perfect, they are the best way to understand what the weather may entail.

Britanico Lookout Mountains

Hiking Resources & Checklist

Before heading out for the trails, be sure to read up on some of the hiking resources up on the site. These are here to better prepare you for all types of outdoor adventure.

6) Torres del Paine Packing List

As you can tell, hiking in Patagonia, especially in Torres del Paine National Park, can bring all sorts of weather.

Due to this, you will need to come fully prepared with the appropriate hiking gear. Spending 6-8+ hours out in the mountains can have you layering up (or down) in all sorts of ways.

Below are my recommendations on what a Torres del Paine day hike packing list should look like:

→ Hiking Shorts
→ Hiking Pants
→ Short Sleeve Shirt
→ Long Sleeve Shirt / Sun Hoodie
→ Mid Layer Fleece
→ Puff Jacket (not always needed)
→ Packable Rain Jacket (Columbia Watertight II)

→ Hiking Shoes (Recommendation: Keen Targhee)
Hiking Socks (Darn Tough)

Additional day hike recommendations include:

→ Hiking Backpack (Osprey Talon 22) & Rain cover (Joy Walker Cover)
→ Water Bottle (CamelBak Chute) & Nutrition
→ Portable Charger (Anker PowerCore 5000mAh)
→ Hat & Sunglasses
→ Sunscreen & Bug Spray
→ Action Camera – GoPro Hero

Be sure to check out the Torres Del Paine Packing List guide I put together that will go through all of it and more

Hike to Cuernos del Paine

7) Valle del Frances Hike

Now that you have some information on the logistics for the day, let’s talk about the hike itself. I will go through it as a round trip day hike from Paine Grande. However, this will be essentially the same route if adding it onto the O Trek or a west to east W Trek.

Paine Grande to Camp Italiano (4.3 miles / 6.9 km)

After getting yourself off the catamaran, you will arrive right at the Paine Grande campsite and refugio. You can get yourself all prepped before continuing on the route around Lake Pehoe.

The main highlight that you will get to enjoy throughout this portion of trail are the Cuernos del Paine (the Paine Horns). These uniquely beautiful mountains will continuously be out in front of you throughout the route.

You will find the trail very easy to follow, as you continue along and make your way to a viewpoint overlooking Skottsberg Lake. While you will gain some elevation up until this point, once past the lake, the trail picks up elevation at a faster rate towards the Italiano campsite.

Just prior to camp, you will make your way on the small bridge over the Rio del Frances and be welcomed to the next portion of trail.

Cerro Paine Grande Chile
Lago Skottsberg Patagonia
Cuernos del Paine Chile
Horns of Torres del Paine
Valle del Frances Bridge

Camp Italiano to Mirador Frances (1.2 miles / 1.9 km)

While the next portion of trail from the campsite to Mirador Frances is just over a mile long, it also comes with just about 1,000 feet / 300 meters of elevation gain. The trail will certainly turn a bit rockier as you make your way up the valley and along the river.

While the trail is well marked, the terrain is going to be more difficult as you head up the valley. Out in front, you will begin to see the Torres del Paine mountains including Cerro Paine Grande and Glaciar Frances.

Be sure to take a look behind you at some points too, where you will be able to see the Nordenskojld Lake as well.

Italiano Camp
Valle del Frances River
Lago Nordenskojld Chile

After climbing up for around an hour or so, you will arrive at the marked Mirador Frances. Here you will get the best views of the glacier and mountains out in front of you.

For most day hikers, I imagine this will be the turning point back to Paine Grande. For those fast hikers or for those that maybe took an earlier boat (or simply taking part of the W/O Circuit), you can also add on Mirador Britanico

Mirador Frances Torres del Paine
Frances Lookout Torres del Paine

Mirador Frances to Mirador Britanico (2.0 miles / 3.2 km)

Another 2 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain away is the final lookout of Valle del Frances. The trail up to this lookout can get steeper and trickier on loose terrain.

During my time on the trail, it was also flooded at some points, as I hiked up some slippery rocks.

Throughout the journey up, you will have more and more views of the Cuernos del Paine up above. Slowly but surely you will also begin to get those views of the back of the valley.

Cuernos Mountain French Valley
Valle del Frances Trail
Britanico Lookout Hike

After making your way through a rock quarry, you will arrive at the final lookout point. Here you will get vast views of even more Torres del Paine peaks such as Cerro Catedral, Cerro Trono Blanco, Cerro Escudo, Cerro Fortaleza, among others.

You can enjoy your time up here before turning back around and heading back to Paine Grande (if taking a day trip).

Throughout the entirety of the hike, you must pay close attention to your timing, so you don’t miss that last catamaran out from Paine Grande.

Mirador Britanico Torres del Paine
French Valley Cuernos
Britanico Torres del Paine
Britanico Lookout Torres del Paine

8) Puerto Natales Hotels

During your time visiting Torres del Paine, you most likely will be staying in Puerto Natales at one point or another.

While you can visit the park from the Argentinian towns of El Calafate and El Chalten, I would recommend staying directly in Puerto Natales. This way you can more easily explore the park and not be subject to just a single day trip from Argentina.

Puerto Natales is a town built for the thousands of tourists who want to visit Torres del Paine. You will find plenty of gear shops, restaurants, and hotels all throughout town.

Below would be a few of my highly rated and recommended options when it comes to hotels in Puerto Natales:

Note that you can also choose from one of the best Torres del Paine hotels instead!

That about wraps up a guide the French Valley of Torres del Paine. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to add them in below.

Also be sure to check out the other Patagonia itineraries and guides up on the site.

Have fun out there and safe travels!

French Valley Hike Torres del Paine

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Wednesday 18th of October 2023

Hey man...this one article is throwing off my whole plan...haha

Does the hike up to Mirador Britanico really close at 1pm?! Is it enforced? Do you know why they do this?

I'm planning to head from Puerto Natales to Paine Grande to Mirador Britanico to Frances on Day 1. I don't worry about the distance at all, just worried that the trail will be closed by the time I get there.

Let me know!


Saturday 21st of October 2023

@Charles, you're awesome! Thanks for explaining and the picture helps a ton.

From the looks of it, your interpretation is spot on! :)

In that case it would be impossible to get from Puerto Natales all the way up to Britanico in time — that's assuming that at the very best, the catamaran drops you off at Paine Grande at 11am. You'd only have 2 hours to get to the start of Britanico. That's unfortunate.

I'm going to do the whole O-trek in five days in December so I'll be sure to stop by here and drop a note. Since I won't be able to try Puerto Natales to Britanico, I'll at least time it out to see if people could make it in time. Or if it is still closed at a certain time and if anyone is watching...haha

Really appreciate your help.

Great write up by the way :)


Friday 20th of October 2023

@Charles, really appreciate the reply.

I'm still a little confused: in your article you wrote that the Mirador Britanico hike is closed at 1pm? Is there a ranger station at the start of that hike (or anyone to stop you) or just at the start of the valley?

If there is no one at the start of Mirador Frances and Mirador Britanico, then that would be great news! :)

I'm just wondering if I could make it all the way from Puerto Natales (6:45am) to Pudeto to Paine Grande (11:30ish) to the start of Mirador Britanico in one day without being stopped. I do hike fast, but getting to Britanico by 1pm seems impossible!


Friday 20th of October 2023

Hey Scott - this is a question that many have had including myself. There is a higher possibility of enforcement for the 3:00PM cutoff as there is a ranger station at the start of the valley. However, at Mirador Frances, there is not someone just waiting there that tells people to turn around. My best guess is that they have the enforcement in place to be sure the trails are cleared and people are not stuck hiking later on in the day. Hope you enjoy the trek!