The hike to the French Valley in Torres del Paine National Park is a scenic route that takes in plenty of quintessential Patagonia scenery, from glacier-fed turquoise lakes to distinctive mountain peaks. Valle del Frances, as it's known locally, is home to the French Glacier (Glaciar Frances) and several points for admiring Cerro Paine Grande, the highest summit of the Cordillera Paine mountain range. While the mountains and glaciers of Torres del Paine's French Valley are a highlight, the hike to get there is just as beautiful.
About the French Valley Hike in Torres del Paine National Park
The French Valley (Valle del Frances) makes up the central arm of Torres del Paine's famous W trek. A portion of it, along with the western connector trail, can be done as a day hike if you don't want to do the full W. To experience the French Valley on a day hike, you need to take a ferry to the trailhead. Having to adhere to its schedule creates some time constraints, but most people should be able to make it to Mirador Valle del Frances (or close) without too much worry of missing the ferry.
The first segment of the French Valley day hike passes through rolling hills and along the shore of Lago Skottsberg before arriving at the French Valley. The trail then continues towards the French Glacier and Mirador Valle del Frances, a little less than half way into the valley. Mirador Valle del Frances (also called Mirador Frances) is the recommended place to turn around on the French Valley day hike, but the trail doesn't terminate until Mirador Britanico.
The French Valley day hike to Mirador Frances in Torres del Paine is a little over 18.5 km/11.5 mi round trip and takes about 7- 8 hours to complete. It's rated moderate and has an elevation gain of 549 m/1801 ft.
The French Valley Day Hike- Our Experience Hiking to Mirador Frances The French Valley hike was the second segment we tackled in our attempt to hike much of the W Trek as day trips. Our day hike to the French Valley started with a ferry ride across Lago Pehoe from Cafeteria Pudeto to the Paine Grande refugio, where the trailhead is.
The 30 minute boat trip offered fantastic views of some of Torres del Paine’s most notable peaks, including the unique Cuernos del Paine (Paine Horns) and the glacier-covered Cerro Paine Grande. It was a stunning introduction to the two mountains that are prominently featured on the French Valley hike. After we arrived at Paine Grande, we eagerly set out on the trail heading east towards the Paine Grande ranger station. We were prepared to show our park pass at the ranger booth, but no one was there to check it so we continued on.
After the ranger station there was an intersection with a sign directing us to continue east along the shore of Lago Pehoe. This path would eventually take us to the Italian Camp (Campamento Italiano), at the entrance to the French Valley. As the trail gradually gained elevation we had wonderful views of the vibrant turquoise water of Lago Pehoe. We’ve seen a lot of glacier-fed lakes at home in Canada, but that striking colour never gets old!
After Lago Pehoe, the trail carried on across rolling hills covered in golden grass and green shrubs, delivering us to some beautiful mountain views. As we proceeded towards Lago Skottsberg, Torres del Paine’s famous horns were ahead of us making quite the impression. The brown tips of the peaks inspired me to nickname Cuernos del Paine the “chocolate-dipped mountain”.