If you come with your car you can travel at your own pace and enjoy the scenic Provincial Route 41.
Between the forest and the steppe
Getting to El Chaltén is ALWAYS exciting, even for those who have lived in this town for a long time and return home. No one escapes the hypnotic effect generated by the mountains from the steppe.
If you arrive in your car, you are surely fascinated by the beautiful landscapes you have seen travelling the routes in Southern Patagonia, but in El Chaltén you will discover dreamy landscapes you will not be able to forget. If the bad weather does not allow you to appreciate the Andean landscape when you arrive, do not worry, whenever you want you can take a short walk along the same route to the steppe to discover different panoramic views of the mountains, the lake and the Viedma glacier, in a natural environment where it is possible to see up close the local fauna: condors flying at low altitude, herds of guanacos, gray foxes, black eagles and many other birds that inhabit this arid plain.
In any case, the mandatory drive once you are in El Chaltén is to travel across the unpaved route towards the Lago del Desierto, one of the purest and almost virgin sites in Patagonia.
The Provincial Route 41 that links the National Route 40 and the Lago Del Desierto through El Chaltén has been declared "Scenic Route" by the Chamber of Deputies of Santa Cruz
When you arrive or when you leave El Chaltén, you will take the Provincial Route 41 that crosses the steppe perpendicular to the mountain range, skirting the huge Viedma Lake. The horizon is very generous in this arid plain, with panoramic views of 360º and views that in some high places are of 60 miles or more.
As you get closer to the mountains on the West you can clearly spot the glaciers and granite peaks that have transformed this site of the Andes into the icon of Patagonia. And if the weather does not help, you'll have a second chance when you leave El Chaltén!
Coming from El Calafate, the Cerro Chaltén can already be seen at about 140 km (or 190 km by route) at the start of the National Route 40. Any point of this route is a good place for taking photos of the sunrise over the Andes, a postcard that has made El Chaltén famous worldwide.
Because this is a short trip from El Chaltén and taking into account that there are no services or facilities of any kind on this part of the route, we describe only the last thirty-one miles (fifty kilometres).
3.73 mi: Estancia Santa Margarita.
9.23 mi: Viewpoint of the Viedma Glacier. After crossing the bridge over the De Las Vueltas river, the route leaves behind the winding road to go almost in a straight line to the National Route Nº 40, where there are several panoramic viewpoints of the lake and the Viedma glacier and the mountain range where Mount Fitz Roy stands out.
8.76 mi: Bridge over Barrancas river..
7.89 mi: Bridge over the De las Vueltas river.
6.15 mi: Detour to Túnel Bay of Lago Viedma..
3.91 mi: Footpath to the Canyon of the De las Vueltas river.
1.49 mi: Entrance to Estancia La Quinta.
1.36 mi: El Chaltén viewpoint.
And if it is not too late ... why not continue towards the forest?.
From the steppe you will get the best panoramic views of the mountain range.
Make sure you have enough fuel to return.
Leaving El Chaltén behind can be visually as exciting as arriving.
From El Chaltén and up to the Lago del Desierto, you can drive through the De las Vueltas River Valley in your vehicle. This route has been declared Scenic Route "Of National Sovereignty in the Huemul Path" on July 14, 2017
On the way you will be able to see many sites of interest, you will have access to trailheads and visit some private enterprises with tourist services. This beautiful valley is covered by the ancient subantarctic forest of Lenga and Ñire, a virtually virgin natural environment where the Huemul lives, and which is surrounded by several rivers, waterfalls, mountain streams, lagoons and nearby glaciers.
The views will invite you to stop at each point on this unpaved route that runs for 23 mi to its end at Lago Del Desierto. The Lago del Desierto, with its turquoise water, is located in a narrow valley that gives it an elongated shape (6.2 mi long by just under 0.6 km wide). The southern end of the lake where you arrive with your vehicle is called "Punta Sur".
Possibilities depending on how long you stay
Half day: making brief stops on the road but without trekking.
Full day: doing one or more treks or excursions.
More than one day: Overnight staying at the Puesto Cagliero refuge (half way) or in the private camp site of the Estancia Lago Del Desierto, where you can place your tent, use a stove, eat in the restaurant and stay at least one night in the forest by the lake.
Some places of interest in order of appearance from El Chaltén to Lago del Desierto:
27.96 mi: Chorrillo Del Salto: waterfall in Los Glaciares National Park.
6.83 mi: Bonanza: outdoor activities, accommodation and restaurant. Del Bosque Horseride excursion
8.07 mi: El Pilar: Mountain inn and trailhead to Campsite Poincenot and Laguna De los Tres.
9.32 mi: Río Eléctrico, trailhead to Piedra del Fraile (accommodation and restaurant).
9.94 mi: Estancia Los Huemules: private nature reserve with trails to Laguna Azul, Laguna Diablo, and Ice Trek Cagliero excursion.
12.42 mi: Laguna Cóndor.
21.75 mi: Cascada del Anillo.
23 mi: Estancia Lago Del Desierto: campsite and access to the Glacier and Laguna Huemul.
23 mi: Punta Sur del Lago Del Desierto (birth of the De las Vueltas river).
23.3 mi: Pier to embark to Punta Norte (regular departures between November and May) and Excursion to the Vespignani range.
From the lake you can make some treks or a navigation that crosses to the other end of the lake and from where you can reach the landmark bordering with Chile.