The one to Laguna Esmeralda easily qualifies as the best hike in Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia. It’s not a strenuous trek at all – it is fairly short and with very little ascent. The stunning scenery and the challenges of the trail, however, make it one you will remember. If you plan to just go on one hike when you visit Ushuaia, make sure it is this one.
Check out my post “Hiking In Patagonia: 16 Incredible Trails.” Read more about Ushuaia in my post “Everything You Need To Know About Ushuaia, Patagonia” and if you are planning a longer trip to Argentina, check out my post “A Guide To The Greatest Things To Do In Argentina.”
Laguna Esmeralda is a gorgeous glacier lake located in Tierra del Fuego, at a little less than 20 km from Ushuaia. It’s surrounded by the mighty Albino Glacier and by the peaks of Las Torres and Cordón Toribio.
The lake can be access via a trail that goes through a lenga forest and then along the peat moss. It’s a much easier hike compared to many in Patagonia, such as that to Mount Fitz Roy. However, the very muddy terrain and the peat moss that you’ll inevitably walk through do represent a bit of a challenge.
Read more about Fitz Roy on my post “A Guide To Hiking Around Fitz Roy, In El Chalten.” Also check out my post “A Complete Guide To Hiking To Laguna Torre.”
In this post, I will highlight all the information you need to prepare for a hike to Laguna Esmeralda, providing a lot of practical tips.
Hiking To Laguna Esmeralda
The starting point of the trail to Laguna Esmeralda is in Valle de Los Lobos, at about 17 Km east of Ushuaia, along Ruta 3, where you’ll see a small parking lot and a very clear blue sign pointing to the trail. You’ll have to follow the blue marks to get to the lagoon.
The initial part of the trail to Laguna Esmeralda goes through a beautiful, somewhat eerie lenga forest. You’ll be walking through the forest for roughly 45 minutes before getting to the river.
After a short while, you’ll enter the forest again. The trail through this part of the forest to Laguna Esmeralda is very easy to follow, though you have to pay attention as it is very muddy (it rains a lot in Tierra del Fuego, even during the summer months).
Once you cross this other bit of forest, you find yourself in the peat moss. There is no really visible trail there, as the peat moss takes over for most of this part of the hike. Either way, all you have to do is continuing on – it’s fairly straightforward.
After crossing the peat moss, you’ll have to walk up a hill. Once at the top, the view will finally open up for you to see Laguna Esmeralda in all its glory.
You will have to walk back from Laguna Esmeralda via the same trail, and it will take you just the same amount of time to get to the starting point at the parking lot.
The Sights Along The Trail To Laguna Esmeralda
The sights along the trail to Laguna Esmeralda are gorgeous. You’ll first be crossing a beautiful lenga forest, which will lead you to a plain where the scenery finally opens up to incredible views of Tierra Mayor and Carbajal valleys. The surrounding mountains are not as tall as those of other parts of Patagonia, but the sight remains impressive all the same.
Right by the river you’ll get to see the beavers damn. They are impressive, but keep in mind these animals, which are not native to Tierra del Fuego, have done a lot of damage to its natural landscape and environment, threatening its primeval forests.
Once you cross the plains and the river you find yourself once again in the forest, until the moment you reach the peat moss.
TIP: Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut as you walk through the forest, trying to make as little noise as possible. Red foxes live in the forest and there are good chances you’ll encounter one!
At the peat moss, the view opens up once again: you’ll see a beautiful stream and the Albino Glacier and Cordón Toribio mountain in the background, and a small hill which you’ll have to climb to get to Laguna Esmeralda. From the top of the hill, the views are simply spectacular: the water of the lagoon is of a splendid emerald color, and the surrounding mountains add to the beautiful landscape.
Check out my post “A Complete Guide To Perito Moreno Glacier.”
What To Expect When Hiking To Laguna Esmeralda
The hike to Laguna Esmeralda is not a strenuous one for the most part. There is a short ascending bit, but this is not where the real challenge is. It’s the massive field of peat moss that you’ll have to struggle with, and there hardly is any way around it: you’ll have to walk over it.
It will take you a good half hour to 45 minutes to cross the peat moss, each way. There is no real trail in this part of the hike, at least not a visible one (especially if it has rained recently), so use your instinct to find the bits that seem less muddy, and head straight to the lagoon.
TIP: The best way to avoid getting trapped in the peat moss is to keep moving. Walk as fast as possible – in any case, there’s no way you can avoid getting muddy.
TIP: The hike to Laguna Esmeralda is an easy half day trip, so you can combine it with other activities in the area (ie a guided tour of Tierra del Fuego National Park, or a boat tour along the Beagle Channel). The good news is that during the summer months there are a lot of hours of light in Tierra del Fuego, so you can even plan to take it very easy and, if the weather cooperates, have a proper picnic at the lagoon.
Practical Information For Your Hike To Laguna Esmeralda
Hiking to Laguna Esmeralda independently
The hike to Laguna Esmeralda can be done independently, as the trail is fairly easy to follow – just make sure to always keep an eye for the blue marks as at times they are not so visible. In any case, I recommend not to hike alone.
Check out my post “11 Reasons Why Hiking Alone Is Actually A Bad Idea.”
Guided hikes to Laguna Esmeralda
If you prefer, you can also join a guided excursion. Here are a few good ones:
- Full day trekking to Laguna Esmeralda with lunch
- Laguna Esmeralda trek, beaver encounter and dinner
- Laguna Esmeralda hike
Guided hiking tours of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego
One good option if you are short on time or would rather leave the organization of a trip to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego to the experts is that of booking a guided tour. This way, someone else will take care of accommodation and transportation bookings, and you’ll have a guide to help you navigate the trails.
Here is a selection of the best tours:
- End of the Earth tour – this G Adventures tour is an extremely active tour that goes through Patagonia (both the Argentinian and Chilean sides) and Tierra del Fuego. It includes stops in Torres del Paine, Chile, where you’ll hike the W trek; El Chaltén, where you hike Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre; El Calafate, where you hike Perito Moreno Glacier; and Ushuaia, where you hike in Tierra del Fuego National Park and to Laguna Esmeralda.
- 13 day best of Patagonia – an excellent tour that covers all the highlights of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, including several hikes and even canoeing on Lapataia River.
Getting to the beginning of the trail
Unless you have your own car, you can count on the excellent shuttle services that connect Ushuaia to the beginning of the trail to Laguna Esmeralda. These depart from the parking lot by the gas station, at a short distance from the tourist information center. The round trip costs around $400 ARS (around $10 USD).
The shuttle back departs from the same point where you’ll be dropped off, more or less 4 hours and a half after you start hiking – the driver usually specifies the pick up time, but make sure to double check.
Overall walking distance
The overall walking distance to Laguna Esmeralda and back is around 9.6 Km.
Overall walking time
It takes around 4 hours to walk the entire trail, including stops for photos and to take in the magnificent views.
Food and drinks
There are no kiosks or places that sell food along the trail, so you’ll have to carry enough water and food for the duration of the hike. Depending on the day, there is a small street foot vendor standing right by the starting point of the trail, selling choripan (similar to a hot dog), empanadas and cold drinks.
Other practical information
For the most part, this is an easy hike so it is also suitable for families with children (I saw several during my hike).
As Laguna Esmeralda is not part of Tierra del Fuego National Park, dogs are actually allowed on the trail, though I recommend you keep them on leash as there tend to be stays around.
There are no toilets along the way, nor garbage bins. Make sure to carry a bag to dispose of your garbage, and take it back to town with you.
When To Hike To Laguna Esmeralda
There is no escaping the elements in Tierra del Fuego. On an average summer day, you may get strong winds, rain and at times even snow. It is plain cold! Having said so, the best time of year to visit Tierra del Fuego is in the summer, between late October and March, when the days are longer and the weather conditions less adverse. That’s when you should plan to hike to Laguna Esmeralda.
TIP: I recommend to spend a few days in Tierra del Fuego, as it is truly a magical place. If you have time, do wait for a sunny day to hike to Laguna Esmeralda, or at least make sure it hasn’t rained for a day or two, so that you can avoid drowning in the peat moss!
Essential Items To Wear And Carry On A Trek To Laguna Esmeralda
As I have already explained, the first consideration when planning to hike to Laguna Esmeralda is that the weather in Tierra del Fuego is hardly cooperative. I recommend to make sure to be properly equipped for rain and even snow.
Here’s a list of essentials items you should be wearing and/or carrying:
- A good backpack. I like Osprey Daylite Plus as it fits everything I need and sits nicely on my shoulders.
- A pair of excellent hiking boots. They need to be waterproof, as the terrain will be wet. I suggest you also wear a pair of galoshes, for extra protection especially when you cross the peat moss.
- A pair of waterproof hiking pants. I like by my new Kuhl Horizn Straight or my Kuhl Weekendr Tight.
- A pair of thermal underwear. Yes – it can be that cold!
- A base layer such as Kuhl Kondor Krew – it’s comfortable and lightweight.
- A good fleece – I like Kuhl Alska. I suggest you also take an extra one along, in case it snows.
- A snow jacket.
- A good wind and rain proof jacket to wear above the snow jacket. I use Kuhl Airstorm Rain jacket and love it.
- A beanie, a scarf and gloves.
- Sunscreen and lip balm.
- Sunglasses – you never know the sun may come out.
- A camera. I use a Nikon D3300 and on for landscape photography I use a 18-105 mm lens. If you are not a photography geek, a smartphone with a good camera such as iPhone X will do. Make sure to take a power bank as well!
- Tissues or toilet paper, and a good antibacterial hand gel. If your feet tend to blister, make sure to take compeed with you.
- Enough food and water for the hike, and an extra spare bag to put all your garbage.
For a more comprehensive list of what you should bring to Patagonia, check out my post “Hiking Gear And More: The Perfect Patagonia Packing List.” Make sure to also read my post “30 Things You Should Consider Before Traveling To Patagonia.”
Have you hiked to Laguna Esmeralda?