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Best hiking trails at the "End of the World"

Hiking trails in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, far south in Argentina, on the island known as Tierra del Fuego.



Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago at the southernmost tip of the South American mainland, administratively divided between Argentina and Chile. The main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, covering 48,000 km², is controlled by Argentina on the eastern side, while Chile owns the western part and the islands south of the Beagle Channel. The archipelago was named by its discoverers who sailed through in the 16th century and observed the fires of the native inhabitants. The development of settlements was spurred by the sheep farming boom in the 19th century and the gold rush. Even so, settlers were reluctant to move to these inhospitable regions, and some were relocated here as punishment.


Ushuaia


Ushuaia is a strategic port for controlling Antarctic bases. Due to its location, it is one of the five internationally recognized Antarctic gateway cities. In the 1950s, the Chilean army founded Puerto Williams to counter Ushuaia's monopoly in the Beagle Channel. Recently, the settlement became a city, causing Ushuaia to lose its status as the southernmost city in the world. However, this has not impacted the local tourism industry. Ushuaia is located in a wide bay, bordered by the Martial Mountains to the north and the Beagle Channel to the south. Originally founded by missionaries, the colony later became a prison for recidivists and dangerous criminals from across the country. The prison building from the late 19th century still stands today and houses a museum. It operated until 1947, later becoming part of a naval base. Inmates spent their time working, building the city and the railway, which is now known as the "Train of the End of the World." Escaping was very difficult, and given the remoteness of the city, fugitives had poor prospects.



Today, tourist attractions include the Tierra del Fuego National Park and Lapataia Bay. The park can be accessed by "highway" or the End of the World Train (Tren del Fin del Mundo). Boat trips along the Beagle Channel are also popular for observing marine life. The islands along the coast are home to seals, penguins, and other birds, while orcas swim around. Ushuaia has an airport, with domestic flights from Buenos Aires taking just under four hours. A bus journey from Chilean Punta Arenas means a full day's travel. Eleven hours on the bus include a ferry across the Strait of Magellan, a border crossing in the vast pampas, beautiful views towards the end of the journey, and stiff limbs from long sitting.


To the Park by Minibus


Tierra del Fuego National Park is easily accessible for a day trip. The park entrance is just 12 kilometers from the bus terminal in Ushuaia. Several companies run minibuses between the city, the entrance, and the end of the Pan-American Highway, another 12 kilometers away. Within the park, the buses stop at several locations, such as the visitor center and the southernmost post office. Simply check the departure times and plan your trip from one spot to another. If you want to send a postcard from the southernmost post office in South America (you'd have to go to Antarctica for the world's southernmost post office), stop by early in your trip as it closes in the early afternoon.



Tren del fin de Mundo - Train of the End of the World


In 1994, 40 years after the prison railway closed, the train was restored and equipped with modern facilities. Today, it is a historical tourist train, claimed to be the southernmost functioning railway in the world. The line includes a steam locomotive imported from England in 1995. The journey to the park from the Fin del Mundo station (8 km west of the city) takes about 50 minutes. The final station is near the post office.

National Park

Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego was established in 1960 and expanded six years later as Argentina's first coastal national park. It is bordered by the Chilean border to the west, Lake Fagnano to the north, and the Beagle Channel coast to the south. The forests of Antarctic beech, lenga beech, and coihue in the park's lower elevations are home to many animal species. Twenty species of land mammals live here, including guanacos, Andean foxes, North American beavers, European rabbits, and muskrats. Among the 90 bird species, you might spot the Andean condor.



Several hiking trails are marked within the park. A combination of one or two can usually be completed in a day. The Hito XXIV trail starts at the visitor center, where you can get current trail information and register for some hikes. It runs along Lake Roca to the Chilean border, marked by a historical border stone. The round trip covers 9 km with mild elevation gain.



The most challenging trail is Cerro Guanaco. It features nearly a kilometer of elevation gain and difficult terrain but offers beautiful views. You must register at the visitor center and start before 1 PM. The trail may be closed in bad weather. Cerro Guanaco's peak is 973 meters high, rewarding hikers with far-reaching views of the mountains, Lapataia Bay, and the Beagle Channel.

The Pampa Alta trail is much lower and easier, offering views from a 300-meter peak of the sea ahead and Cerro Guanaco behind. This trail is not very busy and is an alternative to the Rio Pipo valley. The climb through the forest to a sunny peak meadow is worth it and doesn’t take long. It's just under 5 km from the main road and the railway to the post office on the bay's shore.



The Rio Pipo trail follows a gravel road along the river. The final stretch of the tourist train from the end of the world also passes here. The ride is mainly for enjoying the beautiful valley rather than speeding up travel. A sturdy grandmother with a basket could outrun the train – perhaps because she didn’t reserve tickets in advance and found no seat left. The road ends at a simple campsite, and the path continues for about a kilometer to the small Cascada Rio Pipo waterfall. From here, you must return the same way or add variety via Pampa Alta.



The Costera trail is very popular, partly running through the forest and mainly, as the name suggests, along the Beagle Channel shore. It doesn't have much elevation change but offers numerous views of the opposite mountains. Several rocky beaches are suitable for swimming, but only if you've trained in icy waters all winter. The 8-kilometer trail from the post office to the visitor center can be completed in 2-3 hours. The trail ends on a dirt road, where you can continue along a mix of paths and roads to the end of the Pan-American Highway. From Lapataia Bay, you pass Laguna Verde and can take several short marked detours to Laguna Negra and Senda del Turbal.



Tourist minibuses turn around at the end of the gravel road. This is where the Pan-American Highway ends. There is no inn, stand, or even shelter—just a large information board that can gather quite a few tourists in the rain. Along the bay's shore, you can walk another kilometer to the lighthouse, but that's the absolute end. A short wooden walkway loop starts right at the parking lot, and you can spend pleasant time at the viewpoints waiting for the minibus. For good measure, we’ll have a handful of blue berries from the thorny Calafate bush to ensure we return here. It is said that whoever tastes these berries will return to Patagonia. So why not to make sure?



Turquoise Laguna Esmeralda


Although not within the national park, this popular day hike is worth mentioning. The starting point is a parking lot right on Highway 3, well-known to tourist transport drivers. It’s just under 20 km from downtown Ushuaia. Laguna Esmeralda is an emerald green glacial cirque with impressive views. The hike to the lake has become more popular and frequented in recent years. Extensive marshes, previously crossed on foot, are now bridged with wooden walkways, and beavers, who used to gnaw trees and build sophisticated structures on the incoming river, have moved elsewhere. The trail is well-marked and initially flat. After crossing the marshy valley, the path climbs through the forest and scrub to the natural dam of the lake. The total elevation gain from the road is 150 meters over 4.5 kilometers. You can walk around the lake and continue along the inlet up to the Ojos del Albinio glacier. However, the elevation gain and difficulty increase here.



Most signs of beaver activity are found on the river above the lake. To conclude, here are two historical photos (2015). The planks scattered across the peat bog have been replaced by sturdy walkways with railings, and the beavers, builders, and vandals have not been seen here for several years.





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