Tierra Del Fuego Day Trip: Hiking Earth’s End
Tierra del Fuego refers to the entire archipelago at the southernmost tip of South America, but the National Park portion of it is limited to a small area near Ushuaia, Argentina. The entire Tierra del Fuego area is over 18,000 square miles and crosses two countries, but thankfully the park itself is only 243 square miles.
Even with its smaller size, it would be impossible to explore all of Tierra del Fuego in a month, let alone a day, but if you’re short on time then here is a guide to the best way to enjoy a Tierra del Fuego day trip.
Departing From Ushuaia
I was already in Ushuaia for my trip to Antarctica, so I made it a point to carve some time out in my schedule for a Tierra del Fuego day trip. I’ve always been fascinated with Patagonia and this was a great chance to get a small taste of it.
I got together with a group of people I had met at the airport (who completely coincidentally happened to be on my ship to Antarctica too!) and we hired a taxi early in the morning to explore what we could of the park.
Tierra del Fuego is a short 7 mile drive from the city of Ushuaia, and every cab driver in the area knows exactly where it is. In fact, instead of booking an organized tour, we just hired our taxi driver for the day and took his advice on where to explore!
Starting Your Tierra Del Fuego Day Trip
The same road (Ruta Nacional 3) that takes you into the park is the main road through the park itself, so the route is fairly self explanatory.
From the moment you enter Tierra del Fuego, you’ll be surrounded by lush, green landscapes, winding rivers, and gorgeous mountain backdrops. There are many walking trails throughout the park, so there will be plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with the beautiful nature around you.
The Pampa Alta Trail
One of the first trails that you will reach inside the park is the Pampa Alta Trail. This hike is about 3 miles and takes around 2 hours, rewarding you with great views of the Beagle Channel.
This path will also take you along an active beaver dam before meeting up with the road to the Pipo River Waterfalls. From there, you can either continue on to the waterfall if you have time or hop in your transportation of choice and head back to Route 3 to continue your Tierra del Fuego day trip.
If you’re doing the taxi for a day method, then just have your driver drop you off at the Pampa Alta trail head off Route 3 and have them meet you at the end of the northern end of the trail.
As an alternative, you can also skip the Pampa Alta Trail and take the first road north after you enter Tierra del Fuego. This will take you to the Pipo River Trail at the end of the road. This trail leads to scenic overlooks of the river and allows you to walk to the rapids, where you can enjoy an up close and personal view from some downed logs that cross the river.
The Pipo River Trail is a one-way trail that terminates at a series of small waterfalls. It’s easy to park your car (or have your taxi driver wait for you) and return back after a short hike. Once you’ve taken in the sights here, it’s time to continue onward to the good stuff!
The Coastal Path
For the best views in the park, you can’t miss the Coastal Path. This trail follows (believe it or not) the coast along the Beagle Channel and ends just down the road from the Alakush Visitors Center, where you can grab a bite to eat to reward your efforts. The hike is 5 miles and should take you around 4 hours with plenty of photo stops and exploration time.
The trailhead is the same spot as the Pampa Alta Trail, but instead of heading north you’ll go south for the Coastal Path. The beginning of the trail weaves through the woods, or you could just have your friendly taxi driver drop you off at the Correo del Fin del Mundo, the post office at the end of the world at Ensenada bay, and head west from there if you prefer to start along the coast.
It was pretty nerve-wracking when our driver dropped us off at the post office and said he would meet us at the end of the trail, but it paid off big time and, as promised, he was there waiting for us with a big smile on his face at the end of the hike.
Paseo De La Isla
Near the end of the Coastal Path, the trail heads back north towards Route 3 where you’ll get to explore the woods and cross the Lapataia River. This is the beginning of the Paseo de la Isla, an easy wooded trail that connects to the Coastal Path.
The Paseo de la Isla is a great place to explore off the trail as well. If you follow the Lapataia River upstream, it will eventually take you to a beautiful area where the river cascades down moss-covered rocks in a cool mini waterfall. It’s a really magnificent area to explore, even if you don’t have the incredible mountain views of the Coastal Path alongside you.
The Tierra Del Fuego Alakush Visitor Center
Located conveniently in the complete opposite side of the park as the entrance, the Alakush Visitor Center is a great place to stop for a coffee or sandwich after your morning of hiking. It also has the perk of a beautiful view of the widest section of the Lapataia River and the mountains of Patagonia behind it.
Be sure to enjoy a seat outside of the visitor center as you have your snack to fully appreciate the incredible setting. Don’t forget to keep a lookout for any local wildlife, and resist the urge to feed them. We ran into an ADORABLE Andean fox near the parking lot, but it looked like not many people were able to resist the urge to feed him based on his behavior.
After you’ve recharged at the visitor center, hop back in your taxi and head to the end of the road. National Route 3 terminates at Lapataia Bay, where a short footpath will lead you to a beautiful panoramic view of the bay itself.
This same area has several paths you can follow to explore the Lapataia area, including a longer walk to the Black Lagoon. We had to make due with only seeing the panoramic viewpoint because we had a ship to catch that afternoon, so it was time to end our Tierra del Fuego day trip!
Option B: The Train At The End Of The World
If you’re in the mood for something a bit different or don’t feel comfortable at the mercy of a taxi driver, another popular option for seeing the park in a day is the Train at the End of the World. The train begins at the Station at the End of the World just outside the park entrance and will take you past the old Ushuaia Prison and into the park, where you can catch a tour bus to continue your day or just turn around and ride back to the station.
Not only will you get a fun ride, but the train will also give you an insight into the history of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, and the life of the indigenous people who lived there before the settlers arrived. It’ll be nice to tell people you traveled on the Train at the End of the World too, although to be fair, EVERYTHING in Ushuaia is “at the End of the World.”
Finishing Your Tierra Del Fuego Day Trip
Whether you’ve opted for the taxi cab or the train ride, a Tierra del Fuego day trip is the perfect way to spend a day in Ushuaia, especially if you’ve got time to kill before a trip to Antarctica. Why not add some greenery in the mix to contrast with all of the ice and rock you’re about to see?
It’s such a great day trip because of its proximity to Ushuaia and ease of navigation. It’s hard to mess up your schedule because if you realize you’ve lost track of time, it’s only a 10 minute drive back to Ushuaia from the park entrance (but seriously, don’t lose track of time if you have a ship to catch)!
If you did take a taxi, be sure to tip the driver for their time. Although tipping taxi drivers is not customary in Argentina, keep in mind that your driver did go above and beyond the call of duty in this case.
I have to admit, seeing the beautiful snow-capped mountains of Patagonia in the distance whetted my appetite for a full Patagonia trek, but a Tierra del Fuego day trip was the perfect intro to this stunning region.