​​How do national parks get their names?

On the last day, it felt like we found everyone else. We hiked up to Base Torres del Paine—the view of the three rock towers that’s synonymous with Patagonia—and can only describe the descent as a battle. The steepest part of the trail, which often requires hand-over-hand scrambling, is also the narrowest part. To make matters worse, uphill hikers aren’t keen to step aside and wait, as you’re not permitted to hike in the dark there, so there’s a time crunch to get up to the viewpoint before it shuts down to visitors and you’re supposed to turn back with enough time to make it to the trailhead before dusk.

Later, I spoke with a guide, Natu Bascour, who told me I’d seen nothing. The park doesn’t limit the number of people on the trail, and in the height of summer, there can be standstill hiker traffic in places. Why is it so crowded? 

“I think it’s only because it’s called ‘Torres del Paine National Park,’” she says. Everyone wants to see the towers. I think that’s it.” Bascour says that if you simply renamed the park after one of the other viewpoints, it would completely change where people go. 

Bascour’s favorite hike in Torred del Paine National Park is actually the trek to Mirador Frances, which is an easier, less-crowded trail. She said that most people overlook it when planning their trip to the park. So, while it may be tempting to see what a name is all about, sometimes it can be more sustainable (and less crowded) to go see what else a national park has to offer.

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