the immeasurable delights of the
// D O L O M I T E S
if someone were to ask me where my favourite place on earth is, this would be my answer...
I stumbled upon the Dolomites when I was lying in bed, scrolling through the pages of Instagram, doing my double-tap night time routine and attempting to make myself sleepy before I cashed in my daily snooze dimes.
Feeling rather inquisitive, I clicked on the location in the top right corner above the picture and felt my obsession become increasingly profound with every picture that popped up on my feed. Instantly, I was as far away from being sleepy as you could imagine. I also became very aware of my newfound need to visit and hike the magical trails of this incredible Italian niche. And so, instead of sleeping like I had planned, an almighty metaphorical splash transpired as my dive into Dolomites research ensued.
I researched a lot before I left for the Dolomites. A LOT. But, for as much research that I did, I feel like sometimes you just need to visit somewhere to truly unveil many of the hidden treasures of that place. It’s a bit of a catch 22. How can you know everything about a place when you haven’t actually been to that place in the first place?
Well, i'm here to help.
I’ve devised a list of things to know (and wish I had known) before you visit the Dolomites. I’ll also include some of the trails that you really shouldn’t miss either!
Trust me, I know how wondrous a road trip through the sprawling meadows, alpine villages and winding mountains in the Dolomites sounds, but the public transport available in the Dolomites means you can have most of these beauties without the hassle of car rental. It should be noted that if you’rehoping to catch the soft morning light, very short on time or an early bird not wanting to be constrained by a bus schedule, renting a car is probably the way to go.
During the summer months (June, July and August), many bus routes connect all major villages that lead to many of the key hiking spots. Cable cars also resume their slow climb to upper plateaus affording easy access to the high-altitude trails. Once the summer months fade away, getting around may be a little tricky because the services start to slow down and become less frequent. But, fear not, it’s not entirely impossible. Just make sure you keep an eye on the timetables and take note of the seasonal changes.
The Dolomites occupy a large chunk of northern Italy and there are a few airports you could fly in to. Verona, Venice or Innsbruck airports are all two to three hours’ drive away from the main hub of Cortina d’Ampezzano.
If you’re not planning on dipping your toes into wild camping, then it’s essential that you put some thought into where you’re going to stay! Both Cortina d’Ampezzano and Ortisei both lie in the heart of the alps and don’t require a lot of travel to reach the hiking trails such as Tre Cime di Lavredo, Lago di Sorapis and Passo Giau and Seceda and Alpe di Siusi, respectively. You could always stay at one base for a few days and then switch it up and stay somewhere else as well.
2. CHOOSE YOUR BASE WISELY
3. VISIT IN SPRING AND AUTUMN
Like everywhere in Europe, Summer months often equate to an influx of tourists into the area, overcrowded trails and overflowing rifugios. My visit in autumn was almost perfect! The temperatures were a little milder, the locals a little more pleasant and we had the feeling of having the place to ourselves everywhere we went. The only thing I would have changed is the amount of warm clothes I packed to take with me … turns out it does get very cold when you’re camping in the middle of the alps. A better tent and warmer sleeping bag wouldn’t have gone astray is all I can say!
4. THE HIKING IS UP THERE WITH SOME OF THE BEST IN THE WORLD
I’m not even exaggerating. It is phenomenal. The landscapes on offer are seemingly endless. They’ll leave you wanting to explore. It’s not a place where you go and sit idly. With spectacular views in every direction, trails that weave through forests, across sweeping green valleys and beneath some of the most impressive rock formations I have ever seen, it’s the perfect playground for hikers and lovers of outdoor adventures. Even the most stubborn city escape folk will be converted by what’s on offer in the Italian alps.
5. STAY OVERNIGHT IN A RIFUGIO
Dotted in between the trails are log cabins (called rifugios) where you can grab something wholesome to counter ravenous appetites, sleep for the night and wake up with some of the best views over the alps. They are buzzing in the summer months so be sure to book early. It’s best to call as they are often very busy and emails may go unanswered.
One of the drawbacks of travelling to the Italian Alps in late autumn and winter is that these mountain rifugios start to close their doors to visitors as the winter months approach. Some of the trails also become quite treacherous and you may need some sturdy hiking experience under your belt if you’re looking to tackle them.
6. HIKE HUT TO HUT
Why stay in just one rifugio when you can stay in many!? The best way to escape the crowds is to get up and start the track early and to get off the main hiking routes. They are a number of amazing multi day hikes that allow you to hike hut to hut and let you really immerse yourself in the beauty of the Dolomites. You will probably have to do some research, map out each of the rifugios and check their availability before you embark such routes though!
7. THERE'S MUCH MORE THAN INSTAGRAM WOULD HAVE YOU BELIEVE
Instagram had me believing that this stunning piece of Europe was composed of about ten ridiculously beautiful locations (and I was totally okay with that). But I quickly realised that there is SO much more than these overdone perspectives. The massifs are larger than life, forests are filled with colour and enchanting silences and the area that exists outside the tiny panorama captured by camera lenses is more beautiful than you could imagine. I understand that ‘Instagram spots’ will form the basis for so many people’s itineraries (myself included), but I encourage you to also seek out other places for their collective.
And what better way to show you then the following trails and view spots.
A CAR, WHILST HANDY, IS NOT ESSENTIAL
i'll start with some trails.
The three peaks themselves – Cima Piccola (2857 m), Cima Grande (2999 m) and Cima Ovest (2973 m) – are the symbols of the whole Dolimites UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike, all 10kms of it, is the best way to sample the epic, iconic landscape in a short, manageable hike. It is very accessible and perfect for beginners!
TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO
HIKE DISTANCE: 10 - 11 KMS
TIME: 3 - 4 HOURS
ELEVATION GAIN: 300 - 400 M
The loop hike starts from the parking lot of Rifugio Auronzo. From here you can choose to start in a clockwise or counter-clockwise route around the three peaks. The directions below are counter-clockwise as it keeps the three towering monoliths in front of you for the duration of the journey.
#1 Rifugio Aurenzo to Forcella Lavaredo Viewpoint // 40mins - 2.2km
Starting at Rifugio Aurenzo, follow the wide gravel path (101) that flows gently east towards Cappella degli Alpini, a quaint alpine church, before extending on to the first of many picturesque mountain refuges, Rifugio Lavaredo.
To the left, the three peaks tower above, while on the right, the jagged Dolomiti peaks in the distance.
Forcella Lavaredo offers one of the best viewpoints on the entire Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop. From Rifugio Lavaredo, turn left and follow the 101 path upwards towards the viewpoint.
OVERVIEW of the hike
#2 Forcella Lavaredo to Rifugio Locatelli // 40mins - 2.2kms
There are a number of paths you can take from Forcella Lavaredo towards Rifugio Locatelli. You can either choose to follow the wider and more comfortable lower path (continuation of the 101 path), which drops down into the valley under the three peaks, or you can join the upper path, which is cut into the rockfalls of Croda Passaporto and Monte Paterno, and provides an altogether more thrilling experience.
Your hiking skills/experience will determine which path you take, but if you’re steady on your feet and up for a little challenge, I recommend the upper path for a more thrilling experience and epic views. Note that there were certain parts of the path that had fallen away, which meant some scrambling was required at times.
#3 Rifugio Locatelli - Malga Langalm // 1.5 hour - 3.6kms
From Rifugio Locatelli, follow the zig zag like path (102) down into the valley in front of you, stopping occasionally to take in the three peaks, which stand imposingly above.
This is where the hardest section of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike occurs. The path follows a seriously steep incline back up the ravine, continuing for what seems like an eternity. Fortunately, the incline eventually does end at the junction of many pathways.
You’ll come to a convergence of trails, where you join path 105 towards Malga Langalm rifugio. You can’t stay at this rifugio but you can grab a beer or some cake!
#4 Malga Langalm - Rifugio Aurenzo (carpark) // 45mins - 2.6kms
The final part of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike is fairly easy, following path 105 on a slight incline around the three peaks towards Forcella del Col de Mèdo viewpoint. From here you can see down into the Puster Valley, and also towards Misurina Lake (in the Belluno province).
From the viewpoint, it’s a 10 minute walk to the carpark and the end of the hike.
HIKE DISTANCE: 13.5 KM CIRCUIT
TIME: 4 HOURS & 45 MINUTES
ELEVATION GAIN: 725 M ASCENT & 725 M DESCENT
Each spring, as the warm air melts the snow and ice, water flows down the valleys. The water brings with it ‘rock flour’ and the end-product is a body of water that is unlike any other. I’m just going to show you before I move on.
LAGO DI SORAPIS
HIKE DISTANCE: 10 - 11 KMS
TIME: 3 - 4 HOURS
ELEVATION GAIN: 300 - 400 M
OVERVIEW of the hike
The hike begins from the car park at Passo Tre Croci. You can reach this point by either bus or car from Cortina. If you’re going by bus, then catch the 030 bus from Cortina to the trailhead at Passo Tre Croco. By car, it’s a 20-minute drive from Cortina to Passo Tre Croci. There is free parking by the side of the road or in a small car park near the start of the trail.
The only way to get to Lago di Sorapis is to hike. But what a mighty hike it is. Being a two hour walk from the nearest carpark means that it doesn’t attract anywhere near as many people as some of the other trails in the Dolomites. The trail to the lake starts with a forest path, curves along a few narrow ledges and provides beautiful Dolomiti views the whole way up.
#1 Passo Tre Croci to Lago di Sorapis // 1 hour and 45 minutes - 5.5km
From the trail head, take the path (215) and follow it all the way to the lake. It is clearly marked and easy to follow. The walk is not particularly challenging, but it does transverse a couple of narrow ledges with a handrail on the side.
What awaits you is a tranquil turquoise lake nestled against an impenetrable wall of rugged mountain rock. It’s water dances with the sunshine and we witnessed first-hand how its turquoise transparency changed with the weather. The morning sun transitioned to a moody afternoon and, with that, the waters changed to a softer and more opaque blue-green.
#2 Lago di Sorapis to Forcella Marcoira // 1 hour and 15 minutes - 4.5km
You can return the same way (which would take you about the same amount of time) or you can take the option of going over the pass. To do so, take the same path (215), past the rifugio, and then make a left turn on path 216. You will follow the path upwards for about an hour. At the top of the climb, the path bends left to cross a shallow basin. The trail is a bit indistinct here, but a handrail is there to help. Drop into the basin, zigzag up the other side and reach the stunning views at Forcella Marcoira.
#3 Forcella Marcoira to Passo Tre Croci // 1 hour and 15 minutes – 3.5km
Be careful not to take path 223 that runs southwest along the ridge. Keep on continuing along path 216 and turn right once onto path 213 once you come to the junction. This will lead you back to your starting point of Passo Tre Croci.
I recommend leaving around 6 hours for the whole hike so you have 30 minutes to walk around the lake and some time to take plenty of breaks, eat some lunch and take in the views.
CRODA DA LAGO
HIKE DISTANCE: 12.5 KMS
TIME: 6 HOURS (with 1 hour stop for lunch)
ELEVATION GAIN: 759 M
The Croda da Lago ring is certainly one of the most rewarding outings due to its interesting geology and stunning landscapes. It begins in a magnificent fir forest, ascends the lunar Val de Formin, coasts the splendid Mondeval alpine meadows to reach the shores of beautiful Lake Fedéra before heading back down into the forest and starting point at Ponte di Rocurto.
OVERVIEW of the hike
#1 Ponte di Rucurto to Rifugio Palmieri // 2 hours and 15 minutes
Start along a wide path (437) through thick forest. You’ll soon cross Ru Formin on a scenic wooden bridge where you can take in the refreshing sound of cascading water. Once across from the bridge, you will have to conquer a short uphill burst that will bring you to the first major crossroads. Here you decide whether you’re going to circumnavigate clockwise or anti-clockwise around the Croda da Lago mountain range.
If you’re going clockwise, then continue straight on path 434 when you reach the crossroads. The trail switchbacks steadily uphill but provides great motivation by means of a scenic lookout at the top. The lookout, which is only a minute away from the trail, gives views over Cinque Torri and Tofana di Rozes.
Although still initially uphill, the trail now lessens in grade and soon enough you’ll enter the official grounds near Lago Federa. Turn right and walk along the shore admiring the reflective Beco De Mezodi in the distance. You’ll soon spot Rifugio Palmieri and it’s this photogenic hut that will now serve as your guide.
#2 Rifugio Palmieri to Ponte de Ricurto // 2 hours and 45 minutes
Most people consider this lake to be the pinnacle viewpoint of the hike and many people return straight back to the car park from here. But, if the weather is good and your legs are feeling strong, then you should continue onto path 434 until you reach Forcella Ambrizzola. This is the point where the Croda da Lago circuit breaks away from the Alta Via 1 by turning right onto path 436 and then shortly right again onto path 435.
You’ll eventually reach Forcella de Formin and be provided with great views back toward Monte Pelmo. Once past the Forcella, the route quickly descends through several boulder fields before entering a thickening larch forest.
Keep walking until you reach the main crossroad that you crossed earlier in the day. A left turn back onto path 437 will take you back to the start point and hopefully closer to having a beverage in your hand!
LAGO DI BRAIES (PRAGSER WILDSEE)
Lago Di Braies is one of the largest lakes in the Dolomites region and a UNESCO Heritage Site. Its reflective teal surface peppered with charming wooden boats is magical. Majority of people who visit the lake only go as far as the boat jetty located only 100 meters away from the carpark. But, if you want to escape the crowds and dip your toes into the world of hiking, then you should definitely try the main hike at Lago di Braies.