There are many beautiful places in Italy where you can go hiking, but the Dolomites for sure have the most picturesque landscape. With over 3000 hiking trails of which +200 long-distance hikes and some pilgrim routes too, the choice will be hard when it comes to planning a hiking holiday.
The northern Dolomites in South Tyrol and Trentino are the most popular regions with 65% of the territory that attracts hikers from all over Europe and the rest of the world. However, the Southern and Eastern Dolomites have some unique and spectacular mountains. But while these places are favourite among the locals, they are often underrated by international travellers.
How to explore the Dolomites
There are many ways to enjoy hiking in the Dolomites. You can go hiking from hut to hut by sleeping (and eating) in the typical Rifugios (mountain huts). If you prefer more comfortable accommodation, there are many options from B&B to high-end hotels with wellness and spa.
The great thing is that you don’t need advanced hiking skills; the Dolomites offers easy and short hikes for beginners and any fitness level to multi-day hikes and long-distance trails to stretch over 2-3 to 7-10 days. Alta Via and various Ferrata (a combination of a hike with climbs) are for more experienced hikers who can experience these options in these beautiful Italian mountains.
Summer, from June to September is the best time of the year for hiking in the Dolomites. If you start from the Northern region, then Bolzano is the getaway to all hiking routes.
The best hikes in the Dolomites
To give you an overview of all the hiking trips that this UNESCO heritage site offers, I have asked travellers and mountain lovers to share their favourite hike in the Dolomites.
Here are a selection of the best day hikes in the Dolomites that you can do on a self-guided trip, plus a few multi-day hiking routes for expert hikers. We start from the northern region through the Eastern side to the Southern part.
Seceda Hike Val Gardena
The Seceda offers a wonderful panorama and an easy hike, which does not require much equipment. All you need are good hiking boots. I did it several times together with the family starting from our rental apartment down in St. Ulrich (Ortisei). The starting point of this small Alpine circuit on the Seceda is the mountain station of the Col Raiser cable car over St. Cristina in Val Gardena. From here follow the trail marking 4 A, past the Odles hut and continuing uphill and always heading north. You will hike past the small lake Lêch da Iman; you reach the Troier Hut after about 45 minutes. From the Troierhütte, as it is called in German, an unmarked trail leads west for about 10 minutes and down to the Daniel Hut. Following the marker 1A, you will reach the path no. 6, which leads gently downhill to the Curona hut and finally to the Cuca saddle (about 30 minutes). From the “Cuca Sattel“ follow the dirt road with the marking no. 2 in the direction of north-east and reach the Fermeda hut in a beautiful alpine crossing (about 20 min). From the Fermeda hut, continue gently on trail two eastwards, and now again on the ascent trail no. 4 A down to the mountain station of the Col Raiser cable car. The most beautiful part of this hike is the unique views of the mountain scenery of Gröden (Val Gardena). You will love it.
Lago di Braies Circular Trail
Walking time: 1.5 hours. Distance: 5.0km. Difficulty: Easy. The hike around the lake is relatively easy, but very scenic. I preferred starting the hike from the left side and walk in a clockwise direction, but you can choose either way. I do recommend good shoes because you’ll be walking for 5 kilometres. I stayed in a hotel called Majestic Spa & Hotel in nearby Brunico, which is about 30 minutes driving away from the lake. But there is also a nice hotel right next to the lake that would be ideal to experience the lake in the early mornings. While the lake and mountain backdrop is the highlight of a visit to Lago di Braies, the hike itself is beautiful as well as it offers a relaxing walk in one of the most beautiful areas in the Dolomites. The air is so fresh up here, and you will feel refreshed after the hike. Along the hike, you’ll walk past a charming little chapel as well, known as Cappella Lago di Braies. After the hike, you could also opt for a scenic boat ride on the lake. At the beginning of the hiking trail, there’s a boat house where you can hire row boats.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit
This epic day hike in the Dolomites encircles the three towering peaks known as “Tre Cime di Lavaredo” (a.k.a. Drei Zinnen in German) in Tre Cime Natural Park. Given the accessibility of this trail, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit is a very popular day hike. I highly recommend getting an early start. I love this trail because there is never a dull moment. You’re rewarded with gorgeous mountain views from the very beginning, and the drama intensifies with every step.
Furthermore, this is an easy hike that anyone can do independently. It takes 3.5 – 4 hours to complete the 10 km hike. The walk begins at Rifugio Auronzo, a mountain hut situated directly on the trail. You can drive to Rifugio Auronzo, after paying a 30 € mountain toll. From the mountain hut, take the path to the right (Trail no. 101) in the direction of Rifugio Lavaredo. The trail continues to the iconic Dreizinnenhütte (Rifugio Locatelli), which is the best place to have lunch. From Dreizinnenhütte, continue the circuit trail in the direction of Langealm. To learn more about this hike, read this guide to hiking around Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
Rifugio Fratelli Fonda Savio
Close to Cortina d’Ampezzo mountain resort, there is a picturesque alpine lake Misurina. Located on 1754 metres, it is a perfect place for hikers, as many head trails start in Misurina. There are a few hotels located conveniently over the lake. Together with my husband, we stayed in the Sorapiss hotel. The hotels in Misurina may be a bit expensive especially in high season, so hikers looking for budget-friendly options can stay in Alla Baita camping. One of the best trails in the area leads to Rifugio Fratelli Fonda Savio mountain hut situated on 2367 metres. The trail number is 115. It is one of the most beautiful trails in the Cadini di Misurina group. The scenery is a real treat for every nature lover! The path is not long – getting to the mountain shelter from Misurina takes about two hours. It is an excellent option because no mountain guide is necessary to hike this trail – it is technically easy, there are no exposure points, and climbing experience is also not needed. The path may be a good option even for families with children.
Croda da Lago Circuit
This is my favourite day hike in the Eastern Dolomites D’Ampezzo, near Cortina. You can start this 5 hours hike at the Passo Giau, at an altitude of 2236 above sea level. With the Mount Nuvolau in the background, the start is already promising a gorgeous scenery. This the best thing about this trail is the varied scenery that changes throughout the 13 km trail. The hike itself is moderate with very few steep sections. The first part takes you to the Mondeval basin at an altitude of 2350 metres.
All over the area you can admire the high-altitude-grassland and the sharp contrasts with the steep walls of the Lastoni di Formin. When 1/3 of the hike is complete, you will get to a magnificent lookout and a 180° panorama of Val Formin Croda da Lago and Cortina in the valley. Descending through the path, you reach the Fedèra lake where you can have a break and excellent food at the Refugio Palmieri. From there you will hike back to Rucurto through beautiful vegetation of larch forests, gorges, mountain creeks and a view of the Cinque Torri, another great hike worth planning on a day trip from Venice to the Dolomites.
Lake Sorapis is a unique lake located near Lago di Braies, and hiking there is not easy, but you will be rewarded with a stunning view of the beautiful Lago di Sorapis. Cortina d’Ampezzo is a good base to get to the lake. There is one popular hike that is described as modest (with some challenges), and then there is a more challenging hike that will take about 6-8 hours (including hiking around the lake).
If you do it as I did, then you will have the hiking path almost all to yourself. To do the easier hike, drive past the “Passo Tre Croci” and park at the big car park. To do the more strenuous hike, park at a little parking spot near an abandon hotel & restaurant (free parking).
The hike starts nice and smooth – but the higher you will get, the more narrow and steeper it gets, and the louder the waterfalls are. I suggest, not hiking alone there (but in my defence, I was walking with a little dog, so I was probably a bit more concerned). Wear solid shoes and bring a water bottle with you and food as the Refugio is not open all year round. I was overtaken by some other hikers, but even if you are a fast and experienced hiker, you will need almost three hours to reach the Sorapis lake, once there, the lake speaks for itself and is worth even the challenging hike.
Bocchette Centrali Via Ferrata
My favourite hike in the Dolomites is the Bocchette Centrali via ferrata, in the Brenta region. Technically, it’s not a ‘normal’ hike – a via ferrata is a cross between a hike and a climb, allowing you to make your way up or across via a system of fixed ladders, cables and other climbing aids. Bocchette Centrali allows hikers to cross the Brenta massif making use of natural ledges, so there’s not much climbing involved – as a result, it is ideal for those who are tackling a via ferrata for the first time.
The best way to enjoy Bocchette Centrali is reaching the start of the via ferrata very early in the morning, around 7 am – to do so, it’s a good idea to spend the night at Rifugio Alimonta, located only 45 minutes away. We also highly recommend going with a licensed Alpine guide, especially if you’ve never done a via ferrata before. Bocchette Centrali takes about three hours to cover, with spectacular views along the way, especially when you reach a point with a great view over Campanile Basso, one of the Brenta peaks. It’s important not to be afraid of heights as the path is always very exposed – another reason why having a guide is very important.
Alta Via dei Monzoni
The distance: between 15 and 20 km, depending on the trail followed; to be covered in 5 to 7 hours, depending on the number of stops. The best access point for this hike is the parking lot of Seggiovia Costabella in Passo San Pellegrino, where you can take the ski-lift to the starting point of the trail, which is at a little less than 2000 meters above sea level. From there, you will slowly but steadily ascend to Rifugio Passo delle Selle, at around 2500 meters.
You will have an incredible view of Cimon del Bocche massif, Lagorai, Latemar, Catinaccio and Pale di San Martino peaks. After Rifugio Passo delle Selle, the trail becomes very narrow and hardly recommended if you are not a fan of heights. That’s when you’ll start walking towards Austria’s WWI trenches, where you can visit the various sniper points and artillery tunnels. The trail continues to Ponta de Recoleta, from where it goes back down to Fango. However, it is possible to follow a different route going to Colifon, where the Italian trenches were located, and from there back to to the ski-lift and then back down to Passo San Pellegrino.
It’s not a difficult hike, save for the points where the trail is very narrow. It can be done independently, as it is easy to follow, however having a local guide will guarantee lots of insights into the history of the trenches and the technicalities of the hike. This hiking trail puts together the love for nature and mountains with interest in history, thus making it a particularly rewarding one. The restaurant Rifugio Paradiso is located at about 2/3 of the way, and it’s a great place to have lunch trying some of the best local specialities. And the nearby Moena is packed with good accommodation options for all budgets and tastes.
Alta Via 4
The Alta Via 4 is a seven-day hike that travels through the Dolomites Mountains from north to south with gorgeous scenery that changes each day, including some of the most spectacular views in this region. It starts from the village of San Candido and finishes in Pieve di Cadore, stopping at six different mountain huts along the way. I organised and hiked the Alta Via 4 independently with my brother, with the aid of a guidebook and maps. Waymarking is good, and the huts are each unique and excellent, as is the delicious meal served up each night. I loved this adventurous hike because, along with the beautiful views, it has some via ferrata climbing sections. Before embarking on the AV4, you should have some experience of this sort of climbing, the right equipment and a good head for heights. You can read more about hiking the Alta Via 4 here.
Alta Via 1
The Dolomites’ Alta Via 1 is a 130-kilometre long-distance hiking route starting from near the Austrian border in Dobbiaco in the north to Belluno in the south. The route traverses through the stunning high altitude of the Dolomites, which gives the trail its name, past gorgeous mountain lakes and scenery. It takes around ten days to complete the Alta Via 1 in its entirety, and you sleep in rifugios (mountain huts) each night as tent camping isn’t allowed. Even in the remote mountains of Italy, the food is excellent and a welcome comfort after a hard day of trekking. Because of the high altitude, which reaches 2752 meters at its high point, this trek is best tackled from June through September. The steep climbs and various trail conditions make it a challenging long-distance hike, but the scenery more than makes up for any difficult section you encounter. It’s a trail that requires accurate planning, and Tim of Luxe Adventure Traveler highly recommends purchasing the Tabacco maps. But with proper planning and packing, this is an incredibly beautiful long-distance hike that should be on any hiker’s bucket list.
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