Ah, the Dolomites. This jagged mountain range that peaks to the skies in NorthEastern Italy is surely one of the undisputed jewels of the Alps. Within are some of Europe’s most striking summits, from the shark-fin spires of the Langkofel to the ice-caked glacier of Marmolada to the table-top rocks of the great Piz Boe.
Adventurers ready to lace up the boots and crack out the poles won’t be disappointed in these parts. There are more kilometers of breathtaking (sometimes literally) trail than you can shake a bottle of Prosecco at – but don’t do that!
You’ll find Dolomites day hikes that range up to soaring peaks with 360-degree vistas. There are hardcore treks that whisk walkers to remote mountain refugio (huts). And you’ve got family-friendly hikes in the Dolomites that delve through idyllic alpine valleys flanked by forests and lakes. It’s endless.
Getting to the Dolomites should be a breeze. Tucked into the far north-eastern edge of Italy, the peaks are less than a day’s travel from major tourist hubs like Venice, Milan, and Verona. You can get here from Austria, through the famous (and beautiful) Brenner Pass. Or, hit the scenic route to arrive from Ljubljana and Slovenia in the east via the Triglav National Park. It’s easy drive here in a rental car but there are some things you must keep in mind about renting a car in Italy.
1. Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Get ready to lay your eyes on one of the most striking and iconic groups of peaks in the whole of the Alps. Yep, Tre Cime di Lavaredo is up there with the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. It’s regularly featured on postcards of the South Tyrol, soaring 2,999 meters in a trio of hulking spurs of stone – the Cima Piccola, the Cima Grande (the highest), and the Cima Ovest. Just be sure to charge the camera for this one!
The trek to Tre Cime di Lavaredo will take about 4 hours in total, covering 6 miles of wide and well-maintained paths through the very eastern depths of the mountains. That makes it one of the more family-friendly hikes in the Dolomites, especially as you’ll encounter excellent lunch stops along the way.
Park up at Refugio Auronzo to begin the climb, following the 101 to the stunning views at the top. Afterwards, routes 102 and 105 will take you all the way back to the car.
Note: If you’re short on time, it is possible to take a tour here from Venice or Bolzano or other neighboring cities. Or you can take a guided tour from Cortina d’Ampezzo to visit all the important dolomites in a day.
Budget Friendly Hotels and Chalets To Stay Nearby:
Hotel Croda Ross • B&B Hotel Passo Tre Croci Cortina • Albergo Chalet Lago Antorno
2. Croda Da Lago Circuit
If you’re after a glimpse of the craggy dolostone turrets that make this mountain range so famous, the Croda Da Lago Circuit will oblige. It’s among the most popular Dolomites day hikes, because it offers above-tree trekking, boasts simply gorgeous views, and is relatively accessible – the resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo is in the valley just below.
What’s more, you’ll be rewarded with a stop at glistening Lake Fedéra and its charming Rifugio Palmieri once you’re done with the more serious parts of the route.
The outing begins on the hair-pinning road that links Cortina to Codalonga. You need to park up in a layby on the Passo di Giau and join path number 437. It’s a steep start, dodging boulders lodged into the mountainside.
Then, you’ll suddenly emerge into the strange landscape of the Val de Formin, where the alpine meadows drop away and swathes of grey stone roll to the horizon. All that’s framed to the south by mighty Monte Pelmo, and to the north by the peak of Pomagagnon beyond Cortina.
Hotels Within Driving Distance Nearby:
Hotel Picocolo Pocol • La Locanda del Cantoniere • Radisson Residences Savoia Palace
3. Vajolet Towers
The ethereal Vajolet Towers have to be one of the most striking landmarks in the whole of Italy. That’s probably why the route up to them is now one of the most famous day hikes in the Dolomites.
It takes you through the impossibly wonderful Rosengarten Nature Park, across 5 miles of rocky terrain that offers up glimpses of the wooded Prealps and the high mountains beyond. The only downside? This one inevitably begins with a chairlift ride from the refuge at Albergo Frommeralm.
After you roll off the lift, you’ll hit path 550. It reclines quickly into a steep and moderately challenging ascent that eventually hits a zenith with the big reveal of Monte Catinaccio and Vajolet rifugio itself.
But that’s not the end. There’s a higher valley to reach thanks to a series of switchbacks that are aided by cables at their narrowest point. That’s your ticket to the lunar landscapes of the Passo Santner, where scree and boulders unfold before the gravity-defying Vajolet Towers. Well done. You’re there!
Resorts close to the Chairlifts at Albergo Frommeralm:
Hotel Rosengarten • Moseralm Dolomiti Spa Resort • Romantik Hotel Post
4. The Alta Via 1
Regularly hailed as one of the best hikes in the world, the Alta Via 1 crosses a boot-busting 93 miles of mountains. It starts up between the chiseled tops of the Prags Dolomites, around the banks of green-blue Lago di Braies (definitely one for the Instagram feed).
From there, the route runs roughly southwards. It flanks the chic ski resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo and ranges 2,800 meters up to the pinnacle of Monte Lagazuoi, where you’ll spend the night at one of the most impressive rifugio in the region – there’s even a sauna to soothe the muscles!
As most people opt to go north to south, the usual finishing point of the Alta Via 1 is in the rugged Val Cordevole. That will only come after over 6,600 meters of elevation gain and an average of 11 days on the trail.
And it’s not just jaw-dropping views that come in between. You’ll also encounter fascinating WWI tunnels and high-altitude lakes. (Remember that it’s essential to book your hut accommodation on the AV1 as far in advance as you can, especially during the peak walking season between June and August.)
Stay at these inns near Lago di Braies before you start the long hike!
Hotel Lago di Braies • Steinerhof
5. Lake Sorapis
Lake Sorapiss hides, high up, between the spear-like spires of the Cristallo Group. They’re a particularly dramatic part of the Dolomites, accessible by bus and car from Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The journey to the lake itself begins humbly, weaving through mossy fir forests. Soon, the path cranks upwards and you gain elevation fast, eventually traversing narrow ledges with cable aids. The last part dips into dense woodland with a few zig-zagging scrambling sections.
Then the reward: Lake Sorapiss, a dash of turquoise-blue water that’s hemmed in by serrated peaks. There is a path to take you all the way around the lake to enjoy the vistas from all sides.
Afterwards, double back to the kitschy Rifugio Alfonso Vandelli (honestly, it looks like something out of a Wes Anderson movie!) for a sprawling plate of hearty pasta with views of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo far out on the north-eastern horizon.
Or stay at these hotels nearby
HOTEL de LEN • Hotel Lajadira & Spa • Hotel Sorapiss
6. Gran Cir (via ferrata)
You’ll have to head to the heart of the skiing region of the Dolomites to start this rewarding ferrata hike. The route begins at the pass between the Val Badia and Gardena, where a smattering of mountain huts and refugios are abuzz with coffee drinkers and diners most days in the summer.
Leave all that behind and join path number 2. It leads off to a fork that meets the Gran Cir range to the north. That’s where the via ferrata begins.
Soon, you’ll be lumping it on a steep stretch of gravel scree to a gully where iron wires jut across from rock face to rock face. As ferrata go, this one’s both short and accessible, but it’s still a good idea to pack those helmets and harnesses.
After conquering that line, you’ve got a way to go – around 40 minutes to an hour – before topping out at the summit of the Gran Cir. Take a seat. Enjoy the eye-watering views of the Sassolungo. You earned it!
Nearby Alpine Hotels
HOTEL Cir • Hotel Muliac • Kolfuschgerhof Mountain Resort
7. St. Jacobs Church
Anyone on the hunt for family-friendly hikes in the Dolomites should be sure to have the quick route to St. Jacobs Church on their radar. It’s easy on the legs, easy on the navigation skills, and can be completed in just a few hours. What’s more, it’s one of the few hikes on this list that’s doable in the winter months, when plumes of snow and the distant ski pistes add something special to the views.
Grab a breakfast in the café-filled piazza of Ortisei town and then start on the paved walkway that leads to the fork for S. Giacomo. It’s not long until you reach the turnoff you’re after. It drifts away from the road into pockets of old pine trees. About 15 minutes of ascent finally reveals the charming church of St. Jacobs nestled in a small clearing.
It’s a haunting place that’s perfect for a little mountain meditation and a picnic, with unforgettable backdrops of the Sassolungo and the Piz Boe.
Hotels near St Jakobs Kirche
Hotel Ansitz Jakoberhof • Albergo Somont
Hotels near Ortisei
Hotel Genziana• Hotel Hell
8. Sassolungo Circuit
Get a good night’s sleep. Wake with dawn. Hit the cable car to the plateaus around Sassolungo as early as you can. This one’s an all-day trek that clocks up 10.5 miles and altitude gains of over 3,000 feet.
Some say it’s the most rewarding of all the day hikes in the Dolomites, because it offers ever-changing views in all directions, along with a palette of various terrains, from crumbling scree to high-Alpine pasture to pine forests. You’ll also get to enjoy a whole host of awesome huts, which double as ski restaurants during the winter season.
The loop trail rings all the way around the peak of the Sassolungo. It’s one of the most recognizable the region has, towering like a dagger over the Val Gardena.
Gondolas offer access from Canazei town to the south, but you can also start by hitting the Sella Pass by bus. Either way, you’re looking at circling the whole massif, which means sections on the lovely Alpe di Siusi – the largest high-altitude meadow in Europe!
Hotels near Canazei
Hotel Resort Al Sole •Hotel Astoria• Hotel Dolomiti Schloss
9. Averau (via ferrata)
Thinking of dipping your toes into the adrenaline-pumping world of via ferrata, Dolomites style? Averau is a great place to start. This beginner-friendly route bridges the last ascents of a huge bluff between Cortina and Corvara. It starts with a few tricky, narrow sections that require you to hop and scramble up pillars of stone. To finish, you come into a tight gully with plugged iron pins and wires to help you reach the top.
The payoff for tackling this via ferrata is a sweeping panorama of this corner of the Dolomites. You can even see as far as Mount Sorapiss (the home of Lake Sorapiss), and out to Monte Pelmo down in the province of Belluno to the south. The Belluno region is also perfect for snowshoeing in winter.
After descending, you can push on up to the ridgeline of Rifugio Nuvolau (2,575m), where lunches of traditional Italian pastas, rustic polenta dishes, and German-inspired meatballs are served on a glorious terrace.
10. Alta Via 2
If you’re keen to conquer a whole cross-section of the eastern Alps, want to take in via ferrata, Dolomites scenery of all shapes and sizes, and sample long-distance trekking as you go, the Alta Via 2 is certainly worth considering.
Unlike its more famous compadre – Alta Via 1 (see above) – this one incorporates hard sections of ferrata routes. It’s still considered one of the very best hikes in the world.
The vast majority of the trek takes place on conventional trails. The start is typically in the handsome Baroque town of Bressanone. That’s conveniently on the main train line running north from Bolzano to the Brenner Pass, so you’ll step straight from platform to path.
From there, you move roughly southeastwards through the heart of the Dolomites, taking between 11 and 14 days to check off countless passes as you go. Highlights are usually said to be the ultra-challenging via ferrata Dolomites of the Passo delle Farangole group and the grass-green meadowlands around Rifugio Dal Piaz.
So these are the top 10 best hikes in the dolomites. Which one will you do first?
PS. If you’re still worried about which hike is best for you, book a private guide that will tailor the hike to suit your skill level while giving you the best views.
Wednesday 28th of December 2022
Thanks for sharing these hikes in the Dolomites, wonderful post, very useful blog