The Dolomites are a group of mountains in the northern Italian Alps, bounded by the valleys of the Isarco, the Pusteria, the Piave, the Brenta and the Adige.
In 2009 they were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of their outstanding beauty with unrivalled landscapes, sheer cliffs and density of deep valleys.
It is therefore hardly surprising that they draw visitors from around the world.
With a universal appeal for hiking enthusiasts, thousands of people arrive every summer to take to the trails and enjoy some of the best alpine scenery in Europe with towering peaks and pinnacles aplenty.
A popular tourist destination, the mountainous slopes of the Dolomites are also famous for their skiing, rock climbing and even base jumping opportunities.
The Marmolada – known as the Queen of the Dolomites – is the highest peak in the region at 3,343 metres tall and home to the Dolomites’ largest glacier.
Similar to the French Alps, there are hundreds of walking trails to choose from, ranging from a few hours to a couple of weeks’ trekking.
Below we have picked just a handful of the most popular options from each category but there are many more to choose from or combine in your own itinerary.
- Widely regarded as some of the most stunning mountains in the world with jaw-dropping rock formations, glacier lakes, deep-cut valleys and alpine meadows.
- Variety of terrain and range of route lengths and difficulties to suit any age and ability.
- Mix of Italian and Austrian influences apparent in food , warmth and hospitality offered by the mountain huts.
The easiest and most direct route to the Dolomites is by car. This is the most convenient option, particularly if you want to do a series of shorter walks across various locations. Taxis and transfers are also available to/from the Venice area and within the Dolomites for anyone not comfortable driving on the (often hectic) Italian roads.
The bus system to and from the Dolomites is frequent and reliable, with the Cortina Express running daily to and from Venice and Dolomiti buses running hourly to the most popular hikes in the area. The closest that you can get to the Dolomites by train is Pieve di Cadore, from where you will need to take a taxi to Cortina d’Ampezzo or Corvara.
For those coming from further afield, the nearest airports are Milan Malpensa and Venice, which both offer regional and international flights.
As mentioned above, the length of your trek in the Dolomites is totally up to you. The shortest routes are a few kilometres, whereas some of the more demanding treks are closer to 100 kilometres.
One of the best ways to explore the Dolomites is by hiking one of the Alta Via (high routes), which are the long-distance trails of the area.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
The short routes that are five kilometres or less are often flat and circle around a lake or to another point of interest, requiring little physical ability or hiking prowess. If you do decide to take on one of the Alta Vias you will pass through multiple regions and several natural parks, experiencing a variety of landscapes and geological features.
These range from green pastures to lunar landscapes and wooded valleys to stomach-turning high peaks. As a result, you should be ready to tackle all sorts of terrain.
Although they all offer plenty of steep ascents/descents, the Alta Via 2 is dubbed Alta Via delle Leggende (High Route of Legends) as it is more strenuous than the other Alta Via, remaining at higher elevations throughout (as high as 2,900 metres).
All Alta Via trips are designed for people who are in good physical shape and have some long-distance trekking experience.
The treks vary from moderate to strenuous and so you should be capable of walking four to six hours per day at an elevation up to 2,500 metres above sea level.
Trails have complete public access and so there are no permits are needed to trek in the Dolomites.
Guided or Self-Guided
Thanks to the abundance of information online and maps at varying scales in every language, it is not hard to custom design a trip in the Dolomites and go self-guided. This will allow you more flexibility over your itinerary but will also take more planning.
If you are planning to complete an Alta Via without a guide, you should have some mountain and trekking experience.
To take the hassle out of the trip, many people choose to go with a tour group that will arrange all accommodation, food/drink and transfers.
For an idea of cost difference, an eight-day guided trip will cost € 1,600 per person for two to four people or less in a larger group, versus around €700 per person if going without a guide – both staying in a combination of huts and three-star hotels.
For the best hiking and maximum accessibility, head to the Dolomites from June through October.
Lower elevation trails may be accessible in May but higher routes (including parts of the Alta Via) will be snowbound until end of June. Late September is when most of the mountain lifts cease operations and local bus services reduce in frequency.
Trails are freshest in June, July is the peak wildflower season and August is the busiest time, being peak vacation period for Europe.
Below we have listed out just a handful of the top short and long hikes.
If you are designing your own route, bear in mind that sometimes short distances will take a full day to cover due to elevation changes.
Top Day Hikes
The Tre Cime circuit (via Rifugio Auronzo trailhead)
5-6 hours (with stops and extensions)
This short loop encompasses the easy section of Alta Via 4 with little elevation change and allows you to see the three prominent monoliths of Tre Cime di Lavaredo from all angles.
The Tre Cime circuit’s highlights include passing through the iconic Forcella (saddle) Lavaredo and rifugio Locatelli.
Croda Da Lago Circuit (via Ponte di Rucurto trailhead)
This circuit is popular thanks to its route along the Lago Federa shoreline with a lunchtime stop at the beautifully located rifugio Palmieri (also known as Croda da Lago).
A little more tough than the Tre Cime circuit, this walk has an elevation change of 759 metres, classing it as a moderate day hike.
Lago Di Braies Circuit
A pathway that skirts the lake and takes you away from the maddening crowds to get the perfect photo.
The Seceda Ridgeline
4 hours with cable car or 7 hours without
One of the most photographed mountain ridge lines in the World, with a postcard-perfect view of the Puez Ödle Nature Park.
Lake Sorapiss Hike
A stunning trail that scales along a rock shelf, so not for the faint-hearted, and culminates with views over a glacially-fed alpine lake.
Alta Via 1 – Section I
Alta Via 1 is considered the classic high route of the Dolomites and offers moderate level trekking. Breaking it down into two sections is perfect for people who may be short on time.
A five-day trip itinerary covering part of this Via whilst incorporating the best scenery of the Italian Alps would be as follows:
Arrive in Cortina d’Ampezzo to prepare for trek and make the most of restaurants and cafes, antique shops, art galleries, and boutiques.
Lago di Braies – Sennes (with optional additional hike to the top of the Col di Lasta at 2,997m) – 13.5km, 5 hours
Altopiano di Fanes via Lake Lé Piciodel – 7.5km, 4 hours
Cime di Fanis & Lagazuoi Massif – 11.5km, 6 hours
Cinque Torri – 17.5km, 6 hours (option to shorten hike using the Lagazuoi cable car)
Alta Via 2
Considered moderate to challenging, this route is one of the most beautiful and diverse treks in the Dolomites. It runs from the top of Piz Boé, across the Sella Massif, to the Valley of Shadows beneath Marmolada.
Hiking from north to south and staying at rifugios, a suggested eight-day itinerary would be:
Arrive in Corvara, Alta Badia. If you want to warm up your legs you can explore one of the six villages of Alta Badia.
La Villa – Gardenaccia – Rifugio Puez – Corvara – 14km, 6-7 hours
Corvara – Val di Mesdì – Val di Bosli – 7km, 4-5 hours
Piz Boé – 6.5km, 6 hours
Passo Pordoi – Marmolada – Lago Fedaia – 15km, 7-8 hours
Malga Ciapela – Rifugio Falier – Passo de Ombreta – 10km, 6 hours
Val de le Cirele traverse to Passo San Pellegrino – 10km, 4 hours
Passo San Pellegrino – Col de Margarita – Monte Predazzo – Passo Valles – 8.5km, 5 hours
Alta Via 4
This trek is the toughest of them all and offers six days of exhilarating hiking Via Ferrata and is recommended to experienced hikers only due to exposed ledges and challenging sections.
On day six of this itinerary, Alta Via 4 joins Alta Via 5 passing over some incredible peaks and finishing on a high the follow day.
Arrive in Cortina d’Ampezzo (transfer or bus to start point of San Candido early in morning)
San Candido to Tre Cime di Lavaredo – 15.5km, 7 hours
Tre Crime di Lvaredo into Cadini Mountains – 8km, 6 hours
Forcella Maràia – Col de Varda – Misurina – 14.5km, 6 hours
Via Ferrata Vandelli (includes ladders, rungs, and cables) and Minanzio – San Vito Valley – 9.5km, 7.5 hours
Antelao Massif (Forcella del Ghiacciaio – Val Antelao – Forcella Piria – Croda di San Pietro) – 12km, 8.5 hours
Forcella Antracisa – 6.5km, 3 hours
Most of the towns and villages throughout the Dolomites offer a range of accommodation, including three to five star hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs and alpine apartments.
Outside of the towns, particularly for those tackling the Alta Via routes, your choice will be limited to mountainside rifugi.
Traditionally these provide comfortable, simple bedding in either a dormitory or small shared room, with family-style dining.
What they might lack in luxuries, they make up for in hospitality and views. It is worth checking in advance but most rifugi can provide some sort of packed lunch, as well as up-to-date weather reports and tips for your travels.
In the towns you will have more flexibility over lodging based on your budget.
In many towns there are night-time activities, markets, boutique shops and historical points of interest – so consider factoring in an extra day here and there if time allows.
Cortina, host to the 1956 Winter Olympics (and a James Bond film), is a good base for many of the Dolomites treks. It has a reputation as a great winter and summer destination, thanks to its offerings of top-notch skiing, hiking and rock climbing.
This chic Venetian town also caters to the high society crowd, with year-round social activities and fine dining but without the noise and furor of other après-ski destinations.
Not far away is the meeting and drop-off point for many Dolomites tours, Venice. This world-famous city is worthy of a few days tagged on to the start or end of your trip.
There is no shortage of things to keep you entertained. Take a gondola ride through the canals and under the Rialto Bridge, feed the pigeons (or watch from afar) then grab a cold beer in St Mark’s Square, followed up with authentic Italian Pizza.
|Difficulty||1/5 - 4/5|
|Starts at||39038 San Candido, South Tyrol, Italy|
|Finishes at||Forcella Antracisa, 32044 Pieve di Cadore BL, Italy|
|Length of route||25 - 130Km|
|Average time to complete||1 - 9 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||2500 metres|
|Equipment needed||Poles if preferred, walking boots|