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Last Updated: March 2018
The Dolomites are a mountain range in northeastern Italy located in the regions of Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto, and Friuli Venezia Giulia. In 2009, these mountains were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Site consists of 9 systems covering a total area of 142,000 hectares. Apart from the sheer size of the Dolomites, it’s the overwhelming beauty of the landscape that astounds and moves you.
The unique coloration of the peaks is perhaps the most striking feature of the Dolomites. The light and time of day reveal different shades of peach, rose, white and violet in the rock. The color is further dramatized by the sculpturesque shapes of the pinnacles. Nestled between the cliffs, you’ll find high alpine pastures and meadows. These meadow-scapes are dotted with huts, cows and horses. Many huts serve food and drink. So, when you’re hiking in the Dolomites, you don’t need to pack a lunch, as there’s usually a delicious meal waiting for you on the mountain.
If you want to hike, the best time to come is end of June to end of September. That time frame also corresponds to the time when the mountain huts (hütte, rifugio) are open for overnights and food. If your aim is to ski, the season begins in December and ends in April.
The Dolomites are located in 5 different provinces (within 3 regions) in Northeastern Italy. One province, South Tyrol (in German: Südtirol; in Italian: Alto Adige), was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I. German continues to be the primary language spoken in this region. When traveling and hiking through South Tyrol, every street, advertisement, natural area, mountain hut, etc… is written in both German and Italian. Throughout this guide, we will use both names to avoid any confusion.
There are many ways to experience the Dolomites. For hikers who want to stay in the mountains, we recommend sleeping in mountain huts (Hütte, Rifugio, Schutzhaus). For those that want to experience the culture of the valleys and the towns, we recommend staying in farms.
Roter Hahn (Red Rooster) is a trademark given to farmhouses in South Tyrol that provide quality holiday accommodations. There are 1,600 Roter Hahn farms in the region. The goal of Roter Hahn is to put people in touch with the rural world of South Tyrol. Another objective is to help farmers establish another occupation and stream of income.
We stayed in three Roter Hahn Farms and had outstanding experiences each time. The hosts were hospitable, the rooms were clean, and overall the prices were cheaper than other accommodation options.
To look for farm stays, use the Roter Hahn website. There’s a form, next to each farmhouse page, that let’s you reach out and request a reservation. If the farmhouse has availability for the date(s) given, they’ll reach out to you via email.
One of the best things about hiking in the Dolomites is that you can sleep in a mountain refuge (hütte, rifugio). These mountain huts are located directly on the trails, and enable you to stay on the mountain, without having to carry camping gear. Whether you want to break up a longer trek, or simply wake up in the Dolomites, sleeping in a charming Hütte is a rewarding experience. The Dolomites have a vast network of mountain huts, which allows you to hike from one hut to another.
Some mountain huts are called “hütte” and others are called “Schutzhaus.” They are very similar, but a Schutzhaus most provide shelter to hikers, regardless of whether, or not they have a reservation, if the weather poses danger.
We recommend securing reservations 2-5 months in advance.
There is no single resource that we can direct you to. It’s best to narrow your search to a certain region. For example, search for “mountain huts in Val Gardena”.
We highly recommend these two huts based on our experience:
This hike upstages all others. The views are mind-blowing. You might even think that you don’t deserve them, after barely breaking a sweat on the trail. Well, you deserve them. And, we hope you go.
In a nutshell, the hike circumnavigates the iconic Three Peaks (Drei Zinnen in German, Tre Cime di Lavaredo in Italian). It takes about 4 hours to do the whole loop, which is 9.4 km in length. The most impressive view of the peaks are from Dreizinnenhütte, which is a mountain hut facing the north side of Tre Cime di Lavaredo. It’s also a great place to have lunch.
Where to start. If you’re coming to Naturpark Drei Zinnen (Tre Cime Natural Park) for the day, then drive to Rifugio Auronzo. There is a 25 EUR toll to drive up to the hut. Alternatively, if you’re staying in a mountain hut, you can start at Fischleintal, where there’s a parking lot. It will take 3.5 hours to reach Dreizinnenhütte from Fischleintal.
Learn more: Tre Cime Natural Park Travel Guide.
One of the best things about hiking in the Dolomites is that you can sleep in a mountain refuge (hütte, rifugio). Sleeping in a mountain hut, surrounded by breathtaking scenery, is a wonderful experience in and of itself. However, it’s also very practical, if you want to break up a longer trek. During our trip, we spent 3 out of 7 nights in mountain huts. It’s really rewarding to end your day in a remote location in the mountains, as opposed to your car.
We also loved the atmosphere of the huts. People play cards, read books, examine trail maps, and drink Schnaps. And because you’re seated with other hikers at dinner, you get to connect with new people and share your experiences.
Another benefit of staying in a hut is seeing how the colors of the mountains change with the time of day. When we arrived at the mountain hut Tierser Alpl in the late afternoon, the mountains looked purple. In the morning, they looked yellow.
To learn more about our experience staying at this mountain refuge, read Hiking to Tierser Alpl Schutzhaus in the Rosengarten Dolomites.
Val Gardena (Grödnertal) is a valley in South Tyrol that encompasses the towns St. Ulrich (Ortisei), St. Christina (S. Cristina) and Wolkenstein (Selva Gardena). From these towns, you can hop on an aerial cableway to various plateaus and summits in the Val Gardena Dolomites.
We spent one day hiking in Val Gardena from the mountain station Seceda to Regensburger Hütte. This breathtaking hike starts with views of the Fermeda peaks, which look like an open swiss-army knife. The trail then descends and winds through the farm Pieralongia. This magical spot looks like a sacred pagan place of worship and sacrifice. It’s UNREAL. You have to see it!! Next, the trail cuts across Cisles Alm (Alpe di Cisles), a meadow with stunning views of the Geisler (Odle) Group and uncountable peaks. A little bit more hiking and it’s lunchtime at Regensburger Hütte. Why we loved it? The horses! The isolated location! The fog!
For trail directions and photos, read Hiking from Seceda to Regensburger Hütte in Val Gardena.
This beautiful lake is called the Pearl of the Dolomites. There are a few ways to enjoy the lake: (1) hiking around the lake (takes one hour), (2) renting a rowboat, and (3) having lunch at the lakeside hotel, Hotel Lago Di Braies.
What time to visit. This lake isn’t a secret. We arrived at 9:00 a.m., which we thought was early enough to beat the crowds. It wasn’t. We recommend coming as early as 7 a.m. to enjoy the serenity of the lake without the heavy foot traffic.
The Adolf Munkel Trail in Villnöß (Val di Funes) is an easy 8.8 km hike that takes you to the foot of the Geisler (Odle) Peaks. As you ascend along a small stream to the peaks, you’ll quickly understand why the Dolomites are called the Pale Mountains.
After hiking beneath these impressive pinnacles, the trail leads you to a high alpine pasture. Cows, donkeys and horses might greet you as you hike to the mountain hut Gschnagenhardt Alm (Malga Casnago), elevation 2,006 meters. You can relax outside, order lunch, drink a beer, and interact with the animals.
From Gschnagenhardt Alm, you’ll hike through a forest and end up at Dusler Alm (Malga Dusler), where you’ll find another mountain hut. After passing through Dusler Alm, the trail descends to Zanser Alm (Malga Zannes).
Read Hiking the Adolf Munkel Trail for trail directions and a trail map.
During World War I, the front between Austria-Hungary and Italy ran through the Dolomites. A bitter mountain war was waged between the opposing sides from 1915 to 1917. Both armies built tunnels, trails and trenches to secure the border and protect themselves. The reason why there is such a great network of trails today is due to the efforts of these WWI soldiers.
During the course of the war, the greatest threat to both armies was the extreme weather. In December 1916, avalanches buried 10,000 Italian and Austrian troops in just two days.
Though it’s impossible to imagine how a war could be fought in such unforgiving terrain, there is plenty of evidence pointing to this region’s inglorious past. As we hiked to and around Büllelejochhütte via in Naturpark Drei Zinnen, we saw trenches, tunnels and trails built by the Austrian army.
Lago di Sorapiss is a glacial lake within the region Veneto. The lake takes its name from the mountain Sorapiss. Framed by trees, Lago di Sorapiss is one of the most stunning places you’ll see in the Dolomites. Apart from the mountain backdrop, the most spectacular feature of the lake is its unique turquoise color. The water also has a milky quality due to suspended powdered rock. You might think you’re looking at an enchantress’ pool filled with magic potion.
To get to the lake, start at Passo Tre Croci. The hike takes 1.5 – 2 hours, one-way. You’ll take Trail no. 215 towards Rifugio Vandelli, which is a mountain hut closely located to the lake. The first-half of the trail is flat, but the second-half is steep. There are ropes and stairs that will aid you in your ascent. We saw people of all ages on this trail.
Coperto means cover charge. It’s the fee you pay to sit at a table in a restaurant. Generally, the fee is somewhere between 1 EUR and 5 EUR. This may, or may not be advertised on the menu. You generally won’t pay a coperto in this region of Italy. During our trip, the only place a coperto was added to the bill was in the city of Bolzano.
Prost (Cheers) – In Austrian culture, it’s really important to make purposeful eye contact when you toast. Say “Prost” or “Zum Wohl.” You should tap glasses with everyone within reach.
Mahlzeit (Bon appetite) – You say Mahlzeit right before anyone at your table begins to eat. It means “enjoy your meal.”
Schlutzkrapfen (ravioli tirolesi in Italian) – These are similar to Italian ravioli and traditionally filled with curd cheese and spinach. Because we visited during Eierschwammerl (chanterelle mushroom) season, we ate Schlutzkrapfen prepared with delicious mushrooms.
Knödel (dumplings) – The most common dumplings are made with either Speck (bacon), Käse (cheese) or Spinat (spinach). They are often served in a soup, or as a side dish. You can also order the Knödel-Trilogie, which is one of each, garnished with butter and parmesan.
Südtiroler Speck (smoked ham) – South Tyrolean ham is often served on a Aufschnittplatte, which is a cold meat and cheese platter.
White Wine – South Tyrol is a major wine producer. And, 60% of their total harvest is white wine. They make excellent Gewürztraminer, Weissburgunder and Chardonnays.
Schnaps – “Ein Schnapserl in Ehren kann niemand verwehren!” Translation: “No One can refuse a cherished schnaps.” This toast perfectly suits the culture in South Tyrol. After dinner, many people opt for a fruity Schnaps, as opposed to an espresso, as a digestif.
Below you’ll find a summary of how to spend just over a week hiking in the Dolomites. For a full and detailed itinerary, read our 8 Day Hiking Itinerary.
Day 2: Hike from Tierser Alpl down to Seiser Alm. Stay the night in St. Ulrich (Ortisei) in Val Gardena (Grödnertal). We stayed at Hotel Pradell, but don’t recommend it.
Day 3: Hike around Seceda in Val Gardena. Stay another night in Val Gardena. We stayed in a Roter Hahn (Red Rooster) Farm in Wolkenstein (Selva Gardena).
Day 4: Drive to Passo Tre Croci. Hike to Lago di Sorapiss. We stayed in a Roter Hahn Farm in Sexten.
Day 5: Hike in Tre Cime Natural Park (Naturpark Drei Zinnen) Stay the night in the mountain hut Dreizinnenhütte.
Day 6: Hike in Tre Cime Natural Park. Stay the night in the mountain hut Büllelejochhütte.
Day 7: Hike down the mountain. Stay the night in Hotel Brückele.
Day 8: Hike around Pragser Wildsee.
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