- What are the Dolomites?
The dolomites are a part of the Alps mountain range, located in the northeast corner of Italy. Beginning at the Italian/Austrian border and spanning for 80km (50 miles) to the town of Bolzano, the dolomites are sometimes called the “pale mountains” due to their unique color. They are composed primarily of limestone, creating very unique and beautiful rock formations. The dolomites consume an area of 141,640ha (350,000 acres) and have 18 primary peaks. Dolomitic lime is mined from these mountains and is used in agriculture to raise the pH of the soil. In WWI, the military created many trails, tunnels, and bunkers in the dolomitic portion of the Alps, which are now used as hiking trails. The dolomites are arguably the most beautiful mountain formations in the world and attract millions of visitors because of their beauty and abundance of recreational opportunities. With the snow in the winter and the turquoise lakes scattered throughout the area in the summer, this is prime adventure habitat! These strange rock formations and rolling green hills in the alps make this location quite possibly the most picturesque place on the planet.
Hiking in the dolomites provides some of the most humbling and breathtaking views in the world. I have never been to a place that made me feel so small and insignificant as the dolomites did. The dolomites provide several different hiking opportunities, so below I have outlined some of the most popular hiking trails. These hiking trails vary in difficulty, but the views and scenery are incredible on all of them. Go on a clear day for the best views (sometimes the fog inhibits the views).
|Falzarego Pass/ Kaiserjaeger hike||3km (1.9mi) / 2hr||difficult|
|Tre Cime/ Lavaredo Loop||9.7km (6mi) / 3.5hr||easy|
|Alpe di Siusi/ Sciliar (schlern) Peak trail-||13.1km (8.1mi) / 5hr||moderate to difficult|
|Gschnagenhardt Alm/ Adolf Munkel Trail||18.9km (11.7mi) / 6.5hr||moderate to difficult|
|Pragser Wildsee Loop||3.5km (2.2 mi) / 50 mins||easy|
|Cima del Monte Balzo||10.2km (6.3mi) / 4hr||moderate|
|Sasso Piatto||8.1km (5mi) / 3hr||moderate|
The skiing opportunities in the Dolomites are comprised of twelve primary ski resorts. The skiing is phenomenal in this region, with steep difficult slopes or flat cross country skiing. Ranging in difficulty, there is opportunity here for people with all different levels of experience. The high elevation and dry climate provide fine/powdery consistent snow during the winter that is excellent for skiing or snowboarding. Although this is a relatively expensive activity, we highly recommend giving it a try. You can’t find ski slopes with these views just anywhere!
The twelve primary ski resorts are: Cortina d’Ampezzo, Kronplatz, Civetta, Alpe Lusia – San Pellegrino, Valle Isarco (Eisacktal), Alta Badia, Val di Fassa, Tre Cime (3 peaks), Val Gardena, Valle di Fiemme, San Martino di Castrozza, and Arabba Marmolada (the highest peak in the dolomites).
- Mountain Biking
There are literally thousands of miles of mountain biking trails in the dolomites. The landscape makes for a very scenic ride with pristine biking trails. Mountain biking is extremely popular in this area. Redbull says “No other mountain range in the Alps is as spectacular for riding as the dolomites” in one of their articles. They also call the dolomites a “mountain bike paradise.” These are strong words, to which we agree 100%! Since there are an inconceivable amount of biking trails and it would take like 100 pages to tell you about all of them, I will just highlight the most popular ones:
Val Gardena-Alpe di Siusi
Val Gardena has an extensive network of biking trails that encompass all ranges of difficulty and length. This area is in the heart of the dolomites, and offers spectacular views and perfect mountain biking terrain. The wonderful thing about this location is that it has lifts that can take you to the top of the peaks so that you do not have to bike to the top, you can just enjoy the thrill of going downhill for the majority of the trail (although some people may enjoy the uphill portions). These trails are becoming popular worldwide among the mountain biking community, and for good reason!
Rauchhutte-Tolles Panarama loop
Located between Bolzano and Cortina, this trail is a loop, that is 28.5km (17.7 miles) in length and has an elevation change of 907m (2975 ft). Since it is a loop, what goes down must go up, so prepare for some uphill pedaling! This trail will most likely take you around 3 hours to complete depending on your skill level.
St. Jacob-Ortisei/ St. Ulrich loop
Located between Cortina and Bolzano, this trail is a 46 km (28.6 miles) loop that has a 2240m (7,350 ft) change in elevation. This is a moderate to difficult trail, and should take you around 6 hours to complete it depending on skill level.
Rifugio Fanes- Rifugio Sennes Hutte loop
Located slightly northwest of Cortina, this trail is a loop that is 56.3km (35 miles) in length and has an elevation change of 1804m (5920 ft). This trail is pretty lengthy as well as difficult, so some level of experience is a prerequisite. This trail should take around 6 hours to complete, depending on skill level.
Karerpass- Reiterjoch loop
Located near Bolzano, this trail is a 48.6km (30.2 mile) loop that has an elevation change of 1929m (6330 ft). This trail is also pretty difficult and should take about 5.5 hrs to complete, depending on skill level.
- Rock Climbing
The dolomites offer world class climbing opportunities with thousands of climbing routes that have been used for hundreds of years. Many of the routes still used today were bolted or discovered during WW1 for military purposes. The dolomites have routes containing various qualities of limestone, from poor quality to excellent quality. There are countless long routes that have every level of difficulty. A lot of the bolted areas are very old, so be cautious when using them. It may be wise to use trad equipment (as a supplement, not a substitute) on some of the bolted routes just to be safe. Typically, the months June to October provide the best weather for climbing, however the weather is variable and changing each year. The dolomites in the winter months are usually scattered with snow and ice, so the climbing conditions during this time are less than ideal. The dolomites are famous for providing some of the most lengthy multi pitch and trad climbing routes in the world. The dolomites offer just about every type of climbing style imaginable. Alpine climbing is very common and popular in this region. Alpine climbing (for those of you that do not know) is a style of mountaineering that requires being self sufficient in terms of bringing all of your own food, equipment, shelter, etc. The primary objective of an alpinist is usually to reach the summit of a mountain, therefore, usually multi-pitch climbing is involved. There are countless routes offered in the dolomites, so below we have listed some of the more popular ones:
|Route name||Difficulty||Climbing types||Length||Pitches|
|Roberta83||5.12a||sport||244m (800 ft)||9|
|NW Arete||5.8||Trad, alpine||253m (830 ft)||9|
|Schubert||5.10a||trad||250m (820 ft)||7|
|Messner||5.10a||Trad, alpine||251m (825 ft)||11|
|South Face Buttress||5.7+||Trad, alpine||335m (1100 ft)||14|
|SouthWest Arete||5.7||Trad, alpine||122m (400 ft)||4|
|South Pillar||5.7+||trad||253m (830 ft)||9|
|Cima Ovest-North Face- Cassin||5.11||Trad, alpine||457m (1500 ft)|
|Cima Piccola – South Arete||5.9+||Trad, alpine||335m (1100 ft)||11|
|East Face “via finlandia”||5.10c||trad||137m (450 ft)||6|
|South Face “via miriam”||5.8||trad||162m (530 ft)||5|
|Spigolo Jori, SE Arete||5.7+||trad||411m (1350 ft)||15|
|North Face “Comici”||5.10+||Trad, alpine||450m (1475 ft)||15|
Five of the most popular “areas” to climb are Tre Cime, Cinque Torri, Marmolada South Face, Vajolet Towers, and Tofana di Rozes South Face. In addition to these routes, the dolomites also offer the “Via Ferrata” option. Via ferrata roughly translates into “iron path”. It has this nickname because of an extensive network of iron cables that are there to assist climbers. There are a lot of easy routes here, and the cables are used to guide people up the routes, making them feel safer. The dolomites have around 170 of these routes and they are growing in popularity. Sometimes there will be thousands of people climbing these routes on a single day if the weather is nice, so get there early!
- BASE Jumping/Paragliding/Hang Gliding
The dolomites are world renowned among the sky exploring community due to the high peaks (over 3000m (9843 ft)) and beautiful views from above. There are several ways to explore the sky in the dolomites, including hang gliding, paragliding, hot air ballooning, BASE jumping, and gliding in a sailplane. The dolomites provide pristine conditions for hang gliding and paragliding, including perfect thermals, unique landscapes, and well organized companies that offer tandem flight packages. There are several popular areas for these sports including: Cortina, Alpe di Siusi, and Seiser Alm. If going to the launch site near Rifugio Duca d’Aosta, there is the Tofana cable car that will take you to the destination, making it much easier to access.
If you’re looking to find the perfect place to camp, then look no further! The dolomites provide some of the most beautiful campsites and scenery in the world. With the rugged mountains, turquoise lakes, and crazy rock formations, the dolomites are a dream camping destination. You can either wild camp off of the beaten path (our favorite), or you can go to designated and established camping sites. For your convenience, we have provided you with a list with most of the established camping sites in the dolomites:
Camping Seiser Alm, Camping Obstgarten, Camping Residence Corones, Camping Antholz, Camping Al Plan, Camping Olympia, Camping Park Sexten, Camping Kiefernhain, Camping Arquin, Grancomfortcamping Schlosshof, Hermitage Camping Caravan, Naturcaravanpark Tesimo, Alpin Fitness Waldcamping Vollan, and Camping Passiria.
- Popular Dolomitic Lakes
Photo Credits: camikunoichi (instagram)
Lake Pragser Wildsee, also called “Lake Prags” or “Lake Braies,” is located in the Prags Valley 23km (14.3 miles) north of Cortina. This lake has a surface area of 31ha (76.6 acres) and a maximum depth of 36m (118 ft). It is known as a “pearl among dolomite lakes” mainly due to its historical significance in ancient folklore and its emerald green waters. This lake has many hiking trails around it and is a very beautiful lake worth visiting!
Lago di Carezza
Photo Credit: ita_travelgram (instagram Photo Credit: soul_structure (instagram)
Located 25 km (15.5 miles) southeast of Bolzano, this crystal clear lake has a surface area of 3.5 ha (8.6 acres). What it lacks in size, it makes up in beauty! This small lake is fed by an underground spring, supplying it with emerald green water. This lake usually has calm waters that reflect the surrounding mountains. The excess water that the spring produces flows from the lake on the western side in the form of a stream. There is a dense forest of fir trees located at the slopes of Massif that surround this lake. There are a few hiking trails that surround the lake and access it from all sides. This lake is also popular among divers that dive in the beautiful water throughout all months of the year. During the winter the water usually reaches its deepest point, measuring a depth of 17m (55.8 ft).
Lago di Garda
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, spanning for 37,000ha (91,429 acres). It is located between Venice and Milan on the southwestern edge of the dolomites. Some of the most popular towns on Lake Garda include Riva del Garda, Sirmione, Desenzano, Limone sul Garda, Garda, & San Felice del Benaco. At its deepest point, this lake reaches 346m (1,135ft) in depth. This lake has many beaches for swimming and sunbathing. The cool and refreshing water is enjoyed by many people during the summer months. The northern part of the lake, near Riva del Garda, is one of the most famous windsurfing destinations in the world. If you need to travel to/around this lake, there are several busses, trains, and ferries that access it.
Dürrensee (Lago di Landro)
Photo Credits: Samuel Rich
This lake is located in south Tyrol just north of Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. The water is warmer than most lakes at this altitude, so taking a swim is a popular and refreshing activity. On calm days, the turquoise water will reflect the surrounding dolomitic mountains. This is truly a beautiful small mountain lake worth visiting!
Lago di Sorapis
Photo Credits: rirareisende (instagram) Photo Credit: filmatt88 (instagram)
Lake Sorapis is located in the Province of Belluno and is considered the one of the most beautiful lakes in all of Italy. This lake has light blue water and is surrounded by dolomitic rock formations. The water color in this lake is very unique and attracts many people each year. If you wanted to visit a small lake in the dolomites, chose this one!
Lago di Misurina
Photo Credit: eminlela (instagram)
Lake Misurina was used in the 1956 winter olympics for speed skating, the last year that speed skating was done on natural ice in the olympics. This lake is rather large, at 15ha (36 acres). There are hiking trails around this beautiful dolomitic lake, and it is a popular destination for vacationers with several hotels surrounding it.
Photo Credit: elisadove (instagram) Photo Credit: hi.immarika (instagram)
Toblacher See lake is a lake in the south Tyrol area. This lake has a surface area of 14.3ha (35 acres), so it is rather small. The mean depth of this lake is 3.5 meters (11.5 ft). This is a beautiful lake that is surrounded by the dolomitic mountains. It is a great area to just relax and enjoy the view.
Lago di Molveno
Photo Credit: sunnatravel (instagram)
Lake Molveno is dubbed as one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy. It is located in Trentino, Italy, and is one of the larger lakes with a surface area of 327ha (808 acres). It has a maximum depth of 120m (390 ft), so it is also fairly deep. The “bridge of Napoleon” is beautiful waterfall that flows directly into the lake. This lake is a must see!
Lago di Tovel
Photo Credit: ireneccloset (instagram) Photo Credit: eugeniomiola (instagram)
Lake Tovel is located in the Trentino province of Italy. It is a rather small lake with a surface area of 38ha (94 acres). It was recognized as a wetland of national importance in 1980. It has also been called bears lake due to the occasional sightings of brown bears around the lakes perimeter, and red lake due to its past algal blooms that resulted in a reddish water tint.
- Major Towns/Cities in the Dolomites
Cortina is a beautiful town located in the province of Belluno about 150 km north of Venice and 100 km east of Bolzano. According to the local italians, this is “where the rich people go,” so be aware that everything is quite expensive. Cortina is a major ski resort town that has pristine ski slopes and a wonderfully charming downtown area full of restaurants, bars, and pastry shops. There are plenty of things to do around this town, including pretty much everything that was listed above (hiking, skiing, hang gliding, mountain biking, etc). As far as italian towns are concerned, Cortina is pretty hard to beat in terms of beauty and charm.
Alleghe is also a charming town in the province of Belluno. Located about 35 km to the southwest of Cortina, Alleghe borders Alleghe lake. There are plenty of things to do in this town as well, including all of the same activities listed above. This town is a little bit more affordable to stay in than Cortina, but a little bit less charming in our opinion; however, I stayed in Alleghe for a weekend and absolutely loved my stay!
Photo Credit: rampazzo_nicoletta (instagram)
Falcade is a charming german style town located 110 km northwest of Venice and 35 km northwest of Belluno. This is a major ski town that is full of german style mountain homes and hotels. This is a more affordable town to stay in aswell, and it has some truly breathtaking views.
Photo Credit: ladychiarella (instagram)
Auronzo di Cadore is another beautiful italian mountain town that borders lake Santa Caterina that was formed by the damming of the Ansiei river. It is located 120 km north of Venice and 28 km east of Cortina. Nearby there is the famous dolomitic formation of Tre Cime and the famous lake Misurina. This is a more affordable town, and there is plenty to do in terms of outdoor activities!