Trekking in the Dolomites - a 7 day self-guided travel itinerary
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
If you found this site and are reading this, you are probably an active travel enthusiast, an adventure seeker, or get fired up easily about spending your vacations in the mountains. If you have already read about the Banff to Jasper Canadian Rockies group road cycling trip that I designed, you can guess that a little sweat equity and gorgeous scenery are incorporated into pretty much anything I plan. BUT…it’s all do-able. And you don’t have to be hard-core or uber-fit to enjoy this trip. So this is a seven day itinerary I completed with three of my friends, starting and ending in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. It involves three days of light-pack trekking on the Alta Via 1, returning back to Cortina and finishing with a day-long Via Ferrate called Ivana dibona. My husband and I prefaced the trip with 4 nights in Florence, exploring the city and cycling through the Chanti wine region. I have included Florence as a starting point, as Cortina d'Ampezzo is easily accessed from Florence. Below you will find information that will get you started, so that you can get an idea of how much time you will need, costs that you may need to consider and what you can do ahead of time to make the trip more enjoyable. So if kind of trip is appeals to you, grab a cup of coffee, have a seat and let’s plan an adventure.
The Dolomites are all about Active Travel and the primary was to do it is by trekking! If you can imagine many high-mountain ski resorts connected at the top via pathways and trails, you have the Alta Via 1. The trails are fairly clean and well-trodden, especially closer to Cortina. However, a moderate level of hiking fitness is required for multi-day treks, as the terrain is varied, often rocky with high exposure and small sections of Via Ferrate that require clipping into a iron handrail with harness and tether to maximize safety. The itinerary below also entails some long 7-9 hour days of hiking.
The other way to explore the Dolomites is through Via Ferrate (Iron Way) -- this is a steel cable fixated to rock that climbers clip into to avoid falls. Via Ferrate also often have rungs, pegs and ladders as well to aid in climbing in either direction. Originally created in WWI to assist in the movement of troops, they are now used as popular recreation in the area. They run distances that can span 1-2 hours or an entire day to complete and are rated 1-5 according to difficulty.
We opted for a Via Ferrate that was moderately challenging physically but technically simple, and did not require a guide. In other words, an eight hour day, mostly downhill, comprised of ladders, swinging bridges and exposed rock scrambling while harnessed to guide rail. But once you got your head and nerves under control, your shoes grip well and it feels more like being an an adult 'Jungle Gym'
How to Connect
If you are planning an advance Via Ferrate, using a local guide will optimize your experience.
But on your trek, another way to connect is with other hikers at the refugios. After dinner, the common area is typically always filled with interesting travelers, guides or local staff who love to share their story. So take the time to share yours and hear theirs and you will get a different perspective about life in this part of the world.
The Dolomites are a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Accommodations - European huts are called refugios and are far different than similar huts in the USA. They typically offer rooms designed for a couple, family shared rooms, as well as simple bunk rooms. Booking ahead is mandatory in high season if you want to stay at a particular refugio on your route. All you need to bring is a sleep sheet, slippers and personal belongings. Pillow and blankets are provided. Read more about our Top 5 Refugios from our trip here.
Before your trek, you may want to stay in your international flight arrival city (ours was Florence) for a night to rest before heading to the mountains. Once in Cortina D'Ampezzo, I think its a good idea to stay a night there as well, to sort your kit, go over any last minute logistics and pick up any supplies you may need. Cortina is a really cool little adventure town with some tasty restaurants. We enjoyed bookending our trek on both ends there.
Food - The beauty of hiking in the Dolomites is that you light pack because you can purchase hot food, snacks, water and even beer and wine at almost every one. So you only really need to bring what you need to eat between stops. Meals at night are simple, often a salami and cheese plate, then a pasta or stew with bread. During the say, offering include sandwiches or grilled sausages.
Trip Rating - L2 - English widely spoken, helpful to know key phrases for travel between cities and for restaurant. Food - Italian or German influence in Northern areas. See full description of ParadoxTravel trip ratings here
Month of Travel - August - best weather, least chance of rain in the mountains but hot in the cities further south.
Length of Trip - 7 days starting and ending in Cortina, with one full day Via Ferrate. We also spent four days in Florence beforehand. Florence is a wonderful city and good access point to Cortina via train, then bus.
Recommended Books and Maps - Kompass makes the best maps for this area. Make sure to get the one that covers the area around Cortina d'Ampezzo if you want to replicate our itinerary. As for guide books, Walking the Dolomites (Cicerone Guides) by Gillian Price was very helpful in describing sections of the route as well as the refugios.
Required Kit - You can rent Via Ferrate kits in Cortina d'Ampezzo at any outdoor shop, if you don't want to pack your own. You will need a waist harness, carabiner, tether & helmet.
** See my recommended packing list here under Q&A
Day 1 Florence to Cortina
Train - Florence (Firenze Novella) to Calalzo (Calalzo-Pieve de Cadore) ~2 hour ride
Bus - Calalzo to Cortina d'Ampezzo ~ 1 hour
NOTE - train and bus schedules vary depending on time of year. Taking a train to Belluno, then bus to Cortina is also an option but takes longer. Go here for best combination for your dates.
Accommodation suggestion - Hotel Mueble Villa Neve
Day 2 - Lagazuoi
Bus - from Cortina to Passo Falzarego
(bus station in Cortina is walking distance from hotel, runs every 15 min in summer)
Tram - up to Refugio Lagazuoi
TIP - this is one of the most scenic and popular refugios in the area, so book your room far in advance. The deck and views are worth tolerating the crowds. The area around the refugio is also pretty amazing and worth a day hike to explore.
Activity suggestions - explore Galleria Lagazuoi, Colde Bos (cool trenches and amazing hike down and behind the refugio)
Accommodation - Refugio Lagazuoi
Day 3 - Fiume
Hike - the tunnel down (or tram) to Passo Falzarego, Hike to Refugio Nuvolau for lunch, then continue to Refugio Fiume
( ~ 8.5 hours total)
Tunnel > Passo Falzarego (~ 1 hour)
Trek P. Falzargo > Refugio Nuvolau (~2 hours) - lunch here
Trek Refugio Nuvolau > Forcella Ambizzola ( ~ 3 hours / 8-9k)
Trek Forcella Ambizzola > Forcella Roan ( ~ 50min / via. N. 436 & N. 458)
Trek Forcella Roan > Refugio Fiume ( ~ 30 min via N. 467 )
Accommodations - Refugio Citta di Fiume (CAI)
Day 4 - Coldai
Original Good Weather Plan
Trek to Refugio Venezia or Refugio Passo Staulanza ( ~ 3.5-4.5 hours) - **NOTE Weather around Mount Pelmo will determine whether Refugio Venezia is a smart goal or not. If weather is good, go for it, as described below. For us, it looked bad for the day so we took an alternative route.
Trek Refugio Fiume > San Antonio (30 min via N. 480)
Trek San Antonio > Forcella D'arcia ( ~ 2 hours due to steep climb)
Trek Forcella D'arcia > Refugio Venezia ( ~ 1 hour) explore & overnight here (if room available) or late lunch and overnight at Refugio Staulanza.
Trek Refugio Venezia > Refugio Staulanaza (2.5 – 3 hours)
NOTE - due to its hard to reach location (but supposedly amazing views), Refugio Venezia does not let you call ahead and save rooms. So thats why its good to have a backup plan within a few hours trek.
Our Changed Plans due to weather
Trek Refugio Fiume to Refugio Staulanaza (great cappuccino!)
Trek Refugio Staulanza to Refugio Coldai (with stop at some unplanned refugio en route to drink wine and wait out the rain)
Accommodations - Refugio Coldai
Day 5 - Alleghe
Trek - Refugio Coldai > down to town of Alleghe, with stop for lunch en route
Accommodation suggestion - Hotel La Maison Alleghe ( this place was a great choice as it was also a spa and soaks were included with room. Restaurants and bus station were a 5-10 min walk)
Day 6 - Cortina
Bus - Alleghe to Cortina (check summer bus schedule here)
Accommodation suggestion - Hotel Mueble Villa Neve
Day 7 - Ivano Dibona
Day long Via Ferrata Sentieri Ivano Dibona Cristallino d’ampezzo
(Go here to see more photos and read about The Most Scenic Via Ferrata in the Italian Dolomites
Bus - Cortina towards Passo Tre Croci to Capanna Rio Gere on SS 48 and the base of the Sonforca chairlift, located beneath Mount Cristallo. **NOTE Check Bus schedule when you first arrive in Cortina, as it changes frequently.
Chairlift - up to Rifugio Sonforca and continue in gondolas to Forcella Staunies and Ref Lorenzi. From the top of the lift, the first set of cables and ladder are clearly marked.
NOTE -check to make sure the upper gondola is open. I read that in 2016 it was down for repair for much of the summer
Accommodation suggestion - Hotel Mueble Villa Neve
Day 8 - Heading back
Bus - back to Calalzo or Belluno
Train - from Calalzo or Belluno to next destination ( Rome? Florence? Venice?)
NOTE - If you would prefer to have someone help you plan your trek planning and book refugios, contacting a company such as Dolomites Treks or enlisting the expertise of Dolomites Mountains would be a great place to begin.