Tips for Hiking in the Dolomites

The Dolomites, a scenic part of the Alps located in Italy, are an absolute mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. With plenty of activities to choose from, one of the most popular things to do here is hiking. From short, flat walks to challenging hikes with significant elevation changes, day hikes to multi-day excursions, the Dolomites offer a wide variety of options for hikers of all skill levels. There are a few things to keep in mind so that you get the most out of your experience. 

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Day hike, overnight, or catch a ride to the top!

These mountains are traversed by a network of trails that cross through entire Dolomite groups offering innumerable hiking trails – enough for even the most discriminating adventure traveler. If you’re lucky enough to hike in the Dolomites, there are several ways you can explore the region on foot:

  • Day hike – hike during the day and use a hotel or B&B as a “base camp” – you have the benefit of exploring the trails by day followed by a sumptuous meal in town and a good night’s rest!
  • Overnight in a rifugio – the Dolomites offer an incredible variety of rifugi (mountain huts), considered as some of the best in the Alps. Meals and bedding are provided – you need only carry a small day pack with snacks, clothing, and personal items to overnight!
  • Rifugio-to-rifugio – if you prefer to spend multiple days out on the trail, hike rifugio-to-rifugio! Hike a loop hut-to-hut returning at your departure point or, better yet, do a traverse covering different areas of the Dolomites. One of our favorites – hiking from chic Cortina d’Ampezzo, filled with Italian style, to the valley of Alta Badia, where you’ll find the intersection of Austrian and Ladin cultures.
  • Ride a gondola part of the way – want to get to the mountain top but not sure about your fitness level or how the altitude will affect you? Combine your hike(s) with transportation by gondola (the same ones used during ski season!) so you can cover more ground without over-exerting yourself. Many of rifugios are also accessible by gondola, so you can catch a ride to the top for an overnight and can continue hiking from there!

Guided, self-guided, or on your own

There are several ways to organize your hiking trip the Dolomites. Regardless of how you organize your trip, be sure to choose an itinerary or trails that are right for your ability and fitness level.

  • Guided tours – most guided tours include several days of travel (usually one week or longer), and expose you to a wide variety of what the area has to offer. One of the main advantages of hiking with a guide is that they know the trails. They’ll be able to provide longer and shorter routes depending on your interests and abilities, options at trail junctions, the best rest stops and photo ops, transportation alternatives, and encouragement letting you know when you’re almost at your destination!
  • Self-guided tours – If you don’t have time to plan a trip yourself, but prefer to hike or travel on your own, consider a self-guided trip. All of the arrangements are made for you, and you’ll be provided with detailed itineraries and maps, but you can travel on your own at your own pace!
  • Independent travel – of course, you can always just pick up a map, determine your trail, and go!

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A few of our favorite things…

Whatever type of itinerary you select, whether guided or on your own, day hike or overnight, make it a point to see as much as you can while you’re hiking. The mountainous trails boast a charming contrast between scenic valleys, wild alpine meadows, and dramatic vertical peaks, each presenting its own array of natural beauty. And, the different valleys, rifugios, and towns you’ll encounter en-route offer a variety of cultures (Italian, Austrian, and Ladin), languages, and cuisine to explore!  Here are a few of our favorite things:

  • Get a view from the top – whether on foot or by gondola, make sure you travel to the top of at least one of the glorious peaks or passes of the Dolomites – you’ll experience breathtaking views that are beyond what you could imagine!
  • Experience the World War One history– many of the trails in the Dolomites pass through relics and artifacts of WWI. Explore tunnels built into the hillside, a via ferrata (the iron paths of the Dolomites, routes with fixed “protection” put directly into the rock to aid the military in moving safely through the mountains during the early 20th century conflict), or the Galleria del Lagazuoi, an open-air WWI museum, or all three!
  • Consider visiting in the fall – hiking in autumn in the Dolomites is otherworldly. The larch tree needles turn golden yellow, the air is crisp and fresh, and there are fewer tourists to share the trails with!
  • Start your hikes early – not only will you have more time to enjoy the day, but you’ll be sure arrive at your rifugio early enough in the evening and enjoy incredible sunsets looking out across the Dolomites!
  • Visit the many small villages, churches, and pastures and farms – combining your hiking excursions with the cultural richness of the Dolomites will surely add to your experience here. Walk peaceful paths through ancient villages and rolling green pastures, and imagine life here in the past and its intersection with the present…

Health & Safety

Last, but certainly not least, be safe! To ensure that you stay healthy and safe while you’re hiking the Dolomites, here are a few safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Don’t hike alone – even if you choose not to participate in a guided tour, you should always hike with another person for safety’s sake.
  • Tell someone where you are going – leave word at the front desk of your hotel or with others you are traveling with when to expect you.
  • Stay hydrated – bring water to drink throughout your hike. You may not feel thirsty, but at altitudes above 1,829 meters (6,000 feet) you exhale and perspire twice as much moisture as you do at sea level!
  • Bring a light jacket or fleece – in the mountains, the weather can change quickly. Additionally, some areas, such as mountain passes, tend to be windier than others.
  • Bring a cell phone with emergency numbers – Italian mobile service is outstanding. Make sure to carry the numbers of you destination hotel or rifugio, tour operator, and local emergency services.
  • Pace yourself – even the most experienced hiker may find the Dolomites challenging, so be careful and don’t push yourself too hard!
  • Watch for falling rocks – remember – you’re in the mountains, so always be aware of your environment.
  • Take regular breaks – this shouldn’t be difficult given the spectacular beauty you’ll be surrounded by!
  • Bring snacks – while there is fantastic food available at the rifugios, these can be miles apart. Our favorite? Chocolate!

Most importantly, enjoy yourself! The Dolomites is arguably one of the most beautiful and captivating places on Earth.  Be sure to savor the rich culture and beautiful landscape the Dolomites exhibit. For hiking enthusiasts, it affords an opportunity to experience nature’s beauty at its absolute best, while facing challenging trails and impressive terrain. But visiting here also allows you to take a step back in time and experience the simpler things in life. Enjoy breathtaking sunsets.  Slow down and enjoy the view.  There are sights here that no camera can capture, so take your time and take it all in. Those who make the trip leave with memories to last a lifetime.

Check out our Summer & Fall Trips

Check out our Winter & Spring Trips

Read more about the Dolomites: Winter Articles and Summer Articles