Hiking in the Italian Dolomites
Camminare nelle Dolomiti Italiane
© 2010 by Steve Ford
Detailed Hiking Directions (PDF)

In the fall of 2009 we had a wonderful vacation in Italy. Among other fun adventures, we spent a week hiking in the Dolomite mountains north of Venice. As avid but aging hikers, we aren't as enthusiastic about carrying 50 pounds of gear, all our food, and sleeping on the ground as we once were. But we still enjoy getting into the wilderness, getting away from the crowds, and long vigorous hikes. The Dolomiti provide the perfect recipe for our kind of hiking adventure. dolomiti_031.jpg

I first heard about the Dolomiti when I saw a story on TV about the Via Ferrata, Italian for "Iron Way." These are trails that were initially established during World War I along the battle lines between Italy and Austria. Some of these trails are more like climbing routes with fixed cables and other apparatus to facilitate moving over some very dicey terrain with lots of elevation exposure. This isn't exactly our cup of tea, but seeing this program did reveal some amazingly beautiful mountain terrain, so I decided to see if there were other more "tame" trails that would take us into the same spectacular areas. It turns out there are lots of great trails, in fact they are some of the best built and maintained trials I have ever seen. There are also "rifugios", sort of wilderness hotels, conveniently located throughout the entire network of trails. These rifugios provide shelter with a comfortable bed and excellent food for a very reasonable price, making it possible for us to hike from rifugio to rifugio carrying only our cloths and other bare essentials. This made for a fantastic hiking adventure that was just right for our aging and only moderately "in-shape" bodies.

This hike was organized for us by OnTop Mountaineering Ltd.

The following images are some of the sites we saw on our Dolomiti adventure. Perhaps they will inspire you to take a similar adventure. First a little taste of the scenery that drew us to the Dolomiti, then some information about the rifugios that were a key element of the whole experience, and finally a few more mountain scenes.

Tre Cime di Lavaredo dolomiti_020.jpg

Looking back toward Lagazuoi (hidden) from Forcella Giao. dolomiti_277.jpg

These are scenes of some of the Via Ferrata trails. While we loved the scenery we saw in the story about Via Ferrata, this kind of exposure to heights is not our cup of tea. So we asked OnTop Mountaineering to organize a hiking adventure for us that led us through the same beautiful areas on more "tame" trails. They did that, and we had a great time!

Via Ferrata photos by
OnTop Mountaineering Ltd.
Some of the trails were a bit steep, but but most of them were in excellent condition, and no climbing gear was required.
The rifugios come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like Rifugio Lavarella are set in bucolic pastoral valleys.
Others, like the Bullelejoch Hut, are located high above the tree-line.
Rifugio Lagazuoi is perched on top of a mountain with absolutely spectacular views in every direction.
All of the rifugios offer a comfortable place to sleep, some have showers, and some even have private rooms. This was our room at Rifugio Lavarella.
The rifugios all have comfortable places to relax after a long days hike, like this cozy little nook at the Bullelejoch Hut.
Of course it will come as no surprise that we had fantastic food pretty much everywhere we went in Italy, but we were amazed to discover that some of the very best food is to be found in these rifugios. At Bullelejoch they had apple strudel about a half a foot thick, and it was mmmm mmmm GOOD!
At Bullelejoch Stephi and her mom Greti were very welcoming hosts. Stephi told us she had been raised from early childhood in this lovely mountain hideaway.
Scoping out the next day's route while enjoying a beer at Rifugio Lavarella.
Now THIS is the way to relax after a long day's hike! Taking in the spectacular scenery on the mountain top deck of Rifugio Lagazuoi.

Some of the trails were quite flat, like this stretch though high mountain pastures between Lavarella and Lagazuoi. dolomiti_132.jpg

Other trails were on very steep terrain, like this one passing over Forcella di Lago, also on the trail between Lavarella and Lagazuoi. It is a darned good thing these trails are so well made and maintained, because this was hair-raising enough on a good trail. People can be seen on some of the switchbacks in the enlargement.

This scene is looking back from Lagazuoi at the valley we ascended after passing over Forcella di Lago (shown in the preceding image), which can be seen on the far left of this image as a slot in this giant chunk of rock. The Via Ferrata route traverses the ridge of this massif.

Sunset at Lagazuoi dolomiti_221.jpg

A pretty little lake we saw on the way to the Bullelejoch Hut. dolomiti_412.jpg

A sublime scene, clouds drifting over Tre Cime di Lavaredo on the right,
Mt. Paterno in the distance.