I grew up hiking in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, and I must say that hiking in the Dolomites is at least as spectacular and more hiker-friendly: no bears!
The reason it’s so easy for hikers is that the ski infrastructure has been completely leveraged: the lifts and gondolas function all summer to take hikers up and down the mountain. At the top, lots of marked hiking trails continue both upwards and back down, so there is a huge choice of hikes. I had some knee pain so we mostly hiked up, and took the gondola or lift down, which was really nice.
Italy’s extensive train system is not as extensive in the Dolomites and you will likely need a car to get around. Driving in the Dolomites can be a challenge so take my advice on driving in the Dolomites, especially in winter.
The photos in this post are from a summer hiking trip when we were based from the town of Ortisei, which is just northeast of Bolzano, in the Val Gardena. We had a rental car, but the valley was very busy with hikers so we opted to leave the car at our hotel and take the bus while we were there. But the closest train station to Ortisei was Bolzano, and from there we’d have taken a bus.
Based in the the Val Gardena – a valley – we had a choice of several gondolas, each going up a different mountain, each with many hiking trails from the top. The trails are well-marked, well-worn, and our Val Gardena guidebook gave us lots of detail on the hikes, like length, difficulty, and what time to aim to be back at the bottom in order to catch the bus through the valley back to our hotel. We encountered a few other hikers but in general we didn’t see many other people until we got back down to the town at the end of the day. There are many books with detailed route instructions and maps, and don’t head onto the trails without one.
The Dolomites is also home to a special kind of trail called the Via Ferrata: it’s got ropes and ladders built in to help you scramble over tougher bits. Read more about the famous Vie Ferrate hiking trails here.
The Dolomites is full of jaw-dropping, breathtaking scenery at every turn. Your camera will run out of battery, and you’ll be wowed by the natural beauty surrounding you at every turn. And, if the light is right, at sunset you may catch a famous “Enrosadira” when the light hits the mountains just the right way and turns them a gorgeous shade of pink, as in the photo below.
Many hotels in the area close in the shoulder seasons, when it’s too warm to ski and not yet warm enough to hike. The lifts open around the end of June and stay open through the end of September. In August, the area is full of Italians on vacation, so my advice would be to aim for July: it’s warm enough to hike in shorts and a t-shirt, but in the mountains it still isn’t too hot.
I’d avoid August unless you prepare for higher prices and crowds. The dolomites are a major tourist destination so, as with all tourist destinations in Italy in August, they get crowded and expensive. If you can’t do July, try end of June or the beginning of September. Of course the days are longer in June which is a good thing when hiking!
Let us put together a fantastic Dolomites trip for you – contact us to find out more.
Top photo by Sanjay, enrosadira photo by Italy Beyond the Obvious client
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