Day 1- Stelvio Pass
If you are planning to pass through Switzerland on route to the Dolomites (highly recommend stopping in Interlaken and Grindlewald, look out for a future post on these) then the best way is to pass over the Swiss border into Italy, and take the Stelvio pass. Follow the SS38 and you gradually get your first glimpse of stunning mountain tops, combined with winding immersive roads. Before getting to the pass there is a great lay-by just a few turns after Kiosk Thoni di Thoni Christina to take some amazing pictures and to stretch your legs for a lovely hike.
Hike prior to Stelvio Pass, near Kiosk Thoni
After this, there is a short 10 minute drive to Stelvio where you’ll literally feel on top of the world. We recommend Tibet Hutte for the perfect dinner spot with panoramic views and serving delicious typical South Tyrolean dishes and there is a great spot just right of the restaurant to park your camper at the edge of the mountain. We like to add some wedges at the back of the tyres just so we could sleep knowing we had no chance of rolling off the edge ha!
Dinner at Tibet Hutte
Parking on Stelvio Pass
Day 2- Val Gardena Via Ferrata
Early risers and keen to make the most of the day. We set off at 6am for a (just under) 3hour drive to Val Gardena at the heart of the Dolomites.
Sunrise at Stelvio Pass
Stunning scenery along the drive passing through the fruit growing district, the bustling town of Bolzano to then follow the winding road of SS242 along Rio Gardena. This is when you first catch a glimpse of the unmistakable formations the Dolomites are renowned for. Val Gardena town has some amazing hotels, restaurants and shops and is a great place for souvenirs or to buy any climbing/hiking gear if needed. We passed through here and took the Gardena Pass to then take on our first via ferrata.
What is it?
In its simplest form, via ferrata consists of a metal wire that is securely connected to the surrounding rock at regular intervals. This wire has 2 main purposes:
- To provide a fixed form of protection for climbers so they can physically attach themselves.
- To provide a clear aid for climbers to guide them along the route.
Via Ferrata became a necessity during the First World War when the Austro-Hungarian and Italian soldiers would construct these valuable routes to move men and supplies through previously inaccessible areas.
Today, the Dolomites has the highest concentration of via ferrata in the world, and allows those with little or no technical training to reach phenomenal heights of otherwise inaccessible peaks. Sure enough, we didn’t have any outdoor climbing experience but have had experience at indoor climbing/bouldering halls in the past.
What do you need?
We purchased the gear from Decathlon, as it seemed to us the easiest and most affordable option overall, including:
- Via ferrata carabiner kit
- Fingerless gloves as an optional (recommend to avoid palm blisters)
Totalling £152 pp (purchased July 2023)
Start of via ferrata route Brigata Tridentina
Alternatively, you can hire your climbing gear from Val Gardena for roughly 30 EURO per day.
One must-have purchase we would recommend is this guide…wow really brilliant. It provides you with all the incredible climbing and via ferrata routes of the Dolomites and is super clear and easy to follow. We were lucky enough to have friends who are incredibly experienced with via ferrata in the Dolomites and so provided us with this book to borrow and recommended a few via ferratas.
Our recommended via ferrata and climbing guidebook
What to wear?
Even in the summer, when climbing in the shade at thousands of metres up, it can get pretty chilly so make sure you have lightweight layer such as a thin fleece and WANDERLUST Waterproof to keep the wind off.
Super glad to have brought so many pairs of TRAILBLAZER Hiking Leggings as they were ideal in the fact they were super flexible, pockets were so handy, they kept me warm but when I did have hot spells I could easily adjust them to 3/4 length.
In terms of footwear, any shoes with strong grip I would recommend. We used our hiking books with a strong heel but you could also use climbing shoes or trail shoes.
Val Gardena Via Ferrata Route Details
Brigata Tridentina- circa 3/4hrs climbing (273-275pgs of recommended guide)
Plenty of parking along the Gardena Pass road (SS243) as well as the large Tridentina car park. After a circa 20 min walk beginning to ascend to the foot of the cliff, you begin the popular via ferrata route.
Walk towards Brigata Tridentina
Mid-climb Brigata Tridentina
Guiding you with well-sculted hand/foot holds as well as a very scenic waterfall to your left, it’s no wonder why this route is popular. If by any chance someone in your party is getting nervous or understandably tired, you also have an ‘escape route’ that takes you up a gentle path to the ‘Rifugio Cavazza al Pisciadu’. If you are happy to continue, you are treated with the iconic suspension bridge, leading you then back also to the refuge.
Suspension bridge on Brigata Tridentina
The pasta here is out-of-this-world delicious and well earnt after a morning of climbing. You are also spoilt with incredible views in all directions at just under 2600 metres.
View from Rifugio Pisciado
Time to descend. Following path 666 and then 666a that lead you back to the car park but be sure to use your poles and be aware when descending of the loose scree.
After a long, tiring day of adventuring, we were super pleased to have pre-booked a little luxury at the Eggentaler Hotel, situated just outside of Bolzano. In hind-sight, we would recommend planning this prior to entering Val Gardena so as to not shuttle back and forth. Nevertheless, a simply stunning hotel which has an incredible Michelin star restaurant in-house. Alternatively, there is a a cute local pizzeria in the town if you are looking for volume and good local deliciousness.
Eggentaler Hotel, Bolzano
Pool at Eggentaler Hotel, Bolzano
Day 3- Sasso Lungo & Fort Tre Sassi
After a soothing swim and incredible hotel breakfast, we were fuelled to head back into the heart of the Dolomites but this time to Sella Pass, home to some of the most famous crags in the region, the Sella Towers and Piz Ciavazes. There is plenty of parking available however this was 15 Euro for 24hrs (fixed fee) so if you can get there early and find a spot off the road (SS242) it’s recommended. You have to get the ‘coffin-like’ cable car then from Passo Sella lift station to Sasso Lungo, providing incredible panoramic views of the valley, surrounding faces and The Cittá Dei Sassi boulder field.
Sasso Lungo cable car
It costs 21 EURO per person one way, but is a really unique way to see the amazing scenery. However, be prepared to have to run and jump into the cart as it does not stop as well as jumping out at the top and know that you can handle confined spaces at height. Treat yourself with lunch and a drink at the ‘Rifugio Toni Demetz’, spotting the mountaineers surrounding you. Once ready, descend down the sloping zigzag path back towards Sella Pass, roughly taking 1-2hrs.
View from top of Sasso Lungo showing decent down
After an hours drive we reach the historical ruins of Fort Tre Sassi, a historical monument built at the end of the 19th century and then transformed later by a family who collected the ruins and artefacts of the fallen soldiers over 45 years of research. This place offers an incredible glimpse into the history of the Dolomites and is a great stop-off on route to Cortina D’Ampezzo. Note that the museum is open from 10am to 1pm (lunch break) and from 2pm to 5pm and costs 7 EURO per person.
Fort Tre Sassi Museum
Stopping at Cortina D’Ampezzo for some incredible BBQ meats and supplies, we then found a secluded camping spot in Dobiasco surrounded by greenery and great views of the upcoming peaks ahead. A beautiful night to light the fire and star gaze.
Camping spot in Dobiasco
Day 4- Lago Di Braies
With just a 30 minute drive we followed the SS49 towards Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee). Here it is best to pre-book tickets to the lake online if you are driving, especially campers as they only permit a set number of campers at any one time. We therefore chose to park for free in the neighbouring town of Monguelfo and get the shuttle to the lake. This was super easy and you could book tickets online here or at the bus station. The cost of the shuttle is 12 EURO per person for the round-trip and are every circa 30 minutes during peak.
Lago Di Braies
After a 15 minute bus journey, you arrive at arguably the most stunning lake in Europe. The emerald waters, spruce pines, picturesque wooden boats and towering limestone peaks make this place a prime place for a picture postcard.
Boat prices for Lago Di Braies
Included fridge magnets from private boat hire
When first arriving to the lake (left-handside to the hotel), you come across the boathouse where you can rent a boat if you wish. You can share a boat for 15EURO with other passengers or for something special you can hire a private rowing boat for 50 Euro for the same length of time. You also get a choice of postcards and 2 complimentary fridge magnets. We booked a private boat (well it was our honeymoon) with 1.5hrs to spare before-hand so we could walk the 2.2miles around the lake.
Private boat hire on Lago Di Braies
On our walk, coming across hundreds of handmade rock monuments from travellers passing as well as a herd of well-behaved, tame cattle that were happy for you to give them a gentle stroke. After finishing the walk we were given a number and were soon called to hop aboard one of the wooden rowing boats and precariously row into the lake…bliss. After working up an appetite, we stopped for some food at the open plan restaurant just off the lake, a great place for people watching with an Aperol Spritz and a giant pretzel.
Chalet Bar & Grill on Lago Di Braies
Just over an hour drive away, we make our way to what we had read up on to be the most iconic place of the Dolomites Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Take the SS49 road, which goes straight through Tre Cime National Park towards the Missurina. From there, follow the Rifugio Auronzo sign. The last section is a private road, and you have to pay 30 euros per 24hrs for a passenger car and 40 for a campervan to go up.
Please be aware that again they limit numbers (so they should) to maintain the peaceful surroundings and provide everyone with the best experience. Therefore, be prepared to wait on the right-handside of the toll but also be prepared if they call saying they have availability as it’s a scramble to get through the gate. We were incredibly lucky and waiting merely a few minutes when some people had been waiting hours. 40 euros we thought was steep however considering the array of worldclass parking spots to camp for the night, it was soon worth it.
View from overnight spot near Refugio Auronzo
Homemade sandwich using all Dolomite sourced ingredients...YUM!
Once settled in, definitely worth a little explore around the south side of Tre Cime as well as the incredible Cadini di Misurina…a breathtaking photography spot.
Rifugio Auronzo serves evening meals from 7pm and has a canteen-like feel but delicious and hearty before heading back to the van to watch the sunset and stars come out in all their beauty.
Day 5- Tre Cime National Park
And what a final day it was…
Time to get the climbing kit back out, quick coffee and take it the amazing sunrise we were lucky to experience as we walked passed the refuge and around the East of Tre Cime, past Rifugio Lavaredo and take in our first glimpse of the iconic 3 faces of the Dolomites.
View of northface of Tre Cime on route to Refugio Locatelli
Our focus was completing 2 via ferratas for the day (now understandably hooked after our first experience). We first walked across the upper ridge of Monte Paterno to pass the Rifugio Antonio Locatelli and head to Torre Toblino to complete via ferrata Della Scalette.
Refugio Locatelli, Monte Paterno on the right and Tre Cime on the left
Tre Cime Via Ferratas Route Details
Route 1 Della Scalette on Torre Toblino- circa 1/2hrs climbing (488pg of recommended guide)
WW1 Snipers window on Torre Toblino accessible via tunnels
A great route if you want to escape any crowds as well as its appreciating its historical importance in the First World War for having the commanding view of the surrounding area. The name ‘Della Scalette’ means way of the ladders and this is apparent. The continuous succession of ladders make this route fairly strenuous and tiring for the upper-body with some slightly overhanging. Be sure to take care at the summit as it is small with big drops in most directions. Descend then southeast following the wires (no ladders) to join a well-marked path to take you to the Refugio Locatelli for a break.
Mid-climb Della Scalette
Summit of Torre Toblino
Route 2 Sentiero de Luca/Innerkofler, Monte Paterno- circa 2/3hrs climbing (486pg of recommended guide)
Mid-climb Monte Paterno
A fairly straight forward climb with incredible views of the north faces of Tre Cime, this is a great one for beginners. The route is dedicated to Luca and Innerkofler who were both dedicated mountaineers during the First World War. After 10 minutes of walking the ridgeline from Locatelli, you come across 500 metres of tunnel so make sure you have a headtorch.
WW1 Tunnels (majority you can stand up though)
Be aware these steps get steeper and steeper until you come to a shelf. Follow the wire as it winds the back-side of Monte Paterno and then either make a descent or follow the wire to the summit to take in the best views possible. You then return the same way you come and descend through a gully before eventually passing through to the northface of the mountain and then descending back towards to Rifugio Lavaredo and on to Rifugio Auronzo (end stop). Here is where you know you’ve earnt a beer.
Post-via ferrata local Dolomiti beer
All in all, there is something so so so utterly incredible about Lavaredo, not just the formations but the overpowering wonder of the history of the place. An absolute must-visit even if to hike the many flat routes around.
To end our final day in the Dolomites, we had a hotel in Cortina D’Ampezzo, an upscale alpine resort equipped with lavish designer shops and restaurants. We went for a lovely dinner at Ristorante Pizzeria Croda Café and stayed at Parc Hotel Victoria which was perfect location wise.
- San Pellegrino stop-off for dinner at a family-run restaurant ‘AGRITUR’
- Bäckerei Näckler for the best bread and pastry selections, Nova Lavente
Would we go back again?
ABSOLUTELY...we only scratched the surface of the amazing adventures that are in the Dolomites and we would especially love to take on more challenging via ferrata routes. We felt the mix of camping in the van as well as staying in hotels allowed us to really relax as well as see the Dolomites in all its glory.
I hope this inspires you to take that plunge and get planning the most incredible road trip!
Love Laura x
MY URBAN TRAIL, Founder