Planning Your Trip to the Dolomites
Exactly what type of Dolomites adventure you experience depends on the season in which you visit. Any time of the year is great, as summer allows for scenic mountain hikes while winter affords some of the best alpine skiing anywhere in the world. It's for these reasons the Dolomites are a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The best feature of this range is that it offers remote mountain scenery that's mostly unburdened by modern development. Yet the Dolomites are also easily accessible from major hubs like Venice, which is only a couple hours away. That's why it's entirely feasible to embark on a day trip here. With more time, though, you can enjoy even more active excursions in one of the most beautiful alpine locales in the world.
24 Hours in the Dolomites
If you know the right trails, you can have an unforgettable trekking holiday in a single day. The best option is to head to the "Queen of the Dolomites," Cortina d'Ampezzo, a postcard mountain town nestled in the Ampezzo Valley in the Veneto region of Italy. Located a couple of hours north of Venice, Cortina sits at 4,016 feet (1,224 meters) altitude and has long been a popular draw for tourists interested in mountain sports and adventures.
Cortina's attributes weren't lost on the Olympic Committee, either, as the town played host to the 1956 Winter Olympics and is slated to do so again in 2026. Its legacy of winter sports not only includes ski runs and snow parks but bobsledding and figure skating, too. Extreme sports are becoming ever more popular here and include snow-kiting and mountain-biking through snow with specially equipped "fat" tires. More traditional activities like sledding also make for great afternoon activities in the winter.
A day hike from Cortina, however, is your best bet for fun at any time of the year. You can jump-start a three-hour hike with a scenic 10-minute ride on the Freccia nel Cielo cable car from town up to the rustic mountain lodge Rifugio Col Drusciè. Situated at 5,833 feet (1,778 meters), the panoramic views from this lodge's vast terrace to the valley below and the surrounding Dolomite's peaks is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
From Col Drusciè you'll embark on your mountain hike. Luckily, all these scenic trails are numbered, and today you'll be following numbers 410-409 to Lago Ghedina, a romantic alpine lake. A legend of the Ladin people (natives of the Dolomites region) holds that the first inhabitants of the valley here formed a kingdom that existed in a time of magic and mythological characters. Lake Ghedina, in fact, was supposedly the site of a fortuitous meeting between Fanes and hobgoblins.
After the lake, you'll work your way back toward the Rifugio Col Drusciè as you descend on another trail. Then it will be time for lunch at the lodge, after which you'll return to your starting point in the village. The best capper to a gorgeous mountain hike is to enjoy a luxury spa treatment in town followed by dinner and drinks at a local restaurant. Because this region is so close to Austria, expect to find as much sauerkraut and strudel on the menu as you do risotto and gnocchi.
And if your interested in a longer hike of this region that tests your mettle as you trek over high mountain passes, consider this 10-day Dolomites trek.
2-3 days in the Dolomites
Spend your first day in the Dolomites on the three-hour hike from Col Drusciè to Lago Ghedina. On day two hop on a mountain bike and embark on one of a variety of cycling routes tailored to all ski levels. It's also possible to expand your cycling adventure beyond the Dolomites to include Venice, Croatia, and even Slovenia as well.
However, regarding the Dolomites, with a decent level of physical fitness you can embark on a 31-mile (50 km) ride on cycling paths through Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park. This alpine plateau sits at 6,561 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level and is far from any traffic or street lights. It's home to the Prato Piazza Meadows, beautiful pastureland in the Val di Landro Valley, which sits beneath snowcapped Picco di Vallandro and is blanketed with soft grass and canary-yellow globeflowers.
For a leisurely excursion ideal for the whole family, try the 13-mile (22-km) ride from Cortina to the town of San Vito. This route veers partially off the main Dolomites cycling paths, following the Boite River along country backroads before returning to Cortina. The loop takes about three hours and there are no steep grades although you will ascend about 650 feet (200 meters) during the trip. And if you have a bit more time to spare, consider this eight-day cycling trip across the Dolomites.
On day three go on a group hike to the famous rocky towers of the Dolomites. It's a full-day trip that begins in the morning at 7,119 feet (2,170 meters) at the Falzarego Pass, just outside of Cortina. You'll hike around the Averau and Cinque Torri peaks en route to a wood cabin perched at the edge of the dolomitic limestone tower Nuvolau. Here you'll witness 360° views all the way out to Austria. After, you'll return to Cortina on a route that passes the calm glassy waters of Lago Limides.
4-6 Days in the Dolomites
After spending the first three days on Alpine hikes and cycling trips, take it easy on day four. In the morning leave from Cortina on a 3.5-hour drive west to the Trentino region and Madonna di Campiglio. This ski resort is located in Adamello Brenta Nature Park, the largest protected area in Trentino. It's home to the Adamello and Brenta massifs as well as glaciers, lakes, woods, and plenty of hiking/cycling/skiing opportunities. On the way, stop in the postcard town of Bolzano for some shopping.
On day five, fortify yourself with a delicious breakfast at the hotel before embarking on a half-day hiking excursion. You'll leave from Madonna di Campiglio on the Grosté cable car, which ascends above the town, allowing for panoramic vistas of the surrounding scenery. You'll disembark at the Rifugio Boch mountain hut, at which point you'll enjoy lunch complemented by views of the mountains.
You'll then take off on a hiking route called Giro dell' Imperatore, which leads from the refuge to Lake Spinale. This high-altitude mountain lake cuts quite the figure, as it's hugged by fertile green prairies backed by monolithic rocky towers. It's so beautiful that back in the 19th century the Austrian royal family chose this as their preferred hiking region. Here you'll have plenty of time to relax, enjoy the scenery, and snap photos before returning to Madonna di Campiglio.
Make your last day in the Dolomites a unique one by hiking from the nearby town of Borzago to see the land art of Trentino. You'll walk through chestnut forests abounding with stone walls and wooden sculptures created by local and international artisans. Artworks here range from geometric shapes to human figures to animals. What they all have in common is they were created from sustainable materials and were designed to become a part of the natural landscape.
You'll return to Madonna di Campiglio for lunch. Afterward, enjoy a relaxing session in one of the town's many spas and wellness centers. Naturally, many of these offer meditation and yoga classes. A session or two is the perfect way to cap your active mountain adventure. Or, if you want to forgo pampering for a more bare-bones hike amid the rugged elements, consider this seven-day trek where you'll travel from one high-altitude mountain hut to another.