World → Europe → Dolomites
One of the best hiking regions in the world is the
DOLOMITES Top 10
The Dolomites are a mountain range located in north-eastern Italy. A tourist mecca, the Dolomites are famous for skiing in the winter months, mountain climbing, hiking and climbing in the summer.
- a wonderful region mostly in Italy
- Italian: Dolomiti; German: Dolomiten
- limestone geology results in fascinating shapes and colour
- as famous for skiing and mountain climbing as hiking
- named a UNESCO World Heritage site
- highest peak Marmolada 3,343m
- convenient airports are Venice, Munich, Milan, Innsbruck, Verona and others
- easy access to trails of all all levels of ability and experience
- very good tourist infrastructure
- convenient, efficient public transport. Buses & trains run on time.
- best weather mid-June to early October
WHY WE LIKE THIS REGION
Best strategy for hikers in this region, we feel, is to day hike. Or do short 2-3 day itineraries. The longer routes (Alta Vie) are good. But you can get more gorgeous territory covered in fewer days with short hikes in different parts of the mountain range.
- soaring rock towers & spires sculpted by glaciers & erosion
- there are more interesting mountains here than anywhere else in the world
- weird karstification: rock surface channelling, sink holes, etc.
- pretty alpine meadows dotted with domestic animals
- vivid reminders of WW I history: bunkers, tunnels, barbed wired.
- easy, quick access to very high trails
- great hiking for all levels of ability: from wheelchair accessible paths to thrilling vie ferrate (routes aided by iron cables, ladders, etc. fixed to the stone)
- if you don’t want to stay in mountain huts – called Refugios (Refuges) in Italian – it’s easy to day hike the entire region
- no need to have a personal vehicle. Buses run to most trailheads.
- frequent opportunities to buy food & drink, thereby carrying less weight in your pack
- challenging hiking — but you can sleep in a bed and have a restaurant meal every night if you wish
- 1500 species of wild flowers
- rich European history and culture
- cheaters can use cable-cars and chair-lifts
- guided hikes are easy to arrange
- low risk of altitude sickness
- almost no dangerous wildlife
- autumn colour change of larches and beeches
Oddly, no tenting is allowed. Overnight, instead, at impressive high altitude Refuge builidings. (Rifugios, in Italian.) Food and lodging can cost US$60 / day and up. A cheaper alternative might be to day hike from base towns in the region. Actually, prices at Refugios are normally regulated. Their food and drink tastes GREAT on a deck overlooking some of the finest mountain vistas in the world!
- many of the most popular trails are crowded high season
- popular mountain Refuges may be full unless you book well in advance
- surprisingly, there’s very little water available in the Dolomites. (We normally melted snow with a camping stove.) Worse, the water that is free flowing is often signed “acqua non potabile“. Apparently the mineral composition is not completely healthy for human consumption. (Either that, or the Refuges are budgeting on sales of bottled water.)
- if you are looking for “wilderness”, this is not it
- very little animal life as compared with North America
- terrain devastated by grazing and ski slopes
- Refuges sometimes dominated by loud, drunken chain-smokers
- English is spoken by Refugio staff & at tourist spots, but Italian & German are the main languages on the trail
- you need your own “sleeping bag” for hygiene at the Refuges. Normally that’s simply a silk or cloth sleeping bag liner.
- expensive trail maps recommended. (Tabacco series.) Even though routes are well marked, sooner or later everyone gets lost in the Dolomites.
- guidebook is essential for deciding on what refuges to book by phone. It’s risky to decide on accommodation, as you hike. There is no central website or booking office.
- guidebook is essential for deciding if you are experienced enough for some of the scrambles and vie ferrate routes
- travel in Europe is easy but relatively expensive
- weather can change rapidly in the mountains
- dangerous lightning storms
- it can snow any day of the year
- some routes are dependent on Refuges being open, buses running to trailheads. This is seasonal and varies. Confirm locally.