Let me just put it out there: you need a car if you want to explore the Dolomites in full. Before our weeklong road trip through Switzerland, we decided to venture into Italy’s famed Dolomites region. A big advantage of having a car is not being tied to a schedule. And trust me, when you are driving through the Dolomites you do not want to be tied to a schedule. We found that every twist and turn brought with it another spectacular vista.
I cannot tell you how many times David – my awesome brother and photographer – and I pulled over to take pictures and admire the view. But, despite having a car, some of the most incredible views were accessed by foot. With that said, here are my top five hikes in the Dolomites (Dolomiti).
1. Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies is absolutely stunning — a rich emerald green in color encircled by beautiful mountains. We hiked around the entire lake; the left side of the lake is a much harder hike than the right side of the lake. If you're short on time, definitely walk the right side of the lake rather than going all the way around. While this is a bit on the outskirts (closer to Austria), I still believe it's one of the most scenic hikes in the Dolomites.
2. Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Tre Cime di Lavaredo is the premier attraction in the Dolomites. Despite a lousy forecast we prayed for good weather and were rewarded. It cost 25 euros per car to drive up, pretty cheap when you divide it up per person. From the parking lot, take the trail to your left for beyond beautiful views. The circular loop around Tre Cime will take you about 3-4 hours depending on how many photostops you make (and you'll make a lot!). Start from the back of the “three tops” and as you round the corner, you see them beautifully. You could spend days up there hiking around.
3. St. Johann in Val di Funes
We drove on the craziest mountain roads (I defy you to count the number of switchback hairpin turns — not for the faint of heart) to St. Johann in Val di Funes for that iconic Dolomites church. Finding the church was a challenge but well worth the effort. In the middle of nowhere, it is a tiny Church in the middle of a big field surrounded by forest and majestic peaks. While it ended up being a hike (2.5 hours out of the way), the drive was an activity in and of itself because the views were out of this world.
4. Tofana di Mezzo
If you want to feel like you are standing on the top of the world (without having to climb Everest), take the gondola up Tofana di Mezzo and hike around. It's 30 euros per person and worth every single cent and then some. The views left me absolutely speechless. .. and it takes a lot to make me speechless! There are three stops on the gondola, but I'd take it straight up to the top for the best 360 views of the Dolomite region. At the top of the last gondola stop, you have the opportunity to scramble up to the top of the mountain (3,244 meters/10,643 feet); so we did just exactly that. Personally, this was my favorite hike in the Dolomites. Have a look at this!
5. Cortina D'Ampezzo
You certainly won’t regret a walk around Cortina D’Ampezzo — an adorable alpine Italian village that hit the map by hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics. Cortina is located in the heart of the mountains and serves as a great base from which to explore the Dolomites. Maybe this isn’t a hike per se, but it’s certainly at elevation! Be sure to base yourself here for the majority of your time in the Dolomites!
As you may be able to see, the Dolomites are unlike any other mountain range I have ever seen. The rock they are made from is much lighter and softer than most. Due to freezing and thawing that break apart rock, there are constant landslides that continue to reshape the mountains. They have a craggy look to them that is quite unique yet absolutely beautiful.
Factor in, at an absolute minimum, about 4 full days to hike in the Dolomites and take in the surroundings. I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite regions in the world, and I’m certain you will enjoy it too!