Walking in the Dolomites

The trick isn’t to avoid the Dolomites – they really are spectacular – but to be savvy about how and when to approach them.
When walking in the Dolomites, you’ll be hiking through some of the most spectacular vistas in the Italian Alps. This is the territory of the tombstone-like Tre Cime di Lavaredo, the looking-glass waters of Lake Braies, and the eagle-friendly panoramas of Mount Elmo. The Dolomites are also where photographers came up with the term “alpenglow” – that particularly beautiful pink-gold glow of the sunset reflecting off mountains.

With such vast landscapes, it’s hard to imagine that overtourism is an issue in the Dolomites – but it’s one of the biggest challenges in this north-eastern corner of Italy.

Walk this way

People have been drawn to the Dolomites for thousands of years. Jauntily capped shepherds lead flocks between valley pastures, geologists pilgrimage to study the curious shapes of the rocky mountains, and World War I troops have left their mark while battling over the Italy-Austria border. Mountaineers, photographers and wanderers all come, following the irresistible call of the Tre Cime.

In the last decade, however, the Dolomites have begun to creak under the weight of their own popularity. 

Over four million people visit in summer to hike, bike and climb. In places like Tre Cime and Lake Braies, it can lead to overtourism and too many boots on the same trails, putting pressure on the communities, wildlife and landscapes. With increasing numbers of hikers, walking holidays need to approach the landscapes with care.

After all, hiking can still be one of the most exciting and responsible ways to see the Dolomites. The trick isn’t to avoid them – they really are spectacular – but to be savvy about how and when to approach them. And that’s where our walking tours in the Dolomites step in.

Why go on a Dolomites walking tour?

The best Dolomites walking tours are carefully designed to leave a positive impact on the Dolomites. That’s down to a clever combination of timing, knowledgeable mountain guides, locally owned accommodation and small group sizes.

Local mountain guides

Local guides keep you on-track (and off the delicate flora), adapt walks around the weather and any avalanche warnings, and advise you on “bush stop” etiquette, i.e. how to poo properly in the wild. They’re also great storytellers, sharing anecdotes and on-the-hoof lessons covering the extraordinary geology, history and ecology around you.

Plus, their language skills are invaluable. The Dolomites lie right against the Austria border, which has been porous and shifting long before it became the line on the map we see today. As such, the dominant language in the Dolomites switches between German and Italian, depending on which side of the Tre Cime you’re on – or sometimes, to the unique Romance language of Ladin, if you’re hiking in the Ladin valleys of Belluno, South Tyrol and Trento.

Tremendous timings

The footpaths in the Dolomites are truly beautiful, and the most popular ones – Instagram darlings Tre Cime and Lake Braies especially – inevitably get busy in high season. Thankfully, our small group tours are led by guides who can pick out the most serene spots. Sometimes, it’s a case of going just one path over, or taking the route in the opposite direction.

Week-long trips time the popular walks for less busy weekdays and offer departure dates in the quieter months of June, early July and September. We recommend travelling in September for the most peaceful paths.

Independent hotels & restaurants

Accommodation is important too. The tiny alpine towns in the Dolomites rely on summer tourists, so our trips offer small, locally owned hotels or B&Bs where walking trails – or buses to walking trails – are a stone’s throw from the front door. Some have been run by the same family for decades.

Dinner is included on a few nights, when you can feast on regional Tyrolean recipes like speck ham dumplings and pasta-like spinach spätzle. Other nights are left free for exploring village restaurants. In an intriguing twist, mountainous South Tyrol has the most Michelin-starred restaurants of all the Italian provinces. (Take that, Tuscany and Sicily.) The wine is excellent too – protected valleys and cooling mountain breezes make for excellent growing conditions in the south.

Travel by buses, trains & cable cars

Public transport is so good in the Dolomites that it’d practically be an insult not to use it, especially with a tour guide on hand to navigate timetables and ticketing. Many of our walking tours only use public transport. The only private vehicle you’ll encounter is on the transfer from Venice Airport – and even then, it’ll be shared between the group. To really Hulk smash your carbon footprint, catch the train to Venice instead of flying.

The urgency to reduce our planet-warming carbon emissions is felt even more keenly while hiking in the Dolomites. These mountains might look immovable, but the Italian Alps are undergoing dramatic, visible changes thanks to rising spring and summer temperatures caused by the climate crisis. Glaciers are retreating and expected to vanish by 2100, meltwater lakes are growing and flooding farm pastures, and summer droughts are more common.

Walking holidays are an excellent way to minimise your carbon output by eating locally and getting around on foot or public transport. Really, all much more enjoyable options anyway.

Small group sizes

Most of our walking tours are small group holidays. That’s better on many levels – you’ll get to know everyone’s name (and probably the names of their cats/best friends/offspring by the last night). Most importantly, though, your group is small enough to stay in independent hotels and guest houses, and use public transport and hiking paths without adding too much pressure to popular hiking paths.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Dolomites or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Our top 5 walks in the Dolomites

We’ve shared why we think you should choose a responsible walking tour when hiking the Dolomites – but what are the best hikes in the Dolomites? All is revealed below…

1. Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop

Iconic Dolomites route Spectacular mountain views Very popular – hike off-peak if possible 13km (7 hours) The Tre Cime (Drei Zinnen) are, to many people, the hike of the Dolomites. These three towering monoliths of dolomite rock have become one of the most famous views in the Alps.

Auronzo hut (2,320m) is the starting point, where a wide gravel trail eases up to the belltower-topped chapel of Cappella degli Alpini. Zigzag through green fields strewn with boulders, detouring to Locatelli hut (2,405m) on the horizon. The steep detour up here is well worth it. You’ll ditch many other hikers and be treated to another great view of Tre Cime, as well as a restaurant terrace from which to admire it.

It’s a downhill hike back, descending past waterfalls and rivers, drinking in different angles of Tre Cime and the serrated Cadini di Misurina (rarely mentioned, but just as beautiful) at every turn.

2. Lake Braies

Alpine lake loop Forest trails Boat house and grand hotel 14km (5 hours) Lake Braies (1,494m) is one of the most picturesque lakes in the Alps, with luminous turquoise waters and a forested fringe. Wander the footpath that loops around the lake, with sheer granite rockfaces on one side and the mirrored lake on the other. Along the way, you’ll come across a few pocket-sized beaches and a chapel that once served as a place for officers to exchange prisoners of war in World War I. Head back to the grand hotel and boat house at the lake’s edge, or for more in the way of peace and quiet, follow the trails through the forests and up into the mountains.

3. Lake Dobbiaco & Suisridl Pass

Mountain passes, meadows and forests Turquoise lake Mountain hut rest stop 11km (6 hours) Yes, there are forest climbs, alpine meadows, swooping saddle ridges, and the glassy waters of Lake Dobbiaco (Toblacher See)… but really, the highlight of this hiking region is the Putzalm Mountain Hut (1,743m). Tucked away in the forest above, this log cabin serves homemade knödel dumplings and fruit strudels. Check out the carved chalkboard out front for the small and ever-changing daily menu.

4. Mount Elmo ridge walk

Ridge walk along the Italy-Austria border World War I lookouts and bunkers Cable car up to Mount Elmo 15km (6 hours) Hikers get to plant their boots in two countries while walking the trails of Mount Elmo (2,434m). But first, take advantage of the cable car to the peak, looking out for paragliders (and, if you’re very lucky, golden eagles) as you ascend.

From here, the hiking comes with a history lesson. Footpaths lead along the ridge between Austria and Italy, dipping between the two countries via lookout posts and bunkers from the White War that was fought here, over 2,000m up in the snowy mountains, during World War I. After taking it all in, descend through a tunnel of trees to the pretty alpine village of Moso in Passiria (1,337m).

5. Prato Piazza to Strudelkopf

Iconic Dolomites route with easy trails High alpine pastures and plateau Lots of wildflowers in early summer 11km (6 hours) Prato Piazza (Plätzwiese) is the start of many a hiker’s adventure into the Dolomites. Free-roaming cows graze alpine pastures that are a golden haze of buttercups in early summer (June-early July). Hike the high track to the Dürrenstein hut (2,040m), before an easy climb to the summit of Mount Specie (Strudelkopf – or “cake head” in German) for panoramic views with the all-seeing Tre Cime in the distance.

Our travellers also ask…

Is hiking the Dolomites difficult?

It depends on which walks you choose. Trails in the Dolomites range from leisurely lakeside loops to challenging via ferrata. Our walking holidays are usually rated moderate, so you’ll be hiking well-maintained trails with some steep climbs and descents. Paths are often rocky underfoot, so wear a light but sturdy pair of hiking boots with ankle support.

Can you hike the Dolomites on your own?

Yes, but we recommend travelling in a small group with a guide. They’ll offer support, stories, restaurant recommendations and translate German-Italian menus and transport schedules. Self guided trips are an excellent option too. Instead of a guide, you’ll get route notes and maps drawn up by people so familiar with the Dolomites that it’s almost like having them walking next to you.

How many days is enough for the Dolomites?

One week is a good amount of time for walking in the Dolomites – enough time for five day hikes and a rest day in the middle. It also gives you the chance to hike on weekdays, when fewer people head for popular paths such as Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

Can you visit the Dolomites without a car?

Yes – and do! Public buses regularly wind around the mountain roads of the Dolomites in the summer season (June-September), stopping at most of the most popular trailheads. Most people will fly into Venice for the start of their walking holiday; from here, minibuses, buses and trains run to the Dolomites. Or, for a completely car-free adventure, European travellers may be able to get to and from Venice by train.
Photo credits: [Page banner: Joshua Earle] [Intro: Mattia Bericchia] [Local mountain guides: Murray Foubister] [Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop: Fabrizio Lunardi] [Lake Dobbiaco & Suisridl Pass: Matteo del Piano] [Is hiking the Dolomites difficult?: Lukas L]