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At first glance to the unknowing traveler, the staggering Dolomites – an Alpine mountain range that decorates the Northern Italian province of Trentino – look as if they belong in the wilderness of Patagonia or in the Canadian Rockies. The breathtaking mountains, which are snow-dusted 365-days of the year, have long been a winter playground for Europeans. And, even though the skiing is world-famous, the summer is actually one of the best times to visit. The days are warm and the evenings cool and views of the stunning mountains and scattered, postcard-perfect towns and villages sitting at its grand base are at their clearest.
Many believe that, due to the fact that the area isn’t as traversed as other Alpine hikes, it’s not safe to trek alone. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The locals who live in the small villages that sit at the base of the stunning mountain range are pleasant, helpful and hospitable. You won’t find many Americans on the trails, so you’d be remiss not to learn a few key phrases in both Italian and German so you can traverse with ease.
Grandeur in stature, it’s hard to believe these collections of mineral-rich rocks and sleepy, Bavarian-inspired towns are one of Italy’s least visited landmarks. Much of this is due to the fact that most of the area wasn’t discovered until the early 19thcentury and that it’s relatively laborious to get to. A ride from the Verona train station will take you up to three hours, depending on the weather. The drive, however, is nothing short of spectacular—thanks to the weaving, winding roads that take you up and through the beautiful towns, quaint lodges and resorts and—if you’re lucky—fields rich with Alpine snowdrops and perfumed bushes of Daphne blossoms.
Towns to Visit
Although each of the small towns and villages scattered along the mountain range are breathtaking, we found these to be the best to stay in – thanks to the proximity to hiking trails and the ease of traveling to get there.
Castelrotto, a small and picturesque town in the heart of the Dolomites, is one of the most beautiful villages in the region. The town provides easy access to the area’s Alpine Meadows, and also boast a Medieval castle (Prösels Castle) and the Schlern-Rosengarten nature park, which his home to ample hiking trails. Arguably a bit busier, Bolzano—The provincial capital of the region—is the largest town in the Dolomites, and that’s reflected in the city’s culture and global influence. Home to a trilingual university and a bustling youthful exuberance, the candy-colored townhomes and (working) wooden market stalls make the perfect backdrop against the mountains famed peaks and lush, green countryside.
Home to only 2,300 residents, Sarentino is far from a sleepy town. The political, commercial and social center of South Tyrol, this historic village has seen rapid growth – with newer buildings flanking the area’s historic ones. Plus, the town sits in a valley gorge, offering some of the most expansive views of the green hillsides and towering peaks. Chiusa Klausen is a village that looks like it's right out of a Disney movie—offering sweeping views of the Dolomites and touts those pastel-painted rowhomes the region is famous for. This artists town is home to gothic churches, traditional Italian inns and the Saben monastery, one of the town’s primary landmarks.
Many solo hikers opt to stay in small inns and bed and breakfasts, but the grandeur resorts offer excellent amenities that make solo trekking both easier and safer. Many offer English speaking staff and guides who can help you trek the trails.
Pair adventure with luxury with a stay at the Vigilius Mountain Resort, which can only be reached by cable car. The views are astounding, and many of the chic rooms offer balconies that boast sweeping vistas of the neighboring towns and the craggily mountain peaks. Post-hike, wind down in the resort’s warm and bubbly hot springs with a glass of Italian wine.
For a stay more off the beaten path, book one of the just 20 rooms at Castel Pergine, an authentic medieval castle. Located in the rolling hills of Pergine, the views of the Dolomites from the rooms of the castle are some of the most stunning. With a private museum, art gallery, restaurant, bar, and ample 13th-century charm, the castle also offers a waving collection of hiking trails that allow for non-touristic exploration.
If you’re looking for rest and relaxation with a side of folksy art, stay at the Adler Spa Resort Balance, located in the quirky town of Ortisei - St. Ulrich. The hotel sits right next to some of the town’s bespoke craft shops and boutiques, as well as direct access to the funicular and cable cars that whisk you up to the picturesque peaks of Mount Seceda and Rasciesa. The lodge’s architecture reflects the geography – with floor-to-ceiling windows, woodsy design elements, a heated pool, and a famed spa.
Best Trails to Hike
A labyrinth of weaving trails and winding roads, the hikes leading up to the Dolomites’ mighty and majestic peaks have long been regarded as some of the best in the world. Home to 18 verdant valleys and staggering summits. The expansive landscape offers an incredible variety of flora and fauna; however, the real stars are the peaks, which are best explored on foot. This is by no means the complete list of hikes in the area, but we found abe the best to explore solo.
Giro Della Bullacci
Also known as the Witches Benches on the Bullacci, this two- to three-hour, 5.2-mile hike loops around the Seiser Alm and towards the surrounding peaks and up towards the Witches Benches. According to local legend, witches used the viewing point as a ritualistic place to dance. Now, the path is popular for hikers as it provides some of the most beautiful views of Mount Sciliar.
A beautiful day hike from Castelrotto, this two- to three-hour walk starts with a picturesque ride up the Marinzen chairlift. The lift will drop you at the Marizen Alp, a peaceful oasis that is nearly unknown to most non-European tourists. If you’d prefer to walk longer, start the hike behind the valley station of the chairlift and ascend the 4,900 feet up towards the Alp itself.
Croda Da Lago Circuit
One of the more popular hikes in the park, the Croda Da Lago Circuit comes alive in the summer, with hundreds of wildflowers decorating the valley. The highlight of this 7.8-mile hike is the Croda da Lago, a small mountain chain that’s also home to a vivid lake.
Lago di Braies (or Pragser Wildsee in German)
The day hike to Lago di Braies (also known as Lake Braies) boasts one-of-a-kind scenery, ending with a green-tinted mountain lake that’s surrounded by white sand. The path leading to it is well-traversed and marked, which make it easy to follow even if you don’t speak the language. The lake itself can be reached by a short 1-hour hike, which wraps you around the glacial-blue lake and vast pine forest. The most beautiful viewpoint sits midway through, with the towering Dolomites in the background and the ethereal lake in the forefront.
Home to some of the most iconic photographic sights in all of the Dolomites, the hike alone Passo Tre Croci to Lake Sorapis is a must when visiting the park. This 8-mile trek is well-trodden and often bustling with tourists during the late spring and summer months. The thick forest leads way to narrow, craggily mountain peaks, but ends with the breathtaking crystal blue Lake Sorapis. Tip—if you go in fall, the whole lake is even more breathtaking flanked by the vibrant reds and oranges of the changing leaves.
Tre Cime Circuit
Arguably one of the Dolomites most iconic hikes, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop circumnavigates around three of the most famous peaks in the European Alps. The entire loop is just shy of 6 miles and mostly flat, making it a popular walk for both families and solo trekkers alike. To begin, you’ll park at Rifugio Auronzo, and will start along a wide, flat trail that looks otherworldly – thanks to the mountains’ dusty façade and limited greenery.
If you’re an avid hiker, you’d be remiss not to tackle one of the walking trails that lead up Marmolada, the Dolomites’ highest peak, which sits at nearly 11,000 feet. There are ample trails that can take you to viewing points of this majestic peak, including Padon, Serrai Di Sottoguda, Sas De Rocia and Piz de Guda. These paths, many of which have undergone improvements, are all safe to trek solo and range from moderate to difficult.
As you hike through the spell-binding Dolomites, you’ll find ample viewing platforms that tout those 360-degree views the national park is famous for. For the most iconic shot of the area’s famous peaks, visit the Monte Specie/Strudelkopf balcony. The T3 Tower comes with night vision goggles for spotting nocturnal wildlife. For another vantage point of the staggering peaks. Visit the Alpe Tognola viewpoint, which can be reached via the San Martino di Castrozza path or cable car.