Words fail to describe the colourful jagged rocks of the limestone Dolomites. This eastern part of the Alps is often dabbed the most beautiful mountains in the world. While there are many places with epic scenery there's no other place with such dense concentration of photogenic peaks. The Dolomites are located in the northeastern part of Italy and offer great opportunities for climbers and hikers alike, a number of routes have already been freed of all barriers to allow everyone to enjoy the extraordinary Dolomite landscape.
The highest mountain in the Dolomites and the most prominent at the same time is Marmolada (3,342m). With the prominence of 2,130m it is one of the 22 Ultra mountains in Italy. However, it is not the only Ultra the Dolomites can boast of. Antelao (3,264m) aka the King of the Dolomites reminds you of a chess game: it is also second to the Queen of the Dolomites, aka Marmolada. Climbing those two involves a great deal of exposure to the elements, but the views and the actual terrain covered in the ascent are worth every single step. Even though a three-thousander might appear not very high to provide a glacier, there is still one available on the northeast side of Antelao, it is divided into two sections called Ghiacciaio Superiore and Ghiacciaio Inferiore respectively. Unfortunately, in these last years it might soon disappear.
In general, the mountains in this area are are characterized by prevalence of dolomite, also known as "dolostone" and "dolomite rock". It was described by the French naturalist and geologist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu. Hence the name of this lime stone.
Sunrises and sunsets are magical in the Dolomites and the magic is called enrosadira (a Ladin (a local language, not to be confused with Latin) term literally meaning “turning pink”). It is the term given to the phenomenon by which most of the peaks in the Dolomites at dawn and dusk take on a reddish colour which gradually turns into violet. The reason behind the changing colours is the calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate of the dolomite that allows the soft light yellow hues to transmute into a bedazzling bright red or to turn into various loud shades of pink and violet, until the mountains disappear in the dark of night.
Major Trails and Hiking Areas
It is hard to find the words of excitement about all the mountains in the Dolomites. Every group has its unique charm and scenic beauty. The trails, even those which do not end up at the top of a rocky spire, always become a memorable journey with fantastic views. Here are just the most popular locations for you to get started.
- The largest high altitude plateau in Europe, Seiseralm / Alpe di Siusi, has trails for all skill levels. The plateau is dominated by famous Langkofel and Plattkofel. The entrance is to the area is guarded by tower-like Santner.
- The adjacent Schlern massif with the highest point at Monte Pez and extending to the south group of Catinaccio rocky spires is a designated area of Sciliar-Catinaccio Nature Park. The highest rock in this group is Kesselkogel - Catinaccio d'Antermoia, it requires solid climbing skills to conquer. Rifugio Vajolet surrounded by Vajolet Towers is the popular hiking destination with epic scenery.
- One of the most popular spots among the photographers is the summit of Seceda easily reachable with a cable car from the city of Ortisei. The dramatic transition from tilted green plateau to the numerous rocky towers reminding dragon teeth is a must-visit spot. You could explore these towers in our photo location in the village of Funes. The most known peaks are Furchetta, Sass Rigais, Grande Fermeda. Seceda is a convenient starting point for many trails leading into Puez-Geisler Nature Park.
- Peitlerkofel is a hidden gem of Puez-Geisler Nature Park which is often overlooked by visitors yet its views from Passo delle Erbe are stunning, it is one of the best sunrise spotting locations.
- Piz Boe is the highest mountain of the Sella Group. The best way to admire the beauty of Sella Towers and Piz Boe itself is to take a cable car from Pass Pordoi.
- Kronplatz is a popular destination for whole families. It is reachable by cable cars from several directions. It offers panoramic views, relaxed hiking, and a gem of Alpine architecture - the Messner mountain museum.
- Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park is a vast territory tightly packed with fantastic spots. The world famous Braies Lake (https://routes.tips/lago_di_braies) is one of them. You could spend a day by the lake or hike to the very top of Seekofel just above the lake, then return and have a refreshing swim. The Sas dla Crusc is another summit in the area with panoramic views reachable after a long hike through the park. It is a great way to appreciate its beauty.
- Rifugio Lagazuoi and the mountain by the same name Lagazuoi are reachable by a cable car from Passo Falzarego. Due to breathtaking views this location is definitely not to be missed. Other famous spots nearby are Sass de Stria, Croda Negra, and Cinque Torri.
- Passo Giau is one of the most scenic drive-bys with multiple trails going in various directions. Nearby Averau, accessible through Via Ferrata only, allows seeing all major peaks in the Dolomites.
- Lago Sorapis famous for its milky azure waters at the foot of Punta Sorapiss is one of the most popular destinations. It takes slightly less than two hours to reach it from the nearby parking area. In high season there could be traffic jams on the narrow trail. But if you get there there will be no questions why everyone is eager to see it.
- Tre Cime Nature Park is one of the most well known sights in the Dolomites. Unearthly landscapes, epic scenery, dramatic history, everything here makes this area special. The most popular trail goes around Tre Cime and takes about 4 hours if you are able to resist the temptation to admire the nearest mountains and side trails. Rifugio Locatelli offers a most devouring lunch experience.
- Messner Mountain Museum Dolomites at the summit of Monte Rite is a perfect panoramic location to see the majestic Monte Pelmo and Ultra prominent Antelao. Antelao is often referred to as the King of the Dolomites.
- Needless to say that every king should have a Queen. In the Dolomites the Queen is Marmolada. There are many ways to admire its beauty but I prefer a ridge trail which goes from Passo Pordoi, along the peaks of Col del Cuc, Sass Ciapel, Sasso di Mezzodi, and ends up at Mesolina.
- Passo Role is one of the best sunset locations. Cimon della Pala which is sometimes called the Matterhorn of the Dolomites dominates the landscape. The best spot for a sunset photo is at the summit of Tognazza just a short uphill walk from the pass parking area.
- Pristine alpine Lake Carezza with Latemar Group in the background with dominating Diamantidi Tower.
Cable Cars and Cog Railways
The Dolomites supply probably the most advanced and the densest network of cable cars in the region. Here are the most important ones:
- Seiseralm - a cable car from Seis (Siusi)
- Seceda - a cable car from Ortisei
- Pass Pordoi - a cable car to the top of the Sella Group
- Lagazuoi - this cable car delivers you to one of the finest mountains huts in the world
- Faloria cable car from Cortina d’Ampezzo
- Col Margherita cable car from Passo San Pellegrino
- Col Verde - Rosetta cable car from San Martino di Castrozza
Major Cities and Resorts
Exploring the Dolomites while staying in small Alpine villages and even smaller remote hamlets might be the most convenient way. Nevertheless there are two thriving cities which must be on every traveller’s itinerary:
- Bolzano, Italy
- Trento, Italy