If you love hiking and exploring other outdoor activities in the mountains, then you must visit the Dolomites. Also known as the “Pale Mountains”, the Dolomites offer lots of outdoor activities ranging from hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing in the summer to skiing in the winter.
It is a dream place for outdoor enthusiasts, which is why I decided to go backpacking in the Dolomites for 2 weeks. I personally loved spending my time here, though there were some things I wished someone had told me beforehand.
As you keep on reading, I will share some useful tips based on my experience to ensure that you have an even better experience than I did.
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Where to stay in the Dolomites
I’m sure that plenty of people have asked themselves these questions before. How long do I need for my backpacking trip into the mountains and what are some places worth checking out on this side-of-the Alps?
Those who don’t know much about Italy yet might find it hard deciding which direction they want to explore first – there is something here everyone will love no matter your taste in travel destinations. In the end, it all boils down to whether someone wants an immersive experience close up against nature by embarking upon challenging hikes through vast scenery with breathtaking views.
So, when deciding on where to stay or rather your starting point in the Dolomites, first consider which area you’d wish to explore. Check on the availability of the cars and whether you want to do a day or multi-day backpacking.
As always, it’s good practice to make a reservation of where you want to stay before arriving. The Dolomites is a very touristic destination in the summer so most hotels, Airbnb, and camping sites are fully booked from July to the end of August.
That said, most camping sites in the Dolomites work on a first come first serve basis. Therefore, they aren’t open to accepting reservations well in advance, which can be quite annoying if you like everything planned out beforehand.
Once I was in Bolzano, I had to call different campgrounds to see if they could accommodate me for the next day. It took me a while to get a confirmation but I eventually managed to book a reservation for the next day during peak season.
In any case, here are some of the popular destinations to stay:
Popularly known as the ‘pearl of Dolomites,’ Cortina d’Ampezzo is a great jump-off point for backpacking in the Dolomites. It offers easy access to Lago di Braies, Croda do Lago, Lake Misurina, Lake Sorapis, Cinque Torri and Tre Cime di Lavaredo; the best areas to explore. Plus, during an off-mountain time, you can spend time shopping, dining, and enjoying sporting, cultural and folklore events that go on in Cortina.
The campground that managed to give me a reservation, Campeggio Dolomiti, is also located in this city. In my opinion, the city is tailored towards tourism. As such, you’ll find the typical outdoor stores selling well-known brands like North Face and Patagonia. If you are on a budget then make sure to purchase your outdoor equipment beforehand. Regarding food, you can make do with the two budget-friendly supermarkets available.
Val d’Ega (Eggental)
The Val d’Ega region is a great place to explore the Latemar and Rosengarten mountains in the Dolomites. It offers some of Italy’s best hiking expeditions, as well as opportunities for Ferrata accommodation with overnight stays at Rifugios on mountain tops.
The seven villages here can be explored by car or above-ground train throughout summer months but if you want an even more extreme experience then take one overland from Bolzano into South Tyrol where it will pass through this beautiful land that never seems too busy because there are so many amazing activities going around all day long every single day.
Before you explore Dolomites Alps, Ata Badia grants you a perfect view of the scenic mountains, as they lie between Mount Sassonger and Sella Group on South Tyrol’s side. But also the Cir Mountains while also including several villages interconnected by walking paths or buses routes for transportation convenience. Stay in Corvara and La Villa village as it provides budget-friendly and comfortable accommodation.
Located in South Tyrol, Val Gardena offers you a perfect place to unwind as you await to explore the Dolomites Alps. Here you can access several day hikes trails plus cable cars and chairlifts that take you to trailheads. The popular villages offering comfortable accommodation in the area are Selva di Val Gardena, Santa Cristina, and Ortisei.
What to do in the Dolomites
The Dolomites is a wonderful destination for outdoor enthusiasts. There are a lot of activities and here are some of my top suggestions:
Explore short trails during the day and use a B&B or a hotel as a base camp. The benefit of day hikes is trekking the mountains and later having a sumptuous meal and restful night. If you are already there then you can simply ask the nearest tourist information center for the best trails that are suitable for you.
Hike and spend a night in Mountain huts
Spending a night in rifugio (mountain huts) is the best way to stay in touch with the wild nature, even in the dark. The Dolomites offer several of the best rifugios in the world, which provide meals and beddings. If you go for this option, carry a small day pack with personal items, clothing, and snacks.
Mountain hut-to-hut hiking
If you are planning a multiple-day excursion, then mountain hut-to-hut hiking would do you good. You can trek a loop rifugio-to-rifugio and return to your start point or traverse different villages. If it is your first time, consider taking Alta via 1 route.
Catch a gondola ride
Your fitness level should not limit you when exploring the Dolomites Mountains. If you cannot make the long treks, then combine short hikes with gondola rides. This way, you can use less energy but still reach various rifugios for an overnight. You can hike from there or take a ride back to your base camp.
Keep in mind that the last gondola going down is around 4 pm, so make sure you are on time. I took the gondola ride so that I could do some hikes at the top of the mountain only to end up hiking all the way down because I didn’t check the opening hours.
Do a mountain bike tour
The Dolomites is a region surrounded by mountains. Therefore, it makes more sense to discover the Dolomites with a mountain bike if you want to see and experience as much as possible.
If you are unsure whether you are fit enough or where to go then just head over to the nearest bike rental store. When I did this, they suggested a very nice tour that was fitting with my needs (duration, intensity…). My bet is that you will end up with an electric mountain bike, which made my tour much more pleasant.
What to pack
When backpacking, you want to maximize space to pack what you need instead of what you want. It would help if you carry the essentials but still hike comfortably. The priority should be safety and practicability.
Here is what you will need:
- Large high-quality backpack: Get a sturdy all-weather bag that withstands harsh conditions while offering enough space for your essentials.
- Small, lightweight backpack: If you plan to go for day hikes, you need a small, lightweight bag to carry some snacks and a first aid kit. You will leave the large one in your hotel room or camping site.
- Hiking boots, climbing shoes, and comfy footwear
- Rainproof clothing: the Dolomites can get windy so to be on the safe side, bring all-weather pants and jackets.
- Sun hat
- First aid kit
- Large water bottle
- Powerbank to recharge your electronics
- Pocket knife
- Sleeping bag: Even in summer, it gets very cold at night. I didn’t bring one as mine was heavy and took up a lot of space. After sleeping with a light blanket the first night, I decided to buy an emergency blanket because it was just too cold. It kept me warm for the rest of the stay, although it made a lot of noise at night when I moved or went to the toilet.
- Lightweight backpacking tent
- Essential clothing (Underwear, T-shirts, hiking socks, sweater, light shorts, hiking pants, and preferably thermal layers)
When to go for a backpacking trip in the Dolomites
You can go to the Dolomites all year round, but some seasons are best for specific activities. Check below what each season offers and make a choice based on your preferences.
During summer, all mountains huts are open, granting your perfect opportunity for Rifugio-to-rifugio hikes. Plus, you can stay active throughout your trip due to favorable weather. By default, this is the best time to visit the Dolomites, but also very touristy.
Hike during fall if you want to keep off the crowd and enjoy the sight of golden yellow larch tree needles. Take beautiful photos right in front of rosy pink rocks, longer shadows, and golden orange surrounding after sunset.
During spring, there are fewer crowds, and the trees slowly come back to life. You have the opportunity to witness the famous limestone as the snow begins to melt. You can enjoy hiking, biking, and climbing during the season as Ferratas open up again after winter.
How to stay safe
The last and important tip is ensuring you are safe during your backpacking trip. Here is what to do to stay safe:
- Hike with a partner if not in a guided tour
- Leave a note of your whereabouts and when you expect to come back
- Stay hydrated throughout the treks
- Always have a cell phone with emergency contacts (have phone numbers for your destination hotel, rifugio, tour operator)
- Pace yourself and take regular breaks
- Be aware of falling rocks
- Bring snacks to take in-between mountain huts
How to get to the Dolomites
You can access the Dolomites from several airports. Fly to Venice, 160km to Cortina, or Munich in Germany. These are the main international airports near the Dolomites. You can also opt to fly to small airports (Innsbruck, Verona, and Treviso) in Italy. From there, use a bus to towns around the destination (Brunico, Dobbiace, San Candido, and Cortina).
The Dolomites region of northeast Italy is a land full of natural beauty and rich history surrounded by mountains located in northeastern Italy. As such, the best way to get to the Dolomites will largely depend on where you plan on staying in this region and your budget.
If for some reason you don’t want to take the plane, the next best option is to travel by train and bus. Personally, I took a Flixbus from Munich to Bolzano and the next day a train from Bolzano to Dobbiaco. Once in Dobbiaco, there was a bus heading towards my camping site every 30 minutes. This was the most budget-friendly option given that I started my journey from Amsterdam.
If you happen to visit Bolzano during your transit then consider visiting Lago di Monticolo. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to visit it, but my Airbnb host recommended it a lot. Apparently, it is a beautiful lake surrounded by trees and lots of locals spend their time there in the summer.
Key insights & takeaways
Enjoy yourself in the Dolomites by following the tips above. Choose the season you are most comfortable with. If you have no issue with large crowds, go during summer.
Otherwise, fall and spring might be the best options for some solitude. Plan on where to stay, pick activities to do and most importantly, stay safe while at it.
Image by Harry Burgess from Pixabay