You’ve probably seen the photos on Instagram. The towering jagged mountain peaks lining the horizon as a girl strolls through a green rolling valley below. Or maybe the iconic image of wooden rowboats loosely tied to the jetty of Lago di Braies.
The Dolomites mountain range in northern Italy is what dreams are made of for photographers and outdoor adventures.
These mountains are a beautiful outdoor playground perfect for road trips and picnics as well as epic hiking opportunities. And you don’t have to be especially fit to enjoy the mountain tops of the Trentino Dolomites, with many cable cars taking you up to great heights in mere minutes.
The Dolomites are more extensive than you might think as they spread across the north of Italy. There are actually many sections of the Dolomites mountain range, such as the Trentino, Veneto and Friuli Dolomites. This blog focuses on the Trentino Dolomites.
The Trentino Dolomites
Trento or Bolzano are the main gateway and transport hubs to the Trentino Dolomites, the most popular section of the Dolomites and the one you’ll see on your social media feeds. This area is well serviced by public transport and cable cars. If you’re an experienced hiker, and you have a car, you may opt to explore the other areas of the Dolomites.
I explored the Trentino Dolomites for three days and barely scratched the surface of the many mountains you can explore – and we drove around for hours enjoying the breathtaking vistas. I can’t count how many times we stopped for a photo opportunity on the side of the road.
If you only have a few days, here’s my recommendations to make the most of a first time trip to the Dolomites.
Lago di Braies
My Dolomites road trip and adventures started at Lago di Braies – probably the most iconic destination in the Dolomites.
This lake is popular for a reason. It’s easily accessible, it’s a mostly flat walk around the lake, and you’ll get plenty of beautiful photos without really trying.
If you’ve arrived here by car, you’ll need to pay a parking fee of €6. It is also possible to catch a bus here from Dobbiaco.
From the carpark, it’s a short stroll to the lake shore and then you can walk around the whole lake in about 60-90 minutes depending on how many photos you take along the way. It’s mostly flat along the woody trail, with a couple of short uphill and downhill sections on the lake’s left side.
Be aware that the lake is likely to be very crowded so aim to get here early to beat the crowds.
Tre Cime di Laveredo
My friend and I had wanted to camp by the rocky pinnacles of Tre Cime di Laveredo but heavy rain and low visibility thwarted that plan. But if you have the time and good weather, I recommend the detour, but be aware you have to pay a €25 toll to take the road up to Tre Cime di Laveredo.
After Lago di Braies and Tre Cime de Laveredo, the peak of Seceda is probably the next most iconic destination in the Dolomites.
You can choose to hike up – although it’s a long, exposed trail – or take the cable car up. But it’s not cheap. The cable car costs €31 return. It’s worth the price though.
From the cable car station, it’s a short walk to the lookout point to see the jagged peak of Seceda. From here, there’s multiple marked trails you can embark on for beautiful alpine views filled with rustic mountain huts and more mountains.
The trail we enjoyed was to the Pieralongia hut, which took about an hour from the Seceda lookout.
The Passo Sella mountain pass between Canazei and Ortesei is stunning – and it’s worth having a car simply to drive this section so you can capture all the stunning landscapes along the way. You’ll be sure to stop multiple times with your camera out in awe of the views.
Another epic vantage point in the Dolomites is Sasso Pordoi. This viewpoint is accessible by a cable car from Canazei or Pordoi to bring you up to just under 2,950m. From here, you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the rocky slopes and ridgelines that the Dolomites are famous for.
If you take the cable car from Canazei, it’s a short but scenic hike around to Pordoi to take a second cable car up. Or you can drive up to Pordoi directly and then take a single cable car up.
If the weather is good once you reach the Sasso Pordoi cable car station, you can hike from the top cable car station to the Boe mountain summit to soak up more of the views.
The Passo Pordoi mountain pass is also incredibly scenic, however be prepared for dozens of hairpin bends along the way!
When to go?
If you want to do some hiking in the Dolomites, then you’ll need to visit in summer. If your plan is simply to take the cable cars up to the mountain summits, then you can visit at other times of year when snow is present. It will be beautiful but cold!
Where to stay?
There are dozens of villages you can choose from to base yourself in the middle of the Dolomites beauty.
When camping was out of the question due to heavy rain, we opted to base ourselves near Canazei for two nights. There’s plenty of hotels in this area and also good public transport options if you don’t have a car.
We stayed in the tiny town of Mazzin, about a 10 minute drive from Canazei.
You can also opt to stay around the Ortesei area, which is near the Seceda cable car.
Getting there and around
The easiest way to get around the Dolomites is obviously by car. I was lucky to have an Italian friend who offered to explore with me.
But if you don’t have a car, there are regular buses servicing the Dolomites area.
You will need to get to Trento or Bolzano first, which are located a couple of hours by train north of Venice.
From there, there are at least once daily buses to Canazei and then local buses servicing the region between Canazei and Ortesei.
Canazei has a great tourist information centre that offers maps and transport information. English is spoken.