The Italian Dolomites is the most spectacular alpine destination in the world. There’s no question. After five visits, we’re still not satiated. Visiting the Dolomites is like stepping into a high fantasy novel. The scenery is mesmerizing. The cuisine is heartwarming. And, the hiking trails are spectacular and highly accessible. There are many ways to experience the Dolomites, but a road trip is certainly the best introduction.
The route outlined below is our itinerary from our first trip to the Dolomites, with some modifications for improvement. It will take you to the Dolomites’ most celebrated places, including Val di Funes (Villnöß), Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm), Puez-Odle Nature Park (Naturpark Puez-Geisler), Val Gardena (Grödnertal), Seceda, Lago di Sorapiss, Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen), and Lago di Braies (Pragser Wildsee). We’ve summarized each day of our Dolomites road trip, with links to more in-depth blog posts. We promise that you’ll fall head over heels in love with this mountainous region and plot your return immediately.
Our Dolomites road trip is a bit unconventional because we integrated this fantastic 3-day Tre Cime di Lavaredo trek into our itinerary. This trek is the perfect intro to hut-to-hut hiking in the Alps. If however, you don’t want to do that, you can easily modify our itinerary, so that you’re staying in the valleys instead. We’ll explain how.
Note: We have revisited the Dolomites several times, since writing this post. You can find our newest Dolomites blog content here:
Dolomites Road Trip Itinerary
- Day 1: Val di Funes
- Day 2: Alpe di Siusi, Val Gardena
- Day 3: Seceda, Val Gardena
- Day 4: Great Dolomites Road, Sella Pass, Pordoi Pass, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Lago di Sorapiss, Sesto
- Day 5: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Trek (Day 1)
- Day 6: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Trek (Day 2)
- Day 7: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Trek (Day 3), Lago di Braies
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Dolomites Road Trip Map
The driving route is highlighted in blue. Each destination in the Dolomites is marked in a different color. For example, red signifies places and trails in Val di Funes. Yellow markers signify places in Val Gardena.
What Languages are Spoken in the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are located in 5 different provinces (within 3 regions) in Northeastern Italy. One province, South Tyrol (Südtirol in German; Alto Adige in Italian), was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to World War I. German continues to be the primary language spoken in this province. When traveling and hiking through South Tyrol, every street, advertisement, nature park, mountain hut, etc… is written in both German and Italian.
Another language that you may encounter is Ladin, a romance language spoken in the provinces of South Tyrol, Trentino, and Belluno, by the Ladin people, who are the oldest inhabitants of the region. In Val Badia and other valleys, you’ll see signage and names (e.g. towns, mountain huts) in three languages: Ladin, German, and Italian.
When to Road Trip in the Dolomites
We’ve explained the best time to visit the Dolomites in our Dolomites Travel Guide.
We recommend doing this specific road trip in July, or September. August is very busy and very expensive. Early October is still promising, but you wouldn’t be able to do this 3-Day Tre Cime Trek, because the rifugios (mountain huts) close by late September.
How to get to the Dolomites
If you’re flying internationally, look for flights to these international airports.
- Munich International Airport, Germany
- Malpensa Airport, Milan, Italy
- Marco Polo International Airport, Venice, Italy
If you’re flying more regionally, also look for flights to these airports:
- Valerio Catullo Airport, Verona, Italy
- Innsbruck Airport, Austria
From the airport, rent a car and drive several hours to Val di Funes/Villnöß. Here are the approximate driving times it takes to get from each respective airport to the heart of the Dolomites (according to Google Maps). You’ll probably want to add some buffer time, because… mountains.
- Munich International Airport, Germany, to Val di Funes: 3 Hours
- Malpensa Airport, Milan, Italy, to Val di Funes: 4 Hours
- Marco Polo International Airport, Venice, Italy, to Val di Funes: 3 Hours
- Valerio Catullo Airport, Verona, Italy, to Val di Funes: 2 Hours
- Innsbruck Airport, Austria, to Val di Funes: 1:15 hours
Driving in the Dolomites
Driving in the Dolomites is riveting. Serpentine roads cut across mountain passes delivering nonstop memorable views. Generally, roads are in great condition and by no means perilous.
Though Italy has a reputation for aggressive driving, we didn’t get that impression in the Dolomites.
The only thing to be aware of is congestion. During peak summer months, some roads get really busy, especially the main road through Val Gardena. If you’re weary of traffic and backing up (to let buses pass), start your drive a bit earlier.
Autostrade (Toll Roads)
There are toll roads across Italy called Autostrade. When you enter a toll road, marked by a toll gate, a machine will dispense a paper ticket (like in a parking garage), which marks where you entered the Autostrade. When the toll road ends, or when you exit the toll road, you’ll drive through a second toll gate. Here, you’ll pay your toll, which is calculated by your Autostrada usage.
You can pay in cash, or by credit card. To be safe, always have extra cash for tolls.
In the Dolomites, we didn’t pay any tolls other than the road to Rifugio Auronzo.
However, if you’re starting your Dolomites road trip in Verona, Venice, or Milan, you will likely drive on an Autostrade.
International Driver’s License
An International Driving Permit (also called an International Driver’s License) is required for non-EU drivers. When driving in Italy, you need to carry both your International Driving Permit and your overseas driver’s license. More info here for US-Americans.
Day 1: Val di Funes and the Adolf Munkel Trail
Your Dolomites road trip begins with a drive to Val di Funes/Vilnöss, a 24-km-long valley in South Tyrol, stretching from Valle Isarco/Eisacktal Valley to the Odle/Geisler mountain range. There’s no need to rush to get here, because the best time to visit Val di Funes is in the late afternoon, when the toothy Odle/Geisler peaks are illuminated by the sun.
When you enter the valley, continue towards the village of S. Maddalena/St. Magdalena, which is the best place to stay in the valley. We recommend checking into your accommodation first. As an overnight guest, you get a free DolomitiMobil Discount Card, which gives you free use of public transit and a parking discount at the Zannes and Ranui parking lots.
Learn More: How to Visit Val di Funes
Drive to Zannes Car Park
After checking in, drive to the head of the valley to Zannes/Zans car park, a popular trailhead in Val di Funes. The parking fee is 6 EUR per day, 3 EUR for half-a-day (arriving after 1 pm), or 2 EUR for DolomitiMobil cardholders.
From here, you can embark on many different hikes to scenic alpine pastures and mountain huts in Puez-Odle Nature Park.
Hike the Adolf Munkel Trail
The Adolf Munkel Trail (Via delle Odle) is a hiking path at the foot of the Geisler/Odle Peaks. Starting at Zannes/Zans, this gratifying circuit trail strings together some of the loveliest alpine pastures in Puez-Odle Nature Park, including: Gschnagenhardt Alm, Geisleralm, and Dusleralm.
This hike is all about savoring the journey. So, go slowly, eat tons of South Tyrolean food, drink beer (or your favorite drink), and enjoy the view. The whole loop is about 9.2 km and takes 3:30 hours to complete.
Learn More: Adolf Munkel Trail Guide
Hike the Rifugio Genova Circuit Trail
If you’re spending more time in the valley, we also recommend hiking from Zannes/Zans to Rifugio Genova/Schlüterhütte via Furcella de Furcia/Kreuzjoch.
Learn More: Rifugio Genova Circuit Trail
Stay in Santa Maddalena
Budget | Fallerhof is a great-value apartment-style accommodation with stunning views of the Geisler Group. It’s within walking distance to the famous Chiesetta di San Giovanni in Ranui and the Santa Maddalena Church. It’s also an 11-minute drive (or 1.5-hour walk) to the Zannes/Zans trailhead.
Luxury | Hotel Tyrol Dolomites is a family-run hotel, centrally located in Santa Maddalena/St. Magdalena. This is the best place to stay when you want to combine outdoor exploration with wellness and relaxation. Their wellness and spa area encompasses a Finnish sauna, steam bath, solarium, an outdoor pool, and a garden with sun loungers and parasols. However, the main reason to stay in this alpine-modern hotel is their local cuisine. Don’t miss out on their dinners.
Day 2: Alpe di Siusi and Val Gardena
Drive to Ortisei in Val Gardena
Your Dolomites road trip continues to Ortisei/St. Ulrich/Urtijëi, a village in Val Gardena/Gröderntal. The drive takes about 40 minutes.
If you’re staying directly in Ortisei (e.g. Hotel Angelo Engel), head to your accommodation first to park, check-in, and get your complimentary Val Gardena Mobil Card, which gives you free transit in South Tyrol. From the village, you can walk to the Ortisei – Alpe di Siusi cable car valley station.
If you’re not staying directly in town, you can also park in the paid parking garage located directly at the Ortisei-Alpe di Siusi Cable Car valley station. Parking costs 0.50 EUR/hour.
Related: Ortisei, Val Gardena Travel Guide
Walk across Alpe di Siusi
Today, you’re going to explore Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm, the largest high alpine pasture in Europe. Measuring 56 km², this expansive plateau is a great place for casual walking and spectacular views of the Sassolungo/Langkofel Group and the Catinaccio/Rosengarten Mountains.
Because driving up to Alpe di Siusi is restricted during the day, you have to take the Ortisei – Alpe di Siusi cable car up to the plateau.
There are many trails leading across the plateau. After ascending via the ropeway, we decided to do a point-to-point hike to Saltria and then to Monte Pana, before descending to Santa Cristina, another village in Val Gardena. From Santa Cristina, we took a bus (free with the Val Gardena Mobil Card), back to Ortisei.
If you want to hike a circuit instead, you can follow the Hans-und-Paula-Steger Weg from Saltria to Compaccio, another settlement on Alpe di Siusi. From Compaccio, it’s 6.5 km of easy walking back to the Ortisei-Alpe di Siusi gondola mountain station. Check out our Alpe di Siusi Travel Guide for a map and details on where to eat.
Eat Dinner in Ortisei
We had dinner at Vinoteque La Cercia, a charming wine bar with live music.
Address: Via Rezia 30, 39046 Ortisei, Italy.
Stay in Ortisei, Val Gardena
Budget | Hotel Garni Walter is a top-rated, family-run accommodation in Ortisei. Guests love the generous breakfast buffet, the views, the location, and the overall cleanliness. It’s a 5-minute walk to the Ortisei village center.
Midrange | Chalet Hotel Hartmann (Adults Only) is an excellent hotel featuring cozy alpine interiors, a delicious breakfast buffet, and a spa area (bio-sauna, a Turkish bath, and a solarium). It’s a 20-minute walk (1 km) to reach the heart of Ortisei.
Luxury | Hotel Angelo is situated directly in the village center of Ortisei, walking distance to the Resciesa funicular, Ortisei-Furnes-Seceda cableway, and the Ortisei-Alpe di Siusi gondola (Mont Sëuc Ropeway). We loved the central location, the courteous staff, the wellness and sauna area, and our spacious room.
Day 3: Seceda and Puez-Odle Nature Park
Hike the Seceda Ridgeline
Day 3 of your Dolomites itinerary is all about experiencing the striking Odle/Geisler Peaks from the Seceda ridgeline – that view you’ve probably been dreaming about since you decided to travel to the Dolomites. There are several approaches to the Seceda Ridgeline. The first two options require cableway ascents/descents. The third option does not.
Option 1: The Ortisei – Furnes – Seceda Cableways
This is the easiest and fastest way to see Seceda. You’ll take the Ortisei-Furnes-Seceda cable car from Ortisei directly up to the Seceda mountain station. At the summit station, it’s a 10-minute walk to the Seceda lookout point. From the ridgeline, you can do a lovely circuit hike to Regensburger Hütte.
Learn More: Seceda to Regensburger Hütte Trail Guide
Option 2: Resciesa Plateau to Seceda
In this option, you’ll approach Seceda via the Resciesa plateau. First, take the Resciesa Funicular up to Resciesa plateau and then hike to Malga Brogles. From here, it’s a steep ascent to the Seceda ridge via the Panascharte.
Update: A reader informed us recently (September 1, 2020) that the trail from Brogles to Seceda is closed due to rockfall. Contact the Seceda mountain station directly for trail updates.
Learn More: Resciesca to Malga Brogles to Seceda Trail Guide
Option 3: Hike to Seceda without a cableway
If you’re visiting off-season (e.g. late October), when the cableways aren’t operating, you can also hike from the valley. Starting at the Cristauta/Praplan Parking Lot above Santa Cristina, you can hike up to Seceda. We recommend descending via Monte Pic on your way back down.
Learn More: Monte Pic and Seceda Trail Guide
More Hikes in Val Gardena
If you’re extending your stay in Val Gardena, also check out our Puez-Odle Nature Park guide and these trails:
Stay in Ortisei, Val Gardena
Budget | Hotel Garni Walter
Midrange | Chalet Hotel Hartmann
Luxury | Hotel Angelo
Day 4: Sella and Pordoi Passes, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Lago di Sorapiss
Drive to Cortina d’Ampezzo
On day 4 of your Dolomites road trip, you’ll depart Val Gardena and drive to the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo.
There are two main routes to Cortina d’Ampezzo:
- Via the Sella, Pordoi, and Fazarego mountain passes (2:00 – 2:30 hours)
- Via Gardena Pass, Alta Badia and the Valparola and Fazarego mountain passes (1:40 – 2:10 hours)
Both routes are stunning. In the first option, you’ll drive a longer distance on the Great Dolomites Road (Grande Strada della Dolomiti), a dramatic route that connects Bolzano with Cortina d’Ampezzo (110 km).
If you’re looking to expand this 7 Day Dolomites itinerary, we recommend heading to Alta Badia first. Spend at least 2 nights in Alta Badia (in Corvara, La Villa, or San Cassiano), before continuing your journey to Cortina via Passo di Valparola and Passo di Falzarego.
Learn More: Alta Badia Summer Guide
We ate lunch in Cortina d’Ampezzo, before tackling the Lago di Sorapiss day hike. Parking can be tricky in town, especially during high season. You can also skip Cortina, and head directly to the Passo Tre Croci trailhead, which is a 15-minute drive from Cortina.
Hike to Lago di Sorapiss
Drive to Passo Tre Croci to begin the hike to Lago di Sorapiss. The lake takes its name from the mountain Sorapiss. Framed by larch trees, Lago di Sorapiss is one of the most arresting places you’ll see in the Dolomites.
Apart from the mountain backdrop, the most spectacular feature of the lake is its unique milky-turquoise color. The water’s milky quality is due to the suspended powdered rock. You might think you’re looking at an enchantress’ pool filled with a magic potion.
The hike takes 1:30 – 2 hours, one-way. You’ll take Trail no. 215 towards Rifugio Vandelli, which is a mountain hut near the lake. The first half of the trail is flat, but the second-half is steep. There are ropes and stairs that will aid you in your ascent. We saw people of all ages on this trail.
Due to its popularity, this trail gets really busy.
Stay in Sesto or in Cortina d’Ampezzo
If you’re planning on doing this Tre Cime di Lavaredo 3 Day Trek, continue driving to Sesto/Sexten.
If you’re not planning on doing that hut-to-hut hike, stay tonight in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Budget | B&B Nonna Pina is a cozy bed and breakfast in Padola (25-minute-drive to Sesto) set in a traditional South Tyrolean house. With warm wooden interiors, this fantastic guesthouse offers traditional decor and comfort for a very good price.
Midrange | Hotel Kreuzberg Monte Croce is a fabulous hotel located only a quick drive (12 minutes) from the Parkplatz Fischleinboden Hütte trailhead. Here, you’ll be treated to delicious South Tyrolean food and rejuvenating spa facilities.
Luxury | Hotel Dolomitenhof & Chalet Alte Post is located directly at the Fischleinbodenhütte trailhead in Tre Cime Nature Park. The views of Fischleintal Valley and the Sexten Dolomites are spectacular. Guests love the breakfast terrace, wellness facilities, restaurant, and of course the location.
Cortina d’Ampezzo Accommodations
Note: the best accommodations in Cortina d’Ampezzo are located outside the town center.
Budget | La Locanda del Cantoniere – Ciasa Vervei is a delightful alpine hotel, restaurant, and bar, set in a peaceful location, 7.5 km from the center of Cortina. The restaurant is open every day for lunch and dinner. Guests love the spacious bedrooms, breakfast buffet, and the solitude.
Midrange | Camina Suite and Spa is a newly renovated hotel with a lovely spa area, excellent breakfast, and comfortable alpine-modern rooms.
Luxury | Faloria Mountain Spa Resort is a gorgeous hotel with a dazzling wellness area (large swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath, Kneipp path). You’ll love the mountain views, the caring staff, and the high-quality breakfast. You can also eat dinner here. The hotel is situated 3.4 km south of the town center.
Day 5: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Trek Stage 1
Hike to Tre Cime di Lavaredo
Today, you’ll begin this 3-day hut to hut hike in Tre Cime Nature Park, starting in Val Fiscalina/Fischleintal in Sesto/Sexten. You can park directly at the trailhead at Parkplatz Fischleinbodenhütte (8 EUR per day). You’ll pay for parking when you return to your car.
Stage 1 of this Tre Cime trek begins with a steady ascent to Rifugio Locatelli/Dreizinnenhütte. It takes about 3.5 hours to reach the hut via Trail 102. Directly facing the north side of the iconic Three Peaks (Tre Cime/Drei Zinnen), Dreizinnenhütte is arguably the most perfectly positioned mountain hut in the Dolomites. And luckily for all hungry visitors, the hut has a restaurant serving South Tyrolean cuisine.
Stay in Dreizinnenhütte, or Rifugio Lavaredo
Tonight, you can stay in Dreizinnenhütte. Or, you can continue on Trail 101 to Rifugio Lavaredo, or even Rifugio Auronzo.
The location of the Rifugio Lavaredo is absolutely spectacular and definitely rivals that of Locatelli. The jagged, purple Cadini di Misurina mountains form the backdrop of the hut. We stayed in a 6-bed dormitory-style room, which was clean and comfortable. However in comparison to the other mountain huts, the food was subpar.
IMPORTANT: Make reservations for mountain huts in advance. You should be making reservations several months ahead, depending on when you’re planning on staying.
Alternative Day 5 Dolomites Itinerary
For those who opted out of the 3-day trek, you can still experience the beauty of Tre Cime di Lavaredo by driving directly to Rifugio Auronzo via a toll road. If you want to learn more about that option and how to get to the trailhead, read: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Day Hike.
After the hike, stop at Malga Rin Bianco for a delicious lunch, or dinner
- Address: Address: Via Monte Piana, 35, 32041 Misurina BL, Italy).
- Open: Friday – Wednesday 12 – 3 pm / 7:30 – 9:30 pm.
After hiking the circuit trail around Tre Cime, stay another night in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Midrange | Camina Suite and Spa
Luxury | Faloria Mountain Spa Resort
Day 6: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Stage 2
Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit Trail
Continue the circuit trail around Tre Cime di Lavaredo to Rifugio Auronzo. From Rifugio Auronzo, Trail no. 105 begins at the end of the parking lot. The trail continues to the saddle Forcella del Col de Mezo and to the mountain hut Langalm.
Langalm is a wonderful spot to grab a mid-morning snack (their cakes are always delicious).
From Langalm, continue to Rifugio Locatelli/Dreizinnenhütte. We recommend eating lunch here, before starting the ascent to Rifugio Pian di Cengia/Büllelejochhütte.
Stay in Büllelejochhütte
Büllelejochhütte is a place where dreams come true. Remotely situated, surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery, and gracing the clouds, Büllelejochhütte is the most charming mountain hut we experienced. The staff was beyond kind and friendly. And, the hearty food was divine.
Alternative Day 6 Dolomites Itinerary
From Cortina d’Ampezzo, you have tons of hiking options. If you’re interested in World War I history, head to Cinque Torri and Lagazuoi. For another epic hike, consider hiking around Croda da Lago.
After exploring another trail in the Ampezzo Dolomites, continue your Dolomites road trip to Braies. Check out these places to stay: Garni Bergblick (Budget), Hotel Erika (midrange), Silentium Dolomites Chalet (luxury)
Day 7: Tre Cime di Lavaredo Stage 3
Descend to Val Fiscalina/Fischleintal
After breakfast, start your descent to Fischleintal via Trail 101 and later Trail 103. After an hour, the trail winds around the Rifugio E. Comici/Zsigmondy Hütte, a lovely mountain hut surrounded by bell-wearing donkeys. From this mountain hut, it takes about 1:30 hours to get to Talschlusshütte. The trail eventually intersects 102 (the trail you took on the way up). From the fork, hike the familiar flat trail back to Talschlusshütte and Parkplatz Fischleinbodenhütte.
Visit Lago di Braies
The beautiful lake Lago di Braies/Pragser Wildsee is called the Pearl of the Dolomites. You can end your day by walking the easy loop trail around the lake. You can also enjoy the lake by renting a rowboat.
From mid-July to mid-September, the road to Lago di Braies is restricted from 10 am until 3 pm. If you arrive during that restricted time, you’ll have to park your car in a designated parking lot (5 EUR) and hop on a shuttle bus to the lake (3 EUR per person one-way).
Outside of the restricted time, you can drive directly to the lake, where you’ll find another paid parking lot.
If you want to rent a boat, it’s best to arrive before 8 am. One of our readers informed us that they arrived after 8 am, and all the boats were already taken.
Stay in Braies
Budget | Garni Bergblick is a wonderful guesthouse located a mere 5.6 km from Lago di Braies. Set in an idyllic meadow surrounded by trees, Garni Bergblick is the perfect place to end your trip to the Dolomites. Breakfast included.
Midrange | Hotel Erika is a 3-star hotel with a wellness area and on-site restaurant. The hotel is a mere 10-minute drive to Lago di Braies.
Luxury | Silentium Dolomites Chalet is a top-rated place to stay in Monguelfo, a 16-minute drive to Lago di Braies. With its natural surroundings, spa, and newly renovated rooms, Silentium is easy to fall in love with. Breakfast is included.
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Plan your Dolomites road trip:
- Dolomites Travel Guide
- Where to Stay in the Dolomites in Summer
- Best Hotels in the Dolomites
- Best Things to Do in the Dolomites
- Top Things to Do in San Martino di Castrozza
Learn more about hiking in the Dolomites: