Hiking the Dolomites: Le Tre Cime di Lavaredo

Luke and I had been hankering to visit the Dolomites since we first heard about them.  The Dolomites are a section of the Alps in north-eastern Italy recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage sight for its beautiful mountain landscapes.  So when we found ourselves with a free weekend in between our Summer and Fall visitors, we sped North in our Fiat Panda rental to take action on a hiking itinerary recommended to us by a friendly Dolomites mountain guide.

The hike brought us to the famous Tre Cime, one of the best-known mountain groups in the Alps.  The recommended hike was a 3-day hike, but we skipped the last leg for a 2-day hike, sleeping overnight in the popular Rifugio Locatelli at the base of the Tre Cime.

Le Tre Cime at sunrise

Rifugio Locatelli located at the base of the Tre Cime. We had a great view of the mountains from our bedroom window.

Le Tre Cime at sunset. One of the best parts of sleeping at Rifugio Locatelli was getting to admire the Tre Cime at sunrise and sunset when the rest of the crowds had gone home.

There’s a lot to say about this trip:

First of all, the Europeans know how to keep it classy while trekking.  The refugi, huts located along many Italian trails, allow hikers and the like to find good food and shelter amidst their mountain adventure.  At Rifugio Locatelli, Luke and I had a private room with two beds.  For dinner, Luke had lasagna, pork ribs, potatoes, and chocolate cake; I ate curry soup, beef goulash, polenta, salad, and a fruit cup.  Breakfast was coffee and an assortment of bread, ham, cheese, and jam.  While there were no showers and no heat in our room, it sure beat hiking while carrying a tent and two days worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

We also experienced a bit of culture shock on the trip.  Although we were hiking in Italy, most of the hikers we passed greeted us in German.  We later found out that almost 80% of the population living near the Tre Cime speak German.  Because of this, several of the towns, hotels, and refugi in the area have two names: one in Italian and one in German.  We were also impressed with the people at the tourism office and the waiters at Rifugio Locatelli, who seamlessly transitioned between Italian, German, and English as they figured out what their customers could speak.

Lastly, I am always impressed by the number of people with full heads of gray and white hair when I’m out adventuring.  There are those moving slowly but surely, carefully using their hiking poles that make my heart warm and think “Yes!  What tenacity!  I hope I’m still hiking at that age”.  And then there are those who wow me with their agility; it’s not an uncommon occurrence that I need to make way for a nimble, gray-haired hiker to fly past me (especially on snow; I’ll admit I’m a wimp on snowy trails).  While lunching at Locatelli, Luke and I made a pact we’d keep hiking even when we have white hair.  We even shook on it. (Luke of course pointed out that if either one of us loses our hair, the deal is off).

For those interested, here are the specifics on the hike itself:

The Hike

Day 1
Total hiking time about 5h

We left our car in Dobbiaco and took bus 445 to Rifugio Auronzo near the base of le Tre Cime. You can also drive and park near Rifugio Auronzo, but the toll near Misurina is hefty (about 22 Euro/car).

Leg 1: Rifugio Auronzo to Rifugio Antonio Locatelli around the north faces of le Tre Cime. Follow CAI 105 towards Rifugio Tre Cime. About 1.5h.

Leg 2: Loop starting and ending at Rifugio Locatelli. Follow CAI 101 towards Rifugio Lavaredo. Then turn left to follow CAI 104 towards Rifugio Pian di Cengia. Near the beginning of 104, you encounter a fork. Take the left fork to continue following the red/white CAI markers. Then follow CAI 101 back to Rifugio Locatelli/Rifugio Tre Cime. About 3.5h.

Day 2
Total hiking time about 8h

Leg 1: Rifugio Locatelli to Landro. Follow CAI 102 towards Ladro, descending about 1000m into the valley. About 2.5h.

Leg 2: Ladro to Rifugio Vallandro. Follow CAI 34, ascending about 800m up a wooded trail with plenty of switchbacks. About 3.5h with a quick stop for lunch.

Leg 3: Rifugio Vallandro to Carbonin. Follow CAI 37 towards Carbonin, descending down a mix of road and wooded trails until you reach Carbonin, where you can catch a bus back to Dobbiaco. About 2h.

At Carbonin, we caught bus 445 back to Dobbiaco. Be mindful of which bus stop you stand at. Some buses come from Tre Cime and go to Dobbiaco, while others come from Cortina and go to Dobbiaco. You can look at the street signs pointing to Dobbiaco, Cortina, and Tre Cime to figure out which bus stop you need to stand at. If possible, catch a bus that is heading from Cortina to Dobbiaco. We first waited for a bus coming from Tre Cime, but it was packed like a sardine can and the driver wouldn’t let us board. The bus coming from Cortina was practically empty. Bus fare was 6 Euro/each going to the Tre Cime and 2 Euro/each on the return to Dobbiaco.
If we had a third day, we would have spent the night at Rifugio Vallandro and done some more hiking from there.

Gear we were happy to have: Hiking boots, warm layers, gloves, warm hat, and hiking poles. We were hiking in mid-September and it was chilly in the morning and evenings. This was our first hike we did with hiking poles and we were happy to have them. They came in handy on a few sections with snow and helped us to conserve energy so that we were able to do long hikes two days in a row. We also purchased a map of the hiking trails at the Tourism Office in Dobbiaco.

Where we stayed: On Friday night, we stayed at the Youth Hostel in Dobbiaco. From the outside, the hostel looks like a grand hotel. We paid about 25 Euro each for bed and breakfast. On Saturday night, we stayed at Rifugio Locatelli, a popular rifugio with a killer view of the Tre Cime. We paid about 58 Euro each for a double room, dinner, and breakfast.

Youth Hostel in Dobbiaco

Our room at Rifugio Locatelli

Distance from Bologna: Dobbiaco is about a 4 hour drive from Bologna. Since we only had the weekend, we drove to Dobbiaco Friday night so that we were able to set out for our hike first thing Saturday morning.

This was an ambitious trip for a 2-day weekend.  After hiking 8 hours on Sunday, we still had to catch a bus back to our car and drive the four hours back to Bologna.  But this was the last weekend we could do a hiking trip before the Tre Cime trails would be covered in snow, and so it was totally worth it.  We are glad we squeezed this trip in this Fall and even more glad that we should still be in Italy next hiking season so that we can return to the Dolomites.


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