There are some places that will stay with you forever.
Places so raw and rugged, so wildly beautiful, they have the power to rock you to your core, to inspire you and render you speechless, to simultaneously paint a smile on your face and bring you to the verge of tears, and to reinforce yet again the sheer awesomeness of mother nature.
While this might seem a tad dramatic, for me, Tre Cime di Lavarado was one such place.
I was no stranger to the area’s most iconic scene – the remarkable tre cime – but what I had in no way anticipated was that these three jagged peaks for which the whole area is named would somehow become an afterthought to the astounding beauty of what surrounds it.
For a sight as impressive as this trio of jagged spires, that hopefully says an awful lot.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo is widely regarded as one of the best hikes in the Dolomites and for many, it’s their entire reason for visiting these mountains in the first place. It should come as no surprise then that this trail does become annoyingly crowded during the peak summer period.
But arriving in late October, when the crowds were sparse and the vibrant colours of autumn rolled across the landscapes, I can happily say this was one of the best day hikes I’ve ever done!
Heading to the Dolomites? The fantastic Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike should absolutely be on your itinerary.
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The 10km hike starts and ends at Rifugio Auronzo and can be completed in around 3 hours. However, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to set aside an entire day to explore the area.
Out the back of Rifugio Auronzo, the wide, flat and well-maintained path clings to the back wall of the three peaks, meandering past the very cute Capella degli Alpini and Rifugio Lavaredo toward the base of the magnificent towers.
Endless rows of spiky peaks pierce the horizon, sparkling pebbles litter the golden meadows and the lush forests painted in green and gold spill down toward the snaking Lago Di Auronzo.
Emerging at Forcella Lavaredo, the massive pillars of rock loom overhead, three sheer-faced sentinels standing guard across the valley. From here the trail drops away gently and I can’t help but peer back over my shoulder every few steps. The soaring monoliths grow even more impressive with every glance, appearing to sway slightly as billowy clouds race between their jagged peaks.
Before long the trail begins to climb steeply toward the hike’s most popular resting spot, Rifugio Locatelli or the Dreizinnenhütte.
While many bask in the sun on the deck, resting their legs after the steep climb and drinking in the views, I set off to explore. Squeezing through rocky channels in search of a higher perch and scurrying up the rocky trail to take a peek at the remaining WW1 tunnels that lie etched into the side of the mountain. It’s a sobering reminder this place has a long history, one that existed well before Instagram thrust it into the spotlight.
Standing at the edge of the peak that towers over Rifugio Locatelli, the striking landscapes unfold in every direction.
Stark mottled peaks rise dramatically above sprawling golden fields that bleed into a spiderweb of hiking trails that call to be explored. Turquoise lakes and tiny cabins pepper the wilderness. Razor-sharp ridgelines carve up the scene, like some prehistoric creature frozen in stone.
It’s a veritable feast for the eyes and I run around intent on experiencing the place from every possible vantage point.
As the afternoon hours slip by, clouds creep across the sky casting deep shadows across the landscapes.
It’s time to move on.
After the ease of the morning’s hike, the last section provides much more of a challenge. The trail snakes downwards before a steep incline that weaves through autumnal trees and past the receding waters of Sorgenti del Rienza wedged between the foot of the jagged pillars and Malga Langalm, the final rifugio of the hike.
Creeping around the wall of the peaks, the valley tumbles away before my feet, an ocean of trees awash with yellow framed perfectly by a wall of impenetrable mountains on all sides. It’s a spectacular scene and one that will persist until the final steps of the hike.
While the Tre Cime are undoubtedly the star attraction in these parts, there’s plenty more to keep you occupied away from the famous circuit track.
Just a 40-minute walk from Rifugio Auronzo lies the remarkable massif that has become one of the Dolomites newest ‘Instagram spots’. The path is a bit of a scramble in parts but as the peaks are visible from the parking lot, it’s virtually impossible to get lost.
From Rifugio Locatelli/Dreizinnenhütte, there are dozens of other trails that peel away into the folds of the mountains, like a series of ant trails that you can’t help but follow. Maps.Me has a huge number of trails marked which should give you a starting point for further research. If you’ve got the time, this would be a fantastic area to just set off and explore.
At the very least, take the time to walk around the Rifugio Locatelli/Dreizinnenhütte area, the views are spectacular and you don’t need to wander all that far to get a new perspective.
Rental Car |
Arriving by car is certainly the most convenient option as you’re not confined to the bus timetable and can arrive early to beat the crowds. Just after the turnoff from Misurina, you’ll need to pay the fairly pricey toll/parking fee (€30 per car) to cover the final 7km to Rifugio Auronzo. For campervans, the cost is €45, with a reduced fee for late arrivals and additional days. If you’ve got at least two people in the car, this is the most economical option, otherwise, the bus will work out far cheaper.
The mountain road is generally open from late May to late October but accessibility varies depending on the snowfall.
If you’re not travelling with your own vehicle, Tre Cime di Lavaredo is thankfully very easy to reach on public transport from Cortina, Toblach/Dobbiaco and Misurina.
In summer, there are just a few daily services that run directly from Cortina along SR48 to Rifugio Auronzo at the base of Tre Cime di Lavaredo. Timetables are only released in the lead up to the season and can be found here.
Another option which runs for a longer period of time is to take bus 445 (runs all year) which travels from Cortina to Dobbiaco and jump out at the main intersection at Carbonin/Schluderbach. From here, connect with shuttle 444 (June to mid-October) which travels between Dobiacco and Rifugio Auronzo. If you’re travelling from Dobiacco, simply jump on bus 444 outside the main bus or train station.
If you’re travelling out of peak season, pay close attention to the timetables as there are a number of special conditions attached to certain departure times. Contact the Information Centre in Cortina for exact timetables for your trip or check the Dolomiti Bus website.
From Misurina, there are regular services during summer and just a handful of daily buses nearing the end of the season.
Price | Tickets cost €3 each way between Cortina and Carbonin, while the shuttle is €8/€15 one-way/return for the trip to Rifugio Auronzo. The regional buses (Cortina to Carbonin) can be paid for using a pre-purchased multi-day ticket if you have one, but the shuttle must be paid for separately.
TOP TIP | If you’re travelling by bus for most of your Dolomites trip, I’d highly recommend buying the single- or multi-day South Tirol transport ticket which is only available from a few outlets in the region, such as the train stations in Dobbiaco and Bolzano. For whatever reason, it’s not possible to buy it from the bus station in Cortina, though the tickets do seem to be valid on the buses going in and out of town, aside from the special shuttles leading up to Rifugio Auronzo.
Even still, if you’ll be travelling on public transport a lot in the area, especially longer distances, this ticket can save you a huge amount of money. For more helpful tips about travelling in the Dolomites, read this post.
On Foot |
When the mountains are dusted in their first layer of snow, the area may be inaccessible to vehicles but it’s certainly possible to get there on foot. Groomed tracks lead up to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, even in winter, and can be accessed using snowshoes or proper snow hiking gear.
Mountain Rifugios |
There are a number of beautifully located mountain rifugios in the Tre Cime Di Lavaredo area, all require reservations well in advance.
Rifugio Locatelli or Dreizinnenhütte | Undoubtedly the most scenic of the three, waking up here would be an absolute dream. Set on the saddle beneath two rocky mountains and with a direct outlook overlooking the three peaks, if you get the opportunity to stay in this red-roofed cabin here and catch a sunrise, don’t pass it up.
Open July through September. Half Board from €46. Check here further information.
Rifugio Lavaredo | About 20-minutes from the start of the hike, Lavaredo offers spectacular views across the endless peaks of the Dolomites and is another great option in the heart of the mountains.
Open mid-June through September. Half board from €60. Check here for further information.
Rifugio Auronzo | Located right on the car park, Auronzo also offers stunning views with direct access to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop for those looking to hit the trail early. Those travelling by campervan are also able to stay overnight in the parking lot and make use of the basic facilities.
Open as accommodation from June through September, remaining open during October as a restaurant. Half board from €60. Check here for further information.
Cortina d’Ampezzano + Toblach/Dobbiacio |
If you’re visiting Tre Cime di Lavaredo for a day trip, then either Cortina, Dobbiaco or Misurina would make an ideal base, with both being within an hour’s drive away and with regular bus services during the peak summer period.
Hotel Olimpia | This comfortable, budget-friendly hotel is located right in the heart of town and just a 2-minute walk from the bus station. The free breakfast here was great and the staff were wonderfully accommodating when my plans were chopped and changed from one day to the next. Rooms are often discounted out of season.
Hotel Rosengarten | This good-value family-run hotel offers spacious rooms and a lovely breakfast just a short walk from Dobbiaco’s centre.