Ultimate Guide for a Magical 5 Days on the Alta Via 1 Route in the Dolomites
Once atolls and coral reefs from a tropical sea, it’s now 18 peaks of Dolomite spires and pinnacles over 9,800 feet
Do you want to experience 5 days in this UNESCO world heritage mountain site, hiking from one high altitude mountain hut to the next, but not sure how to plan it?
Does the idea of a long gorgeous hike followed by a stay at a hut with saunas and 3 course dinners on the top of a mountain, sound like something that is a dream?
Alta Via 1 5 days Plan
Even better, it’s not all just Nature goodness. Along the way, you can learn a bit about WWI history when this rugged terrain was the front line between Italy and Austria-Hungary and the setting for one of Hemingway’s great novels, A Farewell to Arms.
Listen to our 3 different long form stories about hiking the Alta Via 1 on multiple trips that we’ve done with family and friends over the years.
🥾Trails Worth Hiking Spotify, Apple, Website. He takes a deep dive into long distance trails and the history and mythology behind them.
🎧 Amateur Traveler focuses on the practical travel and highlights history : Website, Spotify, Apple.
🍻 Streets and Eats is all about the food and experience : Website, Spotify, Apple.
Fair warning, it takes a bit of planning for this 5 stage hut to hut hike. But don’t worry, this article is the summation of 3 summer trips in a row to nail down backpacking the very best 5 days along the Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites with our kids, friends and people we meet along the way.
TL;DR: You can make it really hard and do via ferrata (awesome rock climbing with helmets) or you can go the gentle meandering way like our family prefers. You’ll be rewarded with dramatic and varied landscapes, delicious food and comfortable mountain huts to sleep in each night.
It’s not about difficult and taxing effort only. History, culture, food and Nature merge here.
Check out my webstories here to get a video taste to hike Alta Via 1 and see the turquoise lakes and rocky pinnacles that are the Dolomites.
The fantastic Shan Subedi created this idyllic video of the entire Alta Via 1 that will make you salivate for how serene it is. He’s wild camping, but that’s technically illegal fyi. It’s the BEST video I’ve ever seen depicting what it’s really like on the trail.
So Why Spend 5 days Backpacking the Dolomites?
Sometimes you want to get off the beaten path and you want to:
- Create your own journey to include the nicest huts with delicious foods and the warmest hüttenwirten (hosts).
- Spend quality time away from the reaches of the internet with yourself or your family.
- Get away from the sound of cars for days on end in one of the most gorgeous mountain scapes in the world.
- Take a week to get closer to Nature after a hectic trip to a place like Venice or Germany.
But most importantly: Connect to what really counts.
Quick Links for Alta Via 1 in 5 Days
Alta Via 1 Hike Overview
Family Friendly Dolomites Backpacking
5 Day Section – Northern Half
Location: Dolomites, Italy
Distance: 32 mile Loop with Bus
Time: Approximately 4-6 hours daily
Elevation: 🔼9450 ft 🔽10,400 ft
Difficulty: Moderate due to rocky terrain and steepness
Where to Stay on Final night: Cristallo Spa Hotel in Cortina
Lessons Learned from 3 Years Doing it with Kids
5 Days Itinerary Hut to Hut Hiking
Here’s the lessons learned from doing the Alta Via 1 5 Day Itinerary with my kids…
I wanted to share some lessons learned from doing summer trips to the Dolomites over the past 3 years. I actually messed the planning up pretty badly the first year, fortunately we were able to recover.
Most people tend to hire a service to plan a hut to hut trips that take all the stress and planning away. I was just super curious about the huts and wanted to try it myself.
Don’t make my mistakes on Dolomites Alta Via 1!!
The first thing:
This area is technically in Italy. However, it definitely feels more Austrian. Yet, the locals are Ladin. What the heck???
Don’t get confused about frequent language changes.
Mountain huts are also known as “Hütte” in German and “Rifugio” in Italian. You’ll see the languages change on signs and buildings all of the time. There are 3 official languages, German, Italian and Ladin (the local language).
The second thing:
Book your huts 6-9 months in advance.
Create a spreadsheet to keep track of the dates, distances to walk and confirmations. You’ll be doing a lot of emailing back and forth to people in other languages and it gets confusing really fast. The first year I accidentally booked 2 huts that were only 30 minutes walk from each other. It was covid, so I was able to find another hut at the last minute that was a nice 4 hour walk, but those days are gone.
The third thing:
Attitude is everything. If you’re bringing friends, or your kids friends, do some test hikes ahead of time to ensure they can handle it.
It’s not a technical hike if you don’t want it to be. It’s not really dangerous, but these mountains are steep. So, if you’ve got a person in your group that is really out of shape they may not enjoy it. If one of your kids has a bad attitude and complains constantly, it’s miserable.
Pro tip: Bribing with hot cocoa seems to work when the hills get steep.
The Alta Via 1 elevation profile is significant.
Alta Via 1 Planning Tool
I created this spreadsheet to help myself stay organized and wanted to share it with you.
Download it for free and make it your own. It’s scrollable and clickable.
Here’s a mobile friendly version for you high tech hikers.
I’ve linked up the hotels, huts, routes, on this spreadsheet to make it easier for you to plan.
We tend to stay in one of Cortina d’Ampezzo fancy SPA hotels the last night, to help recover. The saunas, pools and luxury really make a nice contrast to the 5 days of backpacking.
Hotel Cristallo Palace is our absolute favorite reward after the hike !!! A true luxury experience with fancy women with fancy white dogs and piano players in the lobby. It’s so fun to come in all sweaty and dirty and glam it up.
Don’t Fail Like Me
The first year I went with my daughter and her friend. On the first day, we walked 7 hours uphill up a mountain) that should have taken 3 hours, but it took us 7. We had to turn around and go back to the trailhead, reaching it at 10 pm.
I gave up because she wasn’t prepared and she didn’t feel like she could do it even though she could. Many non-outdoorsy types think they are holding you back and psych themselves out. Even though they are capable and strong.
I thought the whole trip was ruined, but her gracious mom and dad drove through the night from the KMC to the Dolomites and picked her up at 5 am. My daughter and I were able to catch up to our reservations by doing the first and second day’s hike all on the 2nd day. We made it to the hut at 7 pm just in time for dinner service!
Fortunately, we’ve had 11 year old friends join us each year after and it worked out great even with all of the elevation gain on the first day.
Alta Via 1 Map
Here’s a free google map of the Alta Via 1 map with rifugios with the points of interest and huts linked in and how to use the car and bus to make it work from Cortina d’Ampezzo as your homebase.
The Alta Via 1 length for 5 days is 32 miles.
How to use this map: Use your computer mouse or fingers to zoom in and out. Click on the icons to get more information. Click the arrow on the top left corner for the written index. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your google maps account. To view the saved map on your smartphone or PC, open google maps, click the menu button, and go to “your places”/ “maps.”
GPS Guidance for Alta Via 1 in 5 days
The hiking app Komoot has GPS directions turn-by-turn not to get lost. The trail is really well marked, but getting the Ciccerone guidebook is really helpful and it’s compact and has a water resistant cover.
You really don’t need paper maps, unless you want to do extra hikes after you get to the rifugios each night. 031 pragser dolomiten is the map you should get to explore some side trails.
When to Hike the Dolomites
Mid-June to Mid-October is when the huts and trail are open.
The Dolomites in August can be Crowded
–August is Italian/French/German vacation time, so you’ll be fighting some crowds of scouts, family reunions keeping you awake and more.
–July has the best weather for families that need to do this trek during school break.
–Early June is chilly you can run into some snow. Same for late September and early October.
If you aren’t going with kids, early September would likely be the best as it’s least crowded and still warm.
However, there are absolutely no guarantees on weather. You’ll probably hit thunderstorms in the late afternoons so most people tend to get to their rifugios before 3 pm.
How to Pack: Alta Via 1 Dolomites
The Alta Via 1 can only be hiked through hut to hut hiking and that means you actually don’t need to carry very much, which really let’s you experience the magic of the mountains without having to rough it.
Alta Via 1 Packing List
Check out the full article on how to pack for the Alta Via 1. My hope is that this guide will help you be able to pack your things in 15 minutes into a backpack, feel safe and prepared, and know you have what you need to enjoy the magic Nature, wildlife, scenery and FOOD of the Alta Via 1 Dolomiti.
No special equipment is needed for the Alta Via 1 Itinerary.
The secret many pro backpackers know, is to quickly wash quick dry shirts/pants at the huts each night. You’ll arrive at the mountaintop hut and see people’s cleaned shirts drying on a line next to the hut or strung over railings.
That way we only need to bring one set of “hiking clothes” and one set of “dinner” clothes and almost everyone wears the same set each day.
Pro tip: don’t try to wash your undies or socks, they won’t get dry in time.
Stay under 20 pounds total if you can to make it more enjoyable.
How to Get to the Alta Via 1 Trailhead
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a natural starting point for the Alta Via 1 Hiking Trail and you’ll likely want to stay there the night before you begin and the night after you finish the AV1.
Transportation to Cortina d’Ampezzo
Venice Marco Polo is the closest large Airport
The closest large airport is Venice Marco Polo international airport 2.5 hours from Cortina. If you want to rent a car make sure you have an international driver’s license. This can be picked up at your local AAA office in the USA.
Innsbruck, Austria airport is a 2:15 drive.
Car Rental to Cortina d’Ampezzo
The best site to book your car is at Discover Cars.
They offer competitive rates and search multiple companies. Gas and tolls in Italy are not cheap so you’ll want to get a good rental rate. Also, many cars are standard so if you don’t drive a stick you’ll have to expressly request an automatic.
If you don’t want to rent a car, the Cortina Express Bus goes from the airport to the Cortina d’Ampezzo central bus station and takes only 2 hours and 30 minutes and costs 20 euros. This website has prices, timetables and you can book your tickets ahead of time.
If you want to take away all the stress, book an English-speaking van to take you to the heart of Cortina directly from the airport.
The Alta Via 1 Route Trailhead is at Lago di Braies
Public Transportation is necessary to get to the trailhead unless you want to do some seriously expensive and difficult parking logistics.
I would recommend to park your car near the Dobbiaco autostazione and it’s bus stop. Or use the bus to get to Dobbiaco.
Bus to Dobbiaco
To get to the Alta Via 1 Italy from Cortina d’Ampezzo take the SAD Bus 445 to Dobbiaco autostazione. It departs 6 times a day. (40 min)
From Dobbiaco autostazione – transfer buses to Pragser Wildsee.
Car to Dobbiaco
Park in Dobbiaco at free autoparks around town. You’ll see a blue parking symbol in one of sereral obvious parking lots.
● Take the 30 minute Bus 442 from the Dobbiaco Autostatione to Pragser Wildsee
Book bus ticket online here: https://www.prags.bz/en. It is currently 10 euros per person at takes you directly to the trailhead at Lago di Braies otherwise known as Pragser Wildsee.
Alta Via 1 Rifugios – Where You Stay
My Favorites for delicious food
There are many rifugio options but these are our foodie favorites below. Other rifugio options are included in the the Alta Via 1 guidebook written by the amazing Ciccerone guidebook company and I’ve listed them below.
🏔 🥾 Alta Via 1 Route: Day 1 — Fodara Vedla Rifugio
The Alta Via 1 huts are a step above many other areas in the Alps. Family owned and operated since 1979, the year I was born. Expert mountain guides remark that it is the best mountain hut in the entire Dolomites, nestled in a plateau meadow valley away from everything. The first place to stop is Rifugio Biella and I prefer it for lunch vs the stop for the day.
Day 1: 12 km
Lago di Braies to Fodara Vedla 5-8 hours. Steep uphills, moderately strenuous.
Day 2 — Lavarella Hütte
Sitting in a high alpine pasture littered with adorable, bell clad cows, we LOVED the outdoor barrel sauna with a spring water fed bucket splash. Order your favorite bread for breakfast and try their home brewed beer.
Day 2: 9 km
Fodara Vedla to Lavarella 3.5-5 hours. Start steep downhill down an old military road, have lunch at Pederü then big up to mountain valley.
Day 3 — Rifugio Lagazuoi
This clifftop rifugio is hard to get to – you’ve earned your night’s wine. With possibly the best view on the planet–weather dependent from the barrel sauna on the clifftop deck overlooking Passo Falzarego.
Day 3: 17 km Lavarella to Lagazuoi 6-8 hours. Flat valley, then steep uphill, steep downhill, then finish hard uphill to end day. Avoid “shortcut” up ski piste. Alternate to use bus if you want to avoid the 2 strenous uphills.
Day 4 — Cinque Torri Rifugio
Nestled directly under the Cinque Torri rock formation, this hut makes the best veggie lasagna you can imagine.
Day 4: 7 or 12 km Lagazuoi to Cinque Torri.
Relaxed Hike (2-3 hours): Take ski gondola down mtn, hike 442 to Averau then Cinqui Torri
Adventure Hike (6-7 hours): walk standard AV1 downhill, then back uphill to the famous Cinqui Torri Outdoor history musueum.
Day 5 — Cortina Spa Hotel
Hotel Cristallo Palace is well worth the luxury spend in the Italian Dolomites to recover after your awesome backpacking adventure. There are many other choices to book a stay in Cortina d’Ampezzo. I use booking to keep all of my hotel reservations organized. I’ve had only 1 problem over the past 7 years with this website in my apartment, hut, and hotel bookings.
Day 5 (Optional) Go to Cortina d’Ampezzo by bus or hike 14 km
Take hourly bus #30 (45 min walk down road from hut) from the Cianzope bus stop back to
Or walk down bucolic trails 5-6 hours downhill and end up in Cortina d’Ampezzo.
Short on Time? Alta Via 1 Self Guided Tour
Alta Via 1 Booking can be difficult and time consuming.
There are services that will take care of the logistics for you. If doing spreadsheets and booking your multiple mountain huts sounds like a huge pain in the butt, you can just hire someone to do it for you and take away all the stress.
You can explore the history of the Dolomites from Cortina on this self guided Dolomites adventure 6 day itinerary if it all seems too much to plan yourself.
FAQ Alta Via 1 Hike
Is it hard? Alta Via 1 Difficulty
People ask if it’s “hard”. Of course, but it’s not technical. This is so different for everyone, but it’s graded level 1 or 2 out of 3 (3 being the most difficult and most technical).
It does require a baseline level of fitness without major lower body injuries to have an enjoyable trip. If you regularly exercise and are fit, this isn’t too hard. But if you are like most of us with \ busy lives, jobs, and sit at a desk all day – please consider a training plan of strength and cardio to get ready 2-4 months ahead of time.
Best Things to do Beyond Hiking
The Dolomites in summer equal paradise in more ways than just hiking. This Cortina d’Ampezzo Blog Post shows some other things to do near the Alta Via 1.
Check out the Ladin museum in San Martin, Lumen museum for mountain photography, Bear museum in San Cassiano or the Messner Mountain Museum.
Hiking Alta Via 1 and the History along the Trail?
Experience the place of tragic history during World War 1 on the Italian front and walk in the steep steps made infamous in Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms”. Now it’s a hiking paradise and home to the Dolomiti SuperSki – Europe’s largest ski area with 14 resorts.
Lagazuoi WWI Tunnels Hemingway tried to embody the fears and hopes of the heroic battles for Falzarego pass. Get a helmet and headlamp to smell the dampness and carefully walk 3km in a tunnel dug in the face of a sheer rocky cliff during WW1. The battle here on the “Italian
Front” was possibly the most treacherous example of true human carnage. Here on the rooftop of the world 550,000 Italian and Austrian forces lost their lives.
Alta Via 1 vs 2
The Dolomites Alta Via 1 is far more travelled and has many more amenities. The Alta Via 2 will likely provide less services but offer more solitude. You’ll find more via ferrata sections along the Alta Via 2.
What is the Local Cuisine?
It’s the people you meet and eat with that make it a memory you’ll never forget. The hearty, delicious food is Süd Tyrolean, locally sourced and made fresh daily with fresh herbs from the garden planted near each mountain hut. It’s amazing how they can create such amazing dishes at such high elevation.
Alta Via 1 Wild Camping is it legal?
Do Rifugios accept credit cards?
Since covid, most of them do. There’s been a change in culture around credit cards in the region. However, service can sometimes be off and we bring at least 200 euros cash just in case.
What is Ladin?
Ladin is a language and a culture in this section of the Dolomites. It’s even more specific than Süd Tyrolean. There are 3 official languages including Italian, German and Ladin. Not only is there a specific language, each village has it’s own dialect. The architecture style can be noticed especially at the Fodara Vedla settlement with houses, church and the mountain hut.
The language is retoromance and the oldest language group in the South Tyrol. It’s a recognized official and school language and is the third most spoken language in Italy with over 30,000 speakers. It’s also the mothertounge of 97% of the population in the region so when you overhear the bartender to the cook in something that’s not quite German or Italian, it’s probably Ladin.
The Ladin flag is blue, white and green.
Blue as the sky.
White as the Dolomite rock.
Green as the meadows.
Day Hikes in the Dolomites
Can you do just day hikes? Yes, that’s actually what most people do. You don’t have to backpack to experience the amazing experiences possible in the Dolomites. If you want to have full access to all the huts, join the Club Alpino Italiano.
Thanks for reading! Please share your stories of your awe some outdoor adventures or ask questions from the community over on our facebook group Untold Outdoor Europe Travel Planning.
Thanks for reading this Alta Via 1 blog. Until next time, Adventures Await!