Looking for the best things to see and do in the Dolomites? Picture this: hiking and exploring amongst towering peaks, rugged cliffs, and lush valleys filled with wildflowers.
The Dolomites are like nature’s grand masterpiece in the Italian Alps. These limestone mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason.
They offer a playground for outdoor enthusiasts—think hiking, skiing, and climbing—with breathtaking views as your reward.
My husband and I spent five days in the Dolomites in July 2023 and I am already dreaming of the day I can go back!!
This post is Part II of a two part travel guide for the Dolomites. You can find the nitty gritty information like where to stay and eat, when to go, and how to get here in the Part I post here.
In a rush?
Best Things to See and Do in the Dolomites
- Get Up in the Mountains
- Explore the Scenic Lakes
- Find the Picture Perfect Churches
- Plan a Breathtaking Photo Shoot
- Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
Get Up in the Mountains
Hiking in the Dolomites is like stepping into a fairytale of natural wonders with well-marked paths varying in difficulty that lead you to panoramic viewpoints and charming mountain huts, all the while revealing the iconic Dolomite spires and rugged cliffs.
Whether you’re trekking through the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, exploring the Alpe di Siusi, or tackling the Alta Via routes, hiking in the Dolomites is an unforgettable adventure that combines physical exertion with the sheer beauty of nature.
With 18 peaks and 100’s of hikes, there is truly something for everyone here.
Even if it is a simple 2 mile walk between rifugios (yes we did that!).
Every trail in the Dolomites will have a number with a nickname (usually based on the destination). We did not go on any trails that weren’t extremely well marked however I imagine there may be a few out of the 100’s where that is the case…
There are also 10 long distance trails and 8 hut-to-hut treks for you to adventure out on if your heart desires more challenging experiences.
Here are some of our favorites with the majority of them being geared towards our ’50 year old (plus) in decent shape but not wanting to go overboard’ capabilities ;).
The most challenging hike we did on this vacation was the Tre Cime di Lavarado below…
Our first experience on the hills of the Italian Alps was here on Passo Gardena as we woke up at 7am to renew our wedding vows on our first full day in the Dolomites (more on that later!).
Our photographer met us at the summit of Passo Gardena where we parked our cars at Parcheggio Rifugio Frara for a small fee.
She then immediately made me change from my dress sandals to my sneakers to do some hiking to where she felt would be the perfect spot to renew our vows :).
She was not wrong!
The photos above are about halfway up trail #654.
After renewing our vows and saying goodbye and thank you to our lovely photographer (linked below!), we continued hiking (yes in our dress clothes even but at least we had sneakers on 🤪) up to the Dantercepies Mountain Lounge via trail #12A.
These trails bring you to an incredible view of Val Gardena.
A slight distance away from the Dantercepies Mountain Lounge you will find a hill with a large cross on it – be sure to head over there for those views too!
You can find a map of all the hiking in the Val Gardena area here.
The Seceda ridgeline in the Dolomites offers some of the most stunning scenery the Dolomites has to offer. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the region with a 360-degree panorama of the Odle mountain range.
You have a few options with getting to this plateau – you can find a description of all three options here.
We opted to take the two tiered cable car/tram option starting in Ortisei. While we did not have any line to purchase our tram tickets at the base in Ortisei – you can buy them online here.
After our hike on Passo Gardena, we drove to Ortisei where we parked our car (not at the gondola station however as that was quite full by the time we arrived around 1pm) and continued onto the Ortisei-Furnes gondola.
Once at the plateau ridgeline – you can decide how much or little hiking you would like to do.
I highly suggest at minimum doing the 10 minute straight uphill walk to the viewpoint where you will not be disappointed with the striking views of the Odle/Geisler group of mountain peaks.
The Baita Sophie Hutte is also up on this plateau and is the perfect place to relax and get a snack while enjoying the breathtaking views.
Oh and the famous Tyrolean hairy cows I mentioned in my previous post listing my favorite rifugios in the Dolomites can be found up here too ;).
You can find more information on what to do on the Seceda ridgeline on this post here.
Because our accommodations were located in Corvara in the Alta Badia valley, we decided to not spend a single minute in our car for 2 of our 5 days in the Dolomites and instead explore this region known as the “heart of the Dolomites”.
A perfect blend of Ladin culture and language and modern life can be found in Alta Badia.
The imposing Sella massif, the Fanes group and the Puez-Odle Nature Park, all encircle the village of Corvara, known as the “cradle of tourism”.
Summer in the Alta Badia meadows come to life with vibrant colors as wildflowers bloom, creating a breathtaking contrast against the towering limestone peaks.
And the Alta Badia meadows are dotted with some of the most picturesque rifugios in the Dolomites (read more here) which make for some fun exploring going from hut to hut all the while taking in the panoramic mountain views.
Mathias, the owner of our family run luxury hotel, La Perla (more on that in my complete Dolomites travel guide post), gave us all of the recommendations on how to spend those two days.
And being as how Mathias is a 60 year old gentleman that was born and raised in Alta Badia and knows it like the back of his hand – he did an excellent job guiding us to amazing places ;).
Here are the trails in Alta Badia that Mathias mapped out for us:
Trail #23 using the Col Alta cable car and Braia Fraida lift
Even though this day started out with some pretty heavy rain and wind, we took the two above mentioned lifts (with a minimal fee to use) up to one of the Alta Badia meadows above Corvara where we waited out the storm in two different but both cozy rifugios.
And if the heavy rain never actually subsided, we knew we would be able to take the cable car and lift back down to the valley but luckily for us, it did after about an hour and a half or so.
Once the blue skies appeared, the views we had from up in this Col Alt meadow were magical. And it felt like we had the whole mountain all to ourselves with how few people we saw on this hike!
The views of Corvara and Colfosco as you descend down the trail make this most certainly a trail worth taking:
Piz Boé Alpine Lounge via Boé Gondola
Okay, technically we did very little walking while up here – but mainly because it was a last minute decision to go to the top of this gondola and we were told we would only have 15 minutes up there if we wanted to take the last ride back down before it closed at 5:15pm ;0.
Which we did as you can see from the distance we would have had to trek if we missed that last ride down:
But based on our small amount of time at the top, we noticed plenty of trails (and trail signs) that would make this another excellent hiking choice in Val Badia.
If you are like us and pressed for time though, a quick ride to the top for the views of the entire Val Badia AS WELL as the highest peak in the Dolomites, Marmolada will truly take your breath away.
It was hard to walk away after only getting to admire the views for 15 minutes ;0.
Trails #2, #3, #4 or #8 using the Borest and Colfosco cable cars
Had we woken up early like Mathias wanted us to, we would have done a pretty amazing and serious hike (trail #2) from Rifugio Edelweiss to Jimmi Hutte or trail #8 with the same start/end spots but slightly less strenuous ;).
That trail on the far right corner in the photo above is trail #8 with a steady elevation gain all the way to Jimmi Hutte.
Instead, we enjoyed a leisurely morning and took it easy on our bodies (remember I told you this was a trip for ‘moderately’ fit 50+ year olds!).
Once we actually got going, we took the Borest and Colfosco cable cars starting in Corvara, and hiked trail #4 from Rifugio Edelweiss to Utia Col Pradat where we enjoyed the views with some delicious treats at both stops ;).
Be sure to read my blog post listing my favorite refugios in the Dolomites for more information!
Trail #28 from Colfosco to Corvara
Once our refugio hopping was done (ahem – they all were closed – which was a good thing because I’m pretty sure I could have gone from refugio to refugio all day long ;0), we took the nice flat & easy trail #28 from the base of the Frara Gondola (we went to Jimmi Hutte via gondola after Utia Pradat ;0) back to Corvara.
This is a very pleasant 3 mile trail along a creek that will take you right into Corvara.
If you zoom into the photo on the left, you can see the Utia Pradat Refugio on the top of the hill ;).
Tre Cime de Lavaredo
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo, also known as the Drei Zinnen (remember everything in the Dolomites has an Italian, German, and Ladin name!), are probably the most iconic peaks in the Dolomites.
And hiking around the Tre Cime di Lavaredo is one of the more popular (if not the most) outdoor activities to partake in while visiting the Dolomites.
There has been so much written about this hike, I will link a couple of extremely detailed blog posts at the end of this section for you to have any additional details you may need!
This round trip trail is a 6 mile hike that depending on your ability and how long you stop at each of the three rifugios along the way should take anywhere from 4-6 hours. And the elevation gain is 1300 feet.
Here are my quick helpful tips on doing this hike:
- There is a toll booth at the bottom of the hill leading to Rifugio Auronzo which is where the trail begins. Get there as early as you possibly can because the parking lot does fill up. We arrived at 7:25am (left Corvara at 6am). The Tre Cime toll road in July 2023 cost 30 euro (only payable at the toll booth and card is accepted). Once the parking lot at the top of the hill (another 15 minute drive past the toll booth) fills up, the road will be closed to private cars (so we’ve been told anyway…).
- We had heard that there could potentially be a very long line of cars at the toll booth (thus our 7:30am arrival time), however as you can see – there were only two cars ahead of us when we arrived ;0. Also – the road is only open from May – October due to potential snow after October.
- If you arrive and the road is already closed, don’t panic, there is a shuttle bus that will take you to the top of the road as well.
- BRING CASH! Our hotel informed us that every rifugio in the Dolomites takes credit card. And while that may be the case, since these more remote rifugios on this circuit can have wifi and phone line problems, their cc systems could be down. As was our case. And we only had 10 Euro with us…
- Be prepared for some intense elevation loss AND gain AFTER the Locatelli Rifugio – your brain and body will have you thinking you have made it halfway through the hike when you rest for a bite to eat at this rifugio. And while yes you are halfway done with the circuit, the hard part comes next.
Zoom in on the photo above to see the Locatelli Rifugio in the distance with the trail going down into the valley and then back up ;0.
- There are 3 rifugios on the main trail of this hike with the first two, Lavaredo and Locatelli, being pretty rustic and basic and the last one, Malga Langalm having the best food (which of course we couldn’t eat due to having no cash). I can assure you we were being taunted by the insanely delicious aroma by the time we made it to Malga Langalm ;(.
- You have to pay to use the toilets in the Rifugio Auronzo parking lot (and they look unlike any toilet I have ever used in my life ;0). Luckily we had just enough coins for both of us to relieve ourselves before getting back in our car!
That about sums up all the tips I learned while on this hike that I wish I would have known before hand.
It probably goes without saying, but the views from this hike, even with a stubborn cloud cover, were truly out of this world and some we will never forget.
I read someplace that many people stop at the first rifugio feeling they have seen enough of these iconic peaks but that would be such a shame to not do the entire loop. While your body may be tired at the end, you will not regret it!
If you are looking for more information than what I provided above regarding the Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit hike, I found this blog post to be quite informative. Especially if you are looking for more hiking in the general area while you are there!
This is not a hike we went on while visiting the Dolomites, however a good friend of mine visited in June 2022 and says this is her favorite hike in the entire area.
So of course, I asked her for some photos so that I could include this intense challenging hike that will reward you with these views in case you are interested in doing more than one serious hike on your trip.
Explore the Scenic Lakes
There are many many lakes in the Dolomites, however a handful of them are more notorious than others. And while none of them are Lake Michigan level, the majestic mountains backdrop of these alpine lakes will truly take your breath away ;).
While you actually could make it a focus to drive from lake to lake in one day, I wouldn’t suggest it. Reference the above Google My Map I made for locations on all the lakes I mention below.
We did however visit three of the four most iconic lakes on the same day that we hiked the Tre Cime di Lavaredo: Lago di Misurina, Lago di Dobbiaco, and Lago di Braies.
Lago di Misurina
You will pass right by Lake Misurina on your way to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo toll road (if coming from Corvara/Cortina d’Ampezzo).
Since we were in a hurry to get to the toll road, we just did a quick stop here to take a few early morning photos. The timing was perfect with the sun just coming up and zero crowds so if you are in a rush like us, be sure to take the 5 minutes to pull over to the side of the road and check it out!
Fun fact – Lago di Misurina is where the speed skating events of the 1956 Olympics took place! It will be fun to see if this happens again for the 2026 Olympics scheduled here ;).
Lago di Dobbiaco or Toblacher See
This was our first stop after hiking the Tre Cime circuit (and if you read that section you know we did not have any cash to eat at the rifugios so we were STARVING by the time we hit this spot!).
Lucky for us, there is a whole campground village around Toblacher See that includes a delicious Austrian themed restaurant with some great wiener schnitzel! Perfect for these two hungry, weary, and unprepared hikers.
Lago di Braies or Pragser Wildsee
Lago di Braies is one of the most photographed and Instagrammed spots in the Dolomites.
Which can be somewhat of a detriment in my opinion.
While this lake is absolutely picture perfect (and reminds me a lot of Lake Louise in Canada), it is quite evident that the majority of people are there specifically to get the perfect Instagram shot. You know the type – the flowy dresses (some even with a change of clothes) waiting for the crowds to clear to get their photo…
And I know – I am a blogger/content creator as well. But I have to be honest, the fashion show Instagram photo shoots (ESPECIALLY in scenic natural wilderness environs) will never make me smile. It gives a vibe of being there just for the ‘gram and not fully aware of the awe one is surrounded by.
All that to say – yes this place is full of Instagrammers in pretty dresses.
But it is still worth a half hour to an hour of your time. Or if you have lots of time, do the hike around the lake. That will most certainly bring you away from the crowds :)!
We purchased a timed parking pass after we finished the Tre Cime hike (learn more here).
Because we were visiting in late afternoon at the end of July, I don’t know if that was even necessary because our purchased pass was for a lot that still involved a shuttle bus. And when we pulled up to the closest lot to the lake, the attendant said – ‘sure you can park here without a reservation’. We had to pay again but it was worth the extra 10 Euro to us to take the shuttle/longer walk out of the scenario.
All that to say – we were comfortable with that Plan B of buying the timed parking pass online in advance but in the end, didn’t end up using it.
Lago di Carezza or Karersee
Another iconic Dolomites lake but with striking beauty all around. Although I guess you can say that at every single turn in this majestic land ;0.
We visited Lago di Carezza on our way back to returning our car at the Bolzano airport on our last day in the Dolomites.
While slightly out of our way, we had all day to get there and once there, were glad we made this one last stop.
There is a fairly large paid parking lot across the street from the lake. Once parked you will walk past a gift shop and cafeteria and through a tunnel that goes under the “busy” street.
Once you come out of the tunnel, the lake and viewing platforms will be right in front of you. There is also hiking available here however we did not do any research into whether or not it is worth it.
This stop was probably no more than a 30 minute stop for us (and yes – there were tour buses here as well), but the beauty in front of your eyes will make you forget all about the crowds.
Be sure to take advantage of the many pullouts along the road after you pass the lake to snap a few last photos of these insanely stunning mountains!
Find the Picture Perfect Churches
While there is no shortage of churches and chapels in the Dolomites (you are in Italy after all), these are the most photographed in the area. You can reference the map below that I made with all the Dolomites highlights for locations of the churches listed below.
St Valentin Church
One of the very first landmarks we saw once we entered the Dolomites after picking up our car in Bolzano.
The road to this church is closed to the public (trust me – we tried!). However, find a place to pull off the road and capture this view!
Santa Magdalena Church
Because finding the viewpoint and where to park for Santa Magdalena was a challenge for us, I have added another map showing how to get here from Ortisei (which is where we came here from).
You will not be able to park near Santa Magdalena Church – park at Parkplatz Naturparkhaus. From there the walk to the viewpoint is about one mile and will take about an hour with a small amount of elevation gain to get the views below.
Since we stayed in Corvara, I added that as our last stop in this almost circle. However, I will say – if you are planning on following in our footsteps, the road from the church viewpoints to Corvara was pretty much a one lane road (for cars going both ways) for at least half of the drive.
It was also one of the most thrilling and scenic drives we have ever been on with mountain peak views surprising us around multiple hairpin turns and the cutest little villages along the way.
Church of Saint John
Also known as San Giovanni Church, this church is located within close proximity of Santa Magdalena with a viewpoint and ample parking.
The Church of Saint John can be a quick stop while in the area. Use the map above to find this view.
Capella di San Maurizio
Located on Passo Gardena, this church is so incredibly quaint and peaceful.
We spent a bit of time here after renewing our wedding vows on the trail and said a few prayers for our safe travels as well as the health of all our loved ones back home.
Chapels on Tre Cime Circuit
There are two chapels along the Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit. If you plan on doing this hike (which I imagine you are), you really can’t miss seeing both of these ;0.
Capella degli Alpini
Chapel above Rifugio Locatelli
Plan a Breathtaking Photo Shoot
If this is your first time reading a Pasha is Home travel guide, you might not know that about 5 years ago I hired a Flytographer to do a photo shoot while we were on our 25th wedding anniversary trip in Prague.
And ever since then I have loved getting professional photos while I travel. For a myriad of reasons, not the least of which to have stunning photos to look back at from your adventures (and not just selfies or those not so great stranger’s shots).
Since Flytographer does not have anyone based in the remote Dolomites and we were celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary on this trip, I had to do a little digging to find a photographer for this vacation.
And when I found Maria Martus via Instagram, she asked if she could take photos while we privately said our renewal vows to each other. We were hesitant at first because we wanted it to be an intimate renewal but she promised we wouldn’t even know she was there.
And she was right. I cannot believe I hesitated to get these moments on film. I will truly treasure them forever.
So if you are on the fence about splurging for something like this – I am here to tell you ABSOLUTELY DO IT!
You will never ever regret having these photos to remind you of your moments in heaven!! And Maria gets a 15/10 review from us but I will let her work speak for itself below ;).
Our Full Itinerary in a Nutshell
- Day 1: Fly San Diego to Milan via London on British Airways
- Day 2: Arrive in Milan & take private car to Como, Italy
- Day 3: Private car to Bellagio in Lake Como region
- Day 4: Explore Lake Como area (read that post here)
- Day 5: Train to Bolzano via Milan & Verona then drive to Corvara w/ stop at Seiser Alm
- Day 6: Renew our vows on Passo Gardena then Seceda and Santa Magdalena Church
- Day 7: Explore the Dolomites: Alta Badia
- Day 8: Explore the Dolomites: Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Lake Misurina, Toblacher See, and Pragser Wildsee
- Day 9: Explore the Dolomites: Alta Badia including Colfosco and rifugio hopping
- Day 10: Karersee in morning then PM train to Milan after dropping car off in Bolzano
- Day 11: Milan and Bruce Springsteen concert with friends
- Day 12: Explore Milan
- Day 13: Explore Milan
- Day 14: Fly Milan to San Diego via London on British Airways
I hope you found this post helpful for the best things to see and do in the Dolomites.
The beauty of the Dolomites is nothing short of mesmerizing, captivating you with its unique blend of geological wonders, alpine landscapes, and cultural charm that leaves an indelible mark on those fortunate enough to experience it.
Please, please, please be sure to share your own experiences here or of course if you have any questions in planning your magical time in this memorable place – please do not hesitate to ask!
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Have a wonderful day my friend! I hope something makes you smile today ;).