Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

Last fall, I spent several glorious days hiking the Dolomites in Italy, a mountain range that forms a southern section of the Alps. While they're technically located in Northern Italy, the vibe is decidedly Alpine; many people speak German, and red geraniums and dairy cows abound.

My solo hiking trip was blissful: for four days, all I did was hike, ride gondolas, and stop at adorable mountain huts for apple strudel.

Instead of doing a hut-to-hut hiking trip, I chose to base myself in Castelrotto and do day hikes. This was perfect as I got to hike all day and return to my hotel for dinner and a warm bed. I didn't want to do hut-to-hut because I didn't want to carry my gear, and wanted to minimize stress by staying in the same place every night.

Here are my tips for planning an independent hiking trip in the Dolomites.

 

Why you should consider hiking the Dolomites

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

I recommend hiking in the Dolomites to all my friends for a few reasons:

The Dolomites are absolutely stunning. Also known as the “Pale Mountains”, the Dolomites are a series of striking light-grey cliffs overlooking verdant green valleys.

They're not super touristy. On my trip, I didn't meet a single American, and most tourists I met were German or Italian.

The Dolomites much more affordable than other parts of the Alps. In the Dolomites, you'll pay a fraction of what you would in the Swiss or Austrian Alps.

 

Where to stay

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

The Dolomites boast many adorable villages such as Siusi, Ortosei, and Castelrotto.

I stayed in Castelrotto (also known as Kastelruth), which is a quaint, cobblestoned town in the heart of the Dolomites. It turned out to be the perfect place to base myself, as it's close to many excellent hikes.

In Castelrotto, I stayed at Hotel Mayr, a family-run three-star hotel. I absolutely loved it; the staff was so friendly and the food was wonderful.

Plus, it costs only 75€ ($90 USD) per night, which included a breakfast buffet and a five-course dinner. It was truly one of my favorite hotels (and best deals) of my travels.

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

A five-course meal in Hotel Mayr's beautiful dining room

 

The best day hikes near Castelrotto

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

I did the majority of my hiking in the Seiser Alm (Italian: Alpe di Siusi), Europe's largest alpine meadow. The Seiser Alm provides gorgeous views of the Dolomites, and most of the hikes are easy to moderate in terms of difficulty.

To get to the Seiser Alm, take the bus from Castelrotto to the Alpe di Siusi cable car. Then, take the cable car up to Compatsch.

Here are a few ideas on where to hike:

Giro della Bullacia – 2-3 hours – Moderate – The Bullacia Loop is an excellent, scenic hike that offers dramatic views of the Dolomites. It does a loop around the Seiser Alm, starting and ending in Compatsch.

Marinzen Alm – 2-3 hours – Easy – Take the Marinzen Chairlift from Castelrotto to Marinzen Alm to hike in beautiful pine forests. Stop by Schafstall Hütte for lunch – it's so cute!

Most of the trails are marked with the signs below, so it's hard to get lost.

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

 

Getting around

I got to Castelrotto by taking a Flixbus (a European budget bus) to Bolzano, the largest city in South Tyrol, the province in Italy where the Dolomites are located. I then took a local bus to Castelrotto.

Castelrotto and other towns in the Dolomites are well-connected by local buses. You can also rent a car if you want to explore further out.

 

Where to eat – the mountain huts!

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

My favorite thing about hiking in the Dolomites (besides the stunning views) were the mountain huts, which serve food, beer, and wine, to hikers in need of refreshment.

The food has a decidedly Teutonic influence. Order local dishes such as canederli (bread dumplings) or Würstl (Vienna sausage).

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

Kaiserschmarren, a thick, eggy crêpe covered in sour berry sauce.

A meal at one of the mountain huts will cost 10€ or less, and a glass of wine usually cost only 1.50€! Bring cash as many of the mountain huts don't accept credit cards. And don't forget to reward yourself with some cake or apple strudel – you deserve it.

Tips for hiking the Dolomites, Italy's best-kept secret

Many of the hut menus are in Italian and German (but not English), so consider bringing a pocket dictionary or a translation app. 

 

What to pack

I recommend packing a day bag with essentials such as a rain jacket, a water bottle, camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, some cash, and some snacks.

If you're only hiking moderate hikes I'd recommend wearing trail running shoes – you won't need heavy-duty hiking boots.

 

When to go

The Dolomites are lovely all year-round, it just depends on what you'd like to do. You can hike the Dolomites from May to November. In the winter, it's an excellent place to ski.

I hiked the Dolomites in September, which was perfect. The weather was sunny, there was no rain, and there weren't many people.

How much does hiking the Dolomites cost?

I spent around 100€ ($120 USD) a day on accommodation, transportation and food.

As I mentioned, my hotel, Hotel Mayr, cost 75€ ($90 USD) a night per person. This rate included breakfast and a five-course dinner.

To get around, I relied on public transportation. The bus cost around 5€, and the gondola to get to the top of the mountain cost 11€ one way and 17€ round-trip. The chairlift cost 6.50€ one way.

 

Hiking the Dolomites as a solo female hiker

I felt totally safe hiking the Dolomites solo. There were plenty of people on the trail, but not so many that it felt crowded.

The only caveat was that hiking solo got a little boring at times. Very few people on the trail spoke English, so I had a very quiet four days. But sometimes, that's exactly what you need.

Have you ever gone hiking in the Dolomites or the Alps?

P.S. The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Indian Himalayas and Magic in the Mountains: My 10-day Himalayan Trek.

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Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is an American travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Uganda. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Colorado. She's been to forty countries but somehow still gets lost in her home town. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour magazine.
Ashley Fleckenstein
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