Featured Image

Alta Via 1: Ultimate Guide

A one-stop source for all the vital information on the renowned Alta Via 1, the Dolomites' premier European long-distance hiking trail.
Quick links

Embark on a journey through a natural art gallery with Alta Via 1, one of Europe's most renowned multi-day hikes. Winding through the stunning Dolomites, a picturesque mountain range in Italy, this trail offers a unique experience unlike any other. 

From towering rock formations to alpine lakes and green meadows to rustic mountain huts, and scenic mountain passes to jagged peaks with awe-inspiring rock faces, Alta Via 1 is a true masterpiece of nature

Passo giau sunset
Amazing sunset at Passo Giau.

As the legendary climber Reinhold Messner said, every mountain in the Dolomites is like a piece of art, and Alta Via 1 takes you on a walk through this art gallery like no other.

Where does Alta Via 1 go?

The Alta Via 1 trek starts at the shores of Lago di Braies, renowned for its rowboats in the Dolomites, and ends at La Stanga near Belluno, traversing the Dolomites from north to south

Spanning 120 kilometers in length, the hike takes you to elevations as high as 2,752 meters above sea level, with significant portions of the trail situated at altitudes above 2,000 meters. On average, hikers conquer approximately 6,700 meters of elevation gain, completing the journey in 9-11 days.

As the trail passes Cortina d’Ampezzo on its western side, you'll cross stunning mountain passes such as Falzarego, Passo Giau, and Passo Duran. You'll also encounter the iconic Five Towers called Cinque Torri along the way.

Cinque torri
A look at Cinque Torri.

Alta Via 1 South boasts two awe-inspiring mountain peaks, Monte Civetta and Monte Pelmo, that are sure to leave a lasting impression.

About Cortina d’Ampezzo

Cortina d’Ampezzo is a charming and picturesque alpine town located in the Dolomites. Known as a prime destination for active holidays in both summer and winter, this town is surrounded by stunning mountain slopes and scenic passes and was one of the first alpine destinations to venture into tourism.

While Cortina is now widely known for skiing, having hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics and the 2021 World Ski Championships, the town offers a wealth of experiences beyond the slopes. From cozy lodges to luxurious hotels, a lively town center to delectable dining options, there's something for everyone.

Cortina d ampezzo surroundings
A look at the Dolomites from Cortina.

For any passionate hiker, combining a summer getaway in Cortina with a hike on Alta Via 1 is a must-do on the bucket list.

Quick historical overview

The term Alta Via, simply means "The High Route" in Italian. There are ten Alta Vias in the Dolomites, all running parallel to each other from north to south. Out of all of them, Alta Via 1 is the most well-known and frequented trail, known for its breathtaking scenery and relative ease of technical difficulty.

While the surrounding lands of Alta Via 1 are serene and picturesque today, their history is marred by the bloodshed and loss of life during World War 1. The route passes through the former border between Austria and Italy, which was a source of conflict during the war. Along the trail, remnants of war-time structures such as former warehouses, foxholes, and tunnels can still be seen, especially around the Falzarego mountain pass.

The conflict led to the use of alpinists by the Italians to gain an advantage over the Austrians, who were positioned at the top of Lagazuoi mountain (near the location of Rifugio Lagazuoi today). Unfortunately, this resulted in the loss of many promising climbers' lives, and the remains serve as a bitter reminder of the past.

Lagazuoi tunnels
Lagazuoi tunnels

One of the most iconic landmarks is the Lagazuoi Tunnels, now offering an alternative descent route from the mountain to the Falzarego mountain pass. The tunnel extends over 1000 meters underground, equipped with cables and steps for safety. However, wearing a helmet and a via-ferrata set is still recommended, and sure-footedness is crucial due to the potential for slipping.

How difficult is Alta Via 1?

Technical difficulty

The Alta Via 1 may not be as demanding as the Walker's Haute Route, but it's not as straightforward as the Tour du Mont Blanc either. It still poses its own challenges, with some parts of the trail being at par with the difficulties of the Haute Route.

Traversing Alta Via 1 requires navigating rugged terrain, steep slopes of loose stones, and narrow trails with limited escape options. The most treacherous parts of the trail are equipped with steel cables for added stability but require no rock climbing or scrambling.

For a shorter and less demanding trek, the Alta Via 1 Highlights tour is recommended.

Via ferrata
You will encounter steel cables on only couple of occasions.

Some of the most challenging sections of Alta Via 1 include:

  • Forcella di Lago — a steep, treacherous descent on a slippery gravel path;
  • Lagazuoi galleries — navigating slippery gullies on a narrow rocky trail;
  • Cima de Zita — a steep climb along a ridge with steep drops on either side.

For experienced hikers seeking an adrenaline rush, the Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites offers numerous via-ferrata routes. Unlike the standard route which avoids these sections, these options are equipped with steel cables, rungs, and ladders drilled into the rock, allowing hikers to climb without advanced mountaineering skills.

Originating in Italy, via ferrata, which translates to "iron path", were initially developed to help regular hikers reach high mountain peaks. However, these paths grew in popularity, with the focus shifting from function to the challenge of the climb. As a result, via ferrata builders now seek out technical challenges to attract visitors.

While these routes can be challenging, they almost always have a less technical alternative for the descent. Hikers climbing a via ferrata must wear a via ferrata kit, which includes a climbing harness and an energy-absorbing lanyard with two carabiners to secure onto the steel cables, as well as a helmet. Climbing shoes are not required.

Physical challenges

Completing Alta Via 1 requires a significant level of physical fitness, as the route encompasses long distances and substantial elevation changes. The average hiker covers about 13 km and gains 750 meters of elevation daily over the course of 9 days.

The journey is not easy, but the rewards are definitely worth it.

To prepare for this demanding journey, it is recommended to be in good enough shape to hike for 6-8 hours daily.

Keep in mind that the stages of Alta Via 1 tend to be shorter than those on other trails such as Tour du Mont Blanc or the Adlerweg, but proper training is still essential. Underestimating the difficulty of the hike could lead to unexpected challenges and a less-than-pleasant experience.

How to prepare for Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites?

A strong physical foundation is key to a successful and enjoyable hiking experience on Alta Via 1. To ensure your trip is not marred by discomfort or danger, it is imperative to be in good physical condition.

For seasoned hikers who regularly engage in multi-day hikes and frequently hike, preparing for a hut-to-hut tour should not be too difficult. However, if you are not used to hiking, it is crucial to start preparing well ahead of time.

Your training should include short hikes to build endurance, and gradually increasing distance and elevation to get your body ready. As you get in better shape, try incorporating two-day hikes into your training regimen to mimic the demands of a hut-to-hut tour.

Rifugio biella with surroundings
You will rest and recharge in huts along the way.

While training, be sure to get used to carrying a heavy backpack. The pace of the hike is less important than the overall distance covered, so aim to be able to hike 10-15 kilometers per day with a fully loaded backpack. This will help your body adapt to the demands of trekking from hut to hut.

It is important to note that being physically unprepared increases your risk of accidents on technical terrain. But with the right preparation, you can approach Alta Via 1 with confidence and no reservations.

What kind of gear do I need and how to pack for Alta Via 1?

Having the proper gear is crucial when hiking in the mountains, but it's also important to consider the weight of your equipment. Carrying extra pounds day after day can quickly become tiring.

One of the most important pieces of equipment is a quality pair of hiking shoes. While trail running shoes are a popular choice among hikers, they may not be the best option for multi-day treks on rugged terrain. If you are an experienced hiker and have had success with trail running shoes on similar hikes, you may not encounter any problems in the Dolomites.

However, for the most stability and support, it is usually recommended to bring hiking shoes or boots. These tend to be stronger and provide better support for your ankles, especially when carrying a heavy backpack.

It's essential to make sure your shoes are comfortable and don't cause any blisters or foot pain, otherwise, every step of your hike can become a struggle.

Backpack dolomites
Packing light, yet taking care of the essentials is of the utmost importance.

Here is our list of all the essentials you will need on Alta Via 1:

General

  • Hiking shoes/boots
  • 25 to 45-liter backpack (depending on the number of days on the trail)
  • Hiking poles

Clothes

  • Base layer top (we recommend merino wool)
  • Sports T-shirt (for the warm days)
  • Mid-lay top (like a fleece)
  • Hiking shorts (in warmer months)
  • Hiking long pants
  • Windproof jacket
  • Waterproof jacket (not needed if you have a high-quality hardshell which is both windproof and waterproof)
  • Waterproof pants
  • Comfortable clothes for the evening in huts and hotels
  • Warm down jacket (if hiking in colder months)
  • Warm hat
  • Sun cap
  • Gloves
  • Hiking socks

Other

  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Small first aid kit
  • Water bottle
  • Toiletries
  • Blister plasters
  • ID or passport
  • Cash

When to go?

The best time to hike Alta Via 1 in the Alps is dependent on the amount of snow accumulation during the winter. Usually, the hiking season runs from mid-July to September's end

However, if the winter snowfall is abundant, the trail may remain hazardous until late July due to snow on the more challenging high-altitude passages.

During August, although there may be some residual snow in shaded areas and valleys, it does not pose a threat of avalanches and can be easily crossed without the need for ice axes or crampons.

Daily weather

The Alps can experience warm temperatures in the peak of summer, with highs reaching 25-30°C even at elevations above 2000 meters. However, it's crucial to be mindful of sudden afternoon storms that can occur, so it's recommended to cross high passes before midday.

In the event of a severe storm, temperatures can drop quickly and snowfall is not uncommon. But the snow melts quickly when the sun comes back out.

As the fall approaches, the weather becomes cooler, with the possibility of freezing temperatures at night. The weather during this time is typically more stable with fewer rainy days.

Hiking cinque torri
Clouds can gather quickly at high altitude.

By the end of September, the huts close their doors and only basic, unattended winter rooms are available. These rooms are left unlocked throughout the winter for mountaineers and ski tourers to use as shelter.

Logistics on Alta Via 1

How to get to the starting point?

Reaching Lago di Braies is a manageable task with proper planning and preparation. For those flying, landing at Venice or Treviso airports would be the most convenient option, both located within a two-hour driving distance from Cortina d'Ampezzo.

For those relying on public transportation, the bus is the most efficient way to get from Venice to Cortina. From there, you can easily connect to Dobbiacco and ultimately Lago di Braies. During the summer, frequent bus services are available between these two locations.

If trains are more to your liking, the Dolomites are well connected to many European cities by rail. If you disembark at the Villabassa station, located 4 km from Dobbiacco, you can catch a bus to Lago di Braies.

How to get from the end point?

Getting to the end of your hiking adventure in the Dolomites is easy, with several options available to you. You can either conclude your trek at the La Pissa bus station, which is located across the road from where you exit the trail, or continue on to La Stanga. From either location, it is straightforward to catch a bus to the town of Belluno.

Belluno is a relatively large town, located 100 km north of Venice. If you need to catch a flight, you can reach the Venice airport by taking a bus or a train, which will take approximately 2 hours. Alternatively, you can continue your summer holiday in the stunning Dolomites by taking a bus back to Cortina d'Ampezzo.

Alta Via 1 rifugios

The comfort levels at the mountain huts, also known as rifugios, can vary. However, basic facilities are typically provided. While some huts have electricity, it may be limited. Additionally, heating is also limited, but you will be given enough blankets to stay warm. It is essential to bring your own sleeping liner or purchase one at the location.

Rifugios in the Dolomites offer shared dormitory-style accommodations with bunk beds and shared blankets or sleeping bags. There are also private rooms available for an additional cost, but availability may be limited due to high demand.

Rifugio Fanes interior common room
Rifugio Fanes interior common room

Many hikers appreciate the delicious cuisine offered at the rifugios, which often includes local specialties. You can opt for a half-board option, which includes dinner and breakfast, or stop for lunch during your trek. In addition to meals, you can also purchase various drinks, snacks, and bottled water at the huts.

Fresh water at the huts may be limited and depend on rain and melting snow, so it is important to conserve water. Some huts offer showers, but they may be basic and have limited hot water.

Wi-Fi and mobile phone reception can be unreliable in the Dolomites, so it is best to be prepared. Cash is also recommended as some huts may not accept other forms of payment.

The Alta Via 1 is a popular hut-to-hut hiking route, and accommodations can fill up quickly. It is recommended to book your stay as soon as possible to ensure availability. You can book through the official website, by phone, or email, and members of the Italian Alpine Club may be eligible for discounts at certain huts.

On our self-guided Alta Via 1 hut-to-hut hiking tour, we take care of all your accommodation bookings, so you can relax and focus on your adventure.

Water on the trail

When it comes to replenishing your water supply during your Alta Via 1 hike, most lodgings along the trail should have drinking water available. However, there may be some instances where it is not readily accessible. In such cases, you have the option of purchasing bottled water or carrying a water filter to purify the water you collect.

You'll find many streams along the trail that can be a source of fresh water, but it's important to ensure that the water is safe to drink. To do this, look for streams that don't run through cattle pastures, as the water in these streams may not be suitable for consumption.

Where to book an Alta Via 1 hike?

Don't let planning your Alta Via 1 trek stress you out. We've got you covered

Our specialty is creating unforgettable hut-to-hut hiking tours for our customers, taking care of the details so you can focus on the beauty of the Dolomites

Browse our range of tours, from the complete Alta Via 1 trek to shorter options, and choose the one that's perfect for you.

Self-guided Alta Via trekking tours in the Dolomites, hiking from hut to hut across gorgeous Alpine landscapes and enjoying meals served with breathtaking views.
© Copyright by Alta Via 1
Portfolio company of World Discovery.