Alta Via 1: The Ultimate Guide
Alta Via 1 is one of Europe's most well-known multi-day hikes, along with others like Tour du Mont Blanc, Walker’s Haute Route, Adlerweg, and Via Alpina. It winds through the Dolomites, one of the most picturesque Italian mountain ranges.
Reinhold Messner told it true when he said every mountain in the Dolomites is like a piece of art. And Alta Via 1 is like a walk through nature’s art gallery.
We can talk about the tower-like rock formations, alpine lakes, green meadows, rustic mountain huts, scenic mountain passes, and jagged mountain peaks with awe-inspiring rock faces. We still do not encompass half of everything a hiker experiences on Alta Via 1.
Alta Via 1 hike begins along the shores of Lago di Braies, the rowboat capital of the Dolomites. The route concludes in La Stanga near Belluno, crossing the Dolomites from north to south.
It is 120 kilometers long, with large parts running above an altitude of 2000 meters, reaching as high as 2752 meters above sea level at its highest point. Hikers overcome around 6700 meters of elevation gain, which they usually complete within 9-11 days.
Passing Cortina d’Ampezzo on its western side, it leads across scenic mountain passes such as the Falzarego mountain pass, Passo Giau, and Passo Duran. The trail runs right past the iconic five rock towers, which Italians named just that — Cinque Torri (Eng. Five Towers).
The main attractions in its southern part are the two famous imposing mountain peaks — Monte Civetta and Monte Pelmo.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a colorful and idyllic alpine town in the Dolomites. It is a popular retreat for active holidays during summer and winter. Surrounded by mountain slopes and scenic passes, it was one of the first alpine destinations to venture into tourism.
Nowadays, people usually associate Cortina with skiing, as it hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics (and again in 2026) and the 2021 World Ski Championships. Nonetheless, the town offers loads even when not covered in white. Cozy lodges, luxurious hotels, a lively town center, and culinary experiences are just a few of the innumerable.
Combining a summer getaway in Cortina with a hike on Alta Via 1 is bucket-list material for any avid hiker out there.
Alta Via, quite simply, translates to The High Route in Italian. There are ten Alta Vias, all parallel to each other, running north to south across the Dolomites. Alta Via 1 is the most famous and visited trail of the bunch due to being the most scenic and technically unproblematic.
One of the most significant periods that left an indelible mark on the region was the First World War. Known as the Great War, it was unlike any conflict that had come before it, involving an unprecedented scale of men, munitions, and military equipment. The war hit the Dolomite valleys like a storm, uprooting and changing everything — mountains, woods, hamlets, and people.
The Ladin, Trento, and Tyrol valleys, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were particularly affected. Men between the ages of 21 and 42 were called to arms, many of whom never returned, leaving behind stories of courage and tragedy that have been passed down through generations.
The lands around Alta Via 1 are incredibly scenic and offer a sense of serenity nowadays, but their past is soaked in blood and needless deaths. The route crosses the former border between Austria and Italy that was under dispute during the war. Ruins of former warehouses, foxholes, and tunnels are just some of the many pieces of its legacy adorning the landscape around the Falzarego mountain pass.
Austrian soldiers positioned themselves at the top of the Lagazuoi mountain (near the location of Rifugio Lagazuoi today), so the Italians started employing alpinists who knew the mountains well to gain an advantage. It only resulted in many lost lives of promising climbers, and the remains you can still see today serve as a reminder.
The most iconic is the Lagazuoi Tunnels, nowadays presenting an atypical descent route from the mountain to the Falzarego mountain pass. The tunnel runs for over 1000 meters below the ground and is equipped with cables and steps, making it relatively safe. Nonetheless, wearing a helmet and a via-ferrata set is advised. Sure-footedness is essential as well due to the danger of slipping.
But the Dolomites are also a melting pot of cultures. Located close to Austria, each village and town in the region often has both an Italian and an Austrian name. However, the Dolomites are actually a trilingual region, with Ladin speakers forming a significant minority.
This ancient dialect, spoken by the first inhabitants of the Dolomites, is still used by some 30,000 people today. The region is so culturally diverse that traffic signs are often in two or three languages, and schools are separated by ethnic group.
The people of the Dolomites are also known for their unique and creative handicrafts, particularly woodcraft. These crafts aren't just for show; they are a significant part of the local economy and a proud tradition passed down through generations. The region also offers a rich culinary experience, influenced by Italian, Austrian, and Ladin cuisines, making it a gastronomic delight for visitors.
As mentioned before, Alta Via 1 is technically the least challenging of all the long-distance hiking routes in the Dolomites. It is easier than The Walker’s Haute Route and trickier than Tour du Mont Blanc. That does not mean it comes without dangers, as its most technical passage comes close to Haute Route’s difficulty level.
Alta Via 1 runs across tricky terrain, steep scree sections, and narrow footpaths without easy escape routes. The most exposed parts of the trail are secured with steel cables to help with balance, but there is no rock climbing or scrambling.
Among the most technically challenging sections of Alta Via 1 are:
The most experienced hikers can spice it up by climbing one of the many via-ferrata routes along Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites. While the standard route avoids all of these sections, there are several options where it is possible to take it up a notch and make the hike more adrenaline-inducing.
Via Ferrata originates from Italy and translates to ‘iron path’. Its initial uses were to help a regular hiker reach the highest mountain peaks without needing mountaineering skills like climbing, belaying, and other rope maneuvers. Steel cables, rungs, and ladders were drilled into the rock to offer protection and significantly decrease the technical challenges of bare rock faces.
Over time, such paths became so popular that they stopped being used only as a means to an end and became the center of attention. From here on out, via ferrata started developing. While initially, its builders looked for appropriate natural passages to install the steel, now they seek technical challenges to keep it interesting and attract visitors.
Such pathways almost always have a less technical alternative to use on the descent. When climbing a via ferrata, the hiker needs a via ferrata kit (a climbing harness and energy-absorbing lanyard with two carabiners to secure on the steel cables) and a helmet. Climbing shoes are not necessary.
Alta Via 2
Not lying far from each other, Alta Via 1 and Alta Via 2 differ notably. While Alta Via 1 does not include any via ferratas, scrambling, or significant height exposure, Alta Via 2 winds across sharp ridges, exposed slopes, and via ferratas.
Alta Via 2 runs from Bressanone in the north to Croce d’Aune in the south, passing the highest peak in the Dolomites, Marmolada. Across its 13 stages, it covers around 160 km and almost 12,000 meters of elevation gain.
Experienced mountaineers with a head for heights and looking for a formidable challenge can consider hiking Alta Via 2, but everyone else might find it way too challenging.
Alta Via 1 is a long-distance hiking route with lots of elevation, meaning it will not be an easy challenge, even for experienced hikers.
On average, hikers overcome around 13 kilometers and 750 meters of elevation daily for nine consecutive days. Before undertaking Alta Via 1, one should be prepared to comfortably hike for up to 6-8 hours per day.
The stages tend to be shorter than those on Tour du Mont Blanc or the Adlerweg, but expecting to tackle it without training is like counting your chickens before they are hatched — you will encounter a surprise and it will not be a pleasant one.
Proper physical preparation is crucial for a successful and enjoyable hiking holiday on Alta Via 1. It is essential to be in good physical shape, or your holiday can become torment if not a life-endangering situation.
If you are an experienced hiker who regularly goes on multi-day hikes and hikes weekly or bi-weekly, you are likely to already have a good foundation for a hut-to-hut tour. However, if you are not used to hiking, it is crucial to start training in advance.
Training should involve regular, shorter hikes to improve your endurance. Gradually increase distance and elevation gain to force your body into making the necessary adaptations. Eventually, try incorporating two-day hikes into your training. They adequately simulate the demands of a hut-to-hut tour.
As you train, ensure you 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 heavy pack. It helps your body adapt to the demands of trekking from hut to hut.
Understand that being physically unprepared can increase your risk of accidents on technical terrain. At the end of the day, though, with proper preparation, you can approach the Alta Via 1 trail without any reservations.
Hiking in the mountains always carries some risk, so having the essentials on you is crucial. However, it is also important to be mindful of the weight of your gear and avoid bringing unnecessary items. Every extra pound can make a big difference when you are hiking day after day.
A quintessential part of the equipment is a good pair of hiking shoes. While trail running shoes are becoming popular among hikers, they may not always be the best choice for multi-day treks, especially in rugged terrain. If you are an experienced hiker and have had success using trail running shoes for similar hikes in the past, you might not encounter any issues with them in the Dolomites either.
However, it is generally recommended to bring hiking shoes or boots for the most support and stability. These tend to be sturdier and provide more support for your ankles, which can be helpful when carrying a heavy backpack.
It is imperative to ensure that your shoes are comfortable and do not cause blisters or other foot pain. Otherwise, it can make every step of your hike a struggle.
The hiking season in the Alps varies depending on the amount of snow that falls during the winter. In a typical year, the season for Alta Via 1 is from mid-July to the end of September. During winter, you can visit the Dolomites on ski holidays, as there are several famous ski resorts along Alta Via 1.
However, if the winter was particularly snowy, the path may be dangerous until the end of July due to snow's presence on the treacherous sections of the highest passes.
Even in August, you will still encounter bits of snow in shadowy hollows and couloirs, but such leavings pose no avalanche threat and do not require ice axes or crampons to cross.
The temperatures in the Alps tend to be relatively high in late July and August, reaching 25-30°C even at elevations above 2000 meters. Afternoon storms are frequent during this time, and they can come out of nowhere, so it is a good idea to aim to cross high mountain passes before noon.
Be prepared for a significant drop in temperature in the event of a severe storm, as it is not uncommon for snow to fall in these situations. However, snow that does fall typically melts quickly when the sun comes out.
In September, the weather becomes chillier, with freezing temperatures at night possible. On the other hand, the weather is generally more stable with fewer rainy days.
Toward the end of the month, the hiking season concludes as all the mountain huts close their doors, leaving only basic, unattended winter rooms open. These rooms remain unlocked throughout the winter to shelter mountaineers and ski tourers.
It is relatively easy to reach Lago di Braies if you look into it and prepare beforehand. If you are flying in, you should look into touching down at the Venice or Treviso airports. Both are within a two-hour car drive from Cortina d’Ampezzo.
If you will be using public transport, a bus is the best way to get to Cortina from Venice. Once there, you can connect to Dobbiacco and, subsequently, Lago di Braies. During summer, buses regularly drive between the two locations.
The train connections also work well, linking the Dolomites with many European cities. If you get off at the Villabassa station (4 km from Dobbiacco), you can catch a bus to Lago di Braies at the location.
You can either conclude your hiking adventure at the La Pissa bus station, which stands on the opposite side of the road from where you step off the trail or continue to La Stanga. Afterward, catching a bus to Belluno will be fairly simple.
Belluno is a relatively large town 100 kilometers north of Venice. A bus or a train ride to the Venice airport will take about 2 hours. You can also take one back to Cortina d’Ampezzo and continue your summer holidays in the breathtaking Dolomites.
Comfort levels can vary between rifugios, but you can expect basic facilities in general. Some huts have electricity, but they might use it sparingly. Heating can also be limited, but you will receive enough blankets to keep warm at night. You have to bring your own sleeping liner, or you will have to buy one on the spot.
All rifugios in the Dolomites offer shared dormitory-style accommodation, with bunk beds and shared blankets or sleeping bags. But a lot of them also offer private rooms for an additional cost. Such rooms tend to get booked sooner, so their availability is limited.
Most hikers adore rifugios due to their delicious cuisine, including local specialties. Usually, visitors opt for a half-board option, including dinner and breakfast with a bed for the night. You can also stop for lunch at one of the huts on the way while trekking. Aside from meals, you can also buy several alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, various snacks, and bottled water at the huts.
Some Alta Via 1 rifugios might have a source of fresh water, but most depend on rain and melting snow. Therefore, it is imperative to conserve water and use it wisely, as it is a valuable resource in the mountains. Many lodges in the Dolomites offer showers, but they may be basic and have limited hot water.
Wi-Fi and mobile phone reception can be spotty in the Dolomites, so it is a good idea to set expectations accordingly. Do not rely on being able to connect to the internet or make phone calls while staying in a hut. You should also bring cash, as some huts may not accept other forms of payment, even credit cards.
Alta Via 1 is the most popular hut-to-hut hiking route in the Dolomites, and the mountain huts can get booked early. When you decide on the dates of your visit, try to book them as soon as possible to avoid missing out. Luckily, there are many alternatives along the route, and you can adapt your days accordingly.
There are several ways to book accommodations at the Alta Via 1 rifugios. You can book through the official websites, by phone, or by email. If you are a member of the Italian Alpine Club, you may also be eligible for discounts on overnight stays at the huts under their domain. And note that some lodges are privately owned and do not offer discounts.
On our self-guided Alta Via 1 hut-to-hut hiking tour, we book all your accommodations to spare you from going through this stressful and time-consuming process.
While you can usually fill up your water supply at most accommodations along the Alta Via 1 trail, some huts do not have drinking water available. In these cases, you can purchase bottled water or bring a water filter with you to purify it.
Along the trail, you will encounter plenty of streams from which you can fill up your water bottles, as long as the source is safe and clean. Be sure to avoid filling up water from streams that pass through pastures with cattle, as the water may not be safe to drink.
The Alta Via 1 offers a versatile hiking experience that can be tailored to fit different levels of expertise and time constraints. One of the most notable features of this trek is its adaptability. While the traditional route takes you from the stunning Lago di Braies to the La Pissa bus stop, covering a distance of about 120 kilometers, you're not confined to this path. There are multiple itineraries to choose from, ranging from 8 to 11 days, allowing you to adjust the trek according to your schedule and physical capabilities.
Another aspect to consider is the terrain. The Alta Via 1 is not just a walk in the park; it has its fair share of challenging sections. While some parts of the trail feature smooth paths, others are rocky and may require some clambering. The route also includes a few optional via ferrata sections - assisted climbing routes involving ladders, chains, and cables. However, these are relatively tame compared to other Alta Vias and can be avoided via the standard trail. This makes the Alta Via 1 accessible to virtually all hikers.
Planning is crucial when embarking on the Alta Via 1. Due to the popularity of the trek, it's advisable to book your rifugios well in advance. These mountain huts not only offer a place to rest but also add to the overall experience with their idyllic locations and warm hospitality. Some rifugios are so popular that they get booked up months in advance. Therefore, as soon as you decide to take on this adventure, start making your reservations to ensure a smooth and enjoyable journey.
For those who prefer a more structured and worry-free experience, booking a self-guided tour with a specialized hiking agency is an excellent option. These agencies take care of all the logistics, from rifugio bookings to providing extensive written guides. This not only eliminates the stress of planning but adds an extra layer of safety to your adventure. With professionals leading the way, you can focus solely on the breathtaking scenery and the physical challenge, knowing that all the details have been meticulously arranged for you.
Even with all the information provided, planning an Alta Via 1 trek might seem overwhelming. It does not have to be so.
We specialize in planning hut-to-hut hiking tours for our customers. With our assistance, you can actually focus on enjoying your hiking holiday in the pristine nature of the Dolomites as we take care of the tasks deemed a necessary evil.
Choosing to go through a hiking agency can be particularly beneficial for first-timers or those unfamiliar with the Dolomites. Agencies often offer various packages tailored to different skill levels and interests, ensuring you get the most out of your Alta Via 1 experience.
Check out all our Dolomites hiking tours and pick your favorite, be it the full Alta Via 1 hike or one of the shortened ones.
A Thorough Dive Into Everything About Alta Via 1
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