Alta Via 1: The Ultimate Guide

All the essential information about one of the most popular European long-distance hiking routes, Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites, in one place.
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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, Alderweg, and Via Alpina. It winds through the Dolomites, one of the most picturesque Italian mountain ranges.

Passo Giau sunset
One of the most scenic locations on Alta Via 1, Passo Giau

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.

Where does Alta Via 1 go?

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.

Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies

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).

Cinque Torri
Cinque Torri

The main attractions in its southern part are the two famous imposing mountain peaks — Monte Civetta and Monte Pelmo.

About Cortina d’Ampezzo

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.

Cortina dAmpezzo
Cortina d'Ampezzo

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.

Quick historical overview

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.

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 of World War 1. 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.

WW1 remains
WW1 remains around and within the Lagazuoi mountain

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 are 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.

How difficult is Alta Via 1?

Technical difficulty

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.

Forcella di Lago
Descent from Forcella di Lago

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:

  • Forcella di Lago — a steep, unforgiving, and slippery descent on a gravel scree path;
  • Lagazuoi galleries — traverse of slippery gullies on a narrow rocky trail;
  • Cima de Zita — a steep climb on a ridge with a precipice on both sides. 

Via Ferrata

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
Climbing via ferrata

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.

Via Ferrata set
Via ferrata kit

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
Alta Via 2

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.

Physical challenges

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.

Toward Forcella di Lago
Alta Via 1 is a respectable physical challenge for any hiker

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.

How to prepare?

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.

Training
Training hikes are important before undertaking Alta Via 1

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.

Below Rifugio Nuvolau
Alta Via 1 below Rifugio Nuvolau

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.

What and how to pack?

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.

Backpack Dolomites
Packing smartly can solve a lot of unwanted issues in advance

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.

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 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.

Lagazuoi
Hiking outside the summer season is not possible without being properly equipped for winter conditions

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.

Daily weather

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.

Passo Duran
Afternoon storms are every hiker's worst nightmare

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.

Logistics

How to get to the starting point?

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.

Cortina
Valley of 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 Dobiacco 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 Dobiacco), you can catch a bus to Lago di Braies at the location.

How to get from the ending point?

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
Belluno

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.

Alta Via 1 rifugios

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.

Rustic Rifugio Nuvolau
Rustic Rifugio Nuvolau

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.

Rifugio Lagazuoi sunset
Rifugio Lagazuoi

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.

Rifugio Biella with surroundings
Rifugio Biella

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.

Water on the trail

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.

Dolomites mountains
The breathtaking Dolomites

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.

Where to book an Alta Via 1 hike?

Even with all the information provided, planning an Alta Via 1 trek might seem overwhelming. It does not have to be so.

Mountain hut pasture
Take a hike in one of the most idyllic landscapes in the world

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.

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.

Strike across Italy’s iconic mountain range and witness the transcendent beauty of the alpine world, hiking from hut to hut in the Dolomites.
Portfolio company of World Discovery.