What are the trails like in the Dolomites?

By Gary P. Scott (GPS) – an award-winning walking/travel guide and the Owner of Right Path Adventures.

I am often asked, “what are the trails like in the Dolomites”?

The simple answer is that with over 10,000km of walking and hiking trails spread across the Dolomites like a spider’s web you will have your choice of any and every type of terrain and every level from easy to very hard.

There are trails from easy, relaxing and fairly flat trails on dirt roads that link one quaint Tyrolean village to another that are stroller and wheelchair accessible, to cliff-hanging “equipped” trails that require considerable experience, fitness, special equipment, nerves of steel – and potentially the safety of a local guide to keep you safe and on the “right path” so to speak.

Some trails head up switchbacks seemingly forever, some are single tracks through forests, others are steep and rocky, there are hikes up scree slopes and you can head across a field of wildflowers where there are no trails – and you can find them all on one outing.  Like skiing in Europe, you can basically hike anywhere you want for as long as you want. There are trails covered with tree roots, muddy trails, rarely visited trails, and also very crowded “touristy” trails that anyone and everyone could handle.

There are multi-day hikes where you carry your open gear and stay at Refugio (mountain lodges) in dormitories (or in your own room if you are lucky) but on my trips, I choose to stay in cool and unique family-run hotels in quaint villages and do day hikes with light daypacks which give us more flexibility to adapt to the group’s needs and experience, and the weather.

The Dolomites are a Disneyland for walkers, hikers, climbers, and lovers of nature with spectacular scenery unmatched anywhere else on earth – there is something for everyone at any age, size, shape, and experience.  In over 55 years of traveling the planet and hiking and climbing all over the world as an international mountain guide, I have yet to find another place as spectacular, exciting, fascinating, magical, and romantic as the Dolomites.

I first visited the Dolomites for a month exploring in the summer of 2009 – the same month that nine different areas of the Dolomites were awarded U.N.E.S.C.O. World Heritage Nature site status.  I often joke that it was my visit that caused that prestigious designation to be finalized.   I fell in love with the area immediately and knew that if I loved it that others would too, and I knew I was going to spend a lot of time there in the future.

Since then I have spent every summer in the Dolomites (except for this summer due to COVID19), hiking and exploring thousands of km’s of trails and I have now led over 100 groups of every ability, age, and fitness level all throughout the area and continue to love and be enthralled by it – even after doing some of the same trails dozens and dozens of times.

The Dolomites are unique in many ways, and the combination of fantastic trails of all levels, incredible and spectacular terrain and views, clean air and clear spring water, typically great hiking weather, incredible local organic cuisine, with basically no crime or anything to worry about, a relaxed atmosphere, friendly locals, fascinating history, culture and traditions and fewer people on the trails than the rest of the Alps (and many places on earth) – all combine to make it one of the best places to have an active holiday anywhere in the world – you can’t not love it there!

Regarding one uniqueness – the Dolomites have few “set” trails such as the trek to Mt. Everest Base Camp (which I have guided 20+ times), or the Tour Du Mont Blanc which circumnavigates Mt. Blanc in Europe (guided 3x), or the “W” trek in Patagonia (guided 2x), or as many people are used to – getting to a trailhead where there is one main hiking route to get to the top of a lookout or mountain.  Instead, imagine a spider’s web of over 10,000km of interconnecting trails that cover nine different designated Nature Parks (like a National Park in the U.S.) with a single trailhead having 20 to 30 different trail options – it’s mind-boggling, (and confusing!)

And with the world’s largest interconnecting cable car and chair lift system you can use the lifts to get up into the best views and extend your hiking day and avoid huge ascents and descents.  Knowing which lifts to use and how to connect the trails to get the best hiking experience and the best views, while visiting the best Refugio (mountain huts) to have a coffee or strudel or lunch break is the key and that is what has taken me many years to discover and understand.  And now with a huge number of hikes in my back pocket, I can match the right hike with the right group and with considering the weather that day, and adjust things each day accordingly.

So to summarize, there are walks and hikes for every level, fitness, age, and experience, and I can and have catered to 8 to 89-year-olds, total novices to mountain goats, people way out of shape to marathon runners.  But if you can walk there is the perfect trail for you in the Dolomites from short and flat and easy to long and steep and very hard.  I believe a day walking around Venice is harder on the body than a day in the Dolomites.  It’s just knowing where to go that is confusing in the Dolomites.  In some valleys, the trail signs are in two languages and in others three languages, and if you have a map in one language and the trail signs are in another you’ll have a hard time knowing where to go to see the best views.

I arrange 6-day small-group walking tours for all levels and match people to others of their level of ability and fitness, and over ten years have only had a handful of people who couldn’t handle a particular trail as I am very good at matching people with the right hike.  To encourage people to come to the Dolomites with me in 2021 (after the COVID travel restrictions) I am allowing people to book dates with no deposit needed and no payment necessary until 60 days before the trip and with a very flexible cancellation policy.  I can also help people plan their own self-guided tour of the Dolomites along with maps of hikes and book places for them to stay.

I love showing people my favorite “secret” trails and having them enjoy an incredible lunch on a sun-drenched terrace with an incredible view as a backdrop, then returning to relax poolside followed by an amazing dinner.  After ten seasons I have many great friends in the area and know the best hotels and restaurants in the most beautiful and interesting villages – I sure hope I can show you around someday and introduce you to the people I know there.  Until then, stay safe and healthy – your guide – Gary P. Scott