Some time in 2018, after my first season in the Italian Dolomites I came up with the idea that I am going to hike all 6 of the official Alta Vias.
An Alta Via is a high alpine traverse dating back to the first World War. Some of them were established to move soldiers across the frontlines, whilst others, like AV4 were created years later purely for mountain enthusiasts.
Today with the amazing mountain hut network all alta vias serve as backpacking routes for outdoor travellers.
Due to lack of time (and quite frankly stamina) I ended up hiking 'only' 3.5 of the 6 Alta Vias I had planned. I still think it's not a bad outcome considering I hiked them almost back to back.
If I was to pick my favourite one by far, it would definitely be the Alta Via 4 and this guide will bring you a little closer to what I have experienced along the way and help you plan your own adventure!
The Comprehensive Guide to Alta Via 4 in the Italian Dolomites
ALTA VIA 4 - AN OVERVIEW
Alta Via 4 is a 92 kilometre (57 miles) long route in the Italian Dolomites stretching between the towns of San Candido in the North and Pozzale in the South. It can be completed between 5 and 7 days.
There are a few via ferratas along the route which cannot be bypassed. It means you will need to pack essential equipment such as a helmet, harness and a special via ferrata lanyard. I will soon publish a complete packing list for a multiday hut to hut hike in the Italian Dolomites.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO HIKE ALTA VIA 4?
The route is accessible from the third week of June until late September. That's when the mountain passes are mostly clear of snow and the mountain huts are open to tourist traffic.
WHERE DOES THE ALTA VIA 4 START AND END?
AV4 starts near the Alte Säge restaurant along the road connecting two towns: San Candido (Inninchen) and Sesto (Sexten) in the northern Dolomites. San Candido can be reached via trains from Venice or Milan airports. The closest international airport however is in Innsbruck in Austria. It's only 2,5 hours away by train.
The tiny town of Pozzale close to Pieve di Cadore marks the end of the route. The latter also has trains going to major city hubs in Italy, or local buses if you wish to visit other great little towns in the Dolomites to do some more hiking.
I recommend staying in San Candido the night before you set off on Alta Via 4 to be as close as possible to the trailhead .
There are over a hundred rental properties in San Candido and I am sure you will find something suiting your budget! By the way, I would really appreciate if you use the link above when booking your stay and help me make a small commission at no cost to you!
Alta Via 4 - an interactive map of the route
I created the map below to give you an overview of Alta Via 4. I marked all mountain huts as well as day routes and extensions. Click on the button in the top left corner of the map to see the different layers and names of the places.
Whilst pretty accurate this map should not be used when navigating through the mountains! For that you will require a proper topography map. For crossing Alta Via 4 you need to purchase the TABACCO MAPS number: 10, 16 and 17 either online or in any sport, souvenir or cigarette shop in the local towns. Even some rifugios sometimes sell them!
Day 1: San Candido to Rifugio Locatelli
14.2 km / 9 miles
4h 30 min
1220 m / 4000 feet
120 m / 394 feet
Rifugio Locatelli / Dreizinnenhuette
PATH NUMBER: 105
The hike starts from the Alte Säge restaurant. The location also serves as a bus stop for local public transport connecting the towns of San Candido and Sesto.
Because there are some possible extensions to your first day on Alta Via 4 I always favour starting early and catching the first bus so you can squeeze in a via ferrata in the afternoon.
The first part of the hike leading to rifugio Tre Scarperi leads mostly through the forest and rises 370 meters over 6 kilometres (ca 1200 feet over 3.7 miles). Not very challenging or in other words a great warm up!
The hut can be reached in around 90 minutes. Unless you start the hike in late afternoon the Tre Scarperi refuge is too close to the trailhead to justify an overnight stay there. What it is good for is picking up some lunch and eating it on the terrace with a great view into Campo di Dentro valley and Mount Mattina (Morgenkopf) straight ahead.
After lunch continue your journey onward to rifugio Locatelli. As soon as you reach the foot of Mount Mattina the path splits and starts going up for the next couple of hours until you reach your first hut - rifugio Locatelli.
Rifugio Locatelli is one of the busiest huts in the Dolomites so showing up without a reservation is out of the question! When I was planning my Alta Via challenge I booked the huts a few months in advance. Whilst this is not always necessary, booking ahead is definitely a smart thing to do.
At the end of this post you will find a table with all huts along this route along with their contact info and other useful information.
Extension DAY 1 : Via Ferrata Torre Di Toblin
It's the first day so you probably are still full of energy and a 4,5 hour trek to the Locatelli hut might not be enough! I've got some good news for you. There are two great via ferratas starting near the hut: Innerkofler and Torre di Toblin!
Torre di Toblin is definitely my pick and I've done it twice so far. It was actually my first iron path ever and almost a year later I introduced my friend who was accompanying me on Alta Via 4 to the World of italian via ferratas by taking her on the exact same route!
You can check into your room, leave most of your stuff and head out again, this time with much lighter load. Via ferrata Torre di Toblin can be done in around 2 hours and it will be a great warm up for the other via ferrata routes you will be tackling in the next few days!
Day 2: Rifugio Locatelli to Rifugio Fonda Savio
12.5 km / 7.8 miles
4h 30 min
685 m / 2250 feet
722 m / 2370 feet
Rifugio Fonda Savio
PATH NUMBERS: 105, 117
Pray for good weather because today you will have some of the best views of the whole trek! The route continues on path no. 105 and circumnavigates to rifugio Auronzo. We took a longer break here and stuffed our faces with freshly baked croissants and a cappuccino. It was still early in the morning so a cappuccino was allowed in Italian culture!
From rifugio Auronzo the route follows path no. 117. Half an hour after leaving the hut you will come across the instafamous viewpoint overlooking Cadini di Misurina range (see the 4th photo above).
Shortly after the path will turn into a via ferrata called Sentiero Bonacossa. It follows a series of ledges and ladders and it's a beginner level ferrata. I still recommend putting your gear on.
4,5 hours after leaving rifugio Locatelli (not counting the breaks) you should reach rifugio Fonda Savio.
Rifugio Fonda Savio is one of the most photogenic mountain huts in the Italian Dolomites. I have stayed here 3 times already and I love its atmosphere as well as the friendly staff! My only recommendation is to avoid booking a place in their attic. It's dark, has very low ceiling and the mattresses have seen better days.
Extension: Via Ferrata Merlone
I hope you still have some energy left in you because you should not miss the chance to tackle the via ferrata Merlone!
It's a 3 hour round trip from rifugio Fonda Savio to the top of Cima Cadin, the culmination of the via ferrata. It encompasses 3 hours filled with exhilarating scrambling along countless ladders and jaw dropping vistas towards the southern face of Tre Cime. Plus it overlooks much of the route you followed earlier in the day.
Day 3: Rifugio Fonda Savio to Rifugio Vandelli
20.25 km / 12.6 miles
965 m / 3166 feet
1371 m / 4500 feet
PATH NUMBERS: 117, 120, 217
The day starts by continuing on path no. 117 on via ferrata Sentiero Bonacossa. The first part of the day takes you over two passes: Forcella Diavolo and Forcella di Misurina. There are some easy cable-protected sections when coming up and down from those passes so it's smart to gear up.
Approximately two hours after leaving rifugio Fonda Savio you will reach rifugio Col de Varda. There is a chairlift which runs from the hut down to lake Misurina, for that reason, the area is quite busy.
You will now face two options. You can either take the chairlift down and from Misurina catch the bus to Passo Tre Croci where the route continues on path no. 215 all the way to rifugio Vandelli. This is the famous trail leading to Lake Sorapiss. Considering you will get to it later in the day you can expect it to be really crowded.
Personally I felt like taking a chairlift then a bus was cheating so I opted for an alternative, an albeit longer route which didn't involve help from any mode of transport other than my legs. This option is also a lot quieter. Isn't the peacefulness what we are after when deciding to follow a backcountry route?
From rifugio Col de Varda you can take the path no. 120 following the signs for rifugio Citta Di Carpi. By the way this is a great refuge to stay at if you would like to break this day up or if you did the via ferrata Merlone extension early on day 3 rather than in the afternoon of day 2.
Before reaching rifugio Citta di Carpi, path 120 breaks away and drops down into the valley towards rifugio Cristallo (out of operation).
Cross the road and follow path no. 217 which will take you all the way to rifugio Vandelli. The last 90 minutes is a pretty steep ascent so make sure to take a good break beforehand.
Rifugio Vandelli is run by a local italian family. I have stayed there twice before and made friends with their lovely dog called Nutella! The location of the refuge is one of a kind. It's only a 2 minute walk to the shoreline of the beautiful lake Sorapiss, one of the iconic locations of the Dolomites!
Day 4: Rifugio Vandelli to Rifugio San Marco
19.6 km / 12.2 miles
7h 30 min
1185 m / 3890 feet
1310 m / 4300 feet
Rifugio San Marco
PATH NUMBERS: 243, 226
Today is a true wilderness experience! Day 4 is undoubtedly the toughest on the whole route. There are two via ferratas to tackle both being part of the larger Giro del Sorapiss (Sorapiss circuit).
Having done the circuit the previous year I knew what we are up against. It's a good idea to start early. I convinced my friend to get breakfast to go the night before and leave with the first light. We also stocked up on some chocolate at rifugio Vandelli to have something to snack on along the way. Pack extra water too as you won't get a chance to fill up your bottle along the way.
Leaving early turned out to be the perfect decision. We reached our next refuge 8 hours later just before a big storm. Others weren't so lucky and arrived soaked to the bone.
The first part of the day is along via ferrata Alfonso Vandelli. This is the toughest ferrata along the route and it climbs very steeply along the western face of Croda del Fogo. The second ferrata - sentiero Carlo Minazzio is mostly a hike along ledges with occasional cable protection.
Do not fear either of them! If you were able to complete the ferratas on the previous days you won't have troubles with these ones either. The only thing I would worry about is sticking to the route. Although it is marked pretty well I was occasionally second guessing myself. Don't hike this part of Alta Via 4 without a map or GPS!
For the majority of the day you will be following path no. 243, before it breaks off onto path no. 226.
Rifugio San Marco is an old family run refuge with fantastic views over Mount Pelmo. They served the best coffee and cakes along the whole route. Although after hiking for 8 hours my judgement could have been a bit impaired. There is a lovely outside area with an outdoor shower. The water is heated with solar energy so if you are one of the first people to arrive you might even get lucky and have a warm shower!
Day 5: Rifugio San Marco to Rifugio Antelao
17.5 km / 10.9 miles
1230 m / 4035 feet
1260 m / 4134 feet
PATH NUMBERS: 227, 250
Today you will be hiking and scrambling on the slopes of Mount Antelao - the second highest mountain in the Dolomites! Albeit slightly easier than the previous, this day is still quite demanding.
The day starts with a gentle hike up to the Forcella Picolla (Picolla saddle) then drops to rifugio Galassi. The hut is only 45 minutes away from rifugio San Marco and makes for a great overnight alternative if the latter is booked out.
From rifugio Galassi the route climbs steeply then turns into a via ferrata which leads to Forcella del Ghiacciaio. Similarly to the previous day there isn't many other people hiking on this route so you are up for some great backcountry experience!
From Forcella del Ghiacciaio the path drops down to the Antelao valley before climbing up again to Forcella Piria. From here it's smooth sailing to the last hut on Alta Via 4 - rifugio Antelao.
Rifugio Antelao was the only hut that didn't make a lasting impression on me apart from one fact. When we stayed there they were very short on running water and we weren't able to flush the toilets after peeing.
I know it's a strange thing to remember, but considering how scarce the water can be in the Dolomites this wasn't actually anything out of ordinary!
Day 6: Rifugio Antelao to Pozzale
8 km / 5 miles
730 m / 2395 feet
PATH NUMBERS: 250
The last day is an easy 2 hour downhill hike to the village of Pozzale along the path no. 250. For the most part you will be walking through the forest along an old military road.
There are a few viewpoints along the way looking over Pieve di Cadore. Once you reach Pozzale you can jump on a local bus to Pieve di Cadore. From here you can either catch a train to Venice or take a local bus to Cortina D'Ampezzo where you can continue exploring the Dolomites.
A list of all mountain huts along Alta Via 4
If you are planning to hike Alta Via 4 this list of all mountain huts along the route will come in really handy.
If this will be your first time staying in an italian refuge make sure to check out my other article about everything you need to know before staying in a mountain hut in the Dolomites. It includes information about alpine club memberships, how to make reservations, the meaning of 'half-board' and much more.
The huts in bold underlined letters are the ones I recommend staying at when hiking Alta via 4.
|Mountain hut||Phone Number||CAI Member||Showers||
|Tre Scarperiemail@example.com||+39 0474 96 66 10||Yes||3 Euro / 5 minutes||Yes|
|Locatellifirstname.lastname@example.org||+39 0474 97 20 02||Yes||8 Euro / 5minutes||No|
|Auronzoemail@example.com||+39 0435 39 002||Yes||N/A||Yes|
|Fonda Saviofirstname.lastname@example.org||+39 0435 39 036||Yes||No showers||No|
|Citta Di Carpiemail@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org||+39 0435 39 139||Yes||8 Euro / 5 Minutes||No|
|Vandelliemail@example.com||+39 0435 39 015||Yes||6 Euro/5 minutes||No|
|San Marcofirstname.lastname@example.org||+39 0436 94 44||Yes||Outdoor shower (3 Euro)||Yes|
|Galassiemail@example.com||+39 340 121 43 00||Yes||5 Euro / 5 Minutes||Yes|
|Antelaofirstname.lastname@example.org||+39 347 893 56 93||Yes||5 Euro / 5 minutes||Yes|
Do you have any more questions about Alta Via 4? Post them in the comments below. I am always happy to help! If you are planning a trip to the Italian Dolomites make sure to to check out my guide.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
I am Marta Kulesza - the photographer and creator of www.inafarawayland.com. I come from Poland, but I've been living, travelling and working around the globe since I turned 18. A few years ago, during one of my trips to Scotland, I bought my first DSLR and my adventure with photography began. When I am not stuck to my computer editing photos, you can find me hiking somewhere in the mountains.