Croda Da Lago is one of the most distinct mountains in the Dolomites.
With its jagged peaks it's the perfect example of the weathering process these ranges are constantly exposed to.
Being close to Cortina, one of the main hubs for exploring the Dolomites this trail is popular all summer long.
However it really comes to life during October when the surrounding larch valleys turn all manners of gold and orange.
If you can, plan your hike then!
Exploring the Lago Federa shoreline, one of the highlights of this trail and stopping for lunch and rest at the beautifully located rifugio Palmieri (also known as Croda da Lago) will add on a decent amount of time to this moderate day hike, so plan a full day if you want to tackle it!
Guide To The Croda Da Lago Circuit In The Italian Dolomites
12.5 km / 7.8 miles
759 m / 2500 feet
Ponte Di Rucurto
Most people completing the circuit begin the hike at Ponte di Rucurto on path number 437. This starting point is advisable for one main reason - it's higher.
The alternative lower trail nr 434, which starts near Ponte Pezie de Parù adds an extra 200m ascent and doesn’t increase the splendour of the scenery. Although there might be fewer people for the first 45 minutes, in my eyes, it’s not worth the extra effort.
The main route from Ponte di Rucurto starts with a lovely jaunt along a wide path through thick forest. Not before long you’ll cross Ru Formin on a scenic wooden bridge where you can enjoy the sound of cascading water.
Once safely on the other side a short uphill burst brings you to the first major crossroads. At this point you’ll have achieved a quarter of your total ascent and it’s where you’ll have to decide whether you’re circumnavigating clockwise or anti clockwise around the Croda da Lago mountain range.
This article describes the clockwise track. With the location of the Rifugio Palmieri it breaks up the trail into two even chunks so you’ll have more energy to explore the lake, as you’ll get there earlier in the day.
At the crossroads continue straight on path nr 434 but bear in mind that you’ll be returning on the path to your right. This is also where the route connects with the path coming from the lower trailhead, which I mentioned earlier.
The trail switchbacks steadily uphill but provides great motivation by means of a scenic lookout at the top. The lookout, which is only a minute away from the trail, gives views over Cinque Torri, Cortina and of course Tofana di Rozes and Mezes.
Although still initially uphill, the trail now lessens in grade and soon enough you’ll enter the ‘official grounds’ near Lago Federa, where freedom camping is strictly prohibited and enforced.
You will have arrived at the north east corner of the small lake. Turn right and walk around the shore admiring the reflecting Beco De Mezodi in the distance.
You’ll spot the refuge on the opposite side of the water. Rifugio Palmieri is one of the most photogenic huts in the Dolomites and also one of the latest closing refuges due to the intensity of the larches in the area.
It’s a great place for a well-deserved hot chocolate on a cold day or a beer on a hot day. You should spend a decent amount of time looking up at the craggy Croda da Lago above you before moving on.
Most people consider this lake to be the pinnacle viewpoint of the hike and many people return straight back to the car park from here. From the trailhead to the hut will take around 2 hours.
Continuing on you’ll notice a distinct drop in numbers on the trail. The route then slowly ascends, still on path nr 434, until reaching Forcella Ambrizzola.
This is the point where the Croda da Lago circuit breaks away from the world famous Alta Via 1 by turning right onto path nr 436 and then shortly right again onto path nr 435. You are probably thinking now, how in hell am I going to find all these trails? Don't worry, they are marked and as long as you’re heading uphill you’re going in the right direction.
Forcella de Formin, the highest point of the trail at 2462m, is your goal and offers great views back toward Monte Pelmo.
Once past the Forcella the route quickly descends through several boulder fields before entering a thickening larch forest.
At the right time of year this is what dreams are made of. A trickling stream, golden larches, very few people, stark mountains and a camera.
Unfortunately, like most things the solitude comes to an end when you reach the main crossroad, which you were at earlier in the day. A left turn back onto path 437 will take you back to your vehicle.
Remember the trail up to Lago Federa can be busy, especially during weekends in summer. Arrive early.
If you’re a keen photographer then this trail is certainly doable as a sunrise hike. From the trailhead it’s around 1h 45 mins to the lake.
If you’re too lazy to hike in the morning but still want fantastic photos, then stay a night in the hut. With a recognised mountain club membership, nights in the hut can be as cheap as 16€ per person per night! Bargain if you asked me!
Is there something I forgot to cover? Post your questions in the comments and I will help you out! Make sure to check out my Italian Dolomites Guide for more hiking ideas.
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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.