The road up to Passo Falzarego (SR48) from the town of Cortina D'Ampezzo passes several trailheads for day hikes, Cinque Torri and Lago di Limides are just to name a few.
Directly at Passo Falzarego however, apart from a few small cafes, a hotel and a gondola station, is where the trail up to the Lagazuoi Tunnels begins.
The tunnel system up to Rifugio Lagazuoi is one of the most extensive in the Dolomites and due to a European Union grant, one of the safest, well preserved and educational hikes you can do around here.
A forewarning to those thinking that this is an ordinary walk. This hike is sometimes classed as a 1A Via Ferrata (a beginner level).
It’s a very exposed walk and although ferrata equipment is not absolutely necessary, a helmet and a head torch most definitely are!
Hiking the Lagazuoi Tunnels In The Italian Dolomites
5 km / 3 miles
673 m / 2200 feet
The route starts on path nr 402. A wide gravel path that begins at the far end of the gondola parking lot. The first 20 minutes of ascent is on agonising scree switchbacks.
The initial views are very rewarding and I’d advise you breath them in whilst you can, because soon you’ll be underground.
When the path reaches a fork, the tunnelled route up to Rifugio Lagazuoi goes to the left. Don't worry, it's well signposted. For an alternate above ground route bare right. If you decide to go left, this is where the fun starts. Put your helmet and your head torch on.
The tunnels are very well sign posted to prevent hikers getting lost. Several different routes and vantage points can be taken and informative placards adorn the most striking features such as sleeping quarters, lookouts and the mistakes soldiers made when mining their way through.
Incredibly this is how they were engineered. A group of soldiers would just guesstimate which direction they needed to go, mine until they saw sunlight, judge their location, and repeat the process.
Tunnel collapses were common and dust inhalation due to lack of ventilation was a huge problem but the strategic advantage of this location was so important that the sacrifice of a few lives didn’t matter.
The tunnels inside the mountain are sometimes at 45 degree angles and the old wooden relics can still be admired alongside new safety grids and supports. The tunnels are now well ventilated and regularly checked for safety.
You can get up to the upper cable car station in roughly 90 minutes but if you’re a keen history buff and want to read every single sign then it could easily take over 2 hours. Once you emerge from the tunnels the rest of the route up to Rifugio Lagazoui is up a few switchbacks, along former WW1 trenches.
Once you get to the top gondola station, the Lagazuoi hut is only 5 minutes away. This is a fantastic spot for a luxury dining experience. Its views are remarkable and I couldn’t stress an overnight stay more.
Here is a tip for you, If you do plan on staying overnight. Send your bag up on the gondola for a few euros, hike up through the tunnels, then pick up the bag at the top.
This way, with very minimal effort, you will get to experience not only the tunnels but also a sunset and sunrise at Rifugio Lagazuoi and the nearby summit of Piccolo Lagazuoi.
From the refuge it’s approximately 15 minutes up to the summit of Piccolo Lagazuoi, the highest point of the loop, where the views in all directions are classic Dolomiti sheer rock faces and peaks.
The route down is far less interesting than the tunnels. It zigzags down scree slopes and at times can be demanding. The descent route of the anti-clockwise loop described here is known as the Sentiero Dei Kaiserjäger.
Sections of cable are readily available for those with Via Ferrata equipment or for those who want to hold onto something professionally secured.
After the scenic suspension bridge the hardest part of the route is an easy down climb of a few metres followed by a ladder. After this it’s plain sailing continually switchbacking until you reach the car park at the bottom gondola station.
Again, if you aren’t the most surefooted or are new to hiking then I suggest you pack Via Ferrata equipment. It’s better to have it and not need it than the other way around.
You must take is a decent torch with extra batteries, a helmet and a good pair of climbing gloves. The route within the tunnel can be steep at times, the use of a handrail makes for an easier ascent but as it it is dark, cold and wet inside the tunnels, you’ll certainly want gloves.
Apart from the tunnels the next biggest highlight is the rifugio Lagazuoi itself. Most of the photos on this post were taken from the nearby proximity of this hut. It's one of the most photogenic mountain huts in the Dolomites and definitely worth staying at.
For more day hikes ideas check out my Italian Dolomites Guide! Leave a comment below if you have any questions about the hike!
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More day hikes in the Dolomites
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.