With over 1000 rifugios, the hut system in the Dolomites is arguably the best in the world and I think that if you are planning a holiday here, you should plan at least one nights stay at a dolomiti hut.
When completing my Alta Via hiking project during the summer of 2019 I met a considerable number of international backpackers who seemed to be very misinformed about mountain huts.
The majority of the time they carried too much equipment and packed for every eventuality or came unprepared because they thought the huts were like hotels. Very few people I met knew exactly what to expect.
In this post I'm going to try and give you comprehensive answers to the frequently asked questions such as how to make a reservation, what's included in half board and what kind of facilities you can expect when staying in a mountain hut in the Italian Dolomites. Plus loads more.
A comprehensive Guide to Staying In The Mountain Huts In The Italian Dolomites
1. When do the huts open in the summer season?
The majority of the huts in the Italian Dolomites don't open until mid to late June, with the third week of the month being the most common opening time. You may wonder why they remain closed for so long?
It is due to the fact that there is still a lot of snow in the mountains in May and June making it impossible to get to the refuges. The huts are built at high elevations, often above 2500 meters (approx. 8000 feet) and the avalanche danger is often too great to reopen earlier. Besides the paths leading to them are often still impassable at this time of the year.
Saying that, the snow doesn't completely disappear until July, so if you were planning a hiking holiday in the Dolomites in the spring then I would recommend that you reconsider it, especially if you plan on exploring at higher elevations! The ski season doesn't usually end until the end of April!
Most huts remain open until the third week of September, when you can already expect first snowfall. I've noticed that the SAT huts* in the western part of the Dolomites stay open later, often until the start and some even mid October.
As a general rule the private huts stay open a bit longer than the ones belonging to the Alpine clubs do.
*More on Alpine Club Huts, SAT huts and private huts later in the article.
2. How to make a reservation in a Dolomiti mountain hut
Unfortunately, making a reservation in a Dolomiti Rifugio isn’t as easy as opening a booking engine, followed by a few mouse clicks, typing in your credit card details and instantaneously receiving an email confirmation.
If you are planning your trip a few months in advance and the huts are still closed for the summer season you need to email. 99% of the huts have their own personal website where you can find the contact details.
Don’t expect the answer in the next couple of hours of sending the email. Speaking from my own experience it usually takes a day or two to receive an answer but it’s also not uncommon to wait for a week or longer!
If you are making a reservation during the summer season when the hut is already open you need to call the hut directly. There is usually at least one staff member in the refuge who speaks English and will be able to assist you.
You will be asked for your name and dates but nothing else. Don’t expect to receive any email confirmation. All you need to do is show up. I have made this call many times before and my booking was always there when I arrived.
Due to the huts often being in remote places, the phone reception can be pretty bad. If your name is really difficult to spell or pronounce I suggest that you make it as short and as easy as possible.
3. How much does it cost to stay in a hut in the Dolomites?
I think a lot of people don’t stay in the huts thinking they are way out of their budget! There's nothing further from the truth. The backcountry huts are actually one of the most affordable accommodation options in the Dolomites.
The huts belonging to the Italian Alpine Club usually cost between 45-55 Euros per night for half board. The private huts usually range between 50-70 Euros for half board or 30-35 euros for bed and breakfast.
It's worth mentioning that drinks (apart from the morning tea or coffee and water served at dinner) are not included in the price. The huts serve a variety of alcohol including local beers, wine and famous Italian grappa!
4. What does half board mean?
Half board is the combination of accommodation, breakfast and dinner (usually a three course dinner) which you will be served at the restaurant. That’s right, all huts have their own restaurants!
It’s also possible to not choose half board and to pay for accommodation and meals separately. I always go for this option because I am never able to finish the three course dinner and for me personally they are served too late (the whole dinner usually starts at 6:30 or 7 pm and finishes at 8 or later meaning you end up stuffing your face right before bed time. Yes I go to bed early and wake up very early.
However price wise it’s normally cheaper to just pick the half board option. After all, you do need to replenish all those calories burnt after a day of hiking!
The half board menu is set on the day and you have to confirm your choices usually before 5pm. The majority of the time you will receive between 2 and 3 choices for each course. Vegetarian options are always available and usually the cooks are able to accommodate something for vegans too.
5. Alpine clubs and memberships
The two most popular mountain clubs in the Italian Dolomites are Club Alpino Italiano known simply as CAI and Società degli Alpinisti Tridentini (SAT).
The huts belonging to either of those clubs often sport blue or red shutters, making them recognisable from afar.
Being a member of these organisations means you receive discounts at the club's huts. You don't need to be a member of an Italian Alpine Club to receive a discount either. I have met plenty of travellers from Germany, Austria or Ireland (plus loads other countries) whose National Alpine Club cards entitled them to a discount. I think this reciprocal agreement is awesome.
Moreover the member huts offer accommodation discounts of up to 50% to overnight visitors. The yearly cost of a membership starts at 45 Euros for CAI. I've worked out that it usually pays off to become a member if you plan on staying in at least 5 Alpine Club member huts in the Dolomites.
The privately run huts in the Dolomites do not offer discounts with the memberships.
To find out which hut belongs to an alpine club and which doesn't, simply visit their websites and be on the look out for the emblems of CAI or SAT, a sign of belonging to a club.
I have also included that information along with the prices of what I consider to be the most photogenic huts in the Italian Dolomites in my separate post.
6. Can I just reserve a bed and bring my own food?
It varies from hut to hut, but generally speaking yes you can. The beds in Alpine Club member huts usually cost 26 Euro per night (you receive a discount of up to 50% with the Alpine club member card).
If you bring your own food however, you will have to consume it away from the hut ensuring that you don’t take away the table space from other restaurant paying customers.
You should also know that bringing your own food can often be frowned upon. The people who run the huts usually make their income from running the restaurant and can see you as a 'wasted customer' who doesn't spend any money at the hut.
Obviously you'll have to bring your own cooking equipment, eating utensils etc too.
It's worth mentioning that some private huts only offer bed and breakfast with a la carte dinner or half board options.
7. What kind of facilities can I expect in the huts?
After staying in the alpine huts in New Zealand and Canada I can say in good conscience that European Alpine Huts (including the ones in the Dolomites) are very luxurious in comparison and provide a great refuge to tired trekkers.
The rooms are equipped with bunk beds and usually hold between 4 to 10 people. The largest room I have stayed in had 24 beds and my friend and I were accommodated together with 20 Italian men who were on a weekend getaway! The amount of snoring didn't allow us much sleep that night.
Most of the huts also offer private rooms, but these book out really far in advance.
The huts have running water, often offer showers (for additional cost) and electricity. The more frequented the hut, the more facilities you can expect. Some even started offering WIFI, although I am not exactly sure how I feel about that.
You can expect to pay anywhere between 3-6 euros for a shower and they are commonly limited to only a few minutes. The most expensive one I have come across was a shower at rifugio Locatelli costing 8 Euros for 5 minutes.
Sometimes electricity to charge phones and other electronics you have brought along is only turned on at certain times of the day, so make sure to check with the staff at a refuge if that's the case.
As mentioned before all huts also have restaurants where you can order food and drinks. I think this is brilliant and significantly lowers the volume of things you have to carry in your backpack on a multiday excursion, making it that much more enjoyable!
8. What type of food is served at the huts?
After staying in over one hundred different huts in the Dolomites I came to the conclusion that the menus offered at the huts are very limited and for the most part all look the same.
You can expect pasta (you are in Italy after all), usually three types: bolognese, spaghetti aglio e olio and carbonara. If you are lucky you will also see gnocchi and of course it wouldn't be the Dolomites if polenta wasn't on the menu!
With the latter it can be a real hit and miss. It can range from a soft mush to a hard loaf. For those of you that haven't heard of it, polenta is a dish of boiled cornmeal. It is usually served with some type of meat or mushrooms sauce or grilled cheese.
Personally I've only enjoyed polenta dishes a handful of times and whenever possible I chose to avoid it.
Fresh vegetables aren't usually a thing during meal times as they are difficult to store or transport without bruising and have a limited shelf life.
You can also expect a selection of freshly baked local cakes with apfel strudel, linzer torte and chocolate cake being my favourites. The thought of having one often kept me walking on tougher days!
9. What do I need to bring when staying in a rifugio?
There is one thing that you absolutely must bring when staying in the huts - a sleeping bag liner.
Blankets (or sometimes even proper duvets) and pillows are provided in the huts, but because they are not washed after each guest, it's mandatory to bring a liner ensuring you are not in direct contact with the sheets or blankets.
If you forget, huts sometimes offer to rent or purchase one of them, but it's not worth it. I recommend bringing your own. I personally use a Sea to Summit silk liner, which fits into the palm of my hand when stowed in the bag.
On the huts websites you can often see information about bringing a sleeping bag, but don't be thrown off by this, because what they mean is a sleeping bag liner and it's just an incorrect translation. In all the huts I have stayed in there were always blankets and pillows provided and they have always been thermally sufficient.
I have also written a comprehensive packing list for multiday hikes in the Dolomites to ensure you don't overpack or forget something important.
2021 COVID UPDATE: Please bear in mind that due to Coronavirus restrictions many of the huts currently don't offer duvets or blankets as they can't wash them after each customer. Many of the huts in the 2021 summer season do have bring your own sleeping bag policy.
10. Is there potable water in the huts?
Water is a very precious resource in the Dolomites, especially in the huts. For the most part the water running in the taps is snow melt or rain water collected in huge nearby tanks. By September the tanks run really low and some of the huts simply don't have enough water to keep running.
I've stayed in huts before where they asked their guests to only flush toilets after number 2 in order to preserve the water! Don't worry though, this only happened twice!
Often in the bathrooms you will find signs saying "agua non potable" meaning the water is not potable. After having a conversation with a few hut owners and asking why the water isn't potable I've received a unanimous answer.
Because the water comes from snow melt it doesn't contain minerals and instead quenching your thirst it actually flushes the minerals out of your body. It's like drinking distilled water. Secondly the owners make extra money from selling the water to you and going back to the first argument, I can't say I blame them.
You can buy mineral water bottles at the hut, but they all come in plastic and cost a small fortune. Personally I don't like contributing to the plastic pollution and chose to drink the water from the taps. Each time I carried rehydration tablets with me and mixed them with the water, I never once got sick, but the choice is ultimately yours.
More options to make sure the water won't make you ill include sterilisation pens or sterilisation tablets
11. Can I stay in the hut after the season ends?
Yes you can. After the summer season ends and the huts close you can still overnight in the hut in the winter room (italian: locale invernale; german: winter raum).
Winter rooms are just basic rooms with separate doors. Their purpose is to provide shelter to climbers and mountaineers who venture into backcountry in the winter season.
Usually there are just a few beds and a few blankets available, which is enough to survive if you became stranded in harsh conditions.
When staying in the winter rooms you will however need to bring your own sleeping bag, food and cooking equipment. Also don't expect to find any water. You can either get it from nearby streams or lakes (providing there are any), bring enough with you or boil some snow (if it's available).
So far I have stayed in two winter rooms. Firstly when I was tackling the via ferrata Marino Bianchi. The second time I stayed in the winter room of the rifugio Alberto Primero after completing the via ferrata Passo Santner, just after the official season ended and the hut closed.
Both times I shared the room with other hikers and there weren't enough beds for all of us providing for a rather uncomfortable but funny night.
I have experienced it only once when both the main hut and the winter room were closed. It was the day the summer season ended and the winter room wasn't open yet.
Due to the lack of facilities, no toilets, no water and no other amenities, the winter rooms are free of charge to stay in.
I hope this comprehensive guide to staying in the mountain huts in the Dolomites will help you plan your holidays! If you think there is something I forgot to cover in my post, please leave your question in the comment section below. No comments are left unanswered!
For more articles check out my Italian Dolomites Guide for my favourite hikes, backpacking trips and photography locations!
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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.