Driving through the Dolomites can be scary at times. It certainly takes some time to get used to. With plenty of hairpin turns, narrow roads and locals who sometimes drive like there is no tomorrow, only confirming the stereotypes about the italian drivers.
But as long as you take your time and keep your eyes on the road you will be fine. Although the latter might prove itself difficult with the views you are about to encounter.
The mountain passes of the Italian Dolomites offer great access to the many hikes and via ferratas which these ranges are famous for. I am about to share a bucket load of information with you.
So fasten your seat belt and get ready for a beautiful ride through the Dolomites' best mountain passes.
10 Beautiful Mountain Passes In The Italian Dolomites
1. Passo Rolle
Nestled right beneath the dramatic spires of the Pale Di San Martino group, Passo Rolle is a must stop when driving between Val di Fassa and San Martino di Castrozza.
In the winter the area around Passo Rolle turns into a world class ski resort and the summer transforms it into endless fields of colourful wildflowers.
A challenging day hike to Passo del Mulaz starts here. By walking only 30 minutes away from the road you will also find Baita G Segantini and its reflective ponds - one of the iconic photography spots in the Dolomites.
There are a few hotels directly at Passo Rolle should you want to be close to all the action.
2. Passo Gardena
Passo Gardena is my personal favourite mountain pass in the Dolomites. Why is that you may wonder? For adventure junkies and photography lovers like myself, the Gardena pass is the perfect playground.
With the access to two great via ferratas: Gran Cir and Brigata Tridentina as well as the jaw dropping views over Sassolungo (Langkofel) and a big larch tree forest turning gold during autumn months, you will want to spend some time around here.
If you want to base yourself close to the Gardena Pass the nearest town is Corvara, only 15 minute drive away.
3. Passo Sella
Not too far from the previously mentioned beautiful Gardena Pass is another incredible pass - Passo Sella. It takes its name from the Sella mountain group which stands right in between those two passages.
The Sella pass is where you should stop if you want to get a closer look of the peaks of Sassolungo and Sassopiato.
If that's not close enough, I highly recommend strapping a helmet and harness on and venturing into the heart of this group on the exhilarating via ferrata Oskar Schuster.
There is a seasonal hotel opened between June and September and during winter ski months directly on the pass, creatively called the Passo Sella resort.
The two nearby towns connected by the pass are Selva di Val Gardena and Canazei.
4. Passo Giau
Passo Giau is certainly the most iconic pass on this list, mostly thanks to instagram. The pass lies more or less half way between Cortina D'Ampezzo and Selva di Cadore.
In the summer you can often meet hikers here, crossing the path along the famous Alta Via 1 - a 130 kilometre long backpacking trip running across the Dolomites. I have recently walked it myself!
The peak you can see in the photo above is called Ra Gusela and you can access its summit along a via ferrata. The view from the top is completely different to the one below and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to venture off the beaten path.
Another icon visible from the pass is Marmolada - Dolomite's highest peak!
5. Passo Falzarego
I have spent many days around Passo Falzarego exploring the area. There is lots to do here as you are about it find out!
The pass is a 30 minute drive away from Cortina D'Ampezzo in the direction of Selva di Cadore or Corvara.
Just like the previously mentioned Passo Giau, the Falzarego mountain pass also lies on the Alta Via 1. It's also home to rifugio Lagazuoi - one of the most photogenic mountain huts in the Dolomites, which stands a few hundred meters above it.
You can spend the day here hiking through the Lagazuoi tunnels and learn about the gruelling history of this place dating back to the First World War.
Only a short hike away from the pass lies Lago Limides, another iconic photo spot in the Dolomites, where you can see the reflections of Tofana di Rozes - a mountain peak pictured above.
As you can see, you could plan your holiday just around the Falzarego pass and you wouldn't get bored.
6. Passo Tre Croci
The Tre Croci Pass connects Cortina D'Ampezzo with Misurina and Tre Cime National Park. It also stands on the divide between two mountain groups: Sorapiss and Cristallo.
The latter with its highest peak - Monte Cristallo is pictured above. You can access its summit through an exciting via ferrata Marino Bianchi - one of my personal favorites.
Passo Tre Croci is also where the trail to Lago di Sorapiss sets off. This is one of the day hikes in the Italian Dolomites, you shouldn't miss.
7. Passo Delle Erbe
Passo delle Erbe is probably the least frequented mountain pass in the Dolomites, a true off the beaten track experience. You can access it from the town of Santa Magdalena in Val di Funes.
After driving through endless and narrow hairpins you get to a parking lot at the foot of Sass de Putia, the mountain you can see in the photo above. Sass de Putia can be summited in a few hours via a great beginner via ferrata.
Just on the other side of it runs the Alta Via 2, one of the long distance treks running from North to South over the Dolomites.
8. Passo Compologno
Connecting the towns of Corvara and Arabba, the Compologno Pass is the perfect spot to break up the journey and enjoy the views along the way.
The mountain pictured above which is visible from the pass is called Sassongher. It's accessible through a beginner via ferrata and with the summit measuring over 2700 meters a.s.l. it makes for a great day outing.
Another attraction nearby is the Boé Gondola. Boarding from Corvara it takes you up to the start of via ferrata Piz Da Lech as well as a few different hikes in the Sella mountain group.
9. Passo Fedaia
With a few choices of restaurants and hotels as well as a regular running bus, passo Fedaia seems more like a small mountain town rather than just a pass.
A man made lake of the same name and a massive dam are two features which separate passo Fedaia from the rest.
The mountain on the photo above is none other than Marmolada, the queen of the Dolomites, their highest peak!
The Fedaia Pass marks the start for an advanced via ferrata Eterna Brigata Cadore, ending at Punta Serauta, the lowest of several peaks on Marmolada.
So far I had 4 failed attempts to tackle this ferrata, each one interrupted by either poor weather conditions or me just feeling lazy. I now have another good reason to come back.
Just on the other side of the pass you will find Malga Ciapela, where you can catch an aerial tramway to another of Marmolada's peaks - Punta Rocca. This is where you can find the museum of the Great War!
10. Passo Pordoi
Passo Pordoi connects the towns of Canazei in Val di Fassa with Arabba. It's one of several passes which I have crossed on my backpacking trip along the Alta Via 2.
An absolute must do on the pass is catching the cable car to the top of Sass Pordoi for an elevated view of the surrounding mountains, including (once again) Marmolada!
From the top of the gondola station it's only an hour and 15 minutes to the summit of Piz Boè, the highest in the Sella mountain group.
Here you can grab a lunch or even book an overnight stay in the second highest mountain refuge in the Dolomites- rifugio Capanna Fassa. It's one of my personal favourite huts I have stayed at!
If you don't want to spend the money on the gondola, from Passo Pordoi you can hike along the path nr 601 to rifugio Viél Dal Pan. It's a great beginner hike with beautiful views over Marmolada and lake Fedaia.
As always if you have any questions for me or would like to add something feel free to comment below!
If you need more help planning your trip check out my full Italian Dolomites Guide for more inspiration.
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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.