The dolomiti park I get asked most frequently about is Tre Cime. People flock from all corners of the globe to see the 3 grand monoliths - the most famous feature of the park.
What most don't realise however is that although the Three Peaks are spectacular, there are other mountains in the park such as Croda Dei Toni, Tre Scarperi or Cadini di Misurina (just to name a few), that in my eyes are even more dramatic.
This 4 day / 3 night north to south traverse of Tre Cime National Park will not only give you the opportunity to see them all, but also to tackle several fantastic via ferratas along the way.
If this wasn't enough, you will also get the opportunity to stay in 3 out of 15 of the most photogenic mountain huts in the Italian Dolomites!
A 4 day Traverse Through The Highlights Of Tre Cime natIonal Park Including Via Ferratas
An Interactive Map
Although this map is pretty accurate, and will help you visualise and plan your route, it should not be used to navigate in the mountains.
The Sesto region of the Dolomites (which contains Tre Cime Nature Park) is detailed in Tabacco Map No. 10. I strongly suggest you purchase it and highlight the route on the map following the suggestions from my article.
The route is achievable between mid June and the last week of September but don't forget that being in the mountains means you can expect snowfall even in the height of summer. I took some of the pictures in this post in August!
Day 1: Val Fiscalina to Rifugio Pian di Cengia
10 km / 6.2 miles
ca. 1100m / 3600 feet
As first days go it doesn't get much easier than this, only a mere 1100m of elevation gain! I hope you get my sarcasm. The route starts at hotel Dolomitenhof, the furthest south you can get into the Fiscalina valley by car or by bus.
The biggest towns nearby are either Sesto (Sexten) (8 minute drive away) or San Candido (15 minute drive away). If you want to make an early start however, I recommend splurging on the fancy hotel Dolomitenhof before 3 less luxurious nights in the high alpine huts.
There is an ample parking lot next to the hotel where you can park your car overnight. The cost is 8 Euro/day and you will need cash to pay for it. Sorry no campervans! This traverse does not end in the same spot where it begins, but you can use public transport to get back to the start.
Personally I always prefer to do the relocation before I begin the hike. If you are coming with a car then park it at Lago Antorno, where this backpacking trip ends then catch the bus to Sesto to begin the hike. That way your car will be waiting for you when you finish the traverse.
The path starts as an easy stroll through the valley. Head south on path no. 102 from hotel Dolomitenhof. It's a wide access road that hugs the side of many large fields.
After around twenty minutes of continually touching the old river bed (and thankfully not being on the access road any longer) the route gets to the Talschlusshuette, the first refuge along the way.
The route then swings pass the hut and turns right onto path no. 103. You may have noticed some switchbacks on the mountain in front of you, that's where you're heading. These gruelling switchbacks, which have intermittent protection from the sun, help you gain most of the elevation of the day.
Thankfully though, the views back north into the valley become increasingly better so if you need an excuse to take a rest, a photography break will make for one.
Eventually, you'll round a corner and see, for the first time, the unobstructed view of Croda Dei Toni (Zwölferkofel in German).
Zwölf in German means 12 so as you can probably guess by now, the mountain is called Zwölferkofel because it has 12 separate peaks, much like the Dreizinnen (Tre Cime) which have 3 distinct peaks (Drei in German means three). Germand and Italian are the official languages of the Dolomites and you will often see signs in both languages.
After around 2 - 3 hours you will gain over 700m and be on the door step of Rifugio Zsigmondy (Comici Hütte)
This is a great stop to grab a coffee and cake and enjoy it on the terrace of the hut with unobstructed views of the Zwölferkofel.
After the break continue uphill on path no. 101 for approx. another hour until you reach Rifugio Pian di Cengia (Büllelejochhütte). Your first night accommodation on this epic traverse.
Day 1: Alternative route: Via Ferrata Strada Degli Alpini
12 km / 7.5 miles
(from the upper gondola terminal)
(from the upper gondola terminal)
ca. 900m / 300m
ca. 2950 / 984 feet
A high alpine route which runs parallel to the one described above is the beginner Via Ferrata Strada Degli Alpini. The link takes you to my other article describing the route in reverse.
This is an alternate approach with even more scenic views and not to mention a great warm up to the upcoming via ferratas.
It starts at the top of the Croda Rossa Chairlift near rifugios Rudi and Prati di Croda Rossa. Head away from the two huts on path no. 100 until you reach the Valon di Sentinella before a steep push on a scree slope to Forcella Undici on path no. 124. The route then undulates on path no 101, mostly downhill until you reach the protected section of the via ferrata.
The cable section is straightforward and the main highlight is the Ledge of Salvation. The route then bends westward passing Lago d'Ghiaacciato and the scree slope directly beneath Zwölferkofel before dropping slightly to Rifugio Zsigmondy, where it joins the route described above. From here you can continue to rifugio Pian Di Cengia.
It's best to refer to the Tabacco Map nr 010 to visualize it.
Day 1: Extension to Mitti di Mezzo
2 km / 1.2 miles
ca. 150m / 500 feet
If you've set off early and have a bit of spare time in the afternoon, behind rifugio Pian di Cengia starts the route to the summit of Mitti di Mezzo.
It doesn't take long, but on a decent day you can spend ages at the top looking down into the Fiscalina Valley you've just hiked up or into the Sassovecchio Valley which branches of it.
If you decide to look at eye level instead you'll have Tre Cime to the South West, Tre Scarperi to the North West, Zwölferkofel to the South and Croda Rossa to the East.
The best part is, I have never seen another person (who wasn't in my hiking group) at this viewpoint! We had the whole place to ourselves!
Rifugio Pian di cengia (BüllelejochHütte)
This is a beautifully situated albeit very small refuge with super friendly staff and cozy atmosphere. On their website you can find prices and other info. To make a reservation, send your enquiries to email@example.com
If it's full then rifugio Zsigmundy makes a great alternative. You can make enquiries through their booking page.
Day 2: Rifugio Pian di Cengia to Rifugio Locatelli along via ferrata Innerkofler
2 km / 1.2 miles
ca. 300 m / 400 m
ca. 1000 / 1300 feet
After leaving rifugio Pian di Cengia the hike conitnues north westward on path no. 101 towards Forcella Pian di Cengia. Here the route splits and you will be faced with two choices.
First one is to continue on path 101 all the way to rifugio Locatelli. The refuge is only 1 hour walk away from Pian di Cengia hut. Choose this option if you are feeling tired from the previous day or don't want to do two via ferratas in one day.
The second one, which I personally recommend is taking the high alpine route that runs parallel to the path no.101 and tackle the via ferrata Innerkofler with the summit extension to Monte Paterno. This option will take 2-3 hours depending on your fitness level.
Via ferrata Innerkofler, also known as via ferrata De Luca, is drenched in WW1 history. From Forcella Pian Di Cengia you will need to head towards Forcella dei Laghi then Forcella Camoscio. If you were wondering the meaning of the word Forcella it is saddle.
After scaling a few protected ledges, the route to the top of Monte Paterno becomes available. It's a wide summit which is attained by a few switchbacks on a well trodden scree path.
The views at the top are terrible and not worth visiting. Just kidding! I sometimes run out of adjectives to describe the beauty of the Dolomites!
After checking out the summit you will have to descend back down to Forcella Camiosco then follow the signs for rifugio Locatelli. You will also cross a couple of hundred meters of tunnel network created by the soldiers during World War I. It's a surreal place!
I have a separate article describing via ferrata Innerkofler starting at rifugio Locatelli and ending at Forcella Lavaredo, but since you will be coming from a different direction I highly recommend that you look for the route on the Tabacco Map nr 010.
Entension Day 2: Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin
2 km / 1.2 miles
ca. 200m / 650 feet
In the afternoon, once you've seen all the sights in the immediate vicinity of the Locatelli hut, your next challenge is via ferrata Torre di Toblin.
It's not an easy climb but with some steady feet and lack of fear of heights it's attainable even for those who are just beginning their adventure with italian via ferratas.
I think the main thing people have trouble with on this route is the exposure. In one particular section, you have to climb a ladder on a rocky cleft, with a decent fall below you (see the photo above of me clinging to that ladder). Climbing a secure ladder is easy under normal circumstances but when it's cold, windy and icy dangling above a 100m drop becomes somewhat mentally tougher.
The true route goes clockwise around Torre di Toblin and ascends its northern side. Although it's certainly possible, please do not try to descend down this way, it'll just cause unnecessary traffic jams.
The descent on Torre di Toblin's eastern face is much easier climbing and of a far shallower grade. It's generally accepted that this route can also be done as the ascent and descent as there are multiple safe places to pass groups going in the other direction (unlike the north face).
I've been to the summit a few times, I even bivouacked up there once! The view is outstanding! I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. For more please visit my in depth article about the Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin available in the via ferrata section of my Italian Dolomites Guide.
Rifugio Locatelli (DreiZinnenHütte)
This is the toughest rifugio to get reservations at. It's big but very sought after hut so make a reservation here first and then plan the trip accordingly. If it's full, then there's a good argument to stay 2 nights at Rifugio Pian di Cengia and do your exploring from there.
The website of rifugio Locatelli is very basic, but they do have an english section! Their contact emails are firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com. It strictly states that if you do not include your name, full postal address, telephone number and email address you will not get a response.
The hut is Club Alpino Italiano affiliated so anybody with a membership (or a reciprocal climbing membership in their country of origin) will receive discounts.
The terrace of rifugio Locatelli has the view of the northern faces of Tre Cime. Their stark flat slabs raise more than 600m above! You can often spot climbers scaling the faces of these monoliths.
Near the hut you can find interesting rock formations, flowers and pools of water that make for excellent photography foregrounds. The famous WW1 cave, which I've highlighted on the map, is also a ten minute stroll away on the slopes of Sasso di Sesto.
If you've never stayed in an Italian refuge before you might find my article on what to expect when staying in a hut in the Dolomites very useful. I touch up on topics such as reservations, food, opening times and prices as well as alpine club memberships.
Day 3: Rifugio Locatelli to Rifugio Fonda Savio
12.5 km / 7.8 miles
4h 30 min
685 m / 720 m
2250 / 2360 feet
When leaving rifugio Locatelli on the third day of the traverse you will once again be faced with a choice.
You can either circle the Three Peaks clockwise crossing the famous Forcella Lavaredo - one of the most iconic views in the Dolomites, or go around the Tre Cime counterclockwise following the Alta Via 4 route for the day. Distance wise both ways are roughly the same and will lead you to the same spot - rifugio Auronzo.
The route then heads south on Sentierro Bonacossa (path 117).
For the most part Sentiero Bonacossa is a hike with a short downhill cable protected section in the middle.
It has a Fletcher/Smith climbing rating of 1A, the technically simplest, most unexposed route. I would still however recommend putting on your via ferrata equipment. In the mountains always follow the rule - better to be safe than sorry!
The frustrating part is that when you do go down the cabled section into the Val De Le Cianpedele, you lose a lot of elevation only to gain it all again on the last push to rifugio Fonda Savio.
Rifugio Fonda Savio
Apart from the location, my fondness of this hut is due to the hut Frau who runs it - Marianna. She's a no nonsense, strict but fair, amicable, woman who is the epitome of mountain culture. You go to bed early at night, you wake up early and you work hard during the day.
On their website, which thankfully has an English section, you can find prices and gastronomy info. The contact email for reservations is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is another hut belonging to the Italian Alpine Club, so if you own an alpine club membership do remember to bring it with you!
Day 4: Via Ferrata Merlone
3 km / 1.85 miles
ca. 400m / 1310 feet
This is a really rewarding via ferrata! Although it's very exposed, the actual route doesn't contain any technically demanding climbing. For the most part it's a series of steep ladders going straight up the western faces of Cima Del Cadin.
The views of the Fonda Savio hut are especially grand in the approach to the ferrata.
The approach is short, at first it gains a little elevation directly south of the hut then drops into, and crosses, the Ciadin Del Nevaio. This was probably once a vast glacier but now all that remains is a small and easy to navigate snow pack.
The climbing on via ferrata Merlone is fun and exciting and if you're really moving quickly you can be at the top in less than 2 hours after starting. It's really satisfying sitting on the summit after spending a considerable chunk of yesterday admiring this range.
The route down is the same as the ascent. Once you get back to the refuge, where potentially you could have left some stuff to lighten your load, you can enjoy a nice lunch before completing the last leg of this traverse.
Day 4: Rifugio Fonda Savio to Lago Antorno
3 km / 1.85 miles
ca. 600 m / 1970 feet
This is the final section of the traverse and after what you've been through for the past 4 days, it's a welcome down hill hike on path no. 115 all way to the road.
The car park where the path finishes is almost equidistant between Lago d'Antorno and Lago d'Misurina. I suggest going first to Lago d'Antorno and taking a look at Tre Cime reflecting in its calm waters.
Afterward you can head down to the much larger, and busier, Lago Misurina where regular buses run to Cortina D'Ampezzo or northward back to Toblach then San Candido and Sesto
Alternatively you can stay in one of the hotels in Misurina. This would be the luxury you deserve after completing this traverse.
ACCOMMODATION options in Misurina
How To Shorten Or Extend This Excursion?
The route can be shortened to two nights by taking the path no. 102 north from Rifugio Locatelli through Sassovecchio valley or on path no. 105 out the Campo di Dentro valley .
If you would like to add another day to this traverse I recommend staying the first night in rifugio Carducci and adding the via ferrata Severino Casara around Zwölferkofel to the itinerary.
If you have any questions about this route, and you can't find the answers in the article, then please let me know in the comment section below!
Also if this is going to be part of a larger trip, then please feel free to check out the rest of my Italian Dolomites 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.