Julie Italy 26 Comments

The Dolomites, a commonly overlooked region of Italy for Americans when it comes to planning a vacation, is by far our favorite place in this amazing country.  We spent four days driving incredibly winding roads, up and down through mountainous territory, enjoying some of Italy’s best views. Our first hike, the Lagazuoi Tunnels, really showed us just how beautiful this area is.

First Impression of the Dolomites

This part of the country is almost more Austrian than Italian. German is just as widely spoken as Italian, and we heard hardly any English at all. My knowledge of German and Italian is miniscule, as I only know the necessities, such as counting to ten and asking for a glass of wine. Still, we were able to get by.

The towns looked like they were plucked out of Bavaria, with quaint hotels decorated with masses of petunias and other colorful flowers, ski chalets, and the occasional biergarten. We saw chair lifts and gondolas everywhere, used for skiing in the winter, but were now taking vacationers like ourselves to the mountaintops for some of the highest views over Italy.

The hiking was the best we have had yet; challenging, not overly crowded, with rewarding vistas. At the end of the day we would return to Selva di Cadore, our home base, and enjoy pizza, pasta, and wine. This is our kind of paradise.

Selva di Cadore

Our Home Base: Selva di Cadore

To get to the Dolomites, we rented a car in Venice, driving almost two hours north to the town of Selva di Cadore. We made a pitstop on the way, since Kara got carsick again. Crazy! She has never had a problem with carsickness until this trip. So much for my plans of homeschooling while driving through Africa…I guess we will figure that out once we get there.

Selva di Cadore is a quiet, little town located in the mountains, about a half hour away from Cortina D’Ampezzo. It is a somewhat central location for reaching most of the hiking trails. Plus, we were located away from the main touristy towns; it was wonderful getting away from the masses of tourists in Italy in July.

In Selva di Cadore we stayed at Hotel Garni Ongaro. We stayed in the quadruple room which had bunk beds for Tyler and Kara and a queen-sized bed for Tim and I. The rooms are basic but clean and breakfast each morning was very good. We loved staying in this small town, a nice break from the bigger cities we just visited in Italy.

Selva di Cadore Dolomites

Hiking the Lagazuoi Tunnels

Today we did our shortest of three hikes, since it was already 2 pm once we got started. A half hour north of Selva di Cadore is the Falzarego Pass and the Lagazuoi Tunnels.  The roads here are insane! I don’t think there is a straight section of road in the Dolomites more than 100 meters long, and some mountain climbs would entail driving 36 hairpin turns. We know this because there were signs counting them down during these climbs.

We parked in a car park on a mountaintop, and just when we thought we couldn’t go any higher, there was a cable car to take us to 2800 meters of altitude at the mountain peak. The cable car went so high that we couldn’t even see the top…it was covered in clouds.

Lagazuoi Cable Car

Passo Falzarego

Lagazuoi Cable Car

It was a very smooth, very fast ride to the top. We emerged from the cable car into much cooler weather. The four of us were wearing shorts, T-shirts, and rain jackets, which was not enough clothing. If you plan on doing this hike, make sure you are prepared for the cooler temperatures on the mountain top. 

The cable car runs every 15 minutes starting at 9 am. The last uphill run is at 4:40 pm. Tickets cost €15 one-way all year except for August. In August, tickets cost €17 one way. Get updated hours and pricing here.

Cable Car View

In Silhouette

On the Hiking Trail

After photos with an incredible backdrop, we set off down the mountain. This area of Italy was the site of many World War I battles. We could see tunnels and bunkers carved out of the mountains, remnants from the war.

On this hike we were planning on hiking 1 km down one of these tunnels. In order to do this good footwear and flashlights are a must. We came prepared, but could never find the tunnel!!  I think Italians periodically flip signs backwards just to confuse people.

Hiking Dolomites Kids

Happy to be in Italy

Julie Rivenbark

In a way, we were glad we missed the tunnel. By hiking through a dark tunnel we would have missed some of the best views.

Lagazuoi Tunnel Hike

Earth Trekkers Kids

Dolomites Hike

Halfway down the mountain we found the bottom entrance to the tunnel. We walked through the tunnel part of the way. It was dark, chilly, and slippery. Those flashlights are a must!!

Lagazuoi Tunnel

We finished our last descent, ending our first hike in the Dolomites. The scenery is amazing here. We are really looking forward to a much longer hike tomorrow.

Hiking Dolomites

Facts About the Lagazuoi Tunnels Hike

Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Loss: 650 meters (mostly downhill; a cable car takes you to the highest point)
Length of time: 3 to 4 hours
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Map: You can purchase a map of this hike at the tourist offices, souvenir shops, and outdoor suppliers in the Dolomites. For this hike, you need the Tabacco #3 or #7. Purchasing the map is not necessary. The hiking trail is well marked and easy to follow. You can also reference the book Shorter Walks in the Dolomites, which we mention below.
When to go: This hike is best during the summer months.
Bring: Hiking shoes, water, snacks or lunch, a jacket and long pants (it is chilly at the higher elevations), and of course, your camera.

Please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trail, pack out what you bring to the hiking trail, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

For More Information on Hiking in the Dolomites

Looking for more hikes in the Dolomites? We also hiked the spectular Puez-Odle Altopiano (one of our favorite hikes of all time) and The Tre Cime di Lavaredo Loop, an easy hike around giant pinnacles of stone, one of the iconic views of the Dolomites.

The book Shorter Walks in the Dolomites by Gillian Price was a huge asset to us planning our time in the Dolomites. This book covers 50 one-day hikes in the Dolomites, complete with maps, directions, photographs, and wonderful descriptions of the hikes. If you are considering hiking the Dolomites, we highly recommend this book.

More Information about Italy

Planning a trip to Italy? Read all of our articles in our Italy Travel Guide.

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Comments 26

  1. Hello! Do you know what number hike this is in the “shorter walks” book?
    Love looking at and reading about all your travels!

  2. Hello, thank you for the information about this hike. I was curious, how expensive was the cable cars you used?

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      It’s been several years so I don’t remember the prices. But you could look it up online. I just remember that it seemed rather expensive. Cheers, Julie

  3. Hi – Our family would like to do this hike on our upcoming trip this month. My kids are both 13 and are experienced hikers. However, I am slightly afraid of heights. I am not concerned aa out the tunnel part of the hike, but have read there are a few very exposed areas, and a suspension bridge. What advice can you give?

    1. Post

      Hello Ellen. When we did this hike a few years ago there was not a suspension bridge. I also do not recall any exposure on this hike. The pictures that you see of Tim and I near the edge of the cliff are at a photo viewpoint and can be skipped. The trail just switchbacks down the mountain and never really approaches any drop offs. We ended up not walking through the tunnel, which worked out, since we really, really enjoyed the mountain views. Cheers, Julie

  4. Hi, I’ve seen you’ve used cable cars a bit for the 3 hikes you did – I’m just wondering if you know where to find when the cable cars are running (I’ve read that they may be closed ??end of October/november). So keen to hike the Dolomites!

    1. Post

      You could Google search each cable car to see to what you find. I just did it for the one for the Lagazuoi Tunnels and here is the link. It looks like it operates until October 20. So, you might be out of luck for your time frame. You will also need to keep an eye on the weather. In the winter, snow can close some of the roads. You won’t be there in winter but an early snowstorm could affect your plans too. Good luck! Cheers, Julie

  5. I really want to visit the Dolomites on our upcoming trip to Italy. In fact, I want to see the area more than any other spot in the country. But I have a serious problem. I experience debilitating anxiety with heights near ledges and also on “scary” roads. It happens both when I’m driving and as a passenger, and, yes, I take medication. What I consider a “scary” road is one that has sheer drop-offs, is narrow, super steep, hairpin curves, high bridges or a road that if your car’s brakes went out or something caused you to slightly get off the shoulder, you’d definitely be a goner. As far as heights go, it’s not really elevation that bothers me, but drop-offs and ledges. BUT…I’ve always been an adventurer at heart and I don’t want to allow this newly-acquired, awful disease to completely steal my life. Many people say to just suck it up and conquer my fears by driving the scary road but I tried a few times and had my day ruined by a full-on panic attack. Until I can get it under control, I just have to make careful decisions about what roads & hikes to take so that I can still somewhat enjoy the things I did before I developed this embarrassing and depressing problem. I say all this to ask:
    1. Do you have any recommendations on hikes that don’t have sections where you have to walk close to the edge? I’m fine with heights as long as there is plenty of flat land on both sides of me…no ledges/drop-offs. Aesthetically I prefer hiking in greenery, lush areas versus the bald, rocky, “Badlands” looking sections.
    2. Can you tell me which roads to avoid (based upon my definition above) of a “scary” road?
    I was able to enjoy some wonderful hikes in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone over the summer by getting advice on roads to avoid so I’m hoping to do the same here. I appreciate any advice you can provide. I’ve been researching our Italy trip several hours a day for over a week now and your site is by far my favorite of all the ones I’ve come across!

    1. Post

      Hello Fran. I am so sorry to hear about that you have this newly acquired anxiety. Just so you know, there are quite a few roads in the Dolomites with lots of hairpin turns, although, in my memory, I don’t recall many roads that travel near the edges of drop-offs. But I do distinctly remember lots of hairpin turns because Kara suffers from motion sickness so she had some trouble here, too. Of the three hikes we did, Tre Cime was the “greenest.” However, there are many, many more great hikes to choose from in the Dolomites. I recommend buying the book Shorter Walks in the Dolomites (link is in this article). This is the book we used to pick out our hikes and with this book you should be able to find the perfect hikes to let you experience the Dolomites without the anxiety. Once you pick out a few hikes, use Google Maps to take a look at the roads that you would take to get to the hike. I wish I could give you specific hiking recommendations, but I am really only familiar with the 3 we did. But Lago de Braies is one we didn’t do that you should take a look at. It’s gorgeous and it might be perfect for you. Have fun in the Dolomites! Cheers, Julie

  6. Hi Julie, we LOVE your blog! We will spend 3 days in the Dolomites at the end of July 2018. We decided to follow your footsteps — we are going to hike the same trails you did. However even after studying the maps I can found online, I still could not figure out which route you took for this hike. After leaving the summit, did you take Trail 401 and 402 back to the base? How is the road condition in Dolomites? Is it safe to drive after sunset? Best Regard, Steve from Los Angeles.

    1. Post

      Hello Steve. Yes, we took 401 and 402 down the mountain. These trails are marked and easy to follow. Enjoy the views…they’re incredible!! The roads in the Dolomites are in great condition, at least they were in 2014. However, the roads are very windy, so if you or the people you are traveling with suffer from motion sickness you should bring along some dramamine. It is safe to drive after sunset. Cheers, Julie

    2. I’m not sure how you couldn’t find the entrance to the tunnel, just follow the signs. We are not experienced mountaineers and found it quite easily.
      The tunnel is an exceptional experience and one not to be missed, though you did. The fact that Italian miners tunnelled up here during the Great War in order to blow up the Austrian gun emplacements is a testament to human endeavour. The views from the lateral passages are stunning. The spoil from tunnelling was poured out of these at night and under the cover of heavy snowfalls. Well worth asking someone for directions.
      Driving at night is quite safe here in Europe and in the Dolomites in particular.

  7. Oh gosh oh gosh. After reading this article I so want to do this! We are off to Italy next month and Dolomites is on the itinerary but I didnt know about the tunnels til I read this! My mouth is salivating at those landscape photos!! I have some questions if you dont mind:

    1. Would this hike be possible for beginners? My boys are 9 & 11, but my daughter is only 5.5! Are we being over ambitious trying to do this with three kids who haven’t really experienced mountain hiking before?

    2. How long did it take to get through the tunnels? Was it pitch black? Easy to breath inside?

    3. What happens when somebody has to use the toilet?? Boys are fine but girls…oh dear! haha

    4. From when u stepped into the cable car until you returned down the cable, the trek was 3-4 hrs u say?

    5. From your experience, what was the HARDEST part of this hike? Any areas which are steep and slopey? You didnt require any harnesses or anything correct?

    Hope to hear from you! I am sending my husband this article now hoping to convince him!! haha 🙂

    1. Post

      Yes, this hike is possible for beginners. If you take the cable car to the start of the hike, it is entirely downhill until you get back to your car. You do not need any special equipment, although hiking shoes or good, supportive shoes are a must (and warm clothing because it is cold at the top, even in summer). There are several sections where the trail is a little steep, but it is not difficult to walk. It takes between 3 to 4 hours to do the entire hike, although if you move fast it can take less time. There are bathrooms at the cable car stations but not on the trail. We searched and searched but never found the upper opening to the tunnels, only the lower one. We did walk into it a little bit, which was neat. But honestly, the views out over the Dolomites from this hike are incredible, so we are glad we walked down on the trail rather than in the tunnels. Your kids should be able to handle this hike. Enjoy! Julie

  8. First of all.. I love your blog! I’m a 24 year old traveler a heart, and it’s really inspiring to see that kids don’t have to “be the end of traveling” 🙂

    I’m really curious how you reached/found the beautiful viewpoint from the beautiful photo in the top with the text saying “hiking the Lagazuoi Tunnels. I’m going to the Dolomites this summer and sure, I would love to experience the tunnels because of the history – but I’m a lot more interested in this beautiful view at your picture.

    I hope to hear from you! Safe travels.

    1. Post

      Hello Theresa,

      Take the cable car up from the Falzarego Pass. This takes you to the start of the Lagazuoi Tunnels hike. Just a short ways away from the cable car station is the viewpoint you see in the photo. It is pretty obvious when you are there. Most likely, there will be other people taking photos at this same spot. Enjoy the hike…it’s relatively easy but oh so gorgeous!! – Julie

  9. I’m glad you liked this area, the South Tirol has been on a yo yo between Austria and Italy for a very long time, the fact that the Austrian Tirol is the first region you enter after leaving Italy via the Brenner Pass says it all.
    As the language of Austria is German you can be forgiven for thinking this is a German culture.
    It is a bit like thinking because you speak “”English”” you will be mistaken for being English, far from it you speak American, an entirely different language which separates our two countries.
    Please take the last part of this reply lightheartedly as it was intended and please continue to enjoy our fascinating continent .

    p.s. We are in Val Gardena at the moment in terrific heat of 35°C (95°F). But still enjoying it.

    1. Post

      Hello, Mick. Yes, we loved this area. It is gorgeous, offers great food to eat, and the hiking is some of the best on the planet. In all of our travels this was one of our favorite places. I am so glad it wasn’t that hot when we were there…yikes!

  10. I’m catching up on your trip, when hiking the Dolomites, were there times when you felt like you were the only ones on earth? I didn’t see any other hikers. Your pics are amazing!!

    1. Post

      The Dolomites were amazing, so it was easy to take great pics!! There were a fair number people on the trails, although for brief periods of time we were on our own. This is one of the reasons we like to hike so much. We get to see amazing scenery, and the longer, more difficult hikes take you away from crowds of people. We are planning on doing a lot more like this but it will be hard to beat the Dolomites!

  11. Amazing photos as always. I now have a new location to add to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing your adventures!!

  12. Ok.. We have boy and girl 12 and 10 and we live in baltimore..my husband asks can u review how u got away? Sold your house, quit or leave of absence both jobs? My extended family are enjoying your posts.. Anyone can travel without kids but I like your honesty about what works with kids..

    1. Post

      Hello, The quick answer to how we got away was we sold our house and cars, I quit my job, and my husband took a one year leave of absence from his. We are home schooling the kids using Calvert Education. Taking this trip was a decision that took several years to make and so far it has been the greatest decision ever. For more detailed info,check out our post, “A Checklist Before Traveling the World,” found under the RTW tab. Thanks for reading!

  13. As always beautiful pictures to look at..thank you….So sorry to hear about Kara’s car sickness. What we used to do for our son when we traveled..was to have him eat ritz crackers…it always kept him from being sick.?hope it helps….thanks again for sharing your trip with all of us.

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