When I phoned my dad one day asking him if he would like to hike Alta Via 1 with me in the Italian Dolomites, he didn’t even blink before saying yes. He absolutely loved our adventure and keeps asking me when the next one is going to be!
Many months later (more than I’d like to admit) I finally put together a detailed guide to help you plan the Alta Via 1 for yourself! It became a part of a series of over 60 articles dedicated to hiking and photography in the Italian Dolomites.
The Comprehensive Guide To Alta Via 1 – Part 1: Overview + Days 1-5
The first part of the guide covers an overview of Alta Via 1, answers questions on the best time of the year to hike it, and what the average daily cost of the excursion is.
I will also break down the first 5 days of the route including the path numbers, short summaries, photos, and possible route extensions before we head over to the second part.
In the second part, I will cover days 6-11. At the end of the guide, you will also find the list of most mountain huts along Alta Via 1 with their contact info as well as possible early escape routes for those who don’t plan on hiking the complete route.
Alta Via 1 – The Stats
Alta Via 1 also known as the Dolomite High Route 1 is undoubtedly Italy’s most famous backpacking route. There are a lot of websites and printed guides out there giving contradicting information about the length of the route saying it is anywhere from 120 to 150 kilometers long.
I measured the mileage with a Garmin GPS each day and the total kilometers amounted to 142 (not including the extensions). According to Garmin’s website, there is a 5% margin error when surveying the distances.
The total elevation gain is 7200 meters (23600 feet) and the elevation loss is 8100 meters (26570 feet)
Unlike Alta Via 2 or Alta Via 4, both of which I have hiked during the same summer season, Alta Via 1 is a non-technical route. If you are a fit individual then it’s a great journey to undertake especially when you are just starting to dip your feet into the world of backpacking.
There are a few via ferrata which can be undertaken as extensions to the route and I will be pointing to them further along in my guide, however, you will need to pack extra equipment if you decide to tackle them.
How to pack for Alta Via 1
The general rule for any hut-to-hut treks in the Dolomites is to go as light as possible. Thanks to the well-equipped huts there is no need to carry tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, or even food!
Your backpack shouldn’t be bigger than 38 liters. If you are a skilled packer then a 30 litre backpack should suffice. For your convenience, I have written a comprehensive packing list, including links to my favorite gear and a downloadable checklist!
The optimal time of year for hiking Alta Via 1
Hiking seasons in the mountains are usually very short and the Dolomites are no exception. Most huts on the Alta Via 1 stay open from the third week of June until the third week of September.
You can expect snow to linger on the northern slopes as late as mid-July and if that’s when you’re planning your trip for, make sure to pack gaiters. I hiked Alta Via 1 at the very start of the season and we encountered snow on most days, in some places a couple of meters deep!
During the months of June, July, and August the weather is very predictable. The days usually start with clear blue skies, by late morning the clouds begin to build up, and in the early afternoon thunderstorms roll in.
It’s smart to leave the huts right after breakfast and pre-pack before to avoid being caught in thunderstorms.
The weather tends to be the most stable in September. Although the temperatures at night and mornings are below freezing, the days are still pleasantly warm and the skies often stay blue throughout the whole day.
Where Does the Alta Via 1 Start?
Lago di Braies – the gem of the Dolomites marks the start of the route. There is a hotel right on its shoreline for those who would like to start early on the first day.
If you are coming from abroad and using public transport you can travel to Cortina D’Ampezzo first. Cortina is one of the most charming tourist towns in the Dolomites.
There are a few shuttle companies operating between Venice and Milan airports including Flixbus. From Cortina local buses run regularly to Lago di Braies. The journey takes around 1 hour.
Where does Alta Via 1 end?
Alta Via 1 ends at a bus stop near La Pissa kind of in the middle of nowhere! Don’t worry though you won’t be left stranded. Buses do operate every hour and you can find the schedule in the last 2 huts you will be staying at.
The bus will take you to the nearest biggest city – Belluno from where you can either travel back by bus to Cortina or to any other place in Italy by train.
The cost of hiking Alta Via 1
Out of the three Alta Vias I walked, I found Alta Via 1 to be the most expensive. There are a couple of reasons for it.
Firstly Alta Via 1 is the most famous backpacking trip in Italy. You will encounter people from all over the world in the rifugios. It’s a great opportunity to meet new friends as quite often you will be staying with the same people in the same huts throughout the whole traverse.
Speaking of huts. The second reason why Alta Via 1 is more expensive is that quite often the huts are privately owned and provide higher service than on other routes.
A lot of them have been renovated into more fancy backcountry lodges rather than basic refuges. Some have modern booking systems on their websites and even started providing free Wi-Fi for their guests!
I have a whole post dedicated to Italian mountain huts and what to expect when staying in them.
In general, you should calculate spending a minimum of 80 Euro/per person/per day on average, but 90-100 Euros is more of a realistic budget if you would like to have drinks, cakes, or whatever else there is on offer.
Apart from that, you should budget for the accommodation before and after the trek, transportation, and any necessary gear purchases.
An interactive map of Alta Via 1
I created the map below to give you an overview of Alta Via 1. I marked all mountain huts as well as day routes and extensions. Click on the button in the top left corner of the map to see the different layers and names of the places.
Whilst pretty accurate this map should not be used when navigating through the mountains! For that, you will require a proper topography map.
For crossing Alta Via 1 you need to purchase the TABACCO MAPS numbers: 031 (Dolomiti Di Braies), 03 (Dolomiti Ampezzane), and 025 (Dolomiti Di Zoldo) either online or in any sport, souvenir, or cigarette shop in the local towns. Even some Rifugios sell them!
Alta Via 1: day-by-day breakdown
Day 1: Lago di Braies to Rifugio Biella
- Distance: 9.3 km / 5.8 mi
- Walking Time 3h min
- Elevation gain: 937 m / 3074 ft
- Elevation loss: 120 m / 393 ft
- Path number: 1
The first day is relatively short with only 9,5 kilometers (5.9 miles) to cover before you make it to the first refuge. The start couldn’t be more scenic – the turquoise Lake Braies surrounded by soaring peaks with Croda del Becco towering above them all.
You will have two choices either to navigate the lake counterclockwise following the official route or clockwise,
a slightly quieter and more scenic of the two options. Once you make it to the other side of the lake the ascent starts. It’s important to start early as a lot of day 1 is spent on sun-exposed paths. Good sunscreen and a headcover is a must.
There is a short cable-protected section around halfway to the hut but it’s only useful when the conditions are icy or wet. In around 3 hours following path no. 1 the whole way, you will reach Forcella Sora Forno (in Italian Forcella means a saddle or a pass). From here it’s a short descent to your first hut.
Night 1: Rifugio Biella
Rifugio Biella is quite basic. If possible ask for a room which isn’t in the attic, where the walls are paper-thin. I hope you packed those earplugs! Spend the afternoon just enjoying the vast views from the terrace or head out and summit the nearby Croda del Becco!
Extension day 1: Croda Del Becco/Seekofel Summit
If you would like to hike to the top of Croda del Becco I recommend that you first check in at the hut and leave most of your stuff behind. Take only the necessities and head back out to Forcella Sora Forna.
A clear sign will point you in the direction of the summit route. From the saddle, it’s around a 2-hour round trip. My dad and I decided to do the summit hike for sunrise on the second day of the traverse and we made it back to the hut just in time for the all-you-can-eat-breakfast!
From the summit, you can look down to Lago di Braies where you started the hike!
Day 2: Rifugio Biella to Rifugio Fanes
- Distance: 15.4 km / 9.6 mi
- Walking Time: 4h 15 min
- Elevation gain: 654 m / 2146 ft
- Elevation loss: 908 m / 2980 ft
- Path numbers: 6, 6A, 7
The day starts following a wide path that is used by off-road cars to carry supplies to Biella hut. Follow signs for Rifugio Sennes which you will reach within one hour. By the way, this is a great alternative for a night if you prefer a bit more comfort or don’t plan on doing the Croda del Becco extension.
Continue through the green pastures passing a few more wooden huts before you start the long descent to Rifugio Pederu located at the end of the glacially shaped Tamersc Valley. This is a great spot to stop for lunch and some scooped ice cream! Yes, they sell decent Italian gelato in the mountains!
Don’t stay too long to avoid the midday sun as you will begin your ascent to Rifugio Fanes on path no. 7.
At first, the route is exposed, then it plateaus for a bit, before gently climbing up again along a path leading through the forest.
After approximately 2 hours of leaving Pederu, you will reach Rifugio Fanes.
Night 2: Rifugio Fanes
Rifugio Fanes is an amazing hut and feels more like a fancy backcountry lodge. There is no phone reception in the area, but the hut offers free wifi between certain hours of the day. It isn’t very fast but it does the job.
Prepayment for the accommodation is required when booking in advance. Oh, and did I mention hot showers are included in the price?
TIP: If the hut is full, rifugio Lavarella, a mere 5-minute walk away, is a great alternative and seems to attract a younger crowd.
Day 3: Rifugio Fanes to Rifugio Lagazuoi
- Distance: 14.5 km / 9 mi
- Walking time: 4h 30 min
- Elevation gain: 1086 m / 3563 ft
- Elevation loss: 418 m / 1371 ft
- Path numbers: 11, 20B, 20
Day 3 was one of my favorite of the whole traverse. There are very few signs of civilization as you continue the hike through the Fanes – Sennes – Braies National Park.
The first couple of hours of the day is spent on path no.11 – an old military road. The views are idyllic. Green pastures, crystal clear lakes and streams, snow-covered peaks, and very few people in sight.
After that, the path branches off to the left as you begin the ascent to Forcella del Lago and enter the beautiful Cortina Dolomites. On a good weather day, you will be able to spot Rifugio Lagazuoi from the saddle – your destination for the day.
From the saddle, you drop down through a steep gully to a small turquoise lake followed by another ascent through moon-like landscapes all the way to the hut.
We encountered a lot of snow on this part of the hike and sometimes sank in knee-deep making our ascent that much more difficult. The views from the terrace of Rifugio Lagazuoi more than made up for the struggle.
Night 3: Rifugio Lagazuoi
I have stayed in the Lagazuoi hut twice before and it made it onto my list of the most photogenic mountain huts in the Dolomites! The rooms are cozy, it offers warm showers and a really nice breakfast!
Don’t miss the chance to summit the nearby Picollo Lagazuoi (only 30 minutes return trip from the hut) from where you can photograph the refuge and its awesome location.
Day 4: Rifugio Lagazuoi to Rifugio Averau
- Distance: 9.3 km / 5.8 mi
- Walking time: 3h
- Elevation gain: 370 m / 1214 ft
- Elevation loss: 700 m / 2297 ft
Day 4 gives a few path choices leading to the next refuge and I will cover some below. It’s best if you refer to the Tabacco Map 03 to visualize your options.
Path Numbers Option 1: 401, 402, 441
The shortest and fastest route takes you down on path 401 to Forcella Travenanzes then follows path 402 on the descent to Passo Falzarego. You then ascend on path 441 all the way to Rifugio Averau.
This is the option I went for and I recommend it to anyone who plans on doing the extensions in the afternoon. If you are feeling lazy today you can also catch the gondola down to Passo Falzarego and then continue hiking on path 441.
Path Numbers Option 2: 401, 402, 412, 440
The original Alta Via route. This starts the same way as option 1 but passes Forcella Travenanzes and continues on path 402 to Forcella Bois. It then goes down and turns onto path 412 leading to the restaurant ‘Da Strobel. Afterward, it crosses the road and follows path no. 440 passing lake Limides, rifugio Scoiatolli and finally ending at rifugio Averau
Path Numbers Option 3: Lagazuoi tunnels, 402, 441
If you would like to learn a little bit about the bloody history of Passo Falzarego this is a great route to take. The entry to the Lagazuoi tunnels is only a couple of hundred meters away from the Lagazuoi hut. The tunnels are dark and narrow so you will need a head torch and ideally a helmet to avoid bumping your head on the low ceilings.
During bad weather, the tunnels are subjected to floods. This is what stopped me and my dad from going this way. I have explored the Lagazuoi tunnels the previous year so at least I didn’t feel like I missed out.
Night 4: Rifugio Averau
I really recommend staying at Rifugio Averau. Albeit slightly more expensive than other nearby options (rifugios Scoiatolli and Nuvolau) it offers exquisite food and the most comfortable mattresses on the whole traverse. Something one learns to appreciate after hiking all day long.
Possible extensions Day 4: Via Ferrata Averau or Cinque Torri
Extension 1: Via Ferrata Averau
Starting within a hundred meters from the Averau hut, Via Ferrata Averau takes its name from the summit it leads to. I have done it the previous year for sunset.
If it weren’t for the bad weather on the afternoon of our 4th day on Alta Via 1, I would have loved to take my dad there to show him the amazing views from the top. Visit my post to see for yourself!
Extension 2: Cinque Torri
If you choose the second variant for the day when hiking from Rifugio Lagazuoi to Rifugio Averau you will walk by Cinque Torri. It translates to five towers and it’s an interesting rock formation not far from the hut.
There is an old military fort turned into an outdoor museum dating back to the First World War right at the foot of the towers. You can spend the afternoon exploring the area.
Day 5: Rifugio Averau to Rifugio Citta Di Fiume
- Distance: 14.5 km / 9 mi
- Time: 4h 15 min
- Elevation gain: 550 m / 1804 ft
- Elevation loss: 1030 m / 3380 ft
- Path numbers: 452, 436, 458, 467
Today you will cross another one of the very photogenic mountain passes of the Dolomites – Passo Giau. Throughout the whole day, you will be getting nearer to the unmistakable Mount Pelmo – one of the highest Dolomiti peaks.
You can recognize it by its distinct armchair shape. Rifugio Citta di Fiume is located beautifully right at its foot.
Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favor on that day. Most of it we spent hiking in a thick cloud and rain until it cleared up in the late afternoon (some pics below were taken the year before).
I didn’t mind though as for the rest of the trip we had perfect blue skies every day! The first 4 photos you see above were taken the previous year when I was exploring the area.
Night 5: Rifugio Citta Di Fiume
Rifugio Citta di Fiume is quite small and it may not provide the same fancy services as the other huts on the first 4 days of Alta Via 1, but it makes up for it with a great atmosphere and delicious homemade food.