Croda Da Lago is one of the most distinctive mountains in the Dolomites. With its jagged peaks it’s the perfect example of the weathering process these ranges are constantly exposed to. Being close to Cortina, one of the main hubs for exploring the Dolomites this trail is popular all summer long. However, it comes to life during October when the surrounding larch valleys turn all manners of gold and orange. If you can, plan your hike then!
9 Things To Know About Croda Da Lago Circuit Hike In The Italian Dolomites
Exploring the Lago Federa shoreline, one of the highlights of this trail, and stopping for lunch and rest at the beautifully located Rifugio Palmieri will add a decent amount of time to this moderate-day hike. Plan a full day if you want to tackle it!
1. Croda da Lago circuit: the stats
- Distance: 12.5 km /7.8 mi
- Walking time: 5-6 h
- Hiking difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation gain: 854 m / 2801 ft
- Type of hike: Circuit
- Parking: 46.505929, 12.078815
2. Best time of the year to hike the Croda Da Lago circuit
Being close to Cortina, one of the main hubs for exploring the Dolomites this trail is popular all summer long.
However, it really comes to life during the second half of October when the surrounding larch valleys turn all manners of gold and orange. This is why Croda da Lago Circuit is one of the best autumn day hikes in the Dolomites. If you can, plan your hike then!
3. Getting to the Croda da Lago circuit trailhead
Trailhead 1: Ponte di Rucurto
Most people completing the circuit begin the hike at Ponte di Rucurto on path number 437. This starting point is advisable for one main reason – it’s higher.
Getting to Ponte di Rucurto by car
From Cortina D’Ampezzo follow regional road no. 48 towards Passo Falzarego then turn left onto provincial road no. 638 towards Passo Giau.
The distance from Cortina to the trailhead is 10 kilometers and it takes approximately 15 minutes to drive.
There is a small parking area next to the trailhead, as well as roadside parking spaces, where many people leave their cars. This is a busy trail so make sure to come early in the morning, otherwise, you are risking not finding a spot.
Getting to Ponte di Rucurto by bus
During the summer season approx. mid-June – September buses are running daily between Cortina and Passo Giau.
Look for information on the Dolomiti Bus website. I admit this is not the easiest website to understand. A quick trip to the visitor center in Cortina to ask for exact departure times might save you some frustration.
Bear in mind that buses usually operate during the peak of the season. If you are traveling mid-season (mid-September – November) you will need to have your own transportation. Book your car with Discover Cars.
Trailhead 2: Ponte Pezie de Parú
The alternative lower trail no. 434 starts near Ponte Pezie de Parú. It adds an extra 200 meters of ascent and doesn’t increase the splendor of the scenery. Although there might be fewer people for the first 45 minutes, in my eyes, it’s not worth the extra effort.
4. In which direction to hike the Croda da Lago circuit?
For the sake of keeping this Croda Da Lago circuit guide as easy to understand as possible, this article describes the track clockwise. With the location of the Rifugio Palmieri, it breaks up the trail into two chunks.
I have been asked before, whether the circuit is possible to do counter-clockwise, and to answer briefly: yes, it is.
This is a good option for someone, who prefers sharper ascents and gentler descents. It’s also a good idea if you want to stay overnight in Rifugio Palmieri and be back at the trailhead in less time the next day.
It is however going to be harder, as you will be going up the steep boulder field, the most challenging part of the Croda Da Lago circuit.
5. Croda Da Lago Circuit Map
Above you can see the outline of the trail and its two trailheads. This map is for showcasing purposes only and should not be used for navigation. I highly recommend buying the Tabacco Map no. 03 which covers the area of the Dolomiti Ampezzane.
6. Croda Da Lago Circuit: trail description
Stage 1: Ponte di Rucurto to a fork
- Path no. 437
- Time: 30-40 minutes
The main route from Ponte di Rucurto starts with a lovely jaunt along a wide path through a thick forest. Not before long you’ll cross Ru Formin on a scenic wooden bridge where you can enjoy the sound of cascading water.
Once safely on the other side, a short uphill burst brings you to the first major crossroads.
At this point, you’ll have to decide whether you’re circumnavigating clockwise or anti-clockwise around the Croda da Lago mountain range.
Stage 2: Fork to Lago Federa/Rifugio Palmieri
- Path no. 434
- Time: 1.5-2 hours
At the crossroads continue straight on path nr 434 but bear in mind that you’ll be returning on the path to your right. This is also where the route connects with the path coming from the lower trailhead (Ponte Pezie de Parú), which I mentioned earlier.
The trail switchbacks steadily uphill but the views provide constant motivation. There is a great lookout, which is only a minute-long-detour away from the trail, and gives views over Cinque Torri, Cortina, and the beautiful Tofana di Rozes.
Although still initially uphill, the trail now lessens in grade and soon enough you’ll enter the ‘official grounds’ near Lago Federa. A sign prohibiting freedom camping will welcome you near the shoreline.
You will arrive at the northeast corner of the small lake. If you keep going straight you will quickly reach the hut, however, I recommend turning right and walking around the shore admiring the reflecting Beco De Mezodi in the distance. You’ll spot Rifugio Palmieri on the opposite side of the lake.
Stage 3: Rifugio Palmieri to Forcella de Formin: 1-1.5 hour
- Path no. 434 + 436 + 435
- Time: 1-1.5 hours
Continuing on the Croda Da Lago circuit, after Rifugio Palmieri, you’ll notice a distinct drop in numbers on the trail. The route continues to ascent, still on path no. 434, until reaching Forcella Ambrizzola.
This is the point where the Croda da Lago circuit breaks away from the world-famous Alta Via 1 by turning right onto path no. 436 and then shortly right again onto path no. 435.
You are probably thinking now, how in hell am I going to find all these trails? Don’t worry, they are marked and as long as you’re heading uphill you’re going in the right direction.
Forcella de Formin, the highest point of the trail at 2462m, is your goal and offers great views back toward Monte Pelmo.
Stage 4: Forcella de Formin to the Ponte du Rucurto trailhead: 1.5 – 2 hours
- Path no. 435 + 437
- Time: 1.5-2 hours
This is the hardest part of the Croda da Lago circuit. The descent is quite sharp and you will have to take some big steps to navigate the boulder field. Once past the Forcella, the route quickly descends through several boulder fields before entering a thickening larch forest.
At the right time of year, this is what dreams are made of. A trickling stream, golden larches, very few people, and stark mountains.
Unfortunately, like most things, the solitude comes to an end when you reach the main fork, which you were at earlier in the day, during stage 1 of the path. A left turn back onto Path 437 will take you back to your vehicle.
7. A few tips for hiking the Croda Da Lago circuit
Remember the trail up to Lago Federa can be busy, especially during weekends in summer. Arrive early to find more solitude (and a parking space).
How to make the Croda da Lago circuit trail shorter
If you’re a keen photographer then this trail is certainly doable as a sunrise hike. From the trailhead, it’s around 1 hour and 45 mins to the lake. You can just hike to the lake and back, especially if your only objective is the photos.
Stay one night at the Palmieri hut
If you’re too lazy to hike in the morning but still want fantastic photos, then stay a night in the hut. With a recognized mountain club membership, nights in the hut can be as cheap as 55€ per person per night including dinner and breakfast. It’s a bargain if you ask me!
8. Staying at Rifugio Palmieri overnight
Rifugio Palmieri (also known under the name Croda Da Lago), is one of the best huts in the Italian Dolomites and also one that stays open the longest. Most years it’s possible to stay in the hut until the start of November.
The hut has 50 beds spread across dormitories. It also offers hot showers and even has a little outdoor sauna. If you have never stayed in a refuge in the Alps, here is everything you should know before booking your stay.
For prices and information about the reservation and cancellation process visit the hut’s website.
9. My favorite gear for day hikes in the Dolomites
Black Diamond Z – Pole
At only 150 grams per pole these light, yet incredibly durable and sturdy carbon hiking poles from Black Diamond are my constant companion on trails.
Osprey Kyte 36 l
Great for day hikes and big enough for overnight hut excursions. Osprey backpacks have been with me from the humble beginnings of this website. Osprey Kyte’s 36-liter backpack is a great choice for hut-to-hut treks in the Dolomites.
Hydrapack 3 liter Water Bladder
Staying hydrated during hikes is very important! The more water you drink the faster your recovery will be. I always hike with the HydraPak Shape-Shift water bladder in my backpack for easy access to water.
Icebreaker Merino Wool Socks
An absolute must-have on a hiking holiday. The Icebreaker Merino wool socks are breathable and comfy, but most importantly don’t pick up the smell even after a few days of wearing
Where to stay in Cortina D’Ampezzo
Other hikes and via ferratas you can do near Cortina D’Ampezzo
More travel and hiking resources in the Dolomites
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