Day Hikes In The Italian Dolomites

9-Step Guide To The Amazing Croda Da Lago Circuit Trail In The Italian Dolomites

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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

Croda Da Lago Circuit 12
  • 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

Croda Da Lago Circuit 29

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

Croda Da Lago Circuit

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?

Croda Da Lago Circuit 24


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

Croda Da Lago Circuit 2
  • 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

Croda Da Lago Circuit 35

Go early

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

Croda Da Lago Circuit 27

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

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If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!

14 thoughts on “9-Step Guide To The Amazing Croda Da Lago Circuit Trail In The Italian Dolomites”

  1. Hello Marta,
    Thank you for so many useful informations regarding the hike.
    We are planning to hike Dolomites in October and I am wondering if this trail will be crowds free at that time… I guess yes, but just to be sure.
    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi Vanja. October generally sees only a fraction of the traffic that you have in July and August. With that said the Palmieri refuge stays open until the start of November (one of only a few that stays open that long). This also is a stunning photography spot so you can expect people around the lake and the refuge. As soon as you hike past the lake though you will hardly meet anyone. I hope that helps!

  2. Hi Marta! Super love your blog and really your approach to experiencing the nature. In the Dolomites now and your articles are very helpful for planning routes. I went up Croda da Lago yesterday and would mention just a couple of things…
    First is that the trail plays out just as you described. At the junction to take trail 435, the sign now reads “Forcella Rossa” with no mention of Forcella de Formin (can send a pic if helpful).. judging by pix, I think these are the same place / just two different names.. just to mention as this may be confusing to some
    Second is that I took an extension to Passo Giau on the 436 trail and this was the most beautiful part of the day, just amazing views of green ridges and great picnic spots.
    Thanks again for your great work here… cheers!

    • Hi Keith. Thanks for visiting, you actually cross two saddles when doing the circuit. First comes forcella Ambrizolla then De Formin. Since you continued to Passo Giau then you didn’t cross the second one. It also seems like you took a little shortcut over Forcella Rossa. All good though, there are so many trekking paths in the Dolomites more often than not there is more than 1 way to get to your destination.

  3. Hello Marta,
    I absolutely love your site. It’s an amazing resource with very detailed and extremely valuable and helpful information. Thank you very much for the amazing work that you do, and for inspiring us to fulfill our dreams, by showing us that it is not that difficult or out of the realm of possibilities to be fulfilled, on any budget. I truly appreciate your efforts.

    My son and I are heading to the Dolomites this summer, first week in July and plan to do this hike. We have reservation for the night at Rifugio Croda da Lago/Palmieri. Our plan is to leave Venice very early, at first light, drive directly to the trailhead and hike to the rifugio for the night. The next day, we plan to continue the hike, drive to the trailhead for Croda Fiscalina and hike the first 2 1/2 hours to Rifugio Zsigmondy Comici, where we have reservations for the night. We are in decent shape but is allowing a lot of time for hiking at high elevations (we live at sea level), hence breaking up the hikes this way. Plus we are avid photographer enthusiasts and so is allowing a lot of time to stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery and also to capture it.

    Can you help me with some logistics, please? In your article you recommend completing this hike clockwise. However, given that we’ll have more, practically the whole day, to hike from the trailhead to the rifugio, can we hike counter-clockwise? What would be the disadvantage of completing the starting the hike this way? Is the rifugio basically 1/2 between the start and end of the trail and so it doesn’t matter which direction we hike in? We were thinking of hiking counter-clockwise as it seems a longer distance from the rifugio back to the trailhead, if hiking clockwise, is this true?

    Your advice and guidance would be much appreciated. Thank you very much.


    • Hi Deby. Thanks for visiting my site.
      Firstly don’t worry about elevations. The change is hardly noticeable until 3000 meters and at no point, you will be that high, so don’t worry about any altitude sickness, etc. Headaches at these heights usually come from dehydration so keep hydrated at all times.
      As for your question regarding Croda Da Lago circuit (I am currently updating this post hence it’s a bit all over the place atm), yes you can hike it in reverse (counter clockwise). The challenge will be going up the boulder field and it will probably take around 4-5 hours for you to get to the hut then 1.5-2 hours from the hut the next day to get back down to the trailhead. As for the boulder field It is quite steep, but some people actually prefer a steeper approach and gentler descent. It’s definitely more knee friendly that way. As for the view, there is no real advantage of going clockwise or counterclockwise and it makes sense that you want to go counterclockwise to be back at the trailhead as early as possible.
      Driving times are quite long in the Dolomites so it will probably take over an hour to drive from Ponte Di Rucurto to the parking lot near Hotel Dolomitenhof and then start the trek. I would probably skip the breakfast at Croda Da Lago and head straight for the next trailhead, then have some food ready in the car. The only thing to bear in mind is that by midday the peaks are usually in the clouds then afternoon storms approach before it clears up again in the evening.

      I hope that helps!

  4. “Once past the Forcella the route quickly descends through several boulder fields …”

    We didn’t know what this meant until we spent an hour working our way through the Boulder fields. I guess quickly means a lot of elevation loss as opposed to a short of amount of time. In any event, this is quite an unpleasant part of the suggested route and I would suggest that it needs more emphasis in your write up. I suspect that most people would not enjoy this type of hiking. We were thinking that a better route is to hike past the Refugio to the saddle for lunch to get the view of the mountains in the other direction, and then simply retrace the route as an in and out instead of a circuit.

    • Hi Stephen. Thanks for your input. Sorry to hear about the troubles you had on the boulder field. I will take your suggestion and edit the text so it will be more helpful in the future for other hikers. I personally prefer the circuit, not retracing the steps back the same way, but not everyone is up for boulder hopping and as you said it does get steep. Appreciate the input and enjoy the rest of the trip!

  5. Hi Marta, firstly can I just say I think your website is wonderful and I have been using it a lot to plan my upcoming trip to the Dolomites in October! I am visiting from 6-13th October and planning on spending my 1st couple of nights in Cortina (followed by a night in Braies and then 3 in the Val Gardena area). As it will be autumn I think this circuit of Croda da Lago will be perfect. However, I will be on my own and just wondered if its OK to walk alone here ( and generally in the Dolomites)? I will have a car and will plan to start fairly early as I enjoy photography so will no doubt be stopping all the time for photos! Is it essential to have maps of the local area and a compass or is it enough to have my phone? I am used to walking in the English Lake District but I have never walked abroad before.

    Many Thanks,

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for visiting and for your kind words about my site. I am very happy to hear you find it useful. As it happens last week I published a 7-10 day itinerary around the Dolomites which includes all 3 areas where you will be staying so you might want to check it out
      As for your question, generally, it is very safe to solo hike around the Dolomites and I reckon as soon as you do one hike you will gain a lot more confidence to do more. Everything is very well marked etc. However, you still need to obey certain rules. Always let someone know where you are heading out and when you plan on being back. Wear proper clothing and footwear and know where you are heading (for example the names of the mountain passes, huts or route numbers). As for maps, it’s down to personal preference. I always have a tangible map with me. Firstly because it’s probably the most accurate resource which doesn’t rely on charged batteries of your phone and secondly because I just like to collect the. I hope this answers it for you. Let me know if you have any more questions. Happy travels

  6. Hi Marta!

    I was wondering if it was possible to reach this trail using public transport? I’m going to Cortina in July and we won’t have access to a car.

    We are doing the tre cime circuit, but I am looking for another great day hike that we can do!

    • Hi Rachel. Thanks for stopping by. Yes, it is possible. There is a bus stop on the opposite side of the road from the trailhead called Pian del Pantan. Bus is usually operated by the Dolomiti bus company. Unfortunately, their website is very user-unfriendly and schedules very difficult to work out, but I am sure you will be able to get the schedule in the Cortina visitor Centre. Let me know if I can help further!


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