Croda Da Lago Circuit – My Favourite Day Hike In The Italian Dolomites

Croda Da Lago is one of the most distinct 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 really comes to life during October when the surrounding larch valleys turn all manners of gold and orange.

If you can, plan your hike then! 

Exploring the Lago Federa shoreline, one of the highlights of this trail and stopping for lunch and rest at the beautifully located rifugio Palmieri (also known as Croda da Lago) will add on a decent amount of time to this moderate day hike, so plan a full day if you want to tackle it! 

Guide To The Croda Da Lago Circuit In The Italian Dolomites

Distance: 12.5 km /7.8 mi

Walking time: 5-6 h

Hiking difficult – moderate

Elevation gain: 759 m / 2500 ft

Elevation loss: 759 m / 2500 ft

Type of hike: circuit

Croda Da Lago Circuit - A Day Hike In The Italian Dolomites
Around 20 minutes into the hike

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. 

The alternative lower trail nr 434, which starts near Ponte Pezie de Parù adds an extra 200m ascent and doesn’t increase the splendour of the scenery. Although there might be fewer people for the first 45 minutes, in my eyes, it’s not worth the extra effort.

Croda Da Lago Circuit information
The viewpoint over Tofane di Rozes and Mezes

The main route from Ponte di Rucurto starts with a lovely jaunt along a wide path through 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 achieved a quarter of your total ascent and it’s where you’ll have to decide whether you’re circumnavigating clockwise or anti clockwise around the Croda da Lago mountain range.

Lago Federa in autumn
Lago Federa in autumn

This article describes the clockwise track. With the location of the Rifugio Palmieri it breaks up the trail into two even chunks and you’ll have more energy to explore the lake, as you’ll get there earlier in the day.

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, which I mentioned earlier. 

The trail switchbacks steadily uphill but provides great motivation by means of a scenic lookout at the top. The lookout, which is only a minute away from the trail, gives views over Cinque Torri, Cortina and of course Tofana di Rozes and Mezes.

Although still initially uphill, the trail now lessens in grade and soon enough you’ll enter the ‘official grounds’ near Lago Federa, where freedom camping is strictly prohibited and enforced.

Guide to the Croda Da Lago Circuit in the Italian Dolomites
Moon rising over Mount Antelao visible from rifugio Palmieri

You will have arrived at the north east corner of the small lake. Turn right and walk around the shore admiring the reflecting Beco De Mezodi in the distance.

You’ll spot the refuge on the opposite side of the water. Rifugio Palmieri is one of the most photogenic huts in the Dolomites and also one of the latest closing refuges due to the intensity of the larches in the area.

It’s a great place for a well-deserved hot chocolate on a cold day or a beer on a hot day. You should spend a decent amount of time looking up at the craggy Croda da Lago above you before moving on.

Most people consider this lake to be the pinnacle viewpoint of the hike and many people return straight back to the car park from here. From the trailhead to the hut will take around 2 hours.

Enroute to Forcella Ambrizolla along the Croda Da Lago Circuit
Enroute to Forcella Ambrizolla

Continuing on you’ll notice a distinct drop in numbers on the trail. The route then slowly ascends, still on path nr 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 nr 436 and then shortly right again onto path nr 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.

Enroute to Forcella Ambrizzola - Croda Da Lago circuit

Forcella de Formin, the highest point of the trail at 2462m, is your goal and offers great views back toward Monte Pelmo.

Once past the Forcella the route quickly descends through several boulder fields before entering a thickening larch forest.

Backside of Croda Da Lago
Views over Mount Pelmo from Forcella de Formin

At the right time of year this is what dreams are made of. A trickling stream, golden larches, very few people, stark mountains and a camera.

Unfortunately, like most things the solitude comes to an end when you reach the main crossroad, which you were at earlier in the day.  A left turn back onto  path 437 will take you back to your vehicle.

Guide to Croda Da Lago Circuit
The backside of Croda Da Lago along path nr 435

Remember the trail up to Lago Federa can be busy, especially during weekends in summer. Arrive early. 

If you’re a keen photographer then this trail is certainly doable as a sunrise hike. From the trailhead it’s around 1h 45 mins to the lake.

If you’re too lazy to hike in the morning but still want fantastic photos, then stay a night in the hut. With a recognised mountain club membership, nights in the hut can be as cheap as 16€ per person per night! Bargain if you asked me! 

Is there something I forgot to cover? Post your questions in the comments and I will help you out! Make sure to check out my Italian Dolomites Guide for more hiking ideas. 

My Favourite 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 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. 

Hydrapack 3 litre Water Bladder 

Staying hydrated during hikes is very important! I always hike with the Hydrapack water bladder in my backpack for easy access to water! 

Icebreaker Merino Wool Socks

An absolute must have on a hiking holiday. They are breathable, comfy, but most importantly don’t pick up the smell even after a few days of wearing

Marta
Marta

Hi! I am 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.

8 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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,
    Sarah

    • 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

  3. “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!

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