Guide To Puster Valley (Val Pusteria) In The Italian Dolomites: Top Hikes, Via Ferratas, And Photography Spots

Finding a region in the Dolomites where you would like to spend your holidays is not easy. With many different valleys to choose from, each one offering its unique hikes, via ferratas and photography spots the choice isn’t easy.

In this article, I will bring you closer to one of my favorite Dolomiti regions – the Puster Valley and show you the many great outdoor trails you can find here.

About Val Pusteria (Puster Valley)

Guide to Puster Valley in the Italian Dolomites
looking towards Puster Valley from Forcella Giralba

Puster Valley runs along the northern border of the Dolomites and separates them from the Central Eastern Alps. The whole area belongs to the South Tyrol region of Italy. The valley stretches for almost 100 kilometers from Lienz (Austria) in the East to Mühlbach (Italy) in the West.

One of the interesting facts I read about the Puster Valley relates to its streams and rivers. Namely, those that find their beginning in the mountains surrounding the valley eventually empty into the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea (Source: Wikipedia).

Although after the First World War and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Puster Valley was annexed to Italy, even today, over 100 years later 80% of the local population continues speaking German.

Many of Austrian traditions as well as its cuisine are highly prevalent in the Puster Valley. When you visit you might have the impression that instead of being in Italy you are actually in Austria.

Best towns to stay in around Val Pusteria / Pustertal

If you plan to stay a few days in Val Pusteria and explore its hiking trails or via ferratas consider staying in one of these towns. They are all located within a few miles of one another.

1. Dobbiaco (Toblach)

Toblach lies right at the entry of the dramatic Val Di Landro (Höhlensteintal) which branches of Puster Valley. The Landro Valley separates two famous Dolomiti Nature Parks: Tre Cime and Fannes-Sennes-Braies.

I am pretty sure you must have at least heard of Tre Cime. The location of Dobbiaco makes it an excellent spot for reaching the highlights of the parks.

Toblach is also well known for its culture and many important events that it holds throughout the year like the Gustav Mahler Musik Weeks. He was a famous Austrian composer who often visited the area and found inspiration in the sounds of the mountains and rivers.

Check for hotel prices in Dobbiaco (Toblach)

2. Sesto (Sexten)

Sesto is a small commune of only 2000 inhabitants that lies in the Sexten Valley. The valley branches directly from Pustertal.

Sesto should be on your radar if you plan on exploring the famous Tre Cime Nature Park but without the usual crowds. Val Fiscalina, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful valleys in the Dolomites, lies only a stone’s throw away from Sesto. With plenty of trails and via ferratas at its doorstep you won’t be bored in Sesto.

Check for hotel prices in Sesto (Sexten)

3. San Candido (Inninchen)

With plenty of small cafes, restaurants, and shops, as well as access to endless outdoor opportunities from mountain biking in the summer season to cross-country skiing in the winter, San Candido is a true mountain paradise.

San Candido is known for its historic village, particularly the Inninchen Abbey as well as the local natural history museum – “Dolomythos” which includes exhibits of dinosaur fossils found in the area.

Check for hotel prices in San Candido (Inninchen)

4. Monguelfo

Monguelfo is a great town to stay in if you want to focus on exploring the Fannes-Sennes-Braies National Park. It offers easy access to Lake Braies (Pragser Wildsee) its main attraction.

Each year in the last week of August Monguelfo hosts a chocolate festival. If like me, you are a chocolate junkie, then you can’t miss that one!

Check for hotel prices in Monguelfo

How to get to Puster Valley

Val Pusteria can be easily reached by train or car from any major city in Italy, Austria, or Germany. Below are the approximate travel times by either train or car to Dobiacco in Puster Valley.

From Munich (via Innsbruck)

  • By train: approximately 4.5 hours
  • By car: ca. 4 hours
  • Distance: 295 km / 182 miles

From Milan

  • By train: approximately 5.5 hours
  • By car: ca. 4 hours 50 mins
  • Distance: 374 km / 234 mi

TIP: If you are flying to Milan, it’s better to fly into Bergamo airport

From Venice

  • By train: approximately 5 hours 20 mins
  • By car: ca. 2 hours 45 mins
  • Distance: 189 km / 117 mi

My favorite hikes around Val Pusteria / Puster Valley

1. Croda Fiscalina Circuit

  • Total distance: 19.2 km / 11.9 mi
  • Time required: 8-10 h
  • Elevation gain: 1180 m / 3870 ft
  • Color on the map: green
Croda Fiscalina Circuit Autumn 38

If you asked me for my favorite hike in the Puster Valley region, my answer would be the Croda Fiscalina Circuit. The hike is also known as the ‘tour of the rifugios’ because it takes you through 4 different mountain huts, giving you plenty of opportunities to have a meal in stunning mountain scenery. You won’t be hungry on this hike.

However, food is not the only reason to tackle this hike. It’s the variety of views that it offers from lush green valley, through moon-like landscapes, and of course the views of the iconic Three Peaks (Tre Cime), the most famous landmark in the Dolomites.

Read more: Hiking Guide To Croda Fiscalina Circuit Trail.

2. Dürrenstein Summit (Pico Di Vallandro)

  • Total distance:  10.2 km / 6.34 miles 
  • Time required: 5-7 hours 
  • Elevation gain: 873 meters / 2582 feet
  • Color on the map: purple
Durrenstein 16

The summit of Dürrenstein (Pico Di Vallandro) is a classic route in the Pusteria Valley region. The hike comes to life in late autumn when the larches filling the surrounding valleys turn yellow. If you are looking for a summit experience, this is the hike you should choose.

Read more: Guide to Dürrenstein summit hike

3. Lago Di Braies Circuit

  • Total distance: 4km / 2.5 mi
  • Time required:  1-2 h
  • Elevation gain: 50 m / 165 feet
  • Color on the map: yellow
Lago Di Braies 27

Lago di Braies is a must-visit spot for many photographers visiting the Dolomites. To me, it’s a fantastic spot for venturing into the backcountry. Many hiking trails start at Lago di Braies, including the 11-day North to South traverse of the entire Dolomites known as Alta Via 1.

If you are not an avid hiker, Lago di Braies Circuit might just be the trail that will change that. It is an easy hike, that has one of the best effort to views ratios in the entire Dolomites.

Read more: How to visit Lago di Braies

4. Seekofel Summit

  • Total distance: 18 km / 11.2 mi
  • Time required: 7-8 hours
  • Elevation gain: ca. 1400 m (ca. 4600 ft)
  • Color on the map: blue
Alta Via 1 Extension Croda Del Becco 5

Seekofel is the mountain that stands above Lago di Braies. Despite being one of the most photographed summits in the Dolomites, not many who visit the lake venture onto the trail that leads to the summit of Seekofel.

It is a challenging hike, with almost 1400 meters of elevation gain. It is also quite exposed in some places. The good news is that you can break it down into two stages by staying overnight in the Biella mountain hut, The refuge was built a few hundred vertical meters below its summit.

5. Val Campo Di Dentro

  • Total distance: 10.8 km / 6.6 mi
  • Time required: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation gain: 381 m / 1250 ft
  • Color on the map: pink
Alta Via 4 Day 1 1

If you are looking for another beginner-friendly hike in the Puster Valley region, consider hiking through Val Campo Di Dentro to Rifugio Tre Scarperi and back.

This is the first and also the easiest stage of Alta Via 4, another multiday traverse across the Dolomites. The first stage can be done on its own, as a day hike. With minimal elevation gain, it’s a pleasant walk that won’t leave you breathless.

Top Via Ferratas Around Val Pusteria / Pustertal

1. Croda Rossa (Rotwandspitze)

Croda Rossa Summit

One of my most recent excursions in the Dolomites took me to the summit of Croda Rossa in the Tre Cime Nature Park.

Filled with World War I History, this is a great beginner Ferrata, with easy climbing. From the summit, you can see peaks of not only the Italian but also the Austrian and Slovenian Alps.

Coming soon: Guide to Via Ferrata Zandonella & Croda Rossa

2. Via Ferrata Zandonella

Via ferrata Zandonella

Via Ferrata Zandonella also takes you to the summit of Croda Rossa, but follows a different route on the south side of the mountain offering glimpses into the beautiful Popera Valley. Via Ferrata Zandonella is also slightly more challenging.

For a full day of climbing adventure in the Tre Cime Park, you can combine Via Ferrata Zandonella with the Via Ferrata Croda Rossa.

Coming soon: Guide to Via Ferrata Zandonella & Croda Rossa

2. Strada Degli Alpini (Alpinisteig)

Via ferrata Strada Degli Alpini - One of the best via ferratas in Val Pusteria

Via Ferrata Strada Degli Alpini, also known as the Alpinisteig is one of my favorite iron paths in the Dolomites.

All thanks to the stunning views that you get when traversing along the western flanks of Cima Undici. I am particularly talking about the views of the dramatic Croda dei Toni (Zwölferkofel) pictured above.

Read more: Guide to Via Ferrata Strada Degli Alpini

3. Severino Casara

Via Ferrata Severino Casara 7

Via Ferrata Severino Casara circles the previously mentioned Croda Dei Toni (Zwölferkofel) and offers spectacular views over Lake Auronzo and the Marmarole mountain group.

It’s a fantastic full-day excursion that will allow you to visit, dine or even stay overnight in some of my favorite mountain huts in the Tre Cime Nature Park.

Coming soon: Guide to Via Ferrata Severino Casara

My Favorite Photography Spots Near Val Pusteria

1. Lago Di Braies (Pragser Wildsee)

Lake Braies - One of the best photography spots in Puster Valley

Far from being a hidden gem. Quite the opposite, Lago di Braies is the most visited spot in the Dolomites. Don’t let the serenity in the photo above fool you.

Only a few hundred meters away, there is a huge car park, a hotel, tourist stands, and hundreds of people trying to photograph the lake while simultaneously fighting for a spot along the shoreline.

Is it off-putting enough to make me want to skip it? No, I still think Lago di Braies is beautiful. It is still possible to find solitude there, as long as you walk away from the main boat jetty and venture onto the previously mentioned circuit trail around the lake.

2. Lago Dobiacco (Toblacher See)

Lake Dobiacco 1

Lake Dobiacco (Toblacher See) is a very shallow alpine lake with a maximum depth of only 3.5 meters.

This and the fact that it lies in a deep sheltered Landro valley often means that the photography conditions are perfect. The surrounding peaks often reflect in its shallow waters.

3. Lago Di Landro (Dürrensee)

Lago Di Landro 1

Only a few kilometers further down from Lake Dobiacco into the Landro Valley lies another lake – Lago di Landro. The lake is known for its beautiful turquoise color, particularly on a sunny day with blue skies and when the water level is at its highest. During autumn the lake diminishes to the size of a bigger pond.

Sunrise, when the peaks light up bright orange, is a good time to visit the lake and photograph the reflections of Monte Cristallo.

4. Val Fiscalina (Fiscalina Valley)

Croda Fiscalina Circuit Summer 1

My favorite photography spot in the Val Pusteria region is Val Fiscalina. I just love the dramatic look of Croda Fiscalina and Croda Dei Toni contrasting against the serene green fields in the valley bottom.

The valley is also filled with larch trees which makes it a great spot for autumn photography, when the whole valley turns from green to yellow to bright orange.

Other regions in the Dolomites worth visiting

More travel and hiking resources in the Dolomites

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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.

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