One of my favorite things to do when planning a trip to the Dolomites is to study maps and analyze how to connect via ferrata routes with overnight stays in mountain huts. The Sextener Dolomites are a paradise when it comes to iron paths and this Monte Popera Circuit delivers 6 exciting via ferratas across 4 days.
Comprehensive Guide To Monte Popera Circuit
This guide is based on my personal experience gained along the Monte Popera Circuit. I hiked it together with my partner in September 2023
The stats of the Monte Popera Circuit
- Total Distance: 43.9 km / 27.3 mi
- Total Elevation Gain: 3565 m / 11700 ft
- Total Elevation Loss: 3540 m / 11650 ft
- Number of via ferratas along the route: 6
- Via ferrata difficulty level along the route: beginner to advance
- Days required: 3-4
When is it possible to do the Monte Popera Circuit?
The timeframe for hiking and climbing the Monte Popera Circuit corresponds with the opening times of the huts. They vary slightly from year to year. The rifugios are usually open between the middle of June and the end of September.
I did this route at the end of September, right at the very end of the season and I was graced with 4 straight days of perfect weather with bluebird skies and unseasonably warm temperatures. The busiest times usually fall between July and August so If you are going then, make sure to book the huts well in advance.
How difficult is the Monte Popera Circuit?
Monte Popera circuit is one of many hut-to-hut treks I completed in the Dolomites and I must say it was also one of the toughest. With that said if you you come well prepared, have done some via ferratas before, and have enough stamina to be on the move for 8-9 hours per day then you will love this circuit.
For the most part via ferrata routes along the Monte Popera circuit are either beginner or intermediate level apart from day two, when you cross two advanced via ferratas. This is certainly the toughest day on this traverse.
How to get to the trailhead
The trailhead for the Monte Popera Circuit lies in the Fiscalina Valley. The two nearest towns are Sesto and Moos. Both can be reached via public transport.
You can drive your car to the bottom of the gondola station and leave it parked there for the duration of the hike. There are overnight parking restrictions in place, but we asked a person working at the ticket office and she confirmed that it was okay for us to leave the car parked there overnight, as long as we were not camping in it. In her words, the restrictions applied to campervans, particularly during the busy summer season.
IMPORTANT: There are certain restrictions for reaching Val Fiscalina with private car during the peak summer season. For more info visit the official tourism board website.
TIP: If you need to rent a car for the duration of the trip, check out Discover Cars. It’s the best rental car search engine that compares prices for you, so you don’t have to check providers individually.
Fiscalina Valley has excellent public transport connections during the summer season. Bus no. 440 or 446 runs at regular intervals starting in Dobiacco and passing through Sesto and Moos. The bus stop name where you have to get off is called Kabinenbahn Rotwand. The stop takes its name after the gondola station next to which it lies.
TIP: To search for bus connections use the local Sued Tirol Mobil website.
Croda Rossa Gondola (Kabinenbahn Rotwand)
Taking the gondola up to the Rotwandwiesen high alpine plateau is the last step that separates you from standing at the trailhead of the Monte Popera Circuit. The gondola runs from approximately mid-June until the first week of October. You can find its exact operating times here.
TIP: Buy the roundtrip ticket right away to save money. The ticket is valid for 10 days from the purchase date. You will be taking the same gondola down at the end of the trip.
Where to stay the night before
Very modern hotel with extensive wellness facilities, phenomenal food, and beautiful interiors.
A cozy small B&B nestled in the mountains with a restaurant serving local produce
For Luxury Fans
Each room at the Leitlhof Hotel has a typical mountain feeling created by wooden furniture and wooden floors.
Monte Popera Circuit: Day-by-day breakdown
Above you can see the map of the Monte Popera Circuit. I measured the distances, elevation gain, and walking time with my Garmin GPS watch. I decided to mark each day with a separate color as follows:
- BLUE: Day 1
- YELLOW: Day 2
- PURPLE: Day 3
- RED: Day 4
Day 1: Rotwandwiesen to Rifugio Berti along Via Ferratas Croda Rossa and Zandonella
- Distance: 9.8 km / 6.1 mi
- Elevation Gain: 1080 m / 3530 ft
- Elevation Loss: 1040 m / 3420 ft
- Time Required: 7-8 hours
- Path Numbers: 100, 101
Stage 1: Rotwandwiesen to Croda Rossa Summit
At the top of the Rotwand gondola station, you will first notice a big wall with maps of the area. The first signs pointing to Via Ferrata Croda Rossa are on the left side of it.
At first, you will follow a wide gravel path across high alpine pastures (see photo above). Monte Croda Rossa (Rotwandspitze), the summit objective for today, raises right ahead of you.
After circa. 20 minutes the path veers right and starts climbing up into the thick larch forest. You will come across a lovely viewing platform from where you can look down into the Fiscalina Valley. 1.7 kilometers and circa 400 meters of elevation gain into the hike the path veers off once again, this time to the left.
The first cable-protected section begins after 1.5 hours, 2.7 km into the hike, and 596 meters of elevation gain. The climbing remains at a beginner level and the passages with cables are quite short. The route to the summit is mostly along scree slopes, interspersed with 3 short via ferrata sections.
Via Ferrata Croda Rossa is full of remnants from World War I. Sometimes you will come across old barbed wires or wooden beams decayed from over 100 years of tough mountain weather. The higher you climb the more caves that were dug by soldiers during the war, you will be able to see.
The summit of Croda Rossa is quite small, with not much space for seating or taking photos. There is a little logbook, in the box on the summit cross, where you can enter your name and a comment about the views.
Once we made it to the summit with used the Peak Finder app to be able to recognize some of the peaks that we were looking at. To our great surprise, Triglav – the highest peak in Slovenia was visible in the far distance. Other peaks we were also able to spot included Olperer, Großvenediger, and Großglockner, the highest mountain in Austria.
Stage 2: Croda Rossa Summit to Rifugio Berti along Via Ferrata Zandonella
Keep your via ferrata gear on, you will need it very soon for the second stage of the first day of Monte Popera Circuit. Retrace your steps from the Croda Rossa summit until you see a sign pointing to Via Ferrata Zandonella.
This is the more challenging part of the day as it involves downclimbing along the cables. Take extra care and, if you are traveling in a group, keep enough distance between one another as there are plenty of loose rocks along the path.
Once you descend from the via ferrata you will find yourself in a narrow gully. The Berti hut is visible in the far distance. Continue hiking down in the direction of the small alpine lake visible below. Pay special attention to the red markings along the path. It is easy to lose them from sight.
After the lake, the path flattens a bit and becomes a lot more enjoyable. The scenery is absolutely mind-blowing with jagged peaks all around you.
This was probably my favorite part of the day, not counting the summit views. Another great thing about it was that, once we left the summit of Croda Rossa we didn’t meet another person on the trail until we arrived at the Berti Hut.
Night 1: Rifugio Berti
Built underneath the jagged Popera group peaks, Rifugio Berti is a sight to behold. Bookings for the summer season open in February. You can reserve a spot by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Club Alpino Italiano member (CAI)||Price/night (half board)||Summer season 2024 opening times|
Day 2: Rifugio Berti to Rifugio Carducci along Via Ferratas Roghel and Cengia Gabriella
- Distance: 13.5 km / 8.4 mi
- Elevation Gain: 1170 m / 3850 ft
- Elevation Loss: 820 m / 2690 ft
- Time Required: 8-9 hours
- Path Numbers: 110, 103
Stage 1: Via Ferrata Roghel
Don’t let the mere 13.5 kilometers fool you, day 2 of the Monte Popera Circuit is the toughest of them all. Today is the day when you will be circling Monte Popera along two advanced via ferratas: Roghel and Cengia Gabriella.
From Rifugio Berti follow the path downhill then cross the stream and start going up along the steep scree slope. Sometimes it is hard to follow the route so pay attention to the red marks painted on rocks. After ca. 1.5 hours, 430 meters of altitude, and 1.7 kilometers you will reach the start of the cable protected section.
Via Ferrata Roghel is challenging and for the most part, it leads through a gorge. At one point there was a small overhang that we had to tackle. The route leads to a very narrow saddle before it descends on the other side. It took us approximately 1 hour (1.33 km, 185 meters in altitude) to reach the saddle.
The downhill climb on the other side of the saddle was also quite steep and required long steps. The blazing heat and sun exposure made it even harder. After 50 minutes and 232 meters down we reached the lowest point.
Another short ascent along the cables takes you to a scree gully. To your left in the distance you can spot a small alpine red Bivouac called Battaglioni Cadore. This can be used as an emergency shelter should the weather turn bad.
Stage 2: Via Ferrata Cengia Gabriella
Continue across the scree gully following the signs for Rifugio Carducci. Once you make it to the other side of the gully you will start climbing again and then traversing along many narrow ledges.
Though technically via ferrata Cengia Gabriella was easier than Roghel, there were many unprotected passages, with a few hundred meter drop to the side, that were making me feel uneasy. Particularly, because I was becoming tired and we still had quite a long way to go. Staying focused was becoming harder.
Eventually, Rifugio Carducci and the towering Croda Dei Toni (Zwölferkofel) will appear in the far distance (see photo above). Though it seemed deceptively close, it was still quite the way to go before we reached it.
The last section of the Via Ferrata was very steep and required downclimbing to another scree gully. The path then crosses the gully and joins path no 103. The last few hundred meters of the trail ascend through the Giralba Alta Valley up to Rifugio Carducci.
Night 2: Rifugio Carducci
Rifugio Carducci was a very welcomed sight after 9 hours of hiking and scrambling. Built on the edge of a small plateau it has beautiful views into the Giralba Alta valley. You can reserve the hut by sending an e-mail to email@example.com
|Club Alpino Italiano member (CAI)||Price/night for Alpine Club members (half board)||Price/night for non-members||Summer season 2024 opening times|
|YES||52 Euro||62 Euro||TBA|
Day 3: Rifugio Carducci to Rifugio Zsigmondy Comici along Via Ferrata Severino Casara
- Distance: 9.8 km / 6.1 mi
- Elevation Gain: 615 m / 2020 ft
- Elevation Loss: 680 m / 2250 ft
- Time Required: 5-6 hours
- Path Numbers: 107, 103
After two intensive days on the Monte Popera Circuit, it is time for something slightly easier. Today you will be tackling yet another via ferrata circling around a famous summit in the Sexten Dolomites – Croda Dei Toni.
The official name of today’s via ferrata is Severino Casara, but it is often called Zwölferkofel, which is the German name of Monte Croda Dei Toni.
The route circles around the mountain crossing a few saddles. The via ferrata stages are mostly beginner with a few more advanced passages. You will also cross a couple of small suspension bridges.
From Rifugio Carducci head onto path no. 107 following signs for Bivacco dei Toni. The cable-protected section starts 30 minutes and 1.14 km into the hike. The first suspension bridge appears shortly after. The via ferrata sections intertwine with the hiking sections. Hopefully, you are not tired of walking on scree after the previous day, because today will be no different.
As the route progresses, the via ferrata sections become more demanding, including some low passages through which you have to crawl. Pay attention to warnings about falling rocks and don’t stop in those places for too long.
The Forcella de L’Agnel saddle, where Bivacco dei Toni was built is the perfect location for a break. To the southeast, you will be able to spot the turquoise lake Auronzo. Looking North East the unique view of the Tre Cime formation will be stretching ahead of you.
Unfortunately, the Bivouac was out of order when we arrived. The whole construction was crooked and looked like it was shifted from its original location.
From the saddle continue down on a very unpleasant scree slope then along the Western face of the Zwölferkofel towards Forcella Croda Dei Toni. Keep your via ferrata gear on. There is another very short iron path section coming up. Once you reach the last saddle you can take it off.
Rifugio Comici comes into the first view once you reach Croda dei Toni saddle (Zwölferscharte). Steep zig-zags along another scree slope will take you down toward the refuge. 45 minutes later you should arrive at the hut. Make sure to glimpse back at the view of the Croda Dei Toni. It looks particularly impressive from the Comici hut.
Night 3: Rifugio Zsigmondy Comici
This is the busiest but also the most modern hut along the circuit with hot showers and a glassed terrace at your disposal. Not to mention the incredible view of the towering Croda dei Toni (Zwölferkofel). You can book the hut directly through their booking system.
|Club Alpino Italiano member (CAI)||Price/night (half board)||Summer season 2024 opening times|
Day 4: Rifugio Zsigmondy Comici to Rotwandwiesen along Via Ferrata Strada Degli Alpini (Alpinisteig)
- Distance: 10.8 km / 6.7 mi
- Elevation Gain: 700 m / 2300 ft
- Elevation Loss: 1000 m / 3290 ft
- Time Required: 5-6 hours
- Path Numbers: 103, 101
There are places and routes in the Dolomites where I return to with pleasure. Via Ferrata Strada Degli Alpini (german: Alpinisteig) is one of them. I already did it once 5 years ago on another overnight trip so I knew what to expect, but the views were just as impressive the second time around.
From Rifugio Comici head onto path no. 101 in the direction of Rifugio Carducci (the same one where you stayed on the second night). After around 30 minutes the path breaks to the left and circles around a small glacial lake.
The cable-protected sections start ca. 1 hour into the Alpinisteig. For the most part via ferrata Strada Degli Alpini follows narrow ledges. The route is extremely well-equipped.
Even though clipping in might seem unnecessary, especially when comparing the difficulty level with via ferratas Roghel and Cengia Gabriella, you should still make full use of your via ferrata set. It’s always better to stay humble in the mountains. One wrong step might send you tumbling down a few hundred meters.
Eventually, the route starts climbing up to the Undici Saddle followed by s sharp drop into Vallon Sentinella, on the other side of the saddle. Keep your via ferrata gear on. You will need it on the climb down from the saddle. After that seemingly endless zigzags on loose scree path awaits.
After you reach a fork, follow the sign for Rotwandwiesen. Another hour and you will be standing in the same spot where you started the Monte Popera Circuit just 4 days ago.
How to shorten the Monte Popera Circuit to 3 days?
If you only have 3 days you can easily shorten this itinerary. Here is how. On 3rd day instead of tackling Via Ferrata Severino Casara, head onto path no 103 from Rifugio Carducci, in the direction of Forcella (saddle) Giralba. From the saddle follow the signs for via ferrata Strada Degli Alpini (Alpinisteig).
This way you will skip the night at Rifugio Zsigmondy and walk back to the gondola station on the third day. It takes approximately 6 hours to hike from Rifugio Carducci to the top of the Croda Rossa gondola.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Monte Popera Circuit
How soon should I reserve huts for the Monte Popera Circuit?
If you are going in the peak season (July-August) make sure to book the huts a few months before, particularly Zsigmondy Comici hut. It is the busiest hut along this traverse. The refuge was at full capacity when I stayed there and it was the last day of the operating season! I did this route at the end of September and booked the huts at the start of August, only a few weeks before.
What kind of facilities can I expect in the huts?
The huts in the Dolomites are quite luxurious. You can expect bedsheets, duvets, and a proper mattress. Some even offer hot showers. Food is provided at the hut restaurant, so no need to carry too much. If you have never stayed in a mountain hut before then jump to my article about everything there is to know about staying in a rifugio in the Italian Dolomites.
How should I pack for the Monte Popera Circuit?
The best is to pack as light as possible. I always say that if you have a 38-litre backpack with you and you filled it to the brim then you definitely overpacked. Overnight stays in the huts eliminate the need to carry sleeping bags or food, so you really only need the essentials.
A change of clothes, warm layers, snacks, and most importantly water ration for the day. You will also need via ferrata gear along the Monte Popera Circuit. I have a comprehensive hut-to-hut packing list that should help you properly pack your backpack.
Where to rent via ferrata gear?
If you don’t own a via ferrata set you can always rent one. There are sports equipment rental places in Sesto and San Candido, the two biggest towns close to the trailhead. Simply look for places called Noleggio on Google Maps. Noleggio in Italian stands for rental.
Is it possible to do the Monte Popera Circuit counter-clockwise?
Yes, however, I wouldn’t recommend it. There were stages along via ferrata Roghel on the second day where I was really happy about the fact that we were climbing them up and not down. If you choose to go counter-clockwise, then make sure you are extremely sure-footed.
Is there a place to store my excess luggage for the duration of the trip?
I usually leave my excess luggage in the booth of my car. I never encountered any problems. You can also leave your luggage at a hotel where you stayed the night before and pick it up once you finish the Monte Popera Circuit. Make sure to contact the hotel before to make sure they offer such services.
Other fantastic backpacking trip ideas in the Italian Dolomites
- Dolomiti Brenta Circuit (3-5 days)
- Rosengarten Traverse (3-5 days)
- Tre Cime Traverse (3-5 days)
- Pale Di San Martino Traverse (2-4 days)
- Alta Via 1: Part 1 & Part 2 (11 days)
- Alta Via 2: Part 1 & Part 2 (14 days)
- Alta Via 4 (6 days)
More travel and hiking resources in the Dolomites
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