Follow me on a 4-day / 3-night traverse across the Pale Di San Martino Group in the Southern Dolomites, filled with dramatic views of spires and monoliths, lunar-like high alpine plateaus, and cozy evenings spent in some of the best Italian mountain huts.
About Pale di San Martino Group
The Pale di San Martino Range is often overlooked by international tourists coming to visit the region and whilst it certainly isn’t deathly quiet, it sees a fraction of the traffic compared to places like Tre Cime National Park or Lago di Braies.
The Pala group is the largest massif in the Dolomites and it lies in the eastern Trentino region. The highest peak of the group is Cima Vezzana with an altitude of 3192 meters (ca 10500 feet) above sea level.
The two nearest Dolomiti towns built at the foot of the Pala group are San Martino Di Castrozza and Fiera di Pimero.
Where to stay nearby
Depending on where you are coming from, you have three locations to choose from for your overnight stay before and after completing the Pale Di San Martino Traverse: Passo Rolle (a mountain pass), San Martino Di Castrozza, or Fiera Di Primero.
About Pale Di San Martino Traverse
- Total Distance (not including extensions): 37 km (23 mi)
- Time required: 2-4 days
- When to go: the 3rd week of June until the 3rd week of September
- Total elevation gain (not including extensions): 2700 m / 8860 ft
- Total elevation loss (not including extensions): 2780 m / 9120 ft
- Starting point: 46.297999, 11.789191
- Ending point: 46.217590, 11.877617
The traverse will take you from the Northern end of the Pale Di San Martino Nature Park all the way South. The total distance (not including extensions) is 37 kilometers (23 miles).
Whilst the distance might not sound like a lot, it will be challenging enough to keep you on your feet for a few hours each day. Especially, if you undertake the extensions to the nearby summits, which by the way I really think you should.
This traverse is my favorite part of the much longer Alta Via 2 – A 200-kilometer, 14-day-long trek across the Dolomites.
I modified it to fit the needs of adventurers who don’t have two weeks to complete the whole route but still want to experience a multiday backpacking trip in the Dolomites.
An interactive map of the Pale Di San Martino traverse
Whilst this map is pretty accurate and will be a useful tool whilst planning this excursion, it should not be used to navigate whilst in the mountains. The correct map for this hike is Tabacco No. 022. You can either purchase it online or pick it up in any sports or souvenir shop in the Dolomites.
Getting to the trailhead
The Pale Di San Martino traverse starts at Passo Rolle (zoom on the map) – a mountain pass ca 20 minutes drive away from San Martino di Castrozza or 35 minutes from Fiera di Primiero. Both towns are located in the Trentino region of Italy.
You can reach the pass either by car or public bus no. B122 going in the direction of Predazzo. The bus stop, right near the trailhead is called Passo Rolle-Segg. Segantini. To check bus connections, use either Google Maps or download the official transport app of the Trentino region called Muoversi.
There is a parking lot right near the trailhead (Parcheggio per Malga Juribello) where you can leave your car free of charge for a few days.
Pale Di San Martino Traverse: day-by-day breakdown
Day 1: Passo Rolle to Rifugio Volpi al Mulaz
- Distance: 9km / 5.6 mi
- Walking time: 3-4 h
- Elevation gain: 900 m / 2950 ft
- Elevation loss: 250 m / 820 ft
- Path numbers: 710A, 710
It’s a tough first day but it isn’t actually that long, so take your time to admire the views. I’ve written about the route up to Passo Mulaz (and Rifugio Mulaz) in a separate article so I won’t go into too much detail here.
From Passo Rolle, the access road, and the path that runs near it, lead you first up to Baita G Segantini – an iconic photo spot in the Dolomites. A great place to admire the saw back range you’re about to hike through.
The route then passes the Baita (small restaurant) and begins to head down into the Val Venegia before a higher elevation path (710A) takes you toward Passo Mulaz. From there it is a stone’s throw away from Rifugio Volpi Al Mulaz, visible from the pass.
Extension day 1: Summit of Monte Mulaz
If you’ve set off early from Passo Rolle and are full of adrenaline and excitement on your first day, then consider the extension to the summit of Monte Mulaz.
You can either reach it from Passo Mulaz or check in at the hut first, unload your backpack, then hike back up with a much lighter load.
It will take another 2 hours and add an extra 300m (980 feet) of elevation gain to your day but the views from the summit will be well worth it.
Night 1: Rifugio Volpi al Mulaz
Rifugio Volpi Al Mulaz usually opens in mid-June and closes in the 3rd week of September. It’s a well-situated hut offering views northeastward into the Val di Focobon (see the picture above).
It’s also Club Alpino Italiano affiliated so if you have a CAI membership or an Alpine Club membership in your home country, then you’re entitled to accommodation discounts.
The first time I stayed in Rifugio Mulaz was at the very end of September 2018. I expected the hut to be closed (following the dates on their website) so I packed enough food and a warm sleeping bag to either stay in the ‘winter room’ or just bivouac outside on the pass depending on the weather.
When we got there the hut was still open and the staff was preparing for seasonal closure but they graciously agreed to host us. We paid for a night but didn’t want to waste the effort of prepping and carrying our food, pots, pans, cutlery, stove, and gas all the way up so we cooked and ate our dinner whilst watching the sunset from Passo Mulaz.
When we got back to the hut, there was another group of hikers who were being served flaming creme brûlées for their dessert! I couldn’t have been more jealous, after eating my thousandth meal of pasta and pesto during that hiking season. What an incredible luxury in such a remote location!
Day 2: Rifugio Mulaz to Rifugio Rosetta
- Distance: 8.8 km / 5.5 mi
- Walking time: 4 h 30 min
- Elevation gain: 930 m / 3060 ft
- Elevation loss: 918 m / 3010 ft
- Path number: 703
After a comfortable night’s sleep and a decent breakfast at Rifugio Mulaz, head back toward the ridgeline to the south (path 703).
A scree traverse and an uphill push will lead you to Passo Farangole. The last section leading up to the pass is cable protected and on the other side, you will find some ladders to help you get back down. Being around the spires of this ridgeline is one of the most interesting parts of the hike.
If you are sure-footed kitting up is optional. However, I always prefer to follow the rule ‘better to be safe than sorry’. The mountains can be really unforgiving. At the very least put your helmet on to protect your head from any loose rocks.
The route then drops down 500 meters (1640 feet) into the Val delle Comelle, with a few more short simple cabled sections, before rising again onto a moon-like landscape where Rifugio Rosetta will become apparent. The whole day is spent on path no. 703.
TIP: If you only have two days to hike, you can finish the traverse at Rifugio Rosetta, which lies 15-min walk away from the top of the Col Verde gondola. It will take you down to San Martino Di Castrozza.
Extension Day 2: Summit of Monte Rosetta
This easy-to-reach summit is clearly visible from the hut and it only takes 45 minutes (160 meters or 525 feet in elevation) to get to the top. If you are looking for a great spot to watch the sunset this is it! It’s a good way to burn off those calories from the 3-course dinners you will be served at the huts.
From the summit of Monte Rosetta, you can look down into Cismon Valley home to the towns of San Martino di Castrozza and Fiera di Primiero.
You will also be able to spot Passo di Ball – your objective for tomorrow, creating the perfect heart shape with the mountains in the background.
Night 2: Rifugio Rosetta G. Pedrotti
The website of Rifugio Rosetta G. Pedrotti has all the information you need to make a reservation from contact details to the lunch menu. It’s also available in English which isn’t always the case for huts in the Dolomites. They also have a Club Alpino Italiano affiliation.
Day 3: Rifugio Rosetta to Rifugio Pradidali
- Distance: 6.5 km / 4 mi
- Walking time: 2 h
- Elevation gain: 217 m / 710 ft
- Elevation loss: 362 m / 1190 ft
- Path numbers: 702, 715
This part of the day is easy but that doesn’t mean you won’t get plenty of beautiful views along the way. For the majority of the hike between Rifugio Rosetta and Rifugio Pradidali, you’ll be able to keep your head high and admire the mountains.
After leaving Rifugio Rosetta the route switchbacks southward on path no. 702. If you are wondering how will you ever be able to know what path number to follow, don’t worry! Everything is well sign posted in the Dolomites and as long as you pay attention to the route you won’t get lost.
Shortly after, the route plateaus then traverses along the western slopes between the peaks of Croda di Roda and Cima Pradidali. Cable sections are prevalent here but are very easy. The route then heads slowly uphill to Passo di Ball where you’ll get your first glimpse of Rifugio Pradidali. It’s only another 20 minutes away.
Extension: Via Ferratas Porton and Sentiero Nico Gusela
- Distance: 10 km / 6.2 mi
- Walking time: 4 h
- Elevation gain: 670 m / 2200 ft
- Elevation loss: 670 m / 2200 ft
- Via Ferrata level: Intermediate
- Path numbers: 739A, 714, 715
Via Ferratas Porton and Sentiero Nico Gusela make an excellent afternoon activity on your third day. They form a loop that runs clockwise from Rifugio Pradidali via the Cima di Val Roda and Passo di Ball where you were earlier in the day.
Logistically you can do these two ferratas anticlockwise when you get to Passo di Ball when coming from Rifugio Rosetta, and end up at the refuge but I’d advise against this for two reasons.
Going to the hut first allows you to drop heavier items off, making the climbing more enjoyable. Moreover, via ferrata Porton is much better done clockwise. It involves a steep, ladder-assisted climb which is safer and easier to tackle in the clockwise direction.
The first ferrata (Porton) starts around 15 minutes away from Pradidali hut on path 739A, then by a series of ladders and stemples in a narrow gully it gains over 350m of elevation and culminates at Forcella Porton.
The route then moves around Cima di Ball on path 714 where more cable-protected sections are found.
The route traverses the slopes up to Forcella di Stephen where the path becomes ambiguous but as long as you’re heading uphill toward the pass, you are going in the right direction. Now you have the chance to do the summit extension to Cima Di Val Roda. It’s well worth it because of the view over San Martino di Castrozza to the north.
The path then down-climbs along the via ferrata Sentiero Attrezzato Nico Gusella, the easier of the two ferratas. By means of a few more ladders and pegs, the route loses elevation quickly before a little traverse to Passo di Ball where you were earlier in the day. You can now go back to the refuge knowing that you’ve definitely earned tonight’s dinner.
Night 3: Rifugio Pradidali
The hut’s website is full of useful information about the history of the area and the ‘traverses’ available. The opening times of this hut are similar to Mulaz (from mid-June to the end of September). Rifugio Rosetta opens longer due to the proximity of the lift.
Try to avoid booking a room in the attic. It’s dark, damp, and has no ventilation. The rooms on the floors on the other hand are very nice and cozy. Rifugio Pradidali, just like the previous two huts, is also Club Alpino Italiano affiliated so make sure to bring your Alpine Club membership.
Day 4: Rifugio Pradidali to Val Canali
- Distance: 12.5 km / 7.8 mi
- Walking time: 5 h
- Elevation gain: 650 m / 2132 ft
- Elevation loss: 1515 m / 4970 ft
- Path numbers: 709, 711, 707
When I did this part of the route, I only saw 2 other hikers the entire time. It’s undoubtedly the quietest but also the hardest section of this traverse so make sure to get an early start.
The traverse meanders northward passing Lago Pradidali following the Alta Via 2 route. It switchbacks up some decent scree slopes before branching right onto path 711, where a simple protected section leads you over a hump and up toward Passo delle Lede. The views from there are epic.
The pass is tough to reach and if you didn’t get an early start, the midday sun could be making your life very sweaty. The route then enters a widening gulley and starts your 1500-meter elevation loss.
The descent is a real knee-buster but the views are still grand especially as you get close to the Bivouac C Minazio. It makes a great spot for lunch
Shortly after the bivouac, the route enters the tree line and although the mountain vistas are temporarily gone, the change is very much appreciated. The end of this route stays on path 711 until you reach the river then follows path no. 707 all the way to the final point of this traverse.
TIP: If the previous day’s excursions have left you worse for wear then there’s an easier alternative route down from Rifugio Pradidali into the aptly named Val Pradidali following path no. 709.
At the finish point, you can relax and have a beer at the Cant del Gal Hotel. I’d advise checking the bus timetable at the Val Canali bus stop on the opposite side of the road first, so you can time it well with your departure.
Bus no. B503 from Val Canali to Fiera Di Primero runs at 1-hour intervals for the majority of the day. The journey takes 16 mins. In Fiera di Primiero you can change and travel onward to San Martino di Castrozza (30 mins) or to Feltre (60 mins).
Feltre is a bigger town with train and bus connections to bigger cities such as Trento, Verona, and Venice
How to shorten the Pale Di San Martino Traverse?
If you want to follow this itinerary but don’t have 4 days for it, here are some possibilities to make it shorter.
TIP: If you would like to adjust this itinerary to your personal needs then use my trip planning services. We can schedule an online meeting and talk about personalizing the trip.
2-day option: Stay the first night in Rifugio Pradidali
You can skip the first two days, take the Col Verde – Rosetta gondola from San Martino di Castrozza then start your hike from Rifugio Rosetta. This way the third day of my itinerary will become the first day.
2-day option 2: Exit to San Martino Di Castrozza
After completing day 2 hiking from Rifugio Mulaz to Rifugio Rosetta you can take the Col Verde-Rosetta gondola down to San Martino Di Castrozza.
3-day option: Alternative start with Via Ferrata Bolver Lugli
If you want to make this traverse even more exciting and challenging, you can start it with the advanced Via Ferrata Bolver Lugli.
The Ferrata takes you along the western slopes of the Pale Di San Martino range to its highest point – Bivouac Fiamme Gialle. It then heads down the Valle Dei Cantoni, over Passo Bettega to Rifugio Rosetta, where you can spend the first night. After the alternative day 1, continue as per the itinerary.
3-day option 2: return to Passo Rolle
Follow the first and second days of this itinerary then on the third-day return to Passo Rolle following paths 716, 712A then 712 forming a loop through the Pale di San Martino group.
Refer to the Tabacco map no 022 to better understand the paths.
9 Frequently asked questions about the Pale di San Martino Traverse
1. Do I need via ferrata gear to complete this traverse?
Yes, there is a short via ferrata section on day 2 that leads across Passo Farangole and a cable-protected section that leads to Passo di Ball on day 3.
Whilst those are beginner routes and I have seen lots of people doing them without the gear, I think being well-equipped should always be a priority for those heading out into the mountains. Check out my beginner’s guide to via ferrata climbing in the Dolomites to see what gear you will need.
2. Where can I rent the via ferrata gear?
Look for sports shops and rental places (called Noleggio in Italian) in San Martino Di Castrozza and Fiera di Primero. It costs around 30 Euro to rent the via ferrata set for the day. Gloves are often not included so you should bring a pair of your own ones.
3. Is there a way to omit via ferrata sections on this traverse?
Unfortunately, there isn’t. If you are looking for a backpacking trip in the Dolomites that doesn’t include any via ferrata crossings, try the Alta Via 1. Even though it’s a 10-day traverse, you can plan on doing just a part of it.
4. Is there a way to turn this traverse into a loop?
Yes, please refer to the previous section where I talk about how to shorten this traverse. Particularly 3-day option 2.
5. How to pack for this traverse?
My advice is to always pack as lightly as possible. I created a packing list for hut-to-hut hikes which enlists all the essentials that you will need to bring along on a backpacking trip in the Dolomites.
6. Do I need to bring cash?
Whilst many huts started accepting card payments in recent years, I would still recommend bringing cash. 80-100 Euro per person per night should be enough. There are ATMs in San Martino di Castrozza and Fiera di Primero.
7. What can I expect when staying in the huts?
The Italian Alpine Huts are very well equipped and provide everything you might need for a comfortable night stay, from running water to flushable toilets through on-site restaurants, and duvets. There are however a few things you will need to bring, most notably a sleeping bag liner. Here is everything to know about staying in mountain huts in the Dolomites.
8. Is it possible to do this route in reverse?
Yes, however going North to South is more recommendable. Particularly if you are hiking between June-August. The northern slopes stay in shade much longer providing cooler temperatures during the hot Italian summer.
Doing the Pale Di San Martino Traverse from North to South will also be easier, particularly the last section between Rifugio Pradidali and Val Canali.
9. Is there a place to store my excess luggage for the duration of the trip?
Your best bet is to leave your excess luggage in the trunk of your car. If you are travelling by public transport then leave the luggage at the hotel where you stayed the night before. Make sure to contact the hotel first and ask if they provide such services.
Shop my hut-to-hut backpacking gear
Osprey 30+ Liter Backpack
30-40 liter backpack should be more than enough to pack everything you need for a hut-to-hut trip in the Dolomites with plenty of room for water and snacks. If you can’t fit in, it means you are overpacking. I am a huge fan of Osprey backpacks and they have plenty of options in this storage volume range to choose from.
Sleeping Bag Liner
Sleeping bag liners are required for hut stays. Duvets and blankets aren’t washed after each guest who stays at the hut. Liners ensure that you don’t come in direct contact with the sheets and subsequently, it is more hygienic. Some huts rent or sell them, but it’s better to bring your own.
Patagonia Insulated Jacket
Even in the middle of the summer season evenings can be quite cold. If you don’t plan on venturing out of the hut in the evenings, you can skip this layer. I personally always bring one with me as I like to take sunset photos outside.
Merino Wool T-Shirts
Having a couple of Merino Wool T-shirts which you can alternate and then wash at the hut each day will be more than enough to keep body odors at bay. I am personally a big fan of the Icebreaker brand, however these days plenty of other brands have Merino products in their inventory.
Merino Wool Socks
I always carry 2 pairs of socks in my backpack and one on me during multiday backpacking trails. Merino wool fibers and their unique properties are resistant to odors. Merino wool socks also prevent getting blisters as opposed to cotton socks.
Peak Design Camera Clip
A must-have for any mountain photography enthusiast who is tired of carrying a camera around their neck. The peak design capture clip allows you to attach your camera to a backpack strap. That way you don’t have to take your backpack off and take your camera out every time you want to take a photo. You will always have it handy.
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Other backpacking trip ideas in the Italian Dolomites
- 3-5-day Rosengarten Traverse
- 3-4-day Tre Cime National Park Traverse
- 3-5-day Dolomiti Brenta Traverse
- Alta Via 1 (11 days)
- Alta Via 2 (14 days)
- Alta Via 4 (7 days)
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