This 4 day / 3 night traverse across the Pale Di San Martino Group in the Southern Dolomites is filled with dramatic views of spires and monoliths combined with cozy evenings spent in some of the best Italian rifugios.
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 comparing to places like Tre Cime National Park or Lago di Braies.
This traverse is probably my favourite part of the much longer Alta Via 2 – A 14 day trek across the Dolomites that I completed in the summer of 2019.
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.
Day 1: Passo Rolle to Rifugio Volpi al Mulaz
Distance: 9km / 5.6 mi
Walking time: 3-4 h
Hiking difficulty: moderate to challenging
Elevation gain: 900 m / 2950 ft
Elevation loss: 250 m / 820 ft
Passo Rolle is 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 it either by private car or public bus B122 going in the direction of Predazzo.
Both towns have excellent hotels where you can stay before and/or after your expedition. I’ve included some of my recommendations at the end of this post. There are also a few hotels directly on Passo Rolle if you prefer to be as close as possible to the trailhead.
There is a parking lot right near the trailhead (Parcheggio per Malga Juribello) where you can leave you car free of charge for a few days.
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 it in too much detail here.
From Passo Rolle, the access road, and the path that runs near it, leads 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 dwelling) and begins to head down into the Val Vegenia before a higher elevation path (710A) takes you towards Passo Mulaz. Passo Mulaz is a stones throw away from rifugio Volpi Al Mulaz and an incredible place to watch the sunset or sunrise.
Extension to the 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 on 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 from mid June and closes in the 3rd week of September. It’s a well situated hut offering views north eastward 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 went to this hut 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 were preparing it to close down for the season 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 desert! 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: 15.3 km / 9.5 mi
Walking time: 4 h 30 min
Hiking difficulty: challenging
Elevation gain: 1150 m / 3770 ft
Elevation loss: 1280 m / 4200 ft
After a comfortable night 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 Passo Farangole is cable protected and on the other side of the pass 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 not entirely necessary, but 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 metres (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 nr 703.
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 refuges in the Dolomites.
They also have a Club Alpino Italiano affiliation.
Extension to the 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 (see the photo above).
Day 3: Rifugio Rosetta to Rifugio Pradidali
Distance: 6.5 km / 4 mi
Walking time: 2 h
Hiking difficulty: moderate
Elevation gain: 217 m / 710 ft
Elevation loss: 362 m / 1190 ft
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 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.
Heading down from the pass, in another 20 minutes, you’ll be at the hut.
Night3: 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 you alpine club membership.
Extension: Via Ferratas Porton and Sentiero Nico Gusela
Distance: 10 km / 6.2 mi
Walking time: 4 h
Via ferrata type: intermediate
Elevation gain: 670 m / 2200 ft
Elevation loss: 670 m / 2200 ft
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 (VF 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 then 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 the 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.
Day 4: Rifugio Pradidali to Val Canali
Distance: 12.5 km / 7.8 mi
Walking time: 4 h
Hiking difficulty: challenging
Elevation gain: 650 m / 2132 ft
Elevation loss: 1250 m / 4100 ft
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 the pass 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 1400m elevation loss to the river.
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 it out all the way to the final point of this traverse.
At the finishing point you can relax and have a beer at Cant del Gal. I’d advise checking the bus time table on the opposite side of the road first so you can time it well though.
Buses run semi frequently (hourly) for the majority of the working day. Most buses run to Fiera di Primiero where you can change to San Martino di Castrozza if needs be.
TIP: If the previous days 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 the path nr 709.
Hotel recommendations in Fiera di Primiero or San Martino di Castrozza
How to shorten this itinerary
If you need to shorten this traverse to fit in with your schedule you can cut out the first night at rifugio Mulaz and choose one of the alternative routes to get to rifugio Rosetta.
Col Verde – Rosetta Gondola
The first of which is taking the Col Verde – Rosetta gondola up from San Martino di Castrozza. A quick way to gain over 1000m. You can then spend the day exploring the area around rifugio Rosetta including going to the summit of Monte Rosetta.
Via ferrata Bolver Lugli
The second way, more arduous but far more exciting is by the advanced via ferrata Bolver Lugli. It takes the Col Verde gondola to the midway station, then heads north eastward on path 706.
Once it reaches its highest point at Bivouac Fiamme Gialle, the route then heads down the Valle Dei Cantoni, over Passo Bettega to Rifugio Rosetta.
Return to Passo Rolle
The third option is to follow the first and second day of this itinerary then on the third day return to Passo Rolle following the paths 716, 712A then 712 forming a loop through the Pale di San Martino group.
Refer to the Tabacco map nr 022 to better understand the routes.
If you have any questions about this traverse that aren’t answered above then make sure to let me know in the comment section below. Consider checking out the rest of my Italian Dolomites Guide for more multiday routes, day hikes, via ferratas and road trip ideas.