Guide To Val Gardena: Top Hikes, Via Ferratas & Photography Spots

Colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, sports equipment stores mixed with souvenir shops and cafés, above them all panoramic mountain views of the Puez Odle, Sassolungo, and Sella Groups. The famous Val Gardena may seem like a tourist trap. After all, it is one of the most visited regions in the Dolomites. However, its charming towns with access to many fantastic hiking trails, via ferrata routes, and photography spots make this valley, in my eyes, one of the best destinations to visit in the Dolomites.

About Val Gardena

Val Gardena is located in the South Tyrol region of Northern Italy. The valley lies parallel to two other famous Dolomiti valleys: Val Di Fassa and Val Di Funes. An ancient language Ladin is still spoken and taught in local schools in Val Gardena, but as a tourist, you can easily converse in English or German around here.

Distances from the nearest airports to Val Gardena:

  • Venice Marco Polo: 256 km / 3 h 15 min
  • Venice Treviso: 225 km / 3 h 10 min
  • Verona Villafranca: 185 km / 2 h 15 min
  • Milan Malpensa: 354 km / 4 h 10 min
  • Milan Bergamo: 270 km / 3 h 15 min
  • Innsbruck (AT): 112 km / 1 h 45 min
  • Munich (DE): 306 km / 3 h 45 mim

TIP: If you need a car for your visit to Val Gardena you can rent one through Discover Cars.

Getting to Val Gardena by public transport

It’s easy to reach the towns in Val Gardena by public transport when you are traveling during the summer season (June-September). First, you can catch a train to Bolzano (Bozen) which is the nearest biggest city, then a local bus to either Ortisei, Santa Cristina, or Selva in Val Gardena.

TIP: To check the timetable and search for bus stops I always use the local Sued Tirol Mobil website.

Best towns to visit in Gardena Valley

Val Gardena is dotted with little villages. The truth is where one ends another one begins so they are all very close to one another. No matter which one you pick for your base you are guaranteed to have great access to outdoor activities year-round.

1. Ortisei

Things to do in Val Gardena

Ortisei (St. Ulrich in German or Urtijëi in Ladin) lies right in the heart of Val Gardena. The town’s characteristics are colorful buildings with wood-carved ornaments. For centuries wood carving has been an important local source of income around here.

Thanks to its two-tier cable car, Ortisei offers the quickest way to reach the famous viewpoint of the Seceda Ridgeline. On the other side of the village, the St-Ulrich – Seiser Alm gondola takes visitors to the highest mountain pasture in Europe – Alpi Di Siusi.

TIP: Check accommodation prices in Ortisei

2. Santa Cristina Di Val Gardena

Santa Cristina is framed between the Odle Group to the North and the Sassolungo to the South. Its famous Col Raiser gondola is a great alternative for reaching the Seceda Ridgeline and the Puez Odle Altopiano, where many hiking trails in the high alpine areas start.

TIP: Check accommodation prices in Santa Cristina Di Val Gardena

3. Selva Di Val Gardena

Selva Di Val Gardena (Wolkenstein in German and Sëlva in Ladin) takes the spot for being the highest village in the Gardena Valley. It’s the closest town to Sella and Gardena Pass, where many hiking trails and via ferratas start. Selva has a more modern vibe than the previously mentioned towns thanks to its many stylish hotels.

TIP: Check accommodation prices in Selva Di Val Gardena

How many days should you stay in Val Gardena?

There is no limit to the number of days you can spend here. You won’t be bored even if you decide to spend your whole holidays in Val Gardena. I recommend at least 3 days.

TIP: Consider investing in the Gardena Card which gives you unlimited cable car access on 3 (or 6) consecutive days.

Best Hikes Near Val Gardena

1. Panorama Alpi Di Siusi

  • Distance: 4.4 km / 2.7 mi
  • Elevation gain: 112 m / 368 ft
  • Hiking time: 1.5 – 2 h
  • Color on the map: pink

Alpi Di Siusi is known as Europe’s highest mountain pasture. This high alpine plateau lies 2000 meters above sea level. The unique views of Sassolungo and Sassopiatto peaks are what draw tourists to this place.

The gentle hills that stretch across the plateau provide the perfect conditions for entry-level hikers who are not ready to combat hundreds of meters of elevation gain.

The Panorama Alpi Di Siusi hike starts at the top of the Ortisei-Alpe Di Siusi gondola and runs in a circuit. You will only gain 112 meters of elevation over 4.4 kilometers, which means a very gentle walk. Stop for lunch at Malga Contrin and enjoy the views of the entire plateau from its terrace.

2. Odle-Geisler Mountain Group Circuit

  • Distance: 22 km / 13.7 mi
  • Elevation gain: 1016 m / 3333 ft
  • Elevation loss: 1743 m / 5718 ft
  • Hiking time: 8-10 hours
  • Color on the map: red

Contrary to the Panorama Alpi Di Siusi, the Odle-Geisler Mountain Group circuit is for serious hikers only, who are accustomed to long hiking days with a lot of elevation gain and loss.

As the name suggests the hike is a circuit that loops the famous Seceda Ridgeline. The trailhead starts on the top of the Two-Tier Ortisei-Furnes-Seceda gondola and ends at its mid-station.

You will have to take the first ride up and keep a good pace throughout the day to not miss the last gondola down. I go more into detail about this hike in my post dedicated to Seceda and Puez Odle Nature Park.

Read more: Guide To Seceda And Puez Odle Nature Park

3. Puez Odle Altipiano Circuit

  • Distance: 6.3 km / 3.9 mi
  • Elevation gain: 136 m / 446 ft
  • Elevation loss: 487 m / 1597 ft
  • Hiking time: 2-3 h
  • Color on the map: black

A great and very relaxed alternative for exploring the Puez Odle Nature Park is by following the Puez Odle Altipiano Circuit.

Once again the hike starts at the top of the Ortisei – Furnes- Seceda gondola, right near the Seceda viewpoint. It then follows a downhill trail first to Malga Pieralongia (a high alpine restaurant) then to Rifugio Firenze.

From here a mostly flat trail will take you to the top of the Col Raiser gondola. Here you have three choices:

  1. Take the Col Raiser gondola down to Santa Cristina then catch a local bus to Ortisei (The stats above correspond with this option)
  2. Hike back up to the Seceda viewpoint then descend back to Ortisei with the Ortisei-Furnes-Seceda gondola, which you took in the morning.
  3. Take the Fermeda chairlift which runs between the two above-mentioned gondola stations and take the Ortisei-Furnes-Seceda gondola down to Ortisei.

4. Seceda – Rifugio Puez – Vallunga

  • Distance: 18.7 km / 11.6 mi
  • Elevation gain: 774 m / 2540 ft
  • Elevations loss: 1603 m / 5259 ft
  • Hiking time: 7-8 h
  • Color on the map: blue

This is a quieter option for those who prefer to hike in Solitude. The hike, which once again starts at the top of the Ortisei-Furnes Seceda top station follows the trail across the Puez Odle Altiplano to Forces de Sieles Saddle. From here the hike overlaps with the famous Alta Via 2 multiday traverse.

Around halfway through the hike, you will reach Rifugio Puez – a great place for restoring calorie reserves and grabbing a drink. From the hut, you can descend back to the Gardena Valley via Vallunga. At the end of the hike, you will need to catch a local bus to whichever town you choose for your stay in the Gardena Valley.

5. Vallunga Valley Walk

  • Distance: 9 km / 5.6 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 230 m / 755 ft
  • Hiking Time: 2-3 h
  • Color on the map: orange
Vallunga 12

The hike across Vallunga is more of a relaxed walk. However, in terms of views the trail can compete with many other high-alpine trails in the Dolomites. Rarely you will be rewarded with such fantastic vistas after putting in so little effort into the hike.

Vallunga is one of my favorite autumn trails in the Dolomites. The larch trees that fill the valley add beautiful vibrant colours to the landscape.

Read More: Guide To Vallunga Valley Hike

6. Sella Group Traverse

  • Distance: 10.6 km / 6.6 mi
  • Elevation Gain: 940 m / 3065 ft
  • Hiking Time: 4-5 h
  • Color on the map: purple
Sella Group Traverse 1

This is a unique hike in terms of views. The trail crosses through the middle of the Sella group known for its moonlike landscapes.

The trailhead for the Sella Group Traverse lies at the Gardena Pass. The hike ends at the Pordoi pass. This means the use of public transport will be necessary to get back to your accommodation.

The first 30 minutes of the hike follows a gently undulating trail which then turns into a very sharp ascent through a scree valley called Val Setus. There are cables installed at the very top of the valley in the steepest section. Those who aren’t sure-footed will benefit from having via ferrata gear with them. A helmet is non-negotiable in this section as there is plenty of loose scree.

The first landmarks along the route are Rifugio Piscadiu and Lake Piscadiu which lie next to each other. From Rifugio Piscadiu you will have to follow the signs for Rifugio Boè. Once at the hut, it’s either a flat or sharp descent to Passo Pordoi. You can skip the last part and take the gondola from Sass Pordoi to the pass.

TIP: You can extend this hike by hiking to the summit of Piz Boè, the highest point of the Sella group.

7. Sassolungo Circuit

  • Distance: 16.7 km / 10.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 787 m / 2720 ft
  • Hiking Time: 5-6 h
  • Color on the map: dark blue
Sassolungo Circuit 3

Circuit-type day hikes in the Dolomites are my favorites. The ever-changing mountain scenery and the undulating nature of these trails are what make them so appealing.

Sassolungo is the prominent peak that towers over Val Gardena and is visible from almost all hikes I mentioned above. The Sassolungo circuit, though long and with quite significant elevation gain never feels too strenuous. The hike starts at the Sella Passo which connects Val Gardena with Val Di Fassa.

Read More: Guide To Sassolungo Circuit Hike

Via Ferratas accessible from Val Gardena

1. Sass Rigais

  • Difficulty level: beginner
  • Time required: 6-8 hours

The Seceda Ridgeline is one of the most beloved photography spots in the Dolomites. What many don’t realize is that one of its summits – Sass Rigais is accessible thanks to a via ferrata route that was set up to its top.

The iron path can be reached either from the Ortisei-Furnes-Seceda gondola station or the top of the Santa Cristina – Col Raiser gondola.

Read More: Guide To Via Ferrata Sass Rigais

2. Piz Duleda

  • Difficulty level: beginner
  • Time required: 5-6 hours

Another great beginner via ferrata route around Val Gardena takes you to the summit of Piz Duleda. The via ferrata section is very short and easy. Ladders have been installed in the steepest sections to help hikers gain elevation.

Piz Duleda is a mountain right in the heart of the Puez Odle Nature Park and provides amazing 360-degree views of the whole park.

3. Oskar Schuster

  • Difficulty level: intermediate
  • Time required: 6-8 hours
Via ferrata Oskar Schuster is one of the best via ferrata routes accessible from Val Gardena

Via ferrata Oskar Schuster cuts through the heart of Sassolungo Mountain group and ends at one of its highest summits – Sassopiatto. Sharp spires of the group are characteristic features of this exciting via ferrata.

The route starts at Passo Sella with a ride in a unique standing gondola cabin that only accommodates two people.

Read More: Guide To Via Ferrata Oskar Schuster

4. Mesules (Pössnecker)

  • Difficulty level: advanced
  • Time required: 6-8 hours
Via Ferrata Mesules 1

If you are looking for a challenging via ferrata route around Val Gardena consider tackling via ferrata Mesules (also known as Pössnecker). It is one of the oldest via ferratas in the Dolomites. If that makes you feel uneasy, put your worries behind you. The routes are constantly maintained and the old rusty equipment is exchanged.

Via ferrata Mesules climbs along the western face of the Sella group through very steep gullies. The descent is long and tiresome so prepare for an exciting but challenging day in the mountains.

Read More: Guide To Via Ferrata Mesules (Pössnecker)

5. Gran Cir

  • Difficulty level: beginner
  • Time required: 2-3 hours
via ferrata gran cir 2

Via ferrata Gran Cir delivers some of the best views of the Sella and Sassolungo. If you are a fan of photographing sunrises or sunsets from the top of the mountain then Gran Cir is for you.

The route starts at Passo Gardena and has less than 500 meters of elevation gain, which means the summit can be reached in 60-90 minutes. The cable-protected section is very short and the rest of the route is just a steep hike to the summit.

Many people hiking to the summit choose to forfeit bringing the ferrata gear. Not something I would recommend. From my years of experience on via ferrata routes in the Dolomites I noticed that most accidents happen on beginner routes exactly for that reason.

Read More: Guide To Via Ferrata Gran Cir

Best Photography Spots near Val Gardena

1. Seceda Ridgeline Viewpoint

Seceda Ridgeline 1
Seceda Ridgeline Viewpoint at sunrise in mid-October

Do I need to explain anything about this viewpoint? The Seceda Ridgeline is one of the iconic photography spots in the Dolomites and one of the easiest to get to. A gondola ride away from the town of Ortisei and you will be standing in its presence.

What’s the trick of being there at sunrise you may wonder? You can stay in one of the two nearby mountain huts (Rifugio Fermeda or Rifugio Firenze) and hike to the viewpoint before everyone else gets there.

2. Passo Gardena

Passo Gardena 1
Passo Gardena at sunset in mid-October

Getting to Passo Gardena doesn’t require any effort. You can just drive up to it. Passo Gardena is a great access point for some hikes and via ferratas, I mentioned in this post, but it is also a great photography spot in itself.

There is a large parking lot near Rifugio Frara right on the pass. From here a short 5-minute walk will take you to a great viewpoint of Sassolungo pictured above.

3. Alpe Di Siusi

Alpi Di Siusi 1
Alpi Di Siusi at sunrise at the start of November

Another icon of the Dolomites. Alpe Di Siusi is a high mountain plateau that can be reached in three different ways:

  1. By taking the Siusi gondola from Compatsch and then hiking.
  2. By driving from Siusi to Compatsch and then hiking (this is only possible before 9 AM or after 5 PM for those who hold reservations for hotels located on the plateau)
  3. By taking the gondola from Ortisei to Siusi

Whilst logistically the third option is the easiest and allows reaching the viewpoint the fastest, being tight to a gondola schedule does mean limited times for visiting the plateau. The good news is that once a week, during the summer the gondola runs in the evening allowing the visitors to experience a sunset at the plateau.

4. Passo Sella

Passo Sella 1 2
Sella Group during a stormy afternoon in early October from the top Col Rodella gondola station

Just like Passo Gardena, Passo Sella can also be reached by car. There are many vantage points for capturing amazing photos at Passo Sella. To the west, you get great views of Sassolungo. To the southeast, you can admire Marmolada – Dolomite’s highest peak.

One of my favorite spots for taking photos at Passo Sella is from the top of the Col Rodella cable car. Here you get a fantastic panoramic view of the Sella Group and the Sella towers. It takes approximately 30 minutes to hike from Passo Sella to that spot.

5. Sassolungo Viewpoint

Sassolungo Viewpoint 1
Sassolungo viewpoint above the Col Raiser gondola station during an inversion in mid-October

Last but not least my favorite photography spot in Val Gardena. This viewpoint is located a 30-minute hike from Rifugio Firenze or a 20-minute hike from the Col Raiser hotel at the top of the Col Raiser gondola station. The gondola has its start in the town of Santa Cristina.

You can probably guess why this is my favorite spot. I was greeted by amazing photography conditions when I got here at sunrise. The low-hanging clouds and the mountains peaking above them created a fairytale atmosphere.

Hut-to-hut treks near Val Gardena

1. Alta Via 2

Alta Via 2 Day 3 9
Crossing Passo Gardena on the Alta Via 2

Alta Via 2 is a high alpine traverse that requires 10-14 days to complete. The trip starts in Bressanone and finishes almost 200 kilometers south in Croce D’Aune. The trail crosses, among other places, the Puez Odle Nature Park and Passo Gardena.

Read More: Guide to Alta Via 2 – Part 1 and Alta Via 2 – Part 2

2. Rosengarten Traverse

Rosengarten Traverse Rifugio Vajolet 5

The Rosengarten Nature Park lies south of Val Gardena. It is possible to cross the whole park on foot with a backpack on your back. 6 exciting via ferratas and a famous Dolomiti landmark – the Vajolet towers are a part of this amazing trail.

Read More: Guide to Rosengarten Traverse In The Italian Dolomites

Other Regions of the Dolomites Worth Visiting

Support my website!

Hi Reader! If you found any of my articles about the Dolomites useful please consider using the affiliate links below (at no extra cost) when booking your holiday. Thank you

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *