A trip to the Italian Dolomites wouldn’t be complete without seeing the three prominent monoliths of Tre Cime di Lavaredo from all angles.
Although it’s certainly a busy hike, the views upon the Tre Cime circuit will more than makeup for it and because of the well-established infrastructure, litter and degradation are minimal.
For those seeking more adventure, the Tre Cime circuit offers many extensions and with the vast mountain hut network in the region, you can easily plan a couple of nights in the area and really take advantage of what this national park offers.
The loop, which encompasses part of Alta Via 4, is of an easy grade and requires little elevation change, but before you start hiking anywhere, you have to decide how you are going to get to the trailhead.
What You Need To Know About The Tre Cime Circuit Hike
Distance: 10 km / 6 mi
Walking time: 4-5 h
Hiking difficulty: easy
Elevation gain: ca. 400 m / 1300 ft
Elevation loss: ca. 400 m / 1300 ft
The hike around the Three Peaks starts at rifugio Auronzo, accessible via the toll road. The toll varies between different vehicle sizes but for a normal car, it is 30€ plus 15€ per day if you plan on staying overnight in any of the huts. There is an ample parking lot right next to the refuge and a few parking attendants who make sure that no space goes to waste.
To enter, the toll gate is usually open between 8 AM and 5 PM. If there is considerable snowfall, the gate can close to incoming traffic without prior warning, including buses. I am speaking from experience here. The outgoing traffic can leave at any time.
To avoid paying the steep parking/toll fees, you can hike up to rifugio Auronzo from the free pothole-ridden car park at Lago d’Antorno. This takes around 90 minutes and involves a considerable amount of elevation gain (ca. 500 meters).
If you want to save money (and the environment) there’s a much cheaper bus which leaves regularly from Cortina, Lago Misurina, and Lago D’Antorno. The bus starts to run in June when the hiking season opens and runs daily throughout the summer until late September. The return trip costs 8 Euros.
No matter how you get there, your starting point will be rifugio Auronzo because that’s where the road ends and the hiking trail begins.
The route counter-clockwise around the Tre Cimé is preferable because the views will be in front of you more of the time.
Hike to the right (east) of rifugio Auronzo and begin your circumnavigation on path nr 101. It’s well maintained, flat and wide.
Even wide enough for the farm vehicles herding the cattle and for the maintenance/delivery vehicles working at Rifugio Lavaredo.
Shortly after passing a scenic little chapel, you’ll be at rifugio Lavaredo. This part takes around 20-30 minutes. From here it’s a short uphill burst to one of the most iconic viewpoints in the Italian Dolomites, Forcella Lavaredo.
This vantage point is the highest on the entire loop. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
From here continue on the upper or the lower path nr 101 toward Rifugio Locatelli which you’ll be able to see glistening in the distance to the north.
The upper path is considerably quieter and not that much harder. They run parallel to each other. Turn around and look at the three distinct peaks. That’s going to be your view for the next hour so get used to it!
In roughly 45 minutes you’ll be at the next hut – rifugio Locatelli (Dreizinnenhütte).
Rifugio Locatelli is one of the most photogenic huts in the Dolomites and for a good reason.
Both are excellent climbs and one can easily be added to your day trip. If you want to complete both I suggest booking a night in rifugio Locatelli.
If you are not a strong climber or don’t have the correct equipment, I suggest exploring on foot the nearby Laghi dei Piani and the famous Tre Cime caves, which are only a few hundred meters away from rifugio Locatelli and clearly visible from the hut.
To continue the circuit, from rifugio Locatelli the trail drops downhill towards the three peaks crossing sometimes waterlogged areas of grass and rock. You’ll have some serious neck ache if your eyes become captivated by the climbers seen attached to the faces of Tre Cime.
All too quickly you’ll be at Malga Langalm which unfortunately doesn’t have any overnight facilities but does have a great restaurant and bar. It is also situated next to three very photogenic reflective ponds.
The route then heads uphill to the Forcella del Col de Mèdo and then back round to rifugio Auronzo, where you started your journey.
All in all, this is a busy hike but its beauty more than makes up for its popularity. Remember not to litter, arrive as early as possible, and if you want to stay overnight in the park, book well in advance.
Are you planning this hike and looking for more information or simply need advice on your trip to the Dolomites? Post them in the comments below!
Are you looking for more inspiration? Check out my Italian Dolomites Guide for more articles about day hikes, via Ferratas and photography locations.
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