Tre Cime Circuit – A Must Do Day Hike In The Italian Dolomites

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

Rifugio Auronzo at the foot of the southern face of the Three Peaks.
Rifugio Auronzo at the foot of the southern face of the Three Peaks

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. 

First light on the Three Peaks visible from the Focella Lavaredo
First light on the Three Peaks visible from the Focella Lavaredo

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.

The path toward rifugio Locatelli along the Tre Cime Circuit
Rifugio Lavaredo with Cima Cadin as the backdrop

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.

Information about the Tre Cime Circuit, a day hike in the Italian Dolomites
Morning views from Forcella Lavaredo

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). 

guide to Tre Cime Circuit in the Italian Dolomites
Tre Cime in all their glory

Rifugio Locatelli is one of the most photogenic huts in the Dolomites and for a good reason.

It’s part of Alta Via 4 and lies in close proximity to two world-class via Ferratas: Torre di Toblin and De Luca/Innerkofler.

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.

Rifugio Locatelli in the afternoon sun with Monte Paterno in the background
Rifugio Locatelli in the afternoon sun with Monte Paterno in the background

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. 

Word War I Tunnels in the Tre Cime National Park
The tunnels are the remains of World War I

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.

Forcella del Col de Mèdo. The last landmark along the Tre Cime circuit
Forcella del Col de Mèdo. The last landmark along the Tre Cime circuit

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.

Tre Cime Circuit in the Italian Dolomites
Descending down from Forcella del Col de Mèdo to rifugio Auronzo

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. 

Shop My Hiking Gear Essentials

Black Diamond Z – Pole

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Osprey Kyte 36 l

Great for day hikes and big enough for overnight hut excursions. Osprey backpacks have been with me from the humble beginnings of this website. 

Hydrapack 3 liter Water Bladder 

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Icebreaker Merino Wool Socks

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Marta Kulesza

I am Marta Kulesza - 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.

20 Comments

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  1. Wow Marta,
    this website is incredible. I have 5 Canadians with me next July and we plan on doing the “Tre Cime Circuit Hike”. I would like to spread it out over two days and stay at Rifugio Locatelli. Is there a back up Rifugio if we are not able to get accommodation’s at Rifugio Locatelli.
    Thanks
    Luca

    • Hi Luca. Thanks for your great feedback. Tre Cime Circuit is only a 3-4 hour hike so splitting it in two days you might find it not challenging enough. I would highly recommend that you look into approaching Tre Cime through Val Fiscalina. You can stay your first night in Rifugio Pian di Cienga if rifugio Locatelli is fully booked. You could then continue to see the Tre Cime and walk out via Val Campo Di Dentro. That seems like a more reasonable itinerary if you plan an overnight stay. Another refuge close to Locatelli is Rifugio Lavaredo. Check out the category for hut to hut treks in the Dolomites on my site and the Tre Cime traverse in particular. Let me know if you have more questions!

  2. Hi Marta,
    Please help me. I have a number of questions. on the Vajolet Towers hike. I am an aggressive hiker but I have a friend who is a casual hiker, he is a big guy and walks on FLAT trails at 2.5 mph or 4.0 km/hr. Should he attempt this hike? Also there seems to be two different chairlifts from either side of the mountain to take? Is one side easier than the other? If so is the easier side a longer hike? How much longer each way?
    My friend thinks we should go up the easier side and return the same way. Also is the 10 km distance round trip from either lift or is that one way? Everywhere I look I see this hike is rated either Challenging, Difficult or Strenuous. I’m wondering if my friend should even attempt it. He has been looking forward to doing this hike ever since watching a YouTube video of it.
    I want him to do it but I am afraid that we won’t make it back to the chairlift by the 5:30 shut down.

    • Hi Gary. You posted your comment twice, so I removed the second one as they were the same. First of all thanks for stopping by. It would be easier to approach Vajolet towers by using the Catinnacio gondola and starting at the Ciampede refuge. The thing is the stretch between Ciampede refuge and Vajolet refuge will be easy. There is some elevation gain, but it’s very gradual and the road is wide. It’s after the Vajolet refuge on the approach to rifugio Alberto Primiero (Gartlhuette) where it gets tricky. It’s very steep, with some iron cables to hold on to. It’s just rocky terrain and I would say for fit people only. It is challenging and it’s the only approach that is not via ferrata. 4km/hr sounds like a very slow going. Why don’t you try and stay in one of the huts along the way, that way you don’t have to stress whether you will make it back or not! Let me know if that helps!

  3. Hi Marta
    We are two danish photographers who are planning a trip to the Dolomites the first week of May 2022.
    We want to trek the circuit around Tre Cime but we are a little unsure on how the situation is concerning the drive up to refugio Auronzo. You say that the the road opens end of May – is that a fixed deadline or can we be lucky enough to see the road open in early may – weather permitting.
    Thanks
    Flemming

    • Hi Flemming. Thanks for visiting my site. The road opening to rifugio Auronzo corresponds with the opening of the actual refuge which is usually around mid June. It’s not a matter of luck. You can still hike up, but prepare for snow on the Northern Slopes. At this stage, there is very little snow in the mountains at the moment. All valleys are clear of snow, but it’s supposed to start snowing again next week. Generally speaking hiking at higher altitudes should be put off until mid-June, when most of the slopes are clear of snow. You can however hike comfortably at around 1000-1500 meters a.s.l even now, or on the south-facing slopes. By the way, I plan to be in the Dolomites at the start of May too! I hope that helps!

  4. Hi Marta. My girlfriend and I are planning to do the Tre Cime di Lavaredo next week and I was wondering if you know of any place where we can park our motorcycle for the day?. I read in your previous comment’s response that it is possible to hike up even at this point of the year and that we may need to stick to the southern face of the peaks (depending on snow conditions) but as the toll road is closed we are not sure if there are any other parking options around the area?.

    P.S.: I loved your website and this post is so detailed! Super helpful!.

    Thanks!
    Carlos

  5. Hi Marta!
    Your website is by far the most helpful guide I’ve found all week in planning for my trip to the Dolomites in August, so thank you for such extensive details and descriptions! I had a clarification question about the parking – if using the toll gate, you are able to leave at any time (past 5pm) is that correct?
    Thank you!

  6. Hi Marta,
    Your site is wonderfully helpful!! We hope you can help us. We are visiting the Dolomites June 20 -21, and are arriving from Venice with a rental car. Sadly we only have these 2 days. Our hope is to hike Rifugio Auronzo (Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop) June 20 afternoon. We heard different things about this hike. Is it easy or moderate, and how long is the loop to hike? We are staying near Lago di Braies for Monday night.

    The next day, we visit Lago di Braies in the morning, then drive to Rifugio Lagazoui in the afternoon. We hope to take the cable car up to the summit and hike back down. Do you know how long the hike down is, and we heard it was an easy downhill hike? We then travel to Kastelruth for Tuesday night.

    I know we are crushing a lot into 2 days — We wish we had more time to spend in this beautiful part of Italy.

    Thank you, Kelly

    • Hi Kelly! Thanks for visiting. Yes, you are doing it in a flash! Do reconsider visiting Lago di Braies though. Whilst it’s a nice lake what you often can’t see in the photos is behind the scenes. A massive car park, a hotel, and tons of trash next to the lake. It’s quite sad, to be honest. Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop is also the busiest hike in the Dolomites and you can expect hundreds of people. If you want to have a different experience I would really urge you to reconsider your itinerary and do something else. Maybe go to San Martino di Castrozza and hike to Monte Castellaz (you can find the description on my site). Then travel to Alleghe and check out the lake there, grab a gondola and hike to Lake Coldai. You will see absolutely stunning sites with a fraction of the tourists!
      as for your questions Tre Cime loop is easy in terms of hiking difficulty but it is not a walk in the park. The path is wide most of the way and there is no big drops or anything, but you still have around 400 meters of elevation gain and loss on this hike. If you have never hiked before you will find it difficult, if you are a seasoned hiker you will find it easy. As for the distance it is 10 km/6 miles in total. I have the starts at the beginning of the hike. If you do insist on visiting Lago di Braies make sure to go there really early. the road is often very congested with traffic from early morning.
      As for Lagazoui. If you plan on hiking through the Lagzuoi tunnels it is actually easier to hike up and then catch the gondola down. The tunnels are quite low so bending down on the way down isnt easy. A torch and a helmet are necessary.
      If you plan on hiking down via Kaiserjäger route then bear in mind there are some cables along the way and at time the route is steep and narrow.
      You can also hike down to Forcella Travenanzes and then via the ski slope (in the summer there will be no snow on it) down to Passo Falzarego. This one is the easiest route out of the 3.

      I hope that answers it for you! Happy travels! Marta

  7. Thanks for this Marta. My wife and I completed the hike today (May 30, 2022) and found your blog post very useful, heck we even ripped off your cave photograph!

    A couple of things that we encountered. Firstly, we had to park in the free parking area as the entrance gate and refugios were not open yet for the season. After parking, we walked past the hotel and along the paved road to just past the entry payment shack. From here we took a well marked hiking path (to the right) through the forest thinking it was a short cut. While hiking through the forest was great, we found out it wasn’t any faster than taking the paved road to the top (there was another couple just ahead of us that took the road and we met them the same time at Rifugio Auronzo)

    Second, we walked around counter-clockwise (east) like you suggested but actually found many of the best mountain views were behind us. I think either direction might work – either clockwise or counter clockwise, but that might be just personal preference.

    One question, what breed is your dog Jasper? On my travels in Europe I’ve seen several dogs that look similar, but sadly I’ve never seen one in Canada where I’m from.

    • Hi Jason! I am glad to hear you were able to complete the circuit and it must have been quite the excursion walking all the way from Lake Antorno and back. I always just started it from the parking lot near rifugio Auronzo. I do say in the text that the huts and road don’t usually open until the mid or third week of June. Did you encounter any snow still? As for the views, I reckon whichever way you decide to follow there are always going to be great views. I am glad you enjoy it!
      As for Jasper, he is an Australian Shepherd. This breed has become quite popular amongst active people in recent years. Just giving you a heads up, he is a handful, in case you are interested in having a dog 😀 I love him to bits but I wouldn’t get a puppy ever again 😉

  8. Hi Marta. Yes, we did know the rifugios would be closed when we were there, that and we would have to do the extra hike from Lake Antorno but we didn’t let that deter us 🙂 There was only small sections of snow on the circuit. In these sections it was packed down from people walking on it. Some parts were a bit slippery but they were perfectly fine if you took your time and side stepped a bit. Fortunately there was no “post-holing” sections in the snow. Thanks for the information on your dog – sounds like from the breed he’s high energy and very intelligent (so a handful!). Hoping for continued success for your blog – I know these things are a lot of hard work.

    • Hi Jason! I am glad to hear you were able to make it. It must have been quite an excursion walking all the way from Lake Antorno. Yes, my doggo is a handful because he is very reactive and goes from 0 to 100 in 2 seconds, but he is also still very young so I hope he will settle at some point. He is the best though!:) Thanks for the well-wishing!

  9. Hello Marta,

    Love your website and found it very helpful! My husband and I will be travelling to Italy in July and will
    stay in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Our first full day we plan to hike the Tre Cime Di Lavaredo and Cadini Di Misurina. Do we need to buy tickets online to hike these to show at the entrance of Rifugio Auronzo or is it just the park entrance fee?

    Our second day we will head to Ortisei and hike Seceda. We wish we had more time to see more Do you recommend any others close to Cortina d Ampezzo?

    Thank you for your help!!

    • Hi Lynsey. Thanks for stopping by. Just to give you heads up you are hitting two most visited spots in the Dolomites, so expect crowds. lots of them! As for the Tre Cime Trek there is a road that leads to rifugio Auronzo which is paid. If the parking lot at the top fills up the gate will shut and you will either have to take the bus or hike the extra few kilometres. There are also buses directly from Cortina which is probably the best option. If you want to see Tre Cime with less crowds then I highly encourage you to try the approach from Val Fiscalina (I have the hike described on my site).
      I really love the Croda Da Lago Circuit hike which is near Cortina. Lake Sorapiss is another great one, albeit busy so it’s essential to leave really early.
      I would also highly recommend checking out Durrenstein summit or Col De la Puina. The guide to the latter hike will be published this week. I understand the urge to see the highlights, but overtourism in both of those places, that you want to visit, can be really offputting and I always encourage anyone who visits the Dolomites to try different locations. Let me know if you have more questions! Happpy hikinh, Marta.