Via Ferrata Merlone – An Exciting Climb To The Summit Of Cima Cadin

It’s not often that I repeat routes which I have done before. However, if there is one that makes a huge impression on me I like to show them to my friends. Via Ferrata Merlone is one of those routes and so far I have tackled it not once, not twice, but three times.

About Via Ferrata Merlone

Alta Via 4 Extension Via Ferrata Merlone 5
Looking at the Southern faces of Tre Cime peaks from the summit of Cima Cadin

The Cadini di Misurina viewpoint became in recent years, thanks to Instagram, one of the iconic photo spots in the Dolomites. Few realize that one of its summits, Cima Cadin is relatively easy to access thanks to a network of ladders installed along one of its faces. The route is known as Via Ferrata Merlone.

Via Ferrata Merlone: the stats

  • Total distance roundtrip: 8 km / 5 mi
  • Total elevation gain: 884 m / 2900 ft
  • Time required: 5-6 hours
  • Route difficulty: intermediate
  • Parking: 46.59091, 12.26328
  • Map required: Tabacco map no. 10 (Dolomiti di Sesto)

Getting to the start of the Via Ferrata Merlone

The ferrata starts at Rifugio Fonda Savio. The trailhead for the hut lies close to Lake Antorno – one of the iconic photography spots in the Dolomites.

By car

It takes 30 minutes from Cortina to reach the trailhead for Via Ferrata Merlone and only 6 minutes if you drive from Misurina. Before reaching Antorno Lake, you will see a sign for Rifugio Fonda Savio leading onto an unpaved forest road. There is an ample free parking area where you can leave your car. 

By bus

The closest bus stop to the trailhead is called Lago Antorno. I marked it on the map. During the summer season, bus line no. 30 coming from Cortina D’Ampezzo (and stopping in Misurina along the way) operates along this route frequently.

The closest towns to Via Ferrata Merlone

Misurina
Lake Misurina and the few hotels that surround it

Although Misurina is the closest town, it’s tiny and the hotels here book out well in advance. If you want to be as close as possible, make a reservation early.  

You can also stay in Cortina D’Ampezzo, the next biggest town and a great hub to base yourself on if you plan on exploring the Dolomites. It takes around 30 minutes to drive from Cortina to the Fonda Savio car park. Below are a few of my recommendations for hotels in Cortina.

The stages of Via Ferrata Merlone

  • Blue trail: parking lot to Rifugio Fonda Savio
  • Yellow trail: Via Ferrata Merlone

Stage 1: Trailhead to Rifugio Fonda Savio

  • Distance: 3 km / 1.86 mi
  • Elevation gain: 502 m / 1646 ft
  • Time required: 1-1.5 hours
Tre Cime Traverse Fonda Savio 1

From the parking lot follow the hiking path no. 115 for about 60-90 minutes to reach the rifugio. It’s a well-maintained and signposted path, so getting lost is almost impossible.

Around two-thirds of the way up you will see the hut. It’s a steady incline, at times steep. Be prepared with plenty of water and sunscreen.

Stage 2: Rifugio Fonda Savio to the Cima Cadin summit

  • Distance: 1 km / 0.62 mi
  • Elevation gain: 382 m / 1253 ft
  • Time required: 1.5 – 2 hours
Rifugio Fonda Savio 1

From Rifugio Fonda Savio follow the signs for via ferrata Merlone. Start walking up along a scree path away from the hut. After a couple of hundred meters, the South face of the Tre Cime will slowly emerge from behind the spires.

The path eventually stops abruptly. Until now, you were walking on the right side of the gully, but you will have to cross to the other side and keep your eyes peeled for the ladders and cables attached to the face of Cima Cadin – your objective for today. 

Alta Via 4 Extension Via Ferrata Merlone 7

Be on the lookout for rock cairns guiding the way to the first cable. Once you get to the cable you will start gaining elevation quickly. It’s like climbing on a huge scaffolding.

The wall of Cima del Cadin looks intimidating, but in comparison to Via Ferrata Torre Di Toblin, which I completed only a few days before, I found via ferrata Merlone to be very straightforward.

The only real obstacle may be in your head. If you are scared of heights, hanging a couple of hundred meters above the nearest flat area whilst being on a ladder attached to a rock wall may not be for you. The exposure is no joke so make good use of those cables and always stay clipped in.

Eventually, the seemingly endless ladders and cables come to an end. Circa 30 minutes from the summit you will come across an airy pathway. Enjoy a few minutes of rest from climbing and a great view of Cadin di San Lucano to your right. 

Continue following the red paint marks before you reach the last section of cables and ladders leading right to the top. 

The views from the top are nothing short of spectacular. The Fonda Savio hut, where you set off from, is a tiny dot far below. The famous three peaks are visible straight ahead. To your left and right, a sheer drop of a few hundred meters. 

Stage 3: Cima Cadin summit to the parking lot

  • Distance: 4 km / 2.5 mi
  • Elevation loss: 884 m / 2900 ft
  • Time required: 2.5 – 3 hours
Alta Via 4 Extension Via Ferrata Merlone 9
It’s back down the same way

Give yourself a pat on the back, you just ticked off another one of the most exciting intermediate via ferrata in the Dolomites. Now it’s time to retrace your steps. The way down follows the same path. Make sure to be aware of what’s happening below. Via ferrata Merlone is quite popular, so don’t expect to be alone.

If you see other people ascending make sure to give each other space, use the ladders only one at a time, and if you happen to set off any rocks flying, shout “below” loudly to give a proper warning. If you hear someone shouting “below”, “Achtung” or “attenzione”, be aware that some rocks might be falling.

Staying overnight at Rifugio Fonda Savio

Rifugio Fonda Savio

If you want to start early, I recommend an overnight stay in the Fonda Savio hut. The hut is located in a stunning location and is surrounded by the dramatic spires of the Cadini di Misurina range. I have a separate article about the ins and outs of staying in mountain huts in the Italian Dolomites.

Via ferrata Merlone as an extension to Alta Via 4

Alta Via 4 Day 2 2
Alta Via 4 crosses the Tre Cime Nature Park

Fonda Savio hut lies along the famous Alta Via 4, one of the 6 official high alpine routes that traverse the Dolomites from North to South. Alta Via 4 starts near San Candido in the North and ends in the small town of Pozzale in the South. It takes 5-6 days to complete this 100 km (62 mi) long trail.

Shop my via ferrata gear essentials

Black Diamond Helmet

Rockfall is a major concern on via ferrata routes. Unbeknownst to you, other climbing groups above you may accidentally dislodge a small rock and send it down the mountain. If it hits you on the head, it could have serious consequences. A helmet on your head (not inside your backpack) is necessary.

Shop on: Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

71gKk4U+f2S. AC SL1500

Black Diamond Momentum Harness

Another must-have on a via ferrata route is a climbing harness. A harness works as an anchor point for your via ferrata lanyard. Try it before your trip to ensure it fits snugly without limiting your movements. Aim for a lightweight harness that will be comfortable to wear between the cable-protected sections when hiking.

edelrid basis cable kit special via ferrata set

Edelrid, Camp or Black Diamond Via Ferrata Lanyard

A via ferrata lanyard connects the climber and their harness to the cables along the route. Its two arms and a hidden extra coil work as an energy absorption system in case of a fall by reducing the stress on the climber. The two carabiners at the end of the lanyard are used to clip into the cable. Make sure the carabiners are equipped with the palm squeeze mechanism. It’s the safest and most comfortable.

Shop on Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

91P0f6XnFML. AC SL1500

Black Diamond Crag Gloves

The gloves are meant to protect your hands from any cuts and scratches you may otherwise get if you haul yourself on the cable without them. I prefer full-fingered gloves for extra protection against blisters.

Shop on: Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

salewa womens wildfire edge approach shoes detail 6

Salewa Wildfire Edge Approach Shoes

My go-to pair of hiking shoes for easier trails or via ferrata, where I don’t need extra ankle support. They provide excellent grip on the rock and are very durable.

Shop on: Amazon (Worldwide) / Backcountry (US)

reeloq

Reeloq Smartphone Securing System

If you want to take great photos on a via ferrata without worrying about losing your phone, Reeloq is the best tool for it. It’s a smartphone-securing system that allows you to use your phone on any adventure. This has been a great addition to my tool arsenal.

Shop on: REELOQ

Other hikes and via ferratas nearby

Other regions in the Dolomites worth visiting

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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.

14 Comments

  1. Hi Marta,
    The information you provide regarding the Alta Via 4 as well as the Dolomites in general is invaluable! Many thanks for that. I have one particular question in regards to the via ferrata Merlone. Me and my partner are doing the Alta Via 4 in mid September and our second day stage is Rifugio Auronzo -> Rifugio Citta di Carpi. I wonder if going the path of via ferrata Merlone one way to the top we can continue from there to our final destination for the day – Rifugio Citta di Carpi. Obviously, returning back to Fonda Savio and going from there to Citta di Carpi would be too much for one day.
    Thank you,
    Ilya.

    • Hi Ilya. Thanks for stopping by. Amazing that you are doing AV4. As for your question, yes once you descend from VF Merlone you can head up to Forcella (saddle) de la Neve over the snowfield and emerge on the other side of the saddle then descent down on path 118 to Rifugio Citta Di Carpi. I did not do this route, but from looking at the map it is a much quicker way to Citta di carpi from Fonda Savio, rather than continuing along Sentiero Bonacossa. However after the saddle it looks like there is another via ferrata section after the saddle. I would recommend that you get the maps to outline the route. I hope that helps!

  2. Hello!
    Which direction has the best views? Going from Fondo Savio all the way to Tre Cime the other way?

    Thanks!!!
    Amrutha

    • Hi Amrutha. Thanks for stopping by. I am sorry, but I don’t really understand your question. Via ferrata Merlone is an ‘out and back’ type route, meaning it goes the same way up and down from rifugio Fonda Savio.

      • Sorry! Trying to decide if I want to tackle vf merlone and then take the trail from fando savio (trail name starts with an s) to rifugio auronzo or the other way around. Thoughts?

        • Hi Amrutha. You are referring to Sentiero Bonacossa. I did it when I was traversing AV4 (You can actually look at the photos from this traverse in my Alta Via V4 guide). I think it’s better to start at rifugio Auronzo. You can leave your car at the bottom of the trailhead to rifugio Fonda Savio, then walk to the bus stop and take the bus to rifugio Auronzo. Do Sentiero Bonacossa which will getyou to Fonda Savio, then Merlone and then hike down from Fonda Savio to your car. Just bear in mind that you are looking at a full day of adventuring.

  3. Hi Marta 😊
    I was wondering what time of year these images from merlone ferrata are from?
    I am hoping to go in the next day or two and hoping the remaining snow won’t be an issue.

    5th June today..

    Thanks!

    • Hi Jeffrey. I hardly doubt it, it will be doable. I actually had someone writing to me that they tried it a couple of weeks ago and had to turn around. If you go to my Alta Via 4 guide (scroll down to day 2 extension) You can see a photo there taken on the approach to the start of via ferrata Merlone, when two hikers are crossing a snowfield. This pic was taken on July 8th 2019. Whilst this year was significantly less snow than 2019 or last year even, the snow in that snowfield lingers well into July, because it’s really shaded and it makes it difficult to find the start of the ferrata.

      • Thanks for the quick reply!

        Just to clarify, when you say “I hardly doubt it, it will be doable” – are you saying it won’t be doable as there will be to much snow on the snow field?

        Is the snow field low angle and potentially okay to cross without axe/ crampons?

        I am using FATMAP gps which has the route well drawn to make it easy to stay on the correct trail.

        Quick question- do you have any other gps/ topo apps you recommended for this area?

        Thanks a bunch!!

        • Hi Jeffrey. Yes, the snowfield, particularly where you will cross it is at a low angle and it should be pretty packed. However, as you can imagine, I can’t tell you whether it will be safe or not 🙂 I recommend getting the Dolomiti Sesto Map Tabacco no. 10 I always use paper maps or my GPS watch fenix 6

  4. Hi Marta,
    Thank you for the excellent information and amazing photographs! When you mention these free parking lots. Can you leave a rental car there for multiple days while going hut-to-hut? Would you recommend a rental car or bus for the area? Rental car was my first thought, but parking seems to be 30 euros per day in some places. I’m planning to go climbing with a guide near Cortina and then do hut-to-hut VF. Either AV4, or use your four day example and add a few extra days on that.

    Hoping to be there for 2-3 weeks starting in mid-June. Do you bring microspikes that early in the season? Really appreciate your website. So helpful for planning and breathtaking photographs!

    Thanks,
    David

    • Hi David. Thanks for your visit. I hiked AV1 starting mid-June and did not bring microspikes with me and was totally fine. Gaiters did come in handy in places though. The remaining snow was very slushy and wet.
      As for your other question. It really depends on the parking lot. To give you an example when I did AV2 I left my van parked at a hotel in Bressanone, where I paid 5 Euro/night for the possibility. I thought it was money well spent as I didn’t have to worry about the car. I have contacted the hotel first prior to my trip to make sure this will be possible. I have noticed that parking lots that were free of charge just a couple of years ago are now collecting fees, but they are usually 5-10 euros a day. The most expensive one is near rifugio Auronzo which is indeed 30 euros a day, but that is an exemption. Generally, it’s ok to leave them overnight, but that really depends on parking lots and I don’t know the rules for them all. I reckon contacting a hotel is your best bet.

  5. hola voy a hacer esta via ferrata, pero es mi ultimo dia en dolomitas y el dia de la ferrata parto desde el refugio auronzo que hasta el incio de la ferrata seran 3 horas andando, mas las 5 o 6 de ferrata. crees que sera posible hacerlo todo en un dia?

    muchas gracias

    saludos

    • Hi Roberto, Whilst I did understand your question I feel more comfortable answering in English. Yes it is possible to do via ferrata Merlone leaving from rifugio Auronzo. You will first need to traverse via ferrata Sentiero Bonacossa. I did that when doing Alta Via 4 and you can view pics from this section in my article about alta via 4 (day 2) which you can find in the category” hut to hut treks in the Dolomites’. This will take 2.5-3 hours. Via ferrata Merlone takes around 3-4 hours from rifugio Fonda Savio depending on your speed. Then descending down from rifugio Fonda Savio to Lake Antorno is another 1hour to 90 mins. All in all you are looking at 7-8 hour day but if the weather is in your favour this is definitely doable. The second time I did via ferrata Merlone I first hiked all the way from rifugio Locatelli around Tre Cime then to Fonda Savio. Then in the afternoon we did the via ferrata Merlone. I hope that helps!

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