The 3,343-meter-high Dolomites are a mountain of Alps in northern Italy. It is the origin of via Ferrata and a paradise of hiking and cycling. Its countryside covers an area of ​​15,942 km2. The group is 150 km long and 191 km wide. It is considered by many to be the most beautiful part of the mountain chain in Europe.

It was named after the French geologist (chemist and mineral researcher) Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu, who conducted limestone research in the region. He discovered that the rocks contain magnesium (calcium-magnesium carbonate - CaMg(C03)2). That is why not only the mountain but also its rock, dolomite, was named after him.

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Did you know? The mountain range has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 2009.

Overview

Dolomites Details
Height 3343 m
Country Italy
Regions Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia
Location Alps, South Tyrol
Area 15,942 km2
Highest point Punta Penia (3343 m)
Most popular hiking trail Alta Via
Popular programs Hiking, climbing, via Ferrata, cycling, MTB, skiing
Summer season June - October
Winter season December - end of March
Distance from Venice 180 km (3 hours)
Distance from Bolzano (Bozen) 70 km (1 hour)
Nearest airport Marco Polo International Airport, Venice
Names Dolomiti (German), Dolomiten (Italian)

Dolomites map

Dolomites map

Its boundaries are not easy to determine since several versions are accepted. The strict border extends to the Adige river and the Piave valley. But there is also a definition that considers the parts beyond the river and the valley as the Dolomites. Additional names were given to these areas:

  • Dolomiti d'Oltrepiave (Piaven Dolomites)
  • Western Dolomites or Brenta Dolomites
  • Piccole Dolomiti (Little Dolomites)

Where are the Dolomites?

The Dolomites are part of the Southern Limestone Alps, which is part of the Eastern Alps. Its entire area is located within Italy, a significant part of which is also in the Veneto region. It is also part of the famous region, South Tyrol. The closest major city is Venice in Italy and Innsbruck in Austria.  

  • Distance from Bolzano: 1.5 hours / 70 km
  • Distance from Venice: 2.5 hours / 170 km
  • Distance from Lake Garda: 2.5 hours / 150 km
  • Distance from Milan: 4.5 hours / 330 km
  • Distance from Innsbruck (Austria): 3.5 hours / 180 km
Dolomites map - Distance from Venice
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It is found on maps as Dolomiti in Italian and Dolomiten in German.

Formation

The Dolomites are made of sedimentary rock, which is made up of sea debris. The land surface rose roughly 65 million years ago. The raised area was presumably a continuous flat plateau, splitting apart later by glaciers during the Ice Age. Then, rivers and streams' slow but persistent work carved valleys between the mountains.

The initially insignificant mountains were later shaped by external erosion (e.g. wind) into today's "Dolomites" shape. This is evidenced by the many rocks found at the foot of the mountains.

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The jagged and characteristic mountain peaks are quite peculiar and unusual compared to the rest of the Alps and other mountain ranges of the northern hemisphere.

Its main unique feature is its geological structure. It mainly consists of two types of rock: volcanic and dolomite rock. Volcanic rock is metamorphosed rock, very hard and resistant to weather conditions. Dolomite rock is a type of limestone with very high magnesium levels.

  • The geological processes that created the Dolomites took place during the Permian-Triassic period (200-265 million years ago). Under the great marine sedimentary layer, they remained undisturbed for over 100 million years.
  • In the Tertiary period (60 and 5 million years ago), the collision of the African continent (tectonic plate) pushing northward and the European continent deformed the earth's crust, and huge mountains of sediment pushed up into the European Alps. The Alps, including the Dolomites, were created during this Tertiary period of mountain building.

Fossils are often found in the rocks of the Dolomites - as most of the rocks are covered by many meters of marine sediment.

Hiking in the Dolomites

Accommodation

Fortunately, there is no accommodation shortage, as many locals living in the area support themselves through tourism. You can stay in tourist houses, apartments, farmhouses and hotels. It is worth booking several months in advance, even at the beginning of the season, because good accommodations in terms of location and price fill up quickly (especially the mountain cottages).

Camping

If you want to go camping, look for an official campsite, as wild camping is strictly prohibited in the Dolomites!

Highest peaks

Some of the highest peaks of the Dolomites can be found in the mountain group called Marmolada (Queen of the Dolomites). A total of five of the 10 highest peaks are located here - including the 3344-meter-high Punta Penia.

Saddles

In addition to mountain peaks, mountain passes are popular in the countryside. The highest of the innumerable passes is the 2,738-meter Ombretta. Most of them can be reached on foot, but several well-known passes can be used by car or bicycle.

Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park

The national park, established in 1988, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009. Its area is relatively small, as it covers only 32 km2. It mainly includes mountainous and highland parts. Accordingly, its wildlife is mostly animals living in the mountains. You will also find lakes and rivers, with pastures and pine forest areas.

Europe's No 1 range - The Dolomites

Nature conservation areas

In addition to the national park, there are 8 nature conservation areas in the mountain range. The size and geographical characteristics of these areas differ:

  • Ampezzo Dolomites Nature Conservation Park
  • Fanes - Sennes e Braies Nature Reserve
  • Paneveggio - Pale di San Martino Nature Reserve
  • Sciliar Nature Park
  • Sesto Dolomites Nature Conservation Park
  • Puez Odle Nature Reserve
  • Adamello-Brenta Regional Nature Conservation Park
  • Friuli-Dolomites Nature Conservation Park

Special colours

One of the surprising features of dolomite rock is its ability to reflect different light effects. That is why the term Alpenglühen (enrosadira in Italian) is used, which means "the glow of the mountains".

The name refers to the fact that the mountain range is sometimes red, sometimes white, and sometimes pink - according to the current sunlight conditions. At sunset, the peaks are not uncommon to reflect pinkish-orange colours.

Video

Dolomites video

Alta Via Hiking Trail

Alta Via is the best-known multi-day hiking trail in the mountains. The tour of several days, totalling 150 km, starts at Lake Braies (Alta via 1). It would take approximately 9-12 days to complete the hut-to-hut trek. Of course, many hikers shorten the trail and hike only part of it due to lack of time.

Parking

You can find parking lots near almost all of the top attractions. You should have euros in cash because almost all of these are not free. Daily tickets range from 10 to 50 euros.

Things to see

The Dolomites are a real jewel box, and when you open them, you realize there are countless attractions everywhere you go. Due to the significant distances, it is quite unlikely that you will be able to see all the "big guns" during a one-week trip, so it is worth knowing what the most iconic points of the park are.

Did you know? Most attractions also have German names because the area used to belong to Austria. It is difficult to find logic in which name is more common, so it is worth knowing both Italian and German.

#1 Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Three peaks

German name: Drei Zinnen

Tre Cime di Lavaredo is probably the most famous peak(s) of the Dolomites and the entire Alps. An iconic, unmissable sight that can be admired as part of an easy hike.

Three peaks - Tre Cime di Lavaredo

The whole hike is about 10 km and takes about 3 hours. Different routes can be followed, but the most scenic is from Rifugio Auronzo to the Dreizinnen hut. The next stop is in Malga Langalm, then back to the parking lot.

#2 Lago di Braies, Lake Braies

German name: Pragser Wildsee

The most famous lake in the Dolomites is Lake Braies, which thousands of tourists visit every year in winter and summer. The turquoise-coloured glacial lake has now become a symbol of the area.

Lake Braies and the iconic boathouse

A fabulous world in a fabulous environment. Between high mountains and valleys studded with lakes, Lago di Braise is a real gem. If you are in the area, visit this blueish treasure.

Read more: Lake Braies

#3 Lago di Carezzo, Lake Karer

German: Karersee

Karersee is another popular and well-known glacial lake. Although it is not as popular as the previously presented Lago di Braies, due to the fact that fewer tourists visit it, it is perhaps a little more peaceful in the high season.

Karersee, Dolomites

#4 Alpe di Suisi

German: Seiser Alm

The Alpe di Suisi is Europe's largest high mountain meadow, covering an area of ​​about 56 km². An endless alpine pasture where you can wander without overcoming huge elevation differences. That is why it is one of the favourite destinations for those coming with children.

Alpe di Suisi - Seiser Alm

During our trip, you will see alpine farmhouses, pine trees, and grazing cows. You can approach it by cable car during the day, as the road is closed to cars between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you want to come in your car, arrive after 5 p.m. and wait for the sunset.

#5 Passo Giau, Giau Pass

Being able to drive up to the top of the pass quickly made Passo Giau quickly popular. Of course, no one would make the winding road if the view didn't make up for it at the end. Today, it is one of the most visited passes in the range.

Passo Giau, one of the most famous passes of the Dolomites

#6 Seceda

Like the Three Peaks, most people have already seen photos of Seceda. The 2,519-meter-high mountain can be approached by cable car. The popular viewpoint is just a 15-minute walk from the Ortisei upper station.

The fabulous Seceda mountain

#7 Val Di Funes, Funes

German name: Villnössertal

The Val di Funes is a valley fit for a fairy tale, joined by gigantic mountains. The most popular settlement in the region is Santa Maddalena, where you can walk around the valley following the panoramic path behind the church.

Val di Funes, Dolomites

#8 Cinque Torri

Here comes a lesser-known sight, the Cinque Torri rock formation belonging to the 2361 m high Nuvolao mountain range. The special shape stands out alone from its surroundings, offering a sumptuous sight.

Cinque Torri

#9 Lago di Sorapis, Lake Sorapis

This breathtaking lake lies deep in the Sorapiss mountains of the Dolomites. It became known for its fabulous colour. It was created by the melting waters of the nearby glacier of the same name. You can only reach it on foot.

Lake Sorapis

#10 Lago d'Antorno, Lake Antorno

Lake Antorno is a tiny jewel box not far from the Three Peaks. You can walk on the short tourist trail along the coast, but don't expect a long hike — a relaxing, pleasant sight among the huge dramatic mountain peak.

Lago d'Antorno, Lake Antorno

#11 Passo Gardena, Gerdena Pass

German name: Grödner Joch

The 2,136-meter Gardena in South Tyrol is another popular pass that connects Val Gardena with Val Badia. It can be used by car, bicycle and on foot. There are plenty of accommodations along the pass, so the area is an excellent starting point for those who like hiking.

More attractions

  • Val Fiscalina valley
  • Val Venegia valley
  • Baita Segantini Valley
  • Prato Piazza Plateau
  • Altopiano delle Pale di San Martino plateau
  • Mondeval Plateau
  • Passo delle Erbe pass
  • Prati dell'Armentara meadow
  • Lake Lago Federa
  • Lake Lago Di Dobbiaco
  • Lake Lago Limedes
  • Lake Lago Di Landro
  • Cadini di Misurina mountains
  • Innerkofler/De Luca
  • Avera
  • Torre Di Toblin

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