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Three Days and Two Nights Hiking in the Italian Dolomites 

The best outdoor adventure in Italian Dolomites starts with the largest alpine meadow in the world, Alpe di Siusi, a truly jaw-dropping vision of sweeping green pastures, jagged peaks, and welcoming trails. The hiking can be as easy as a walk in the park on a sunny day or as challenging as a two-thousand-foot uphill in a freezing hail storm. The trek in this blog post will offer a little of both.

The town of Ortisei
Ortisei in South Tyrol is a mix of Italian and Austrian flavors.

The idyllic South Tyrol town of Ortisei is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts to hike and ski in the surrounding Dolomite mountains. The flower-filled town is impeccably clean, with top-quality shops, restaurants, and accommodations. Our stay at Hotel Hell was a short walk from both the downtown and the Ortisei-Alpe di Siusi Ropeway that would whisk us up the valley walls to start our hike. Walking distance was important as we had no car and relied on a train from Florence and a bus from Bolzano to get there.

Mountains and a gondola.
Ortisei has gondolas to alpine meadows on both sides of the valley.

Hotel Hell has great rates in September prior to closing the following month for a break before the busy and expensive ski season. A generous breakfast, a secret downstairs self-serve spa, and an outdoor meadow view hot tub are included. The hotel has a quaint restaurant, but the town has even better options, like the local versions of dumplings and ravioli at Restaurant Antica Osteria Traube or the meat, cheese, and wine shops that combine Italian and Austrian heritage. The hotel location is also a short walk from a funicular and cable cars leading to hikes in the surrounding Alps.

Person in hot tub with hotel in background.
Hotel Hell has a secret self serve spa and a hillside hot tub.

Expedition companies can plan your guided or unguided trek, or you can do it yourself for a fraction of the cost. Our self-planned hike avoided any via ferrata, which require climbing gear, but still reached over 8,000 feet in hard-to-catch-your-breath elevation with trailside drop-offs that are not for the faint of heart. We stayed in two rifugios, or mountain huts, so our backpacks were light with clothes, toiletries, and snacks. Reservations are best made six months in advance by emailing the host.

A wooden sign post next to a trail in a meadow.
The trail from the Alpe di Siusi gondola to Compatch guides you with easy to follow signs.

Upon exiting the gondola on a seventy-four-degree autumn day, it felt like we had landed in Oz, walking along the yellow brick road. Guided by Tobacco Map 05 and following the well-marked signs at every junction, our first snack was Sanon Hut, with the friendliest owner who has lived on the meadow with his family for forty-two years. A day hike here and back is common and easy. We continued following signs to Compatsch through freshly mowed fields of wildflowers and the sounds of cowbells to the Panorama ski lift, then stopped at the Restaurant Panorama for lunch.

A person on a meadow trail with a mountain in the background.
The trail ahead plunges into a creek crossing before a 2000 ft uphill climb.

Looking at the map and the trail ahead, the terrain and weather were about to change. The grass-lined trail plunged deep into a creek crossing before a demanding uphill through rugged switchbacks and slippery carved stairs. Hikers on the way down warned of the difficulties ahead, which were multiplied as the sun gave way to clouds, chilling rains, and freezing hailballs the size of green peas. Hungry, cold, and tired, with thoughts of turning back, the first night’s destination finally came into view.

A castle in the distance.
Rifugio Schlernhaus appears as a castle in the distance atop the Sciliar plateau.

The rifugio Schlernhaus is the original mountaineer’s hut built in 1885 and described as a fairy tale castle at the top of the Sciliar plateau. Closed during the winter, like most rifugios, the bare-bones lodge has very small unheated rooms, shared bathrooms, and token-timed showers. After our ten-mile death march, our spirits improved quickly thanks to the inviting staff, well-stocked bar and dining hall, and equally tired yet cheerful fellow travelers.

A trail winding through steep rocky mountains.
The trail from Schlernhaus to Sasso Piatto is lined with steep drop-offs.

Waking the following morning to freezing temperatures, we set out for another long day of hiking ten miles along an easier path, although lined with steep drop-offs, to our second night at rifugio Sasso Piatto. This was an upgraded hut with clean spacious rooms and heated bathroom floors. Like everywhere in Italy, the food and drink is always a treat.

A meadow trail with a rifugio in the background.
Refugio Sasso Piatto is a popular destination for day hikers coming from the other direction.

For our third and final day, we followed a ten-mile downhill trail through grassy meadows and a rocky landslide that ended with a waterfall near the ski town of St. Christina before taking a short bus ride back to Ortisei.

A large meadow.
Alpe di Siusi, the largest alpine meadow in the world!

There are so many trails, rifugios, and levels of difficulty that picking the best option can be daunting. Paying for a hiking plan usually includes a gps guided map, which we saw from others is no guarantee of not getting lost. But the trails are really well marked, and with enough planning, especially looking at elevation changes, the best outdoor adventure in Italy is the Dolomites in South Tyrol.

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Hi. We are Paul and Cindy, two biologists, fit and over 50, who enjoy exploring, photographing, and blogging about our outdoor travel. Our journey is to find outdoor activities that are away from crowds, kind to nature, and authentic. We carry backpacks, stay in clean accommodations, and feel that good food is as important as good friends.

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