Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit – Santiero de Luca / Innerkofler (2B) and Monte Paterno Via Ferrata.
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit is one of those tracks that makes you fall in love with it at every step and it is one of the most popular destinations in the Dolomites. You can approach the track either on foot, on a wide footpath that goes around the mountain, or on the route that includes via ferrata; all you need is the proper equipment and some care.
But first thing's first – for this hike please consider approaching it on a sunny or clear day and with an early morning start. We were there during the extra season and we can honestly say that at times it was crazy crowded.
Along its natural beauty, the area is very well advertised and with good reason as it used to be an important part of the war front during World War I (this is where most of the Via Ferrata tracks come from). Besides the more technical via ferrata and rock climbing tracks, you can find easy hiking footpaths that go from one mountain hut to another around the main central peaks. These are responsible for most of the touristic activity in the area as they are literally walking highways accessible for all ages, from toddlers to the elderly.
Time: 6 hours (7 hours including breaks)
Distance: 11.8 kilometers
Vertical relief: +/- 1000 meters
Routes: 101 + VF + 105
VF: Santiero de Luca / Innerkofler
VF Difficulty: easy / medium – 2B (Smith and Fletcher)
Gear: Standard Via Ferrata gear
Guide: The Dolomites – James Rushforth
GPS Route: GPS Track
Where is this?
The starting point is Rifugio Auronzo, but in order to get here, you will first pass by Lago di Misurina and Lago Antorno where you need to stop for a few shots as the view is fantastic.
Next, you will go up on the Tre Cime di Lavaredo alpine toll road that costs 25 Euros per car. At the end of the road, you will find a large parking lot that is usually full of cars, another good reason for an early morning start. During the high season, we can only imagine the chaos that goes on here 🙂
Since the hike is a circuit you can go either way. We recommend going anti-clockwise even though most people do it in the opposite direction. The idea is that right at the start there is a great deal of walking until you reach the interesting Via Ferrata section and you end up getting tired from the get-go. Also, the photo light conditions are way better if you proceed anti-clockwise. The only downside is that you will descend on a steep Via Ferrata that tends to get crowded and that provides little room to let people that are climbing pass you by. Somewhat challenging but in a fun way.
Back to our hike. We start off from Rifugio Auronzo, where we park our car, in the direction of Rifugio Lavaredo on the crowded footpath number 101. This is a real highway but there is enough room to overcome people.
Some people stop for a drink at Rifugio Lavaredo while others continue in the direction of Rifugio Locatelli or on the route around Tre Cime.
Info: At Rifugio Lavaredo you can find toilet facilities if you need to go (0.50 euro).
The hut offers a fantastic view over the Eastern part of the Tre Cime mountains. After a few shots, we continue in the direction of Forcella Lavaredo where we equip our Via Ferrata gear. We have a steep climb until we reach the starting point of the Via Ferrata but we finally leave behind the overcrowded 101 highway. The track is easy but frozen tight.
The first Via Ferrata track is pretty easy, with a difficulty of 2B and it will take you to Monte Paterno (Paterno Peak) while offering a fantastic view over the valley and Tre Cime. We are constantly stunned by the view. The path is easy but since it is also frozen we are happy to find metal cables to guide our way and make our experience stress free.
After passing through a tunnel that takes us to Passportenscharte saddle our view changes radically (as a side note, don't forget your headlamp!). The landscape is breathtaking and you will most likely end up taking one million photos in every direction, so take your time and enjoy it all. Such a bliss!
The narrow footpath follows the front line where war waged only 100 years ago. Left and right you can still see remnants and ruins of the scars of war. Impressive but also scary if you think about it. It's amazing how people managed to survive here (those who did) despite the weather and the atrocities of war.
At Forcella del Camoscio – Gamesscharte you can find another ferrata that will take you all the way to the top of Monte Paterno – 2744 m. The difficulty level is 2B and we recommend taking the time to do it as the view from the top is stunning!
The ferrata has a crossroad. The ascent is on the right side and the descent on the left. Your time on cables is short and the last part is on rock carved stairs.
Monte Paterno is a great spot for a lunch break and to admire the view. Everywhere you look you can see only mountains, rocks, cliffs, patches of vegetation, lakes and tiny people at your feet.
We descend back to the saddle from where we left to Monte Paterno and start off on another track (to Rifugio Pian di Cengia) in order to take some pictures. From the same saddle, we descend on ferrata Sentiero De Luca / Innerkofler through a narrow valley. The way is steep and slippery, full of ice, and to make thing worse there are a lot of people ascending on this route as well. The difficult thing is to find spots where you can pass the others in relative safety, easier said than done.
This section is 200 meters long, descends about 100 meters and takes you right to Patern Gallerie. This is a 900-meter long tunnel that descends 200 meters in about 130 steps. If you don't have a headlamp you are doomed as there are no windows or other light sources and the combination of pitch dark and stairs is pretty scary. There are a few vantage points that offer views over the two close lakes, Lagi dei Piani.
The descent continues over Monolite della Salsuccia peak in the direction of Refugio Locatelli where we intersect back with the wide highway full of tourists.
Side note: From the hut, you can attend another Via Feratta with a difficulty of 3B – Delle Scalette – will take you to Torre Toblino Peak at 2630 meters altitude. The round trip will take about 3 hours time but of course, this can vary depending on your physical condition and how crowded the area is.
Since we were low on time and energy we continued to descend from Rifugio Locatelli to Col Forcellina (2232 m) – Langalm Restaurant, Col de Mezzo Sadle 2313 m and finally to Refugiul Auronzo, our initial starting point.
The last section is Ferrata free and it is really easy, we managed to hike it in 1 hour and 40 minutes.
All in all, this is one of our favorite tracks ever and we warmly recommend it. Even if you are looking for a more technical or demanding track we still encourage you to try this out simply for the fantastic view. We are sure you will not be disappointed. We will leave pictures to fill in the gaps left behind by our words.
Good to know!
- The circuit includes only ferrata tracks with a difficulty level of 2B. The Ferrata equipment is mandatory!
- Don't forget your headlamp – the tunnels are long and the ceiling is low.
- Resupply: all huts serve food and drinks.
- When planning the hike take into account the weather forecast and the crowds.
- Don't forget your camera!
Where do I sleep?
For this holiday the best option for us was to establish a base camp in Cortina d'Ampezzo. We chose Camping Rocchetta and it proved to be one of the cleanest, tidiest and best-looking camping grounds where we have ever been (the only close contender would be Kamne Camping in Slovenia). The prices fluctuate based on the season but are between 20 and 35 euros per night (2 persons, one small tent and one car).
When we will return to the area we are positive we will choose to stay here again. For your info, the camping is open all year round.
What do I eat?
Food and drinks are not really a problem on this hike. All four huts: Rifugio Auronzo, Rifugio Lavaredo, Rifugio Locatelli, Langalm Restaurant that are on route serve a wide variety of beverages, drinks, and food.
Other close destinations?
For more details about the surrounding area, accommodation facilities, prices, and other details we invite you to check out these articles also.