Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009, northern Italy’s majestic Dolomites are a mountain range that forms part of Italy’s iconic tract of the Eastern Alps. Famed for its long-distance hiking trails and vie ferrate (‘iron roads’), used by the military during WWI to navigate the treacherous alpine landscape, Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park is a hiking lover’s dream come true.
Our accommodations within Dolomites National Park were in Ortisei, a small village in South Tyrol’s Val Gardena. As it’s nestled in the valley some 1,000 meters (3,000’) below the surrounding peaks and alpine meadows, a sleek cable car quickly hauls passengers from the town’s center up to the neighboring Alpe di Siusi. A sprawling plateau that’s home to Europe’s largest alpine meadow, Alpe di Siusi (Seiser Alm) alone offers an impressive network of hiking trails covering some 450 km (280 miles). And while many trekkers opt for multi-day hikes, overnighting in the many rifugios along the trails, it is also possible to build your own day hikes, such as the route described here.
From the moment we stepped off the lift onto the high plateau, the jagged spines of the alpine peaks rose from the rolling, green hills around us. We hiked towards the three imposing peaks of Sasso Piatto, Sasso Levante, and Sasso Lungo, which make up the Sassolungo Group, an intimidating cluster of peaks on which ski races are held each winter season. We trekked up and down the grassy hillsides, passing rustic farms, gurgling streams, quaint cabins, and even a tiny church set against the dramatic backdrop of Sasso Piatto’s summit. After arriving at the base of Sasso Piatto, we continued around to the back of the mountain where we were greeted by a boundless vista of rugged, snow-capped mountains. Though the views begged us to continue, the route around the peaks’ base would have added another dozen miles to the hike, so we regretfully turned around and started back. With the vast network of multi-day routes stretching endlessly into the distance, it’s a veritable tease for hiking enthusiasts with limited time. And after getting a taste of what Alpe di Siusi had to offer, we wholeheartedly intend to return for some of the multi-day treks.
Total distance: 16.4 miles
Elevation gain: 4,091 feet
Our track: We followed route 9 from the lift to the Rifugio Sasso Piatto at 2,300 m (7,550’). We continued to the right of Sasso Piatto, following trail 557 around the back of the mountain. After walking as far as time allowed, we returned on 557 and 9 until the trail intersected with 531. We opted to follow 531 to the right, returning to the cable car station via trails 531/30/9.