When it comes to bucket list worthy outdoor adventures, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike in the Italian Dolomites should be on every travelers hit list.
During the summer of 2022 I had the opportunity to spend a full month exploring Europe. The trip spanned five different countries but one of the favorite highlights was the morning I spent hiking around Tre Cime di Lavaredo with my brother.
We had initially shown up to Tre Cime on May 31st in the early afternoon hoping to observe these magnificent peaks. However, the road leading up to the trailhead hadn't opened for the season which meant a rigorous hike up the road or that we'd have to miss out on seeing the Three Peaks of Lavaredo.
But after talking to a worker at the nearby Chalet Lago Antorno we learned that the road would be opening the next morning. The only problem was that we were scheduled to leave our Airbnb located in Cortina d'Ampezzo the next morning and drive south to Tuscany.
The only way we could swing the hike would be to wake up at 3am, return to the area, complete the hike and return to our Airbnb in time to gather our belongings and check out.
Not fun, but it meant we'd be able to complete the hike during sunrise, which I HIGHLY recommend. We were also the first people to arrive at the trailhead for the season and we had the entire area to ourselves which is really uncommon for this popular spot.
In this post I'm going to cover everything you should know when completing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike, including a few things to be especially careful of if you're attempting the hike during shoulder season.
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Where is Tre Cime di Lavaredo located?
Tre Cime di Lavaredo is a set of extremely prominent mountain peaks located in the Italian region of South Tyrol. It is part of the Sexten Dolomites and is situated in the eastern part of the Alps.
This area falls within the Tre Cime Natural Park, a protected area of the Italian Dolomites. The peaks are in close proximity to Lake Misurina and Cortina d'Ampezzo.
During my trip to the region we stayed in Cortina d'Ampezzo which is a 40 minute drive from the Tre Cime trailhead. Cortina serves as a great home base for exploring this area of the Italian Dolomites and also provides easy access to nearby Lago di Braeis which is 45 minutes away by car.
If you're still looking for accommodations you can find deals on hotels in Cortina d'Ampezzo here.
What does Tre Cime mean?
Tre Cime di Lavaredo means the Three Peaks of Lavaredo in English. The peaks are referred to as Drei Zinnen in German which means Three Merlons. If you don't know what a Merlon is (I had to look it up myself), it's a medieval structure that resembles the shape of these prominent peaks.
The mountain group consists of three peaks which are individually named Cima Grande, Cima Piccola and Cima Ovest. These names translate to Big Peak, Little Peak and Western Peak in English. Can you figure out which is which?
What to expect when hiking the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit
There are lodging options in the area, such as Lake Misurina but many people will stay in nearby towns. During our trip we stayed in Cortina d'Ampezzo which was about a 40 minute drive from our Airbnb to the trailhead.
It's important to time your visit with the seasonality of this area. The year we visited the access road leading up to the trailhead didn't open until June 1st. While you can still reach the Tre Cime trailhead outside of peak season on foot, it will add another 6 miles (9.6 km) of roundtrip hiking and a significant amount of elevation gain.
If you can stomach the early morning wakeup, it's well worth it to arrive at the trailhead before sunset. This ensures you won't have to deal with any traffic getting to the parking area and won't have to wait in line to secure a parking space.
This also means you'll be able to enjoy the hike while the Three Peaks are lit up by the early morning sun. If you're a photographer, consider this a must. And if you're not, you should still do it anyways because the colors will make the scenery that much more incredible.
For our hike we arrived just before 5am which meant we enjoyed golden hour lighting for most of our morning. Not only was the lighting amazing, but on this particular day the cloud level was almost perfectly parallel with the hiking path.
It felt like we were walking on clouds as everything but the highest mountain peaks were completely obscured by a layer of cloud cover. We couldn't have got more lucky with how the cloud levels worked out that morning, but if you have flexibility I'd suggest planning your hike on a morning where the skies look clear. Fog or higher clouds could obscure the sunrise and views of all the amazing mountain ridges that line the horizon.
There are basically two ways to tackle this 6.2 mile (10 km) circuit. From Rifugio Auronzo you can either work around Tre Cime in a clockwise or counterclockwise pattern. We did the loop in a counterclockwise motion and loved our views. Because it's a loop you won't really change up your 1,646 ft (500 meters) of elevation gain.
If you're worried about getting lost along this hike, since there are quite a few different routes in the area I'd recommend downloading AllTrails. You can download offline maps and it'll track your hiking progress along the way.
Another good tip for not getting lost is to remember which side of you Tre Cime's peaks starts on. Since the loop works in a circle the easy to spot peaks of Tre Cime should always be to your right or left shoulder.
There will be a few marked intersections along the way and if you follow the counterclockwise route that we took you should be following trails 101, 102 and 105.
Including Rifugio Auronzo you'll encounter a total of three rifugios along the way. As long as you're hiking here during busy season these will provide hikers with an opportunity to stop for food, water and restroom facilities.
If you're coming to the Dolomites during shoulder season (outside of June - September) you run the risk of rifugios being closed. When we hiked the circuit on June 1st, the first day the road to Tre Cime's trailhead opened for the season, the rifugios had not yet opened.
We also encountered a downward sloping icy section of trail about 45 minutes into our hike since it was early in the season. Without any micro spikes or trekking poles this actually made for a tricky descent so if you have either of those at your disposal be sure to pack them.
Regardless of which direction you go, you'll begin on the south face of Tre Cime, but the best views of the Three Peaks will be had once you rotate around to the northern face.
Overall expect to spend about three to four hours along the circuit. We spent a little over two hours hiking the trail and another hour making stops to take photos and enjoy the incredible views.
Be mindful that you'll be hiking at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) which means the air will be thin. If you haven't had a chance to acclimate in any nearby towns the hiking will be more challenging than normal. Altitude sickness can be a possibility when hiking this high so be sure to pace yourself!
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit was one of the most beautiful places I've ever hiked. The terrain looked like something from another planet and it was only that much more dreamy due to the golden hour colors and cloud conditions on that particular day. If you're visiting the Dolomites be sure to include this stop on your itinerary!
How long is the Tre Cime hike?
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo circuit is about 6.2 miles or 10 kilometers. Hikers should budget between 3 and 4 hours to complete the hike.
If you plan to make frequent photography stops or to visit one of the rifugios be sure to budget additional time.
The parking situation can be challenging during peak season so if you fail to secure a spot early in the morning you could be stuck waiting in a line of traffic to park as well.
Are there bathrooms at Tre Cime di Lavaredo?
There are a number of bathroom options available when hiking Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The first and most obvious opportunity will be at the restroom facilities located at the trailhead parking lot. There are also places to stop along the main road that leads up to Tre Cime.
There are at least two rifugios that you should expect to encounter while hiking around Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
They are located directly along the trail and difficult to miss. Given the relatively short distance involved in hiking around Tre Cime di Lavaredo, your restroom options will be more plentiful than necessary.
However, if you visit when the rifugios are still closed these will not be an option for you.
Do I need any special hiking gear for Tre Cime?
Generally speaking you won't need anything special when hiking the Tre Cime Circuit. A comfortable pair of hiking boots will go a long way as parts of the hike can be rocky.
Per usual when hiking be sure to bring plenty of water, but if you're in a pinch and visiting during the summer season the rifugios can be an option for replenishing water or grabbing food.
The entire hike is exposed so be sure to bring sunscreen or layers to protect you from sun exposure.
When I visited at the start of June there were still a couple portions of trail covered in slick packed snow. Since it was along a downward sloping section of trail it actually presented a bit of a challenge since we weren't prepared for it. If you're visiting early or late in the season micro spikes or trekking poles could come in handy for encounters like this.
But chances are if you're visiting Tre Cime di Lavaredo and the Italian Dolomites you'll be doing quite a bit of hiking.
For your convenience I've put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don't forget to pack anything. That guide is geared towards lengthier day hikes so it might be overkill for this one, but rest assured you won't overlook a thing!
How can I see Tre Cime without hiking?
If hiking isn't your thing but you're still interested in viewing Tre Cime di Lavaredo then you're in luck.
The access road leading to the Tre Cime Circuit trailhead drops you off at the base of the Three Peaks on the southern side. From here you can enjoy great views of the prominent peaks without leaving the parking lot.
However, the best views of the peaks are still earned by hiking the circuit which does a complete loop around them.
If you're interested in viewing another one of the Dolomite's most prominent peaks consider checking out my post on reaching Seceda in Ortisei. Not only is the area beautiful but you can reach it by leveraging the cable cars in Ortisei. Definitely check that out when you're finished here!
How can I see the Towers of Mordor?
Also known as the Cadini di Misurina viewpoint, some of the most rugged mountain formations that can be seen in this area have been nicknamed the Towers of Mordor.
The Towers of Mordor are visible as you hike along the southeast portion of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit. You should be able to take some photos capturing the peaks as you complete the circuit.
If you have the time (we didn't since we had to race back to Cortina d'Ampezzo to leave our Airbnb that morning) you can hike to the Cadini di Misurina viewpoint which will put you much closer to the infamous jagged peaks.
Since we didn't have the opportunity to hike to the viewpoint ourselves, here's a resource from another blogger who can provide more detail on her experience hiking out to the Cadini di Misurina viewpoint.
Is there food available at Tre Cime?
If you're visiting Tre Cime during the summer season there will be food available at the many rifugios in the area.
You'll encounter three rifugios along the circuit which means a tasty snack isn't far away should you get hangry while out on the trail!
What is the best time of year to hike Tre Cime?
The best time of year to visit Tre Cime and most of the Dolomites in general is June through September. During this time the trails at higher elevations will generally be clear of snow and accessible to visitors.
The main access road leading up to the trailhead and the rifugios should also be open during this time. If you visit during May the main access road may not have opened yet and the rifugios will almost certainly be closed. If you visit during October, while the crowds will start to thin, the rifugios will also start to close down.
If you visit in shoulder season (think May and October) you may also have to contend with snow or ice on the trails. If you're visiting during these shoulder months it's recommended that you bring micro spikes with you in case you encounter icy conditions.
What is the best time of day to hike Tre Cime di Lavaredo?
If you want an absolutely surreal experience during your Tre Cime hike then I'd recommend timing your visit to coincide with sunrise or sunset.
Attempting this hike during sunrise should also mean you arrive before the crowds to secure parking while also avoiding peak sun exposure. If you align your hike with sunset you'll risk a crowded parking situation and would need to consider bringing a headlamp or flashlight if you're out after dark.
Additionally I'd suggest checking the weather forecast on the day you're planning to hike. It could make sense to time your visit when there are less cloudy or rainy conditions.
Is the Tre Cime di Lavaredo dangerous?
The trail around the Three Peaks is well kept and doesn't have any technical or dangerous sections. There are really only two, fairly short stretches, where the trail is exposed to any type of steep mountainside.
With that said it might not be a great trail for young children who don't have experience hiking on this type of terrain.
Is Tre Cime worth it?
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo hike is absolutely worth it if you're an avid hiker and interested in experiencing one of the best hiking opportunities in the Italian Dolomites.
This was one of the most memorable activities from my trip to Italy and I'll never forget waking up at the butt crack of dawn to hike above the clouds as one of the first people to hike the Three Peaks that season!
Hopefully you found this guide to hiking Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Italy helpful to your trip adventure process!