Hiking in the Dolomites to Rifugio Puez
While making our way through Austria, we couldn’t resist the opportunity to hike in the Dolomites in northern Italy. We only planned on being in Italy in November and December this year, which would making hiking in the area quite difficult, so we took advantage of our close distance and made a stop.
We had actually planned on doing two hikes, however when we arrived in Italy the weather was not on our side. We pulled into the parking lot of the hike and realized we would have no views of the area if we attempted the hike. One of the reasons we wanted to do this hike was for the great views and WWII history, all of which would be impossible to see in the dense fog and clouds. So we headed to our Airbnb and hoped the weather would change for the next day.
We’ve definitely hiked more in Europe than we thought we would, and we’ve really loved the hiking blog by Earth Trekkers. They give great reviews and ideas for hiking in most of the countries we are visiting. Not to mention that most of the hikes are the perfect distance and challenge level for us. Since we were likely only going to have one day for hiking, we decided to go big and do the hike they recommended the most. The Puez-Odle Altopiano hike is ranked as their 6th favourite hike in the world, so we were excited to go!
The start of the hike is in Selva Di Val Gardena, which was 107 km away, but took over 2 hours to drive there from our Airbnb. The road was quite an experience! We went through three mountain passes that were full of intense hairpin turns up and down numerous mountains. By the time we reached Selva we were both excited to get out of the car. We parked right at the Dantercepies Gondola, as we were taking this gondola up to the top to start the hike. The price was reasonable, costing $40 CAD for both us to get one way tickets up the gondola, and parking was free between 8:30am and 6:30pm with the purchase of a gondola ticket, which was great!
At the base of the gondola there was a map of the area, and we were able to have a better idea of which routes we were going to take to make our way to Rifugio Puez. We took a picture of the map and would reference it along the way to make sure we were on the right track. Sharleen couldn’t find too much information about the hike online, and it was likely because there are so many different routes, you can really choose your own adventure and make your own hiking route for the day. Very different from the hikes we did in Norway.
Feeling confident about our route, we headed up on the gondola. It was so nice to see the mountains and other surroundings from above. Even better, it was nice to save 700 meters of uphill climbing by taking the gondola! After the gondola ride, we were looking at a 20 km hike, with an elevation gain over 500 meters, and a decent of close to 1200 meters. By taking the gondola ride, it allowed us to get right into the mountains from the start which was awesome.
Once at the top, we made our way along route #12A. This pathway brought us to Rifugio Jimmy, which was about 500 meters from the top of the gondola. A rifugio is a mountain hut that is generally only accessible by foot. It's a place where hikers can usually stay overnight and/or have meals during their treks. They are quite popular in Austria and Italy, and if we had planned our trip better, we would have considered spending a night or two in some of the rifugios, doing a 2-3 day hiking trip through the Dolomites. Maybe next time we visit!
We could tell Rifugio Jimmy was the destination for a few people who had made their way back from a morning hike. For us, it was jus the beginning of our day, so we passed by and started our first climb, now following route #2.
By this point the views were already amazing and blowing us away. The Dolomites are so jagged and rugged looking, but there is a softness with the bright green meadows and what seemed like an infinite amount of wildflowers. It was beautiful everywhere we looked!
The first climb up was moderately steep, and about 150 meters. The rocky scenery reminded us a bit of our hike to Kjeragbolten in Norway, but the path was not nearly as intense. We took our time making our way up, enjoying the beautiful views. Once at the top, there was a short flat area before we had another accent to the summit of the first peak. This was a shorter climb, only about 60 meters. Once we reached the top, the views were spectacular! We almost had a 360 degree view of the mountain range, and the skies were clear enough that we could see quite far into the distance. We stopped here for a little while and Darrell did a few time lapse videos to capture the dark clouds as they moved across the mountain tops.
It had taken us about an hour to get to this point, so it was a popular place for some hikers to stop for lunch. This was the first of three milestones we were making our way to on this hike, so after our quick time lapse break we carried on to the next part of the hike.
We made our way down the peak, into a mountain valley. The views here were quite different, and the mountain in front of us looked like something you may find in Utah more than in Italy. There was a lot less greenery and meadows, and more rocky formations. It felt like we were on the moon in some spots! We continued to follow the #2 route along the edge of the valley. There was a defined pathway along the mountain that was very clear to follow, and when we looked ahead to the top of the next peak, we could see our second milestone in the distance.
It didn’t take us too long to reach to top of the second peak, maybe a total of 45 minutes from leaving the first peak. We had little break at the top, took another time lapse, and started on the the next part of the hike. Because of the "choose your own adventure options" with these routes, not many people were following our exact path. But the route identifiers and markers were very clear, and they were visible every few meters.
The decent from the second peak brought us into another mountain valley, and it was more green and meadowy like where we started. There were large boulders, rocks, wildflowers, and grass everywhere. And sheep! They were so cute. We could hear the ringing of bells and little baa baa baa’s along our whole walk in this section. It was a much quieter pathway here, so it was nice to walk through the beautiful space by ourselves. The clouds were starting to look a little dark, but we were about 1.5 hours away from Rifugio Puez - our last milestone and the place we were stopping for lunch.
The weather was quite cool on the mountain tops. We both were wearing long sleeve shirts over our base tops, and at some points we even had our jackets on. It was about 7 degrees most of the time, and the sun was hiding behind dark clouds, so it didn’t keep us very warm.
After about 30 minutes we could see the rifugio in the distance! We were quite excited but it looked so far away still. We kept trekking through, taking lots of pictures as we admired the beautiful scenery.
We came to an intersection on the pathway, where if we looked to our left we could see the route we would be taking once we left Rifugio Puez. It looked like a very steep decent down the mountain, into a beautiful valley that takes you right back to the town of Selva di Val Gardena. We kept following route #2, which brought us up on our final climb, on top of the mountain edge towards the rifugio. It was the home stretch until lunch, and by this point we were both hungry and little chilled. The thought of a warm meal was a great motivator for these last kilometres.
Just before Rifugio Puez there are three flag poles with the Italian flag, the EU flag, and the flag of the province of South Tyrol. From there it was just a few steps to the rifugio, where we sat down to enjoy a tasty meal of sausages, sauerkraut, and potatoes. We also had a well deserved beer, and finished the meal with a warm espresso before we started our hike back.
We were taking route #14 to go back into the village. We were a little skeptical because we hadn’t seen anyone else on that route. Even when we could see it from above, it looked like no one was walking on it. Finally, about 3 minutes before we were ready to leave and start our walk down, we saw a couple go on the path. It made us feel a little better, because we still were kind of guessing on what pathway to take to go back. At least this way if we ran into any issues, there was someone else on the route too.
The decent down was long and quite steep. There were a couple of places where it was hard to get a firm step on the loose rocks. It took us about an hour before we got to an area that was a little more even (although still downhill). The whole walk here was gorgeous. The sun had started to come out, and we were under the mountain ledge where we had walked to get to the rifugio. The mountain faces were so tall and straight, and at their base were beautiful flowers and greenery. It was so pretty! We ended up walking along an area that looked like a dried river. We had lost the pathway markers for a little while, but knew we were on the right track because the map showed the pathway being right beside the river. After about 200 meters we found the pathway again, and by now the trail was pretty flat.
For the last 7 kilometres we walked through the last of the mountain valley. We past through forested areas, green meadows with cows, and the last of the hiking trail before making our way to the road. From the bottom the mountains looked huge! It was nice to see them from this angle after climbing on top of them all day.
We only had to walk about 1 km on the road to make our way back to the gondola parking garage. By this time we were quite poop! In all, we estimated we walked 20 km and it took about 7.5 hours, which included our breaks and our 45 min stop for lunch.
We were so happy we came here and hiked the trail to Rifugio Puez! It was a stunning hike, and the scenery was so beautiful during each part. It almost felt like three different hikes because the scenery changed so much. So many times we stopped to admire the views, the crazy mountain terrain, and the gorgeous flowers growing all over. It was also the perfect challenge level, as it left us feeling pooped and a little sore, but still able to drive the crazy road home without any issues.
Our drive home was so beautiful, and since we were there around 7:00 pm, we were catching the sun just as it was about to set over the mountains. We parked the car a few times to capture our last shots of the beautiful mountains, before making our way home for a well deserved pasta dinner!