Translating to “iron route” in Italian, via ferrata is a form of protected climbing that ascends steep rock faces and traverse exposed ledges through the use of ladders, pegs, stemples, rungs, and even the occasional bridge, bringing those with limited climbing experience to incredible heights.
With hundred of routes and fantastic climbing infrastructure, there’s no better place in the world to experience via ferrata than in the Italian Dolomites. Here’s a quick look at my 10 favourite routes to inspire your next adventure!
What's in this travel guide
About via ferrata in the Dolomites
What is via ferrata?
Developed during the First World War as a means of getting soldiers up and over challenging peaks with minimal technical experience or equipment, via ferrata has survived into the 21st century as an amazing form of recreation, best described as a cross between scrambling and sport climbing!
For those new to via ferrata, make sure to check out my super comprehensive guide: Via ferrata in the Italian Dolomites: the ultimate beginner’s guide
Via ferrata rating system
Depending on the rating system used, via ferrata has 5 or 6 levels of difficulty, and these may be denoted from A to E in Austria, facile (easy) to extrêmement difficile/estremamente difficile (extremely difficult) in French & Italian, or K1-K6 in German— the ratings I’ve listed in this post are from Cicerone guidebooks, which use a number and a letter:
- The number (ranging from 1-6) denotes difficulty of the route and considers exposure
- The letter (A-C) represents “commitment”— basically, how remote the route is and how easy it would be to bail out; this isn’t used by many sources other than Cicerone, but I did find it useful in planning
Via ferrata planning resources
Split across 2 volumes, these guidebooks contain detailed route descriptions for several hundred via ferrata in the Dolomites and are an indispensable resource in both trip-planning and detailed way-finding along the route:
- Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites: Vol 1: 75 routes-North, Central and East Ranges by Graham Fletcher & John Smith
- Via Ferratas of the Italian Dolomites: Vol 2: Southern Dolomites, Brenta and Lake Garda by Graham Fletcher & John Smith
Tabacco Maps are also a great way to visualise via ferrata along a longer hut-to-hut route. All of the via ferrata in this post can be found in the following 4 maps:
- Tabacco Map 03 (Cortina d’Ampezzo)
- Tabacco Map 07 (Alta Badia)
- Tabacco Map 010 (Dolomiti di Sesto)
- Tabacco Map 022 (Pale Di San Martino)
Preparing for your first via ferrata
Climbing experience is a major asset for via ferrata, but it’s not a requirement. I’d say a good head for heights, careful footwork, and general fitness are the most crucial determinants of via ferrata success.
>> IF you have climbing experience: you can start on an easy route like Via Ferrata Sass d’Putia or Via Ferrata Gran Cir— these are little more than a steep hike and therefore a great way to practice using your gear in the real-world without substantial risk. Once you’re comfortable, work yourself up to gradually harder via ferrata.
>> IF you don’t have climbing experience: it may be prudent to hire a guide for your first day or go with a more experienced friend. As you’re starting out, be mindful of super busy routes (you’re more likely to have an accident if you feel rushed on the cable), but likewise avoid remote routes with limited bailout options. Take it easy and start slow!
For more tips on how to tackle your first via ferrata: Via ferrata in the Italian Dolomites: the ultimate beginner’s guide
10 best via ferrata in the Dolomites
1 | Via Ferrata Merlone
Via Ferrata Merlone is, without question, one of the most spectacular via ferrata in the Dolomites— the exposure is constant, the views are superb, and after ascending a great height on ladders up the steep western face of Cima Cadin, the route relies heavily on natural hand and footholds in the rock for more of a true climbing experience.
This moderate-difficult route gains the summit of Cima Cadin NE at 2,788m for sweeping views of the serrated peaks that make up one of the most photographed mountain groups in the Dolomites, as well as the sharp spires of Torre Wundt and the southern faces of the iconic Tre Cime. And best of all, it’s super accessible from the charming family-owned Rifugio Fonda Savio (along Alta Via 4).
- Start: Rifugio Fonda Savio
- Grade: 3B
- Elevation gain: 420m
- Trail time: 2.5hrs
- Map: Tobacco 10 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 61)
2 | Via Ferrata Porton & Nico Gusella (circuit)
This fantastic and underrated circuit connects two via ferrata within the Pale di San Martino mountains: the thrilling Via Ferrata Porton, a dramatic vertical ascent with constant exposure, and Via Ferrata Nico Gusella, an even quieter route that you’ll down-climb to return to Rifugio Pradidali (which lies along Alta Via 2).
The via ferrata themselves are truly spectacular, but the connection is admittedly a slog— confident footwork on uneven terrain and navigational skills are a must to safely make your way through the loose, dirty gullies that lie between the end of Via Ferrata Porton, Forcella Porton to Forcella Stephan, and the start of Via Ferrata Nico Gusella. The reward for your hard work is almost no other climbers and truly some of the best views I’ve had in the Dolomites!
- Start: Rifugio Pradidali
- Grade: 3C/2B
- Elevation gain: 550m
- Trail time: 5hrs
- Map: Tobacco 022 & Cicerone Vol.2 (route S.Mar 4)
3 | Via Ferrata Brigata Tridentina
No “best of” list would be complete without Via Ferrata Brigata Tridentina, a classic route constructed in the 1960s by troops of the Italian Army and named in their honour. Today, this is one of the best-known via ferrata route in the Dolomites, owing largely to the iconic suspension bridge that connects Torre Exner to Mur de Pisciadú. Eager hikers on Alta Via 2 can and absolutely should forgo the standard path on day 3 for this exhilarating via ferrata that brings them right to Rifugio Pisciadú for the night!
Whether completing as part of AV2 or as a standalone from the Tridentina carpark, this is a spectacular route that incorporates just about every form of climbing fixture for a sustained vertical ascent that just goes and goes. Pure Dolomite joy!
- Start: Mur de Pisciadú (10min from Tridentina carpark)
- Grade: 3B
- Elevation gain: 400m
- Trail time: 2hrs one-way to Rifugio Pisciadù
- Map: Tobacco 07 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 28)
4 | Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin
Once an Austrian observation post used during the Mountain War of 1915-1917, the summit of Torre di Toblin (pictured below) now provides a thrilling climbing objective for those exploring Parco Naturale Tre Cime. The historic wartime access route has since been converted into a descent route, thus providing a tight little circuit from the saddle that separates Torre di Toblin from Sasso di Sesto (the viewpoint shown above).
Of the 2 amazing via ferrata routes that depart from Rifugio Locatelli (the second is listed below!), Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin/delle Scalette is a better climb, with more continuous cable, challenging vertical sections, great features, and heaps of exposure. Most notably, the route ascends a long series of ladders through a tight chimney before gaining the summit to enjoy sweeping views of the northern faces of Tre Cime di Lavaredo. And at 2hrs return to Rifugio Locatelli (right along Alta Via 4), it’s a short but sweet one!
- Start: Rifugio Locatelli
- Grade: 3B
- Elevation gain: 200m
- Trail time: 2hrs
- Map: Tobacco 10 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 65)
5 | Via Ferrata De Luca/Innerkofler + link to Forcelle
The 2nd route departing from Rifugio Locatelli in Parco Naturale Tre Cime is quite a contrast to the sustained vertical ascent of Torre di Toblin (described above), but arguably offers more spectacular views from the summit of Monte Paterno, looking directly onto the iconic Tre Cime di Lavaredo, as well as the opportunity to explore an extensive network of tunnels on the approach.
Named for 2 highly-skilled mountaineers (Piero de Luca and Sepp Innerkofler) who served during the Mountain War, this via ferrata is among the most uniquely fascinating in the Dolomites— 600m of continuous tunnels weave through the mountain, ascending gradually at first and eventually climbing more steeply to a saddle right below Monte Paterno. Save for a few windows that offer glimpses of the spectacular surrounds, the tunnels are incredibly dark, so a headlamp is essential.
From the saddle, continue upwards to enjoy the view from the cross-topped Monte Paterno (the highest point in the photo below/right) and then return to the saddle to connect to Sentiero delle Forcelle for a long loop that extends to Forcella Lavaredo before wrapping back around to Rifugio Locatelli. The climbing is never very challenging, but this route wins major points for being exceptionally scenic and historical.
- Start: Rifugio Locatelli
- Grade: 2B
- Elevation gain: 420m
- Trail time: 5hrs (including Sentiero delle Forcelle)
- Map: Tobacco 10 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 64)
6 | Via Ferrata Piz da Cir V & Gran Cir
This pair of short-but-sweet routes in Puez-Odle Nature Park offer phenomenal views of the Sella and Sassolungo groups to the south and the jagged Puez-Odle mountains to the north for which the park is named— and thanks to easy access from Passo Gardena (right along Alta Via 2), these make for a brilliant introduction to via ferrata!
Boasting slightly better views, Via Ferrata Gran Cir is essentially just an exposed hike, so it may be wise to begin here if you’re new to via ferrata, scaling the slightly more challenging Piz da Cir V pinnacle as an encore. The one major downside to these routes is their popularity; you can expect crowds and queuing along the chains, but as far as easy via ferrata go, there’s hardly a better introduction than these two adjacent climbs!
- Start: Passo Gardena
- Grade: 2A/1A
- Elevation gain: 450m + 450m
- Trail time: 3hrs
- Map: Tobacco 07 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 26)
7 | Via Ferrata Della Trincee
Ascending and eventually wrapping around the distinctive Padon Ridgeline, its volcanic rock at immediate odds with the limestone (dolomite) that dominates this region, Via Ferrata Della Trincee is an extended and challenging route that offers as much in the way of wartime history as it does in views— most notably of Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites.
Thanks to the grippy, feature-heavy conglomerate rock, this route allows for some true scrambling without excessive reliance on metal fixtures (though still clipped into cable). Much of Via Ferrata Della Trincee is on the wind-swept ridgeline, ascending and descending in a long circuit that takes in wartime ruins, passes through dark tunnels, and eventually laps back above the shores of Lago di Fedaia. With the via ferrata routes up Marmolada still closed as of late 2023, this is the best alternative in the area!
- Start: Rifugio Castiglioni Marmolada/ Rifugio Luigi Gorza (1hr less)
- Grade: 4B
- Elevation gain: 500m
- Trail time: 6hrs
- Map: Tobacco 07 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 33)
8 | Via Ferrata Sass d’Putia
Aside from Via Ferrata Gran Cir, this is the easiest route on my list of best via ferrata, included simply because the scenery is so lovely and the trail is so quiet. Conveniently located along the first day of Alta Via 2, this is also a fantastic introduction to via ferrata and a great way to practice using your gear in a relatively low-risk situation if you’re new to the sport and hoping to tackle more challenging routes in the coming days— for the more experienced, you may even just use the cable as a handline.
Ascending to the 2,875m summit of Sass de Putia, you’re now at the northernmost point of the Dolomites, enjoying incredible panoramic views of the Puez-Odle and Fanes-Sennes-Prags Nature Parks, the Sella massif, the Queen of the Dolomites herself, Marmolada. Don’t dismiss Via Ferrata Sass d’Putia by the low difficulty rating, there’s so much to enjoy here!
- Start: Rifugio Genova
- Grade: 1A
- Elevation gain: 1200m
- Trail time: 4hrs
- Map: Tobacco 07 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 22)
9 | Via Ferrata Canalone
Ascending in a fairly direct vertical line up an exposed arête, this quick but challenging route is so fun that you may just want to do it twice. In addition to the steep ascent and constant exposure, Via Ferrata Canalone has some interesting features, including a narrow log bridge (pictured above) and a zippy down-climb sure to get your blood pumping.
For those hiking Alta Via 2, it’s an easy insertion into your itinerary and offers particular value for those who want to try their hand at a harder via ferrata (rated 4!) without the commitment of a 6hr route. And since this latter half of AV2 sees a small fraction of the hikers that crowd other areas of the Dolomites, you may even have it to yourself, as we did!
- Start: Rifugio Treviso
- Grade: 4A
- Elevation gain: 400m
- Trail time: 1hr
- Map: Tobacco 022 & Cicerone Vol.2 (route S.Mar 12)
10 | Via Ferrata Giro di Sorapis
Among the most coveted routes in the Dolomites, Giro di Sorapis is a long circuit that wraps around 3,205m Sorapis peak on 3 separate via ferrata: Via Ferrata Francesco Berti (3C), Sentiero Carlo Minazio (1C) & Via Ferrata Alfonso Vandelli (3C). Beginning at popular Rifugio Vandelli and the spectacular Lago Sorapis (pictured above), this is a full-day excursion and no small undertaking, requiring more navigational skills than most via ferrata routes listed here and demanding a high degree of outdoor competence in traversing remote and varied terrain with no appealing bail-out opportunities.
Hikers on Alta Via 4 will actually complete about 60% of this loop as part of the route from Rifugio Vandelli to Rifugio San Marco— the thrilling, ladder-aided climb up Via Ferrata Francesco Berti and the exposed traverse of Sentiero Carlo Minazio en route to Forcella Grande. It’s one of the most rugged and demanding parts of AV4 and why I’d only recommend the route to those with experience, but Giro di Sorapis is a spectacular adventure for those up to the challenge!
- Start: Rifugio Vandelli
- Grade: 3C
- Elevation gain: 1800m
- Trail time: 9hrs
- Map: Tobacco 03 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 59)
Essential via ferrata gear list
In addition to limited technical requirements, the gear needed for via ferrata is fairly minimal, very compact, and not terribly expensive, which again makes this a fantastically accessible outdoor pursuit!
For those completing longer hiking routes in the Dolomites, check out this post: Complete Alta Via packing list: what to pack for hut-to-hut hikes in the Dolomites
Choosing a backpack is about as personal as it gets, but I’d recommend something in the 25-35L range with sturdy hip belts, a good suspension system, and some back venting. I love my 33L Osprey Talon for via ferrata, as it’s lightweight and easy to climb with, yet still very comfortable for long approaches!
via ferrata lanyard: Black Diamond Iron Cruiser
A via ferrata lanyard connects to your climbing harness and is then used to clip into the cable for continuous protection along exposed or challenging routes; the shock absorber helps distribute force in the event of a fall. After trying several different styles, I personally prefer these flick-lock carabiners for ease of use and this bungee-style lanyard for improved mobility on the rock.
For via ferrata routes, a light climbing helmet is essential to protect against rockfall, which might come from other climbers above or even unstable areas of the mountain. And for routes that wind through dark tunnels, it can also be handy for protecting your head against bumps.
climbing gloves: Metolius Half Finger Climbing Gloves
Although not technically required, you’ll enjoy via ferrata a lot more with climbing gloves to protect your hands from cable-burn, particularly when down-climbing. I like these half-finger gloves, which maximise dexterity for climbing— plus, I can still operate my camera/phone with them on!
PLB: Garmin In-Reach Mini
Never, EVER head out on an adventure without a satellite communicator— whether you’re sending messages back home, checking the weather, or communicating with emergency services, this small device can literally save your life.
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