For avid hikers, climbers, and the otherwise mountain-obsessed, there’s hardly a more exciting destination than the Italian Dolomites, a paradise of dramatic limestone spires, sparkling glacier lakes, and breathtaking peaks cut by thousands of kilometres of hiking trails and more via ferrata routes than anywhere else in the world.
Faced with frequent questions about which of the region’s many Alta Via (high routes) is “the best”, I’m often compelled to say Alta Via 4— in only a few days on the trail, it parades through some of the most coveted views in the Dolomites, enjoys near-daily summit opportunities, and offers more in the way of consistent excitement than just about any hike I’ve ever done. This guide will tell you absolutely everything you need to know about planning and embarking on a truly epic adventure along AV4, from booking mountain huts and seeking out the best via ferrata to daily route descriptions and a detailed packing list.
What's in this travel guide
About Alta Via 4
Extending from San Candido/Innichen in the north to Pozzale (near Pieve di Cadore) in the south, Alta Via 4 is a spectacular mid-distance hiking route that incorporates about 100km of scenic trail and fantastic scrambling as it wraps around dramatic limestone towers, cuts through wild glacial terrain, and conquers high mountain passes.
Annexed by Italy following WWI, the northern province of South Tyrol has retained much of its Austrian heritage throughout the last century— and since San Candido is just 8km from the Austrian border, you’ll feel that influence profoundly on the first day or two of AV4. Locals speak German as a first language (indignant correction: they speak Austrian!), food is a blend of mountain Italian/Austrian (less pasta and pizza, more sauerkraut and polenta), and the early via ferrata on AV4 have histories dating back to the Mountain War of 1915-18 between Italy and Austria-Hungary.
On day 1 or 2 of the hike, Tre Cime marks the border into the distinctly more Italian province of Belluno, and you’ll notice that the language, cuisine, and culture shift markedly. Remain curious and you’ll get a lot more out of AV4 than just incredible scenery!
Although short in length, AV4 is the most technically challenging of the Alta Via routes that zig-zag across the Dolomites. Steep ascents/descents with breathless exposure are protected by long stretches of cable— even along the standard route, Alta Via 4 has unavoidable via ferrata nearly every day, and unlike AV2 where these are typically easy and may not even require clipping, AV4 includes routes rated up to 3 (out of 5) in difficulty, so a head for heights, steady footwork, and appropriate gear is non-negotiable.
- Trailhead: San Candido/Innichen (ending in Pozzale, near Pieve di Cadore)
- Time to complete: 4-7 days
- Distance: 92km (57mi) OR 100km+ with the side-trips recommended in this guide!
- Elevation gain: 6,750m (22,150ft)+
Alta Via 4: is it for you?
- You can hike up to 8hrs for 5-6 days in a row, often on very steep or uneven terrain
- You have experience climbing via ferrata, scrambling, or basic mountaineering, plus all the necessary via ferrata gear (see Packing List below)
- You are able to carry 10-15kg in your backpack for the entire duration of the trek
- You have basic navigational skills and know how to read a map and/or GPS
- You know what to do in the case of a medical emergency and you have a way to call for help (e.g. Garmin In-Reach Mini)
With frequent en-route via ferrata (including the challenging Giro di Sorapis), Alta Via 4 is far more than just a hike and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. AV4 is the most technically demanding of the Alta Via and absolutely NOT recommended for someone who is uncomfortable with heights, scrambling, loose terrain, or independent navigation. For the prepared, it’s one of the most breathtaking routes in all of the Alps, all the more exhilarating for its challenges!
Planning your Alta Via 4 hike
When to go
Most huts in the Italian Dolomites open for the season in mid-June and close again by mid-September, coinciding with the best weather window for AV4. Here’s a little bit of what you can expect during each month of summer in the Dolomites:
- JUNE: lingering spring snow keeps crowds very low & you’ll likely get away without hut reservations; temps are lower & afternoon showers are common
- JULY: with the snow gone, trails & huts become busier; possibility of thunderstorms, but also the possibility of 30C bluebird days!
- AUGUST: the absolute busiest time to be in the Dolomites, as Italians flood the trails during their holiday period; hut bookings are essential, but weather also tends to be very stable
- SEPTEMBER: crowds wane, particularly later in the month, and hut booking may not be necessary; pack & prepare for possible snowfall, which adds difficulty but also a lot of beauty to the landscape!
The Dolomites are known to be somewhat wild when it comes to weather and it’s not uncommon to experience several seasons in a single day, even during July & August. Whatever your dates, prepare for sporadic and often unpredictable thunderstorms (by bringing rain gear and adequate layers)— if it rains in the morning, the afternoon tends to be clear and I never experienced more than a few hours of uninterrupted precipitation, but expect to get wet at some point.
For reference, I hiked AV4 from 19-25 July 2022.
Essential resources & maps
GPS is fantastic, but there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned paper maps, particularly when it comes to planning your route. For Alta Via 4, you’ll need 3 maps:
- Tabacco Map 010 (Dolomiti di Sesto)
- Tabacco Map 003 (Cortina d’Ampezzo)
- Tabacco Map 016 (Centro Cadore)
You can also download the TabaccoMapp app on your phone to access map data. I didn’t test this out, so I can’t comment on usability, but it’s another option if you aren’t keen on carrying half a kilo of paper with you on the trail!
Cicerone guide books
Cicerone published dedicated guide books for Alta Via 1 and Alta Via 2, but Alta Via 4 was relegated to a meagre 4-page outline within the appendix, so there’s not much purpose in purchasing this book unless you intend to hike AV2 as well (which you absolutely should!).
- Alta Via 2 – Trekking in the Dolomites: Includes 1:25,000 map booklet. With Alta Via 3-6 in outline by Gillian Price
Far more useful are the pair of via ferrata guides also published by Cicerone; all the routes along AV4 are within the first book, but both are excellent resources if you plan to do additional exploring around the Dolomites!
- 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
The best via ferrata guide for use in the Dolomites is disappointingly (but understandably) all in German. I came across it in one of the mountain huts on the route, and although I could not actually read the route description, it is still a fantastic resource with excellent maps on more than 100 via ferrata routes across South Tyrol.
- Klettersteigatlas Südtirol – Dolomiten – Gardasee: 111 Klettersteige für Einsteiger und Könner by Thomas Zelger
Via ferrata on Alta Via 4
For those unfamiliar with via ferrata, this may be the part of AV4 that prompts the most uncertainty, but it’s also what makes the route so spectacular. Translating to “iron route” in Italian, via ferrata is a form of protected climbing that was invented during WWI as a means of getting soldiers up and over challenging peaks with minimal technical experience or equipment. Today, it’s an amazing form of recreation, with hundreds of via ferrata spread across the Italian Dolomites!
Clipped into a fixed cable for continuous protection, via ferrata routes (sometimes denotes as Klettersteig or EEA) ascend steep rock faces and traverse exposed ledges through the use of ladders, pegs, stemples, and even the occasional bridge, bringing those with limited climbing experience to incredible heights.
My adventure route of AV4 describes numerous side-trips that incorporate occasionally challenging and always exciting via ferrata, but it’s super important to note once again that Alta Via 4 has frequent, unavoidable sections of cable, meaning you will HAVE to do some via ferrata if you want to complete this route, even if you skip every side-trip.
Unlike AV2, the via ferrata along AV4 can be challenging, with several routes rated as a 2 or 3 in difficulty (out of 5). There are long vertical ascents, steep exposed descents, and rough terrain in between, making it vital to have a good head for heights, navigational skills, proper gear, and knowledge of how to use it. To learn more about via ferrata in the Dolomites, check out this post: Introduction to via ferrata + complete via ferrata gear list
Mountain huts on Alta Via 4
As wild camping is not permitted along Alta Via 4 (or anywhere in the Dolomites), you’ll have the distinct treat of sleeping in a warm bed every night as you hike from San Candido to Pozzale.
Mountain huts, or rifugi, are such a wonderful part of the Alta Via experience, typically offering a mix of dorms and private rooms for ~25-35€ and half-board (accommodation that includes a 3-course dinner and brekky) for ~50-75€. Be sure to check out my section on Alpine Club membership below for info about how you can save as much as 18€ per night on hut accommodation!
I collected heaps of specific details on all the mountain huts along AV4 and collated it in a table for easy reference; those included in my recommended itinerary are marked with a star 🌟. Follow links for each hut to find out more about their booking process.
|Rifugio Tre Scarperi 🌟
|33/42€ (dorm/double room)
73/82€ half board (dorm/double room)
|A la carte (15€ for dishes, 25€ for 3-course dinner, 15€ for fantastic brekky) or half-board
|3€ for 5min
|Rifugio Locatelli 🌟
|31/47€ (dorm/small room)
72/85€ half board (dorm/small room)
|A la carte or half board (extensive menu, I definitely recommend a la carte here!)
|8€ for 5min but often out of water
|None, but splash off in the large sink
|-12€ discount (-13.5€ room only)
|*nearby alternative if Locatelli is booked
|A la carte or half board
|Rifugio Fonda Savio 🌟
|26/30€ (dorm/small room)
68/71€ half board (dorm/small room)
|A la carte only for lunch (meals from 10€, beer 5€, great food) or half board
|None, but there is a large sink!
|-9€ discount (-12€ room only)
|Rifugio Vandelli 🌟
|28€ (small room)
65€ half board (small room)
|A la carte (meals 10-15€, good lunch options) or half board, excellent food!
|-10€ discount (-13.5€ room only)
|Rifugio San Marco 🌟
|30€ (small room)
68€ half board (small room)
|Half board (simple but delicious dinner, very scant breakfast; beer and wine available for purchase)
|Strong mobile signal
|-9€ discount (-14.5€ room only)
|30€ (small room)
69€ half board (small room)
|A la carte or half board
|5€ for 5min
|Rifugio Antelao 🌟
55€ half board (dorm)
|A la carte (meals 10-15€) or half board
|5€ for 6min
|Strong mobile signal
If you want to learn more about mountain huts in the Dolomites and what to expect during your stay, including details about food and facilities, be sure to check out this specific post: Everything you need to know about mountain huts (rifugi) in the Italian Dolomites
Booking mountain huts
The process of booking these mountain huts is fairly simple once you decide where you want to stay— depending on the hut, you’ll either need to send an email request or fill out a contact form on their website with your dates and party size. Follow links for each hut in the table above to find out more about their booking process.
Things can become more complicated when the huts require a deposit, as several do, but my best advice is to use the app/website Wise for all of your international transfers! I’ve been using this for over 10 years (since I first moved to Australia) to send money overseas; it’s fast, reliable, and WAY cheaper than traditional wire transfers.
Do you need to reserve mountain huts in advance? Alta Via 4 passes through some very popular hiking areas, so you should absolutely reserve spots in mountain huts several months in advance to avoid disappointment and guarantee the itinerary you want, with a couple exceptions:
* solo hikers: if you’re hiking alone, even during the busy season, it is almost always possible to arrive without a reservation and find a bed. The risk isn’t zero, but you can aim to arrive early at popular huts for a better chance of snagging a cancellation; even then, the worst case is that you’ll probably have to sleep in the dining room.
*early season: if you’re hiking outside of peak season (late June to mid-July seems to be the quietest time), you’ll also have good luck finding space in most huts without a reservation. I absolutely wouldn’t risk this with a large party, but a group of 2-3 should fare reasonably well without advance bookings.
Alpine Club membership
The CAI (Club Alpino Italiano, or Italian Alpine Club) operates a staggering 433 mountain huts and 224 bivouacs throughout the Italian Alps, offering discounts to its members that range from approximately 10-18€ per night— but most European Clubs offer reciprocal discounts, so you can join any club to save money on hut bookings!
The best reason to become an Alpine Club member, though, is for the emergency medical insurance, valid anywhere in the WORLD (yes, you read that right). In the case of the Austrian Alpine Club, this includes 25,000€ in emergency rescue costs, 10,000€ in medical coverage, and unlimited repatriation, among other benefits.
I personally joined the Academic Section of the Austrian Alpine Club (Alpenverein Österreich, Akademische Sektion Innsbruck) because they were offering subsidised membership in 2022 for just 18€— annual dues have since increased to 69€ (+ add a partner for 53€), which is comparable to other clubs, but I find the Austrian website particularly easy to use and you can sign up entirely online, no need to visit an office!
Staying at the huts I recommend in my AV4 itinerary, alpine club membership gets you discounts EVERY night and saves you a whopping 61.5€! These discounts and benefits extend all over the Alps— I recently used my membership for massive discounts in Slovenia’s Julian Alps, though thankfully haven’t had to access any emergency insurance yet. I’d highly, highly recommend this before any embarking on any adventures in the Dolomites and beyond.
Getting to & from the trailhead
Alta Via 2 begins just outside of San Candido, Italy (which you’ll also see written as Innichen). Due to its close proximity to Austria (just 8km from the border!), the quickest route to town is from the airport in Innsbruck, Austria; other good options are Venice, Italy and Munich, Germany.
For those travelling from another part of the Dolomites, you may be able to get a relatively simple bus transfer OR you may spend 1.5 days transiting through random mountain towns. Cortina d’Ampezzo is a major hub in the Dolomites and a great place to begin your adventure, with some direct buses to San Candido; for all routes, check this website.
Getting to San Candido/Innichen
- Train company: Deutsche Bahn
- Route: Innsbruck Hbf to Fortezza/Franzensfeste to San Candido/Innichen
- Time: 3hrs with 1 stop
- Cost: 17.90€
- Train company: Deutsche Bahn
- Route: München Hbf to Fortezza/Franzensfeste to San Candido/Innichen
- Time: 4.5hrs with 1+ stops
- Cost: 44.90€
From Cortina d’Ampezzo
- Bus company: SAD
- Route: Cortina d’Ampezzo to San Candido/Innichen
- Time: 1hr direct
- Cost: 10€
- Train company: Trenitalia
- Route: Venezia Mestre to Verona to Fortezza/Franzensfeste to San Candido/Innichen
- Time: 5.5hrs with 2 stops
- Cost: 43.25€
For mobile service in the Dolomites, I use Airalo, an amazing app that offers data eSIM packages for nearly every country in the world— you can activate the eSIM entirely from your phone, so you’ll have service as soon as you land in Italy without needing to track down a local mobile shop! Whether you’re a full-time traveller or casual explorer, this app is a game-changer.
Use code BROOKE2994 for $3 off your first eSIM with Airalo!
Where to stay in San Candido
You may notice that I structured this itinerary to have a “day 0″— it’s a 90min hike from San Candido to the first hut along Alta Via 4 (Rifugio Tre Scarperi), which hardly counts as a first day, but it is SO much cheaper to stay in the hut than in the town of San Candido.
If you’re coming from other hikes in the Dolomites like I was (back to back Alta Via 2 & 4) and you want a rest day before actually beginning AV4 without the expense of San Candido, head onto the trail sooner! Otherwise, search for the best deals in San Candido/Innichen through Booking.com below:
Getting from Pozzale to other destinations
AV4 officially ends in the small mountain town of Pozzale, from which it’s an easy 20min walk on the road into the next (slightly larger) town, Pieve di Cadore.
If you’re travelling to Venice for an onwards train or flight, walk 15min further (this time on a nice footpath) to the neighbouring town of Tai di Cadore, where you can catch a Cortini Express bus direct to Venice Mestre Train Station in under 2hrs (tickets 22€; recommended to book online). Tai di Cadore is also a good place to connect with buses to other parts of the Dolomites!
Getting to the Alta Via 4 trailhead
The official start to AV4 is just outside of San Candido, behind the Alte Säge restaurant as you drive towards Sexto. You can walk here in about 45min from town, but it’s entirely on pavement and without a great footpath, so it’s preferable to just hop on a quick bus.
Bus 446 leaves every half hour just below the gondola station in San Candido and will deliver you within a few metres of the trailhead— get off after 2 stops (tickets 1.5€ payable on board).
*Detailed Alta Via 4 itinerary
6-day Alta Via 4 itinerary (recommended)
Described below (and in great detail within daily posts) is my ultimate Alta Via 4 itinerary, incorporating as many side-trips and via ferrata into the route as possible over the course of 6.5 fantastic days. This route also considers budget— if you have to pay for accommodation before starting AV4, you’ll pay half as much if you hike just 90min up the trail vs sleeping in town, hence a slightly expanded timeline.
- Day 0: Rifugio Tre Scarperi (6km, 1.5hrs) ~arrive from another city & start hiking that afternoon
- Day 1: Rifugio Locatelli Tre Cime + Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin + Via Ferrata De Luca/Innerkofler (15.5km, 8hrs)
- Day 2: Rifugio Fonda Savio + Sentiero Attrezzato Alberto Bonacossa en route + Via Ferrata Merlone (11km, 6hrs)
- Day 3: Rifguio Vandelli: (15km, 5.5hrs)
- Day 4: Rifugio San Marco + Giro di Sorapis en route (10km, 6.25)
- Day 5/6: Rifugio Antelao + Via Ferrata del Ghiacciaio en route (20km, 6.25) ~hike out in 1 day or 2
4-day Alta Via 4 itinerary
Fast hikers who aren’t keen on scrambling can reasonably shorten this itinerary to by a couple days, but I believe the absolute BEST way to experience AV4 is still to get off the main trail as often as possible. This speed-itinerary of AV4 condenses sections and side-trips (still including several great via ferrata) into a full but comfortable 4.5-day hike:
- Day 1: Rifugio Locatelli Tre Cime + Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin (15km, 6.5hrs) ~wake up in San Candido & start hiking early
- Day 2: Rifugio Fonda Savio + Sentiero Attrezzato Alberto Bonacossa en route + Via Ferrata Merlone (11km, 6hrs)
- Day 3: Rifguio Vandelli: (15km, 5.5hrs)
- Day 4: Rifugio San Marco incl. Giro di Sorapis (10km, 6.25hrs)
- Day 5: finish in Pieve di Cadore incl. Via Ferrata del Ghiacciaio (22km, 7hrs)
Stats quoted below and throughout my AV4 posts are for my recommended “adventure route” that incorporates side trips, summits & via ferrata whenever possible (in brackets, see stats for the standard AV4 route with no additions).
Day 0: San Candido to Rifugio Tre Scarperi
From San Candido to the trailhead and finally taking your first steps on AV4, what I’ve recommended in this post is a pseudo-“day 0” with just 90min of hiking that will perfectly set you up for trek to come.
Rather than spending the night in San Candido before starting AV4 (I begrudgingly paid 230€ for one of the last rooms available, ugh), this day 0 still gives you plenty of time to arrive from neighbouring towns or even countries by bus/train, grab lunch and snacks in San Candido, and then walk or catch the bus to the trailhead with absolutely no hurry. When you wake up in the morning, you’ll have a stress-free early start to day 1 that allows time for TWO excellent via ferrata!
*If you have no intention of climbing either via ferrata on day 1, then you may wish to hike all the way out to Rifugio Locatelli (a further 3hrs) and combine day 0 into day 1
- Trail hours: 1.5hrs (+45min if walking from San Candido)
- Distance: 6km
- Elevation gain & loss: 350m up
- Huts: Rifugio Tre Scarperi
Day 1: Rifugio Tre Scarperi to Locatelli Tre Cime + Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin & Innerkofler
Following the traditional AV4 route, today is neither long nor difficult— but there are two spectacular via ferrata and a handful of small sidetrips within Parco Naturale Tre Cime that absolutely shouldn’t be missed! Get an early start to allow 8hrs of trail time, not counting breaks.
It should also be noted that this is far and away the busiest section of AV4, crowded from about 10am-3pm by eager day-trippers. The route I’ve recommended below gets you up and away from the crowds by climbing when most others are hiking, but even so, the views are worth the nuisance of several hundred tourists. It’s short-lived, after all!
- Trail hours: 8hrs (3hrs standard AV4)
- Distance: 15.5km (6.5km standard AV4)
- Elevation gain & loss: 1735m up & 975m down (850m up & 90m down standard AV4)
- Side trips: Via Ferrata Torre di Toblin/delle Scalette (up & back; 3B); Via Ferrata De Luca/Innerkofler (loop; 2B); Via Ferrata delle Forcelle (down; 1B)— refer to Tabacco Map 010 & Cicerone Vol.1 (routes 65, 64 & 63, respectively)
- Huts: Rifugio Locatelli, (Rifugio Lavaredo—30min)
Day 2: Rifugio Locatelli Tre Cime to Rifugio Fonda Savio + Via Ferrata Merlone
Today is the most visually spectacular day of AV4 (not including the via ferrata side trips yesterday), with a meandering path that parades around Tre Cime, leading to the serrated peaks of Cadini di Misurina and finally taking in the dramatic beauty of Torre Wundt from above.
It’s not a terribly long or difficult day, but with the requisite excursion up Via Ferrata Merlone (and the hundreds of photo opportunities from start to finish), expect another full day on the trail!
- Trail hours: 6hrs (3.5hrs standard AV4)
- Distance: 11km (9.5km standard AV4)
- Elevation gain & loss: 855m up & 915m down (580m up & 640m down standard AV4)
- Via Ferrata en route: Sentiero Attrezzato Alberto Bonacossa (one-way; 1B)— refer to Tabacco Map 010 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 62)
- Side trips: Via Ferrata Merlone (up & back; 3B)— refer to Tabacco Map 010 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 61)
- Huts: (Rifugio Auronzo, Malga Langalm), Rifugio Fonda Savio
Day 3: Rifugio Fonda Savio to Rifugio Vandelli
Day 3 of AV4 descends into the bustling town of Misurina, a great place to restock on supplies or access services before heading back onto the trail for the second half of the trek. You’ll also have the option today to take a gondola into town to save the descent (not worth it, unless you’re injured) or, once in town, to bus several kilometres down the road to Tre Croci to avoid walking on pavement amidst traffic (absolutely worth it).
From Passo Tre Croci, another incredibly busy section of trail leads to one of the most spectacular lakes in the Dolomites, Lago di Sorapis. Although its shores are likely to be crowded by day-trippers, you’ll have this iconic location all to yourself in the morning, yet another perk of hut-to-hut hiking!
- Trail hours: 5.5hrs (save 1.5hrs by taking the bus from Misurina to Tre Croci)
- Distance: 15km
- Elevation gain & loss: 975m up & 1400m down
- Via ferrata en route: Sentiero Attrezzato Alberto Bonacossa (one-way; 1B)— refer to Tabacco Map 010 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 62)
- Huts: Rifugio Vandelli
Day 4: Rifugio Vandelli to Rifugio San Marco + Via Ferrata Giro di Sorapis
Today’s route is dominated by a long and exhilarating via ferrata, two-thirds of the epic Giro di Sorapis that circumnavigates a dramatic peak of the same name. This is the most challenging of AV4’s unavoidable via ferrata, and together with tomorrow’s route over Forcella del Ghiacciaio, it is also the wildest terrain you’ll encounter on all of Alta Via 4, with rough trails increasing the navigational demands and frequent exposure necessitating careful footwork.
From the milky blue shores of Lago di Sorapis to the lofty heights reached on Via Ferrata Alfonso Vandelli, the most thrilling section of climbing, you’re unlikely to see many (if any) other hikers, a welcome respite from yesterday’s crowded trail! This is also the most challenging of AV4’s unavoidable via ferrata sections, but hopefully you’ll feel well prepared by the time day 4 rolls around.
- Trail hours: 6.25hrs
- Distance: 10km
- Elevation gain & loss: 1525m up & 1615m down
- Via Ferrate en route: Giro di Sorapis (Via Ferrata Alfonso Vandelli & Sentiero Carlo Minazio; loop; 3C)— refer to Tabacco Map 003 & Cicerone Vol.1 (route 59)
- Huts: Rifugio San Marco, (Rifugio Galassi— 45min)
Days 5 & 6: Rifugio San Marco to Rifugio Antelao to Pieve di Cadore
Alta Via 4 comes to an end over the next day or two as you meander through a stark glacier valley and begin dropping into the forest to eventually return to town. This too is an incredibly quiet section of trail, and the en route via ferrata offers plenty of intrigue up and over Forcella del Ghiacciaio; this is among the wildest and most challenging sections of AV4, but certainly presents a scenic and remote conclusion to one of the best multi-day treks in the Dolomites!
*It’s entirely possible to tackle the remaining kilometres from San Marco to Pozzale in a single day, but the expense of staying a night in town compared to spending another pleasant evening in a trailside rifguio may encourage budget travellers (or those looking for one final taste of Italian hut culture) to linger a little longer and spread the return to civilisation over two undemanding days.
- Trail hours: 6.25hrs
- Distance: 20km
- Elevation gain & loss: 1310m up & 1980m down
- Huts: Rifugio Antelao
What to expect on the trail
Like most popular hiking areas in the Dolomites, Alta Via 4 is very well marked, with frequent signposts providing directions and sometimes even time estimates to relevant waypoints, such as mountain huts, high passes, and nearby townships (typically located at low passes).
Between these signposts and particularly through rough terrain where it can be more challenging to follow a trail, red and white flags have been painted onto the rock to aid in navigation.
The combination of signs, flags, and occasional cairns (small rock piles) are helpful in navigation, but some of the more rugged areas of AV4, such as the Giro di Sorapis, will require more advanced navigation, as will the side-trips and off-route via ferrata. With all this in mind, it’s highly recommend to carry a paper map and/or GPS on Alta Via 4!
I worked with an incredibly skilled TOPO-team (my parents) to build a comprehensive GPS track for my adventure route along Alta Via 4, including all of the side-trips and via ferrata recommended in my itinerary. This GPX file will be available to purchase SOON and should be a fantastic resource for those undertaking AV4!!
Alta Via 4 is no garden-variety hike— for all the time you spend on a busy, distinct trail, you’ll spend just as many hours hiking through rough and rocky terrain, traversing across scree fields, and scrambling with the protection of a fixed cable (whether you clip in or use the cable as a handline will be a matter of personal comfort).
Particularly as you get away from the popular day-hiking areas around Tre Cime, Cadini di Misurina, and Lago di Sorapis, instead hiking through more remote and rugged areas with frequent sections of via ferrata, the terrain becomes a little more physically demanding.
Food & other supplies
With an extensive network of mountain huts along Alta Via 4, hot food is always close at hand.
- All overnight huts offer a very basic breakfast (that I often found to be poor value for money and typically skipped). This is usually bread, spreads, tea or coffee, occasionally yogurt, and if you’re lucky some meat and cheese for about 10-15€.
- Some huts offer hot lunch options for those passing through (for about 10-15€, you can enjoy a hot pasta dish or a pizza, which is particularly enticing if you’ve skipped brekky), while others will sell you a packed lunch to-go (typically consisting of a sandwich, apple, granola bar, and chocolate for about the same price).
- Simple snacks like chips and chocolate bars are available for purchase at some of the busier huts.
- All overnight huts also whip up excellent evening meals, either included as part of half-board lodging (50-75€ including a bed, 3-course dinner, and breakfast) or a la carte (10-15€ for most dishes). This is where mountain huts in the Dolomites really shine— an example of a standard evening meal would be soup and bread as a starter, hearty goulash and polenta as a main, and some sort of pastry as dessert. Rest assured, you will not go hungry (even as a vegetarian!).
- Alta Via 4 passes through a single town, Misurina, and this is truly your one and only opportunity to stock up on any groceries or personal items without detouring. As per my recommended AV4 itinerary, this restock would be on midday of Day 3, so plan accordingly!
Read more about hut food in this post: Everything you need to know about mountain huts (rifugi) in the Italian Dolomites
Thanks to the dry, rocky landscape of AV4, water along the trail is extremely limited, so you should fill up each morning with enough water to get you through the day.
Water is available in all of the mountain huts along Alta Via 4, but there is ongoing debate as to whether the tap water is safe to drink in all of these rifugi. Out of an abundance of caution, some of the hut staff will advise against drinking water directly out of the sink (although I did in most places), so I’d recommend bringing a lightweight filter (which will also serve you well along the trail, filling up in occasional streams). I implore you not to buy the plastic water bottles for sale in the huts, as it’s an incredible source of waste and altogether unnecessary with proper planning!
Essential gear for Alta Via 4
Below is a very short list of essential gear for AV4, including your via ferrata kit and your most crucial safety equipment!
For a full Alta Via 4 packing list: 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 used the Osprey Talon 33L unisex pack and comfortably carried 16kg on Alta Via 4 (much of which was camera gear, so you can expect your pack to be ~10-12kg!).
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!
I saw hikers on the Alta Via wearing everything from lightweight runners to (my) mid-weight mountaineering boots, so footwear choice is incredibly varied and there’s no one “right” shoe for everyone. Personally, I loved the stiff soles of my boots for via ferrata and rough terrain/scree; the trade-off is that they are heavier and not quite as comfortable for long kilometres on a flat trail, but I was very happy with my decision and will wear these same boots on my return to the Dolomites this summer!
PLB: Garmin In-Reach Mini
Never, EVER hit the trail 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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