Lago di Braies is pure Valhalla for mountain lovers. Here is your guide to enjoying the Pearl of the Italian Dolomites at its most pristine — including the 2023 restrictions you need to know before visiting.
When you picture paradise, what do you see? If you’re a mountain lover like us, chances are a scene strikingly similar to the sight of Lago di Braies (also known as Pragser Wildsee, Lake Braies and Lake Prags) floats through your mind.
An untouched lake so still and peaceful it mirrors the landscape? Check. Snow-capped mountain peaks looming on the horizon? Check. Towering evergreens foresting the slopes? Check. Throngs of people taking selfies? Check.
Okay, we admit that the last item is hardly anyone’s notion of paradise. Nevertheless, it is a reality of visiting places such as Lago di Braies. Its unearthly beauty acts as a magnet for everyone visiting South Tyrol. However, if you plan your trip right with our guide, dodging hordes of tourists does not have to be your experience.
Dive in to discover how to visit Braies without the crowds plus a boatload of other tips such as handling travel restrictions, as well as how to hike to a must-experience hidden gem near the lake.
⇒ Get step-by-step instructions: Download our Lago di Braies hiking guide
About Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies is South Tyrol’s most popular lake and arguably the most beautiful lake in the Dolomites — if not the entire world (although some claim Lago di Carezza deserves the crown). Tucked between sheer mountain cliffs at an altitude of nearly 5,000 feet (1,490+ m), Lago di Braies gleams like perfectly polished jade.
Its crystalline waters are fed by a labyrinth of underground springs that fill a vast expanse beneath the mountains. Braies ripples across 77 acres — an area equivalent to approximately 30 rugby fields — and plunges to a depth of 118 feet (36 m).
What lies beneath the surface of Braies? Trout and the stuff of legends and myths.
According to ancient folklore, Lago di Braies is a magical gateway to the underground kingdom of Fanes whose people are the original inhabitants of the Dolomites. The kingdom of Fanes appears in many South Tyrolean sagas and has historical roots going back 2,500+ years.
Another legend of Lago di Braies, albeit much more recent, tells of 10 tons of gold lying at the bottom of the lake. When World War II ended, Nazis supposedly sank the treasure.
This legend may have some plausibility. During the war, Nazis used the stately Hotel Lago di Braies adorning the northern end of the lake as a base. Built in 1899, the hotel still operates today and is owned by the same family that opened it. In 1945, the hotel played a key role in liberating 139 concentration camp survivors including several family members of Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg — the leader of the most famous failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler.
⇒ Book a stay at Hotel Lago di Braies
Where is Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies lies in the Val di Braies (Pragser Tal), which is a side valley of Val Pusteria (Pustertal) in eastern South Tyrol. Braies belongs to the Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park — a massive protected area of South Tyrol covering more than 25,000 hectares. The park also boasts one of the most beautiful mountain plateaus in the Dolomites: Prato Piazza (Plätzwiese).
From Bolzano, the capital of South Tyrol, you can be at the lake in less than two hours. If you are visiting the Dolomites from Venice, it is just over three hours to the north. Those staying in Cortina d’Ampezzo can reach Lago di Braies in less than an hour.
In addition to visiting Lago di Braies, you should make plans to explore Val Pusteria. This secluded valley is populated by pines, peaks and pastures that enwrap you in the pastoral charms of old Tyrol. In fact, it is home to the epic Drei Zinnen (Tre Cime di Lavaredo) — the official symbol of the Dolomites.
See our complete guide to hiking the Tre Cime di Lavaredo loop including details on when to visit.
How to Hike Lago di Braies
Plenty of people visit Lago di Braies without ever stepping beyond the northern shore. They shuffle in mass to the lakefront and snap away on their phones until certain they have the next Instagram hit. What a mistake.
A two-mile (3.2 km) hiking trail circles Lago di Braies providing some of the most spectacular Alpine lake scenery in the Dolomites. Making your way around the lake takes roughly 1.5 to 2 hours.
After soaking in the immense Seekofel summit (also known as Croda del Becco), Lago di Braies’ most famous mountain backdrop, begin your journey around the lake.
Start on the western shoreside by following the Seeweg / Giro del Lago signposts. Here, the trail rolls through stands of pines, spruce, and larch trees with the glimmer of Braies never leaving your side.
The path is smooth enough to allow for a stroller or even a walker. You’ll discover protruding boulders discarded by the mountainside ages ago. They offer the perfect place to take a seat and watch any boats gently rowing about beneath the stone walls of Apostoli — a mountain across the lake that rises 6,500 feet from the water’s edge.
Continuing on, you’ll come across one of many boulder-riddled gullies tumbling from the mountain summits. These look like bone-dry canals made of gravel. When the snowmelt washes over them each spring it must be a dramatic sight to witness.
Eventually, the trail will wind to the east placing you at the foot of Seekofel. This is near the halfway point with the hotel directly opposite where you began. Towards the shore stretches a pebble-strewn beach. If you’re feeling like a dip, this is as good a place as any to become one with Braies.
The trail soon turns toward the north leading you along the eastern flank of Lago di Braies. This stretch of the hike ascends nicely offering the most awe-inspiring views in our opinion.
From several points, you can admire the dome-like mountain of Monte Nero that anchors the lake on the west. It’s worth noting that timbered stairsteps lie along this leg of the trail making it accessible to only those that can trek on foot.
Soon, the path swoops down to where Lago di Braies squeezes into a marshy sliver at its northernmost point. The peculiar peak soaring on this end of the lake is Sasso del Signore.
Rounding the shoreline, the trail carries you past the boathouse perched in front of the hotel where you started. Take time to walk the Lago di Braies dock and study the magic-like levitation of the rowboats hovering on the crystal clear water.
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How to Rent a Boat on Lago di Braies
If you are not in the mood to walk or are simply aching to row after hiking around Lago di Braies, consider renting a vintage rowboat. After all, few things are more relaxing and romantic than drifting carelessly about in the middle of a remote mountain lake in Italy.
From late spring through early fall, the Lago di Braies boathouse, La Palafitta, rents out handmade rowboats from 10 AM to 5 PM. Each boat can hold up to 4 adults. Children of any age are welcome on boat tours, but those under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult during the boat ride.
You can select from 1/2 hour to full hour excursions. In July and August, you can rent a boat anytime between 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM.
The cost is 25 EUR and 35 EUR respectively. If you want to rent a boat on Lago di Braies for a private sunrise photoshoot you can do so for 150 EUR. Note: Boats for a private shoot can be reserved no earlier than 4 days before the date of your visit. All other boat rentals operate only on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you are not skilled in handling a boat, do not fret. It is impossible to get lost on the lake and the surrounding mountains shelter the water from brisk winds.
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The Best Time to Visit Lago di Braies
You might be most inclined to visit Lago di Braies in the summer, but we recommend spring or fall instead. The colors you encounter during the months of spring and fall make the lake dazzle even more. Plus, visiting Lago di Braies in the summer comes with some restrictions which we highlight below. Tip: If you want to avoid seeing Lago di Braies as a sheet of ice, be sure to visit Braies before late November or after April.
To avoid darting between herds of people, go as early as you can muster. The lake’s favorable position directly off the main mountain roadway makes it an attractive destination for tour groups. But if you arrive in the first rays of morning, the group tour folk will still be roaming the lands of snore. Let them sleep.
They can miss the rising sun breaking the peaks and plunging like a waterfall into a still sea of emerald green. You, on the other hand, will take in a sight that you will never forget.
We suggest arriving early and departing early. If you are visiting during the summer (high season) and truly want to avoid crowds at Lago di Braies, plan on arriving between 6:00 – 7:00 AM. You’ll encounter photographers, but minimal tourists. Those visiting in the so-called off-season can arrive a bit later between 7:00 – 8:00 AM.
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Must-Know Regulations Before Visiting Lago di Braies
Several regulations are in place to help protect the delicate ecosystem of Lago di Braies and preserve the destination for future generations. Access to Lago di Braies itself is always free; however, there are key regulations to be aware of before your visit that can impact your travel costs and plans:
Summer Restrictions on Personal Vehicles: To curtail traffic during the Dolomites’ busy season, you are not allowed to drive to Lago di Braies with your own vehicle between 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM unless you have reserved your parking place in advance. In 2023, this restriction will be in effect from July 10 – September 10. Reservations can be made via the official Pragser Wildsee website. Note: You can arrive at Lago di Braies before 9:30 AM or after 4:00 PM without booking a reservation.
Using Public Transit in Summer: Shuttle service to Lago di Braies requires advance booking during peak season. In 2023, this policy will be in effect from July 10 – September 10. Bus tickets can be purchased via the official Pragser Wildsee website. Tip: If you visit Lago di Braies by foot or bike, you are not required to make any kind of reservation.
Flying Drones at Lago di Braies: The Lago di Braies beach, parking area and hotel property extending to the lake shore are under private ownership. Flying drones above here for photography or any other reason is not allowed. You can fly a drone over Lago di Braies, but to legally do so you must obtain a permit via the administrative office of the Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park.
Swimming in Lago di Braies: Swimming is technically not allowed in Lago di Braies, but that doesn’t stop some visitors from trying to brave its icy waters. The temperature of the lake is a frosty 57°F (14°C) if lucky. If you want to wade into Braies, go for it, but skip taking a dip.
Dogs at Lago di Braies: Dogs are permitted to visit Lago di Braies with you although we do not recommend letting them swim in the lake per above. You can even bring your dog on a Lago di Braies boat rental if you wish.
Lago di Braies Map
The below map provides a birds-eye view of the Lago di Braies circuit hike. Most visitors hike counterclockwise around the lake. Tip: If you are at Lago di Braies when it is busy, consider hiking clockwise to avoid being stuck in a daisy chain of other hikers.
Where to Stay to Visit Lago di Braies
As we noted earlier, Lago di Braies belongs to South Tyrol’s Val Pusteria (Pustertal). This region teems with so many attractions you could spend your entire time in South Tyrol just exploring its valleys, mountains and historic sights.
To experience Lago di Braies in all its splendor, consider booking a stay at Hotel Lake Braies on the north shore. Watching the sun gently bathe the lake in gold every morning is a dream.
Another option is to consider basing yourself near Brunico (Bruneck) or Toblach (Dobbiaco). If you stay near Toblach, consider also adding a visit to Lago di Dobbiaco — another shimmering gem in the Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park. Those interested in spoiling themselves and experiencing the health benefits of alpine wellness should consider staying at Hotel Quelle Nature Spa Resort or Fontis Eco Farm & Suites. We stayed at these family-owned resorts on previous visits to Lago di Braies and found both to be truly outstanding and wholly unique in their own way.
⇒ Click here to explore more hotels near Lago di Braies
Additional Sights, Activities & Tips
After hiking around the lake, you may just want to spend more time lost in the luster of this Alpine jewel of Italy. Here are some additional sights and activities to consider:
Chapel Lago di Braies – This storybook chapel (also known as Marienkapelle or Cappella di Maria) sits along the western shoreline and was built in 1904. It was designed by Otto Schmid, the same architect responsible for the hotel, and is dedicated to the Divine Mother Dolorosa. A horse stable next to the chapel makes it an even more idyllic sight. Be sure to take time to admire both.
Horseback Riding – Imagine galloping along the beach atop a magnificent steed. The Steinwandterhof farmhouse and stable allow you to do just that.
Land a Trout – If you’re angling for some angling, embark on a fishing excursion on Lago di Braies. Guests of Hotel Lake Braies can obtain free fishing permits and rent gear.
Admire the Field of Stones – On the eastern shore of Lago di Braies, you will come across a sweeping display of cairns. These man-made stacks of stone make for an intriguing sight against the mirror-like water.
Sip & Dine by Braies – After adventuring about the lake you may work up a thirst and appetite. Hotel Lake Braies offers a splendid terrace to enjoy a cup of coffee, a meal, a glass of delectable South Tyrolean wine or a sweet South Tyrolean original called Hugo. The Tiroler Stube cafeteria is open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM. The restaurant is open from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM. By the way, take time to discover the South Tyrolean food you should try before visiting the region.
Another wonderful dining option near Lago di Braies is Malga Foresta (also known as Grünwaldhütte). This mountain farm tavern is a true hidden gem. We missed eating here on our first trip to Braies and wish it had been on our radar. The food and setting are utterly amazing.
You can reach Malga Foresta by following trail no. 19, which branches off the Lago di Braies loop trail and darts into the valley running between Seekofel and Monte Nero (see our Lago di Braies map above). The hike takes roughly 30 minutes to reach Malga Foresta. Including a stop here adds around another 2 miles to your loop hike adventure. Tip: If you are craving something sweet, be sure to order their yogurt with farm-fresh berries. Delicious!
Pick up a Souvenir – A boutique souvenir shop is attached to Hotel Lake Braies allowing you to bring a kitschy piece of “Lago di Braies” or “Pragser Wildsee” home with you. We’re guilty. Twice.
Dress appropriately – The hike around Lago di Braies is not treacherous, but we recommend wearing proper hiking or walking footwear. Don’t forget to check the forecast prior to visiting so you can determine if you need rain gear or a jacket.
Throw a Picnic – At the midway point around the lake loop, you will find picnic tables and bathrooms. Take advantage of both if you need a rest. The remainder of the hike is a bit more difficult than the first leg.
Explore More of Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park – Several trails veer off the loop allowing you to trek further into the park. Many of these trails are considerably more difficult so plan accordingly. The lake is also the starting point of the Dolomites’ famous Alta Via no. 1 (Alpine Path no. 1), which leads you through the mountains to as far as Belluno in the Veneto region of Italy. If you plan to explore more of the park, consider visiting the Fanes-Senes-Braies Nature Park Visitor Center beforehand.
Stay on Lago di Braies – To enjoy the lake at its most tranquil (sunrise and sunset), book a night or two at the Hotel Lago di Braies. You will be just steps away from its rippling shore. If you are interested in camping at Lago di Braies, see our post discussing the best campsites in the Dolomites including those near the lake.
Visit Brunico Afterwards – After consuming so much natural beauty consider venturing onto Brunico (Bruneck) for a dose of history. In Brunico, you can stroll cobblestone streets and marvel at churches and castles, as well as meander through a soul-stirring war cemetery unlike any other in the world. The town is just a half-hour north of the lake by car or bus.
How to Get to Lago di Braies
Lago di Braies is one of the easier gems in the Dolomites to reach. If you’re renting a car as we typically recommend, plenty of parking is available just outside the front of Hotel Lago di Braies. The cost to park in one of the three nearby lots is 8 EUR for three hours (each Lago di Braies parking lot operates on a pay-and-display system). From the lots, it’s a short walk to the lake. Note: Be sure to review our section above detailing parking restrictions at Lago di Braies if you plan to visit during peak season.
If you’re based near Bolzano, the lake is just over 1.5 hours to the northeast. From Brixen, just over an hour. The drive is considerably easy relative to other mountain destinations in South Tyrol.
Public Transit Options: If you do not want to drive to Lago di Braies, be sure to check with your hotel to see if they offer a shuttle bus to the lake. Another option is to use South Tyrol’s stellar public transit system. For example, public bus route 442 brings visitors directly from Toblach and Niederdorf (Villabassa) to Lago di Braies. You can plan your route and check shuttle bus departure times as well as book a ticket on the Suedtirolmobil website.
Have you been to Pragser Wildsee / Lago di Braies? If so, please comment below and add any tips or considerations we may have missed.