Longing to hike Tre Cime di Lavaredo? Discover how to truly experience the most iconic mountain trio in the Dolomites.
Hiking Tre Cime di Lavaredo feels like an awakening. The sight of the Three Peaks (also known as Drei Zinnen and 3 Zinnen) is so abrupt it adrenalizes the eyes — concentrating your mind as if you just stepped before a sleeping dragon. They do not appear as mountains but as a primordial eruption fossilized in a flash of earthen anger.
You will realize quickly on your first visit that Drei Zinnen is not a place to be seen, but another world to be experienced. The reason why has as much to do with the beauty of the landscape as it does its riveting history. Here, the scars of war still mar the mountains.
After visiting Tre Cime on multiple occasions, in good weather and bad, we’re confident this hiking guide gives you the most soul-etching way to visit the Three Peaks. Below you will find step-by-step directions for two epic Tre Cime hikes: the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit and the Lavaredo Saddle.
We also include insights on how to choose the best hike for you, tips on avoiding crowds and where you can stay. In addition, we provide an easy-to-follow Tre Cime map that pinpoints the iconic sights not to miss including hidden gems, notable mountain peaks and historical landmarks.
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How to Get to Tre Cime di Lavaredo | Drei Zinnen
Tre Cime di Lavaredo towers over the border of South Tyrol and the Italian province of Belluno. It is in the Drei Zinnen Nature Park of Val Pusteria / Pustertal in South Tyrol and belongs to the mountain range known as the Sexten Dolomites.
The most common starting point for hiking Drei Zinnen is the Rifugio Auronzo. You can reach this mountain hut by car or public shuttle bus. Our recommendation is to rent a car while visiting South Tyrol as it provides the greatest flexibility to explore.
BY CAR: Navigate to the Rifugio Auronzo via your phone or car’s GPS. Next to this mountain hut is a large parking area. Prior to driving up the mountain, you will pass through a toll booth where you will be required to pay an entrance fee of €30.00 per car. Plan to arrive before 9 a.m. as the parking area can fill up quickly. If you are visiting Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the summer, we recommend arriving even earlier. The toll road to the hut opens at 7 a.m.
BY BUS: To help reduce the environmental impact of driving and avoid paying the entrance fee, hop on a shuttle bus from your nearest town or perhaps even from your hotel if it is offered. The round-trip cost to take the shuttle bus is €15.00 (Note: If you have a Sudtirol Holidaypass provided by your hotel there is no cost). You can check shuttle bus departure times and book a ticket on the Suedtirolmobil website.
BY FOOT: Another option to avoid the entrance fee is to pay it with your feet. You can park at the Drei-Zinnen-Blick viewpoint located on the road to Tre Cime di Lavaredo and hike trail no. 102. You will reach the most popular Three Peaks mountain hut, Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler (Dreizinnenhütte), in 3+ hours.
History You Should Know Before Hiking
Few of the tens of thousands who hike the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit each year know they are trekking trails rimmed by the remnants of the first World War. Drei Zinnen, like many of ranges in the Dolomites, straddled the battlefield between empires. Knowing a bit of this history before hiking here will give you a much greater appreciation for the sights you encounter.
On May 23, 1915, Italy declared war against Austria giving rise to the Alpine front, which cut 300 miles through the Alps from Switzerland to the Adriatic Sea. Hundreds of thousands of Italian “Alpini” and the Austrian “Kaiserjäger” soldiers fought on the rooftops of the world. It was the first time in world history that opposing armies clashed at altitudes of nearly 10,000 feet.
The Alpini and Kaiserjäger were specialized mountain units recruited from the Alps who could fight effectively in Alpine landscapes due to their physical endurance from their experience with mountaineering. These hardened soldiers could withstand long marches up the steep mountain terrain while hauling heavy packs, weapons and ammunition.
The Austrians and Italians militarized the mountains with a labyrinth of tunnels, bunkers and trenches still visible today. But the peaks and crags took no sides. The mountains were both protector and executioner. Each winter soldiers faced a common enemy they called “white death”. Blizzards, subzero temperatures, avalanches and falling rocks ravaged brave souls on the front line as much as bullets and bombs. In fact, after a brutal snowstorm in December of 1916, avalanches buried more than 10,000 Italian and Austrian troops over a two-day period.
When the war ended in November 1918, South Tyrol, once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was ceded to Italy. Drei Zinnen, which translates to Three Merlons, then also became officially known as Tre Cime di Lavaredo. For this reason, we refer to the peaks by all of its common names in this hiking guide.
How to Hike Tre Cime di Lavaredo | Drei Zinnen
The two most famous ways to experience Drei Zinnen are by hiking the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit or the Lavaredo Saddle. Both are jaw-dropping. Determining which one to hike depends on how much time you want to spend exploring the Three Peaks and your fitness level.
Drei Zinnen Hiking Option #1: The Tre di Cime Lavaredo Circuit
Hiking the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit will take 4-5 hours. Some guides indicate 3 hours, but breezing around the 6+ mile (10 km) trail at that speed is like climbing the Eiffel Tower and claiming you experienced Paris.
Many hiking guides also erroneously state hiking the loop is easy. It is not. In our opinion, the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit is moderately difficult. The hike is not dangerous, but there are steep and long ascents in parts that may require taking an occasional break to catch your breath.
We stress these points because we have met many elderly hikers struggling to hike the loop. On more than one occasion, they have told us they expected the hike to be much easier and not take so long. They were especially concerned as daylight was fading fast and they still had 1/3 of the route left to hike. Finding yourself unexpectedly exhausted or rushed is no way to experience the mountains.
Drei Zinnen Hiking Option #2: The Tre di Cime Lavaredo Saddle
The Tre di Cime Lavaredo Saddle hike allows you to experience most of the epic sights of the loop but is easier making it ideal for those concerned about time and energy. It begins and ends at the same starting point, however instead of sweeping you all the way across the northern faces of the Three Peaks, the hike leads you back on much of the same trail, which is relatively flat throughout unlike the circuit.
By embarking on the Lavaredo Saddle hike you will ultimately trek more miles, but the less demanding trail means it can be hiked in 3 hours or less.
With all of this said, our recommendation is the Tre Cime di Lavaredo Circuit hike for anyone who is reasonably fit (including school-aged kids) and can afford to give most of their day to the Three Peaks. As long as you plan accordingly, the loop hike is one of the most rewarding adventures in all of South Tyrol.
Step-by-Step Hiking Directions
The following details how to hike both the Tre di Cime Lavaredo Circuit or the Lavaredo Saddle. These two hikes use the same route until reaching the Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler.
From Rifugio Auronzo to the Forcella Lavaredo Ridge
Begin your adventure by departing from the Rifugio Auronzo mountain hut on trail no. 101. This trail carries you north across the debris cone of the southern faces of the Three Peaks. From your left to right they are known as the Cima Ovest di Lavaredo / Westliche Zinne (Western Peak), Cima Grande di Lavaredo / Große Zinne (Big Peak) and Cima Piccola di Lavaredo / Kleine Zinne (Small Peak). The tallest, Cima Grande, has a height of 9,839 ft. (2,999 m).
CROWD AVOIDING TIP: If you are planning to hike the circuit and notice large crowds departing from Rifugio Auronzo on trail no. 101, you can opt to go clockwise around the Three Peaks by taking trail no. 105.
Gazing eastward you will see the Cadini Group (also known as Cadini di Misurina). This frantic chain of peaks, spires and crags stab the sky with such jagged fury they seem hellbent on making the heavens crash to earth. Towards the south lies a deep river valley where you can glimpse the village of Giralba and the town of Auronzo di Cadore.
After 30 minutes or so you will reach the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice chapel (also known as the Cappella degli Alpini). Built in 1928, this small church was founded by the Alpini in memory of the Bersaglieri regiments (sharpshooters) that fought in the war of which 32,000 were killed and 50,000 wounded.
Walking around the church you will come across a monument honoring mountaineer Paul Grohmann. In 1869, he was the first person to climb the Cima Grande. Amazingly in the same year, he also became the first alpinist to conquer the equally imposing summits of Sassolungo in South Tyrol’s Val Gardena.
HIDDEN GEM: Near the church another trail branches to the right leading you downslope into a boulder-riddled pasture. If you take this, it will bring you to another beautiful sight honoring the soldiers who fought here. “The Angel of the Fallen” monument is the work of Ancona Vittorio Monelli, who was a sharpshooter during the war. Nearby the monument is also a somber memorial cross worth visiting. If you are lucky, you will also have a chance to admire horses grazing around the landmarks.
As you continue on trail no. 101 take a moment to look behind you. The soaring view of Mount Cristallo just beyond the Santa Maria Ausiliatrice chapel is reason enough to do the Tre Cime hike.
Shortly after the chapel, you will come to the second mountain hut of Drei Zinnen, Rifugio Lavaredo. It sits below the Forcella Lavaredo ridge, the first viewpoint of the northern faces of the Three Peaks. By the way, “Forcella” means saddle or fork. If the hut is open, we suggest fueling up here with a beer or meal before venturing upslope to the Forcella Lavaredo. Not sure what to order? Discover the 10 must-try foods of South Tyrol.
From the hut’s terrace, you can soak in sweeping views of the Cadini Group and the Marmarole Group, which soars even further to the west and is home to Mount Antelao, also known as the “King of the Dolomites”. This thundering mountain storms up 10,700+ ft (3,200+ m) and is the second tallest in the Dolomites.
At Rifugio Lavaredo, you have two options to reach the Forcella Lavaredo ridge. You can head to your left and negotiate a relatively steep mountain pass beneath the Cima Piccola peak directly to the ridge or you can stay straight and meander a wider trail that winds slowly up the mountainside. We have hiked both and they offer different perspectives that are equally fascinating.
HIDDEN GEM: If you take the meandering route, it will bring you around crumbling fortifications from World War I and above a small body of water called Laghi di Lavaredo. This “lake” is a far cry from the shimmering beauty of Lago di Braies, but is still an intriguing sight to behold on such a desolate mountainscape.
Upon reaching the Forcella Lavaredo ridge (8,000+ ft / 2,450+ m) you will be rewarded with a sight that is positively enthralling in its magnitude, intensity and stark beauty. Taking in the entirety of the Three Peaks at this close range is not so much a view, but a phenomenon.
HIDDEN GEM: From the Forcella Ridge, we recommend walking toward the base of the Cima Piccola peak. There you will find a plaque mounted on a boulder commemorating the day when Pope John Paul II hiked Tre Cime to pray and admire the setting sun at the foot of the Three Peaks. Inscribed on it is the phrase “Do not be afraid”, the wisdom he shared most often during his papacy.
You will also find the remains of military fortifications here as the Forcella Ridge made for an ideal eagled-eye post to spot enemy movement. In fact, during the war, Italian troops positioned a giant spotlight on the Cime Grande peak to pinpoint patrols approaching the Three Peaks.
Across the Lavaredo Saddle to Rifugio Locatelli-Innerkofler
Moving beyond the Forcella Lavaredo ridge stay on trail no. 101 and descend to a stretch known as the Lavaredo Saddle. Above the saddle looms Mount Paterno (Paternkofel). This 9,000+ ft. giant (2,700+ m) is a beautifully-shaped mountain that played a major role during the war. It is scarred with tunnels and caves that served as machine-gun nests and supply routes.
During a nighttime attack in the summer of 1915, the famous mountaineer, Sepp Innerkofler, who was also an Austrian soldier, fell to his death while leading a patrol up Mount Paterno. Italian sharpshooters spotted the men and shot Innerkofler. It is said they were distraught upon discovering who they killed as many were local alpinists who admired the well-known mountain guide. Innerkofler’s body was laid to rest on the summit of Mount Paterno and eventually moved to a cemetery in Sexten after the war.
As you hike along the saddle, behind you the southern profile of Tre Cime will continue to fully unfold. Sprawling beneath the peaks is a massive ashen-grey debris cone and then the Lange Alm — a mountain pasture that looks as if it is the graveyard of the Alps.
The saddle will gradually begin to ascend and you will soon see the Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler (Dreizinnenhütte) mountain hut perched on a plateau. The original hut that once stood here was operated by Sepp Innerkofler and his wife Maria. It is was destroyed by artillery on the first day of the war in the Dolomites.
The Dreizinnenhütte was rebuilt after the war and named after Antonio Locatelli, a highly-decorated aviation ace celebrated by Italians for his bravery during World War I. He was killed in the massacre of Lechemti in Ethiopia in 1936.
The Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler offers a large outdoor seating area to rest and satisfy your appetite if open. Few mountain huts in the Dolomites boast a better view.
CROWD AVOIDING TIP: Most hikers will cluster and linger in front of Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler before continuing the journey. To enjoy the Three Peaks panorama in silence, we recommend hiking just beyond the hut, passing by a small chapel, and plopping down on a plateau stretching to the north. From here, you will enjoy an unbeatable view of the Three Peaks and Mount Paterno in all their soaring glory.
After admiring the peaks turn around and look up at Sasso di Sesto (Sextenstein). This mountain houses a series of caves that were actually Alpini bunkers during World War I. A somewhat steep trail leads up to them allowing you to capture the iconic image of the Three Peaks framed by stone.
The higher summit just beyond Sasso di Sesto is the Torre di Toblin (Toblinger Knoten). On these tower-like peaks, the Kaiserjäger were hunkered down giving you a sense for how scary thin the Alpine front was.
HIDDEN GEM: Once you are ready to peel your eyes away from Tre Cime, hike back to Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler. Behind the hut head downslope to view the Alpe dei Piani in the Altenstein Valley. This valley sits beneath the broad Schusterplatte mountain (Lastron dei Scarperi) and holds the mirror-still Lakes of Piani (Laghi dei Piani). Two are immediately visible, but if you trek down into the valley you will find the third lake beneath the Birkenkofel mountain (Crode dei Piani).
At this point, if you only intended to trek the Lavaredo Saddle hike, begin your journey back to Rifugio Auronzo by taking trail no. 101 again. The wonderful part about this return hike is that it allows you to see the mountains with a fresh perspective. The cloud cover at such elevations is constantly shifting. Odds are you will enjoy sights missed on the way to Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler.
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Over the Lange Alm to Malga Langalm
To continue the Tre Cime Circuit hike, follow signs for trail no. 102. This trail leads you down to the Lange Alm where will you then trek across the northern faces of Drei Zinnen.
As you descend a series of switchbacks into the alm you will encounter otherworldly terrain undulating over a vast debris field. The chasm yawning into the abyss on your right side is the Rienztal (Val Rienza). If you were to hike to the valley floor you would meet the Rienz river, which snakes through the Dolomites to Dürrensee (Lago di Landro) and Toblacher See (Lago di Dobbiaco).
Eventually, you will come to a shoulder where the trail steepens significantly. Here, you will take trail no. 105 and make the grueling trek upward onto the Lange Alm. Fortunately, at the midway point, there is a log bench inviting a seat and rest if you need it.
When the trail levels out you will be face-to-face with the Three Peaks. At this range, you can study the geological character lines carved by epochs of time impossible to fathom.
Looking to the north across the Riezntal you will see another soaring peak: Torre dei Scarperi (Schwabenalpenkopf). This Dolomites’ cast member appears as if it once was an Ancient Greek ruin. To its west is a Monte Rudo (Rautkofel), a blunt saw of peaks that curls to the south like a hook.
HIDDEN GEM: After crossing a creek, you will be on a slope called Col de Forcellina. From here, you can spot three small ponds offering the opportunity to capture Tre Cime reflecting on their surfaces.
If you didn’t relax with refreshments at any of the previous rifugios, the Malga Langalm mountain hut sits off the trail just minutes ahead. Of course, you can still stop here even if you did. Nothing in the hiking world comes close to matching the charm of South Tyrol’s mountainside taverns.
Make the Epic Return
Beyond the Malga Langalm, trail no. 105 gradually begins to curve around the Three Peaks. Now is a good time to take note of Tre Cime’s fourth and fifth peaks. Yes, the 3 Peaks actually have 5. Sasso di Landro and Torre Lavaredo anchor the eastern flank and are the runts of the bunch.
After traversing a ridge, the Tre Cime Circuit re-enters the debris cone and you will hike the scree slope until arriving at the southern side of Drei Zinnen. The trail on this stretch is narrower so if there are hikers approaching you from the south, skip soaking in the views of Monte Piana and Monte Piano, two mountain plateaus on your right that were fiercely contested by the Italians and Austrians during the war.
The trail eventually widens beyond the debris cone providing plenty of opportunities to let your jaw drop at the sight of the Cadini Group, Mount Cristallo and even Lago di Misurina if the clouds comply. The mountains will undoubtedly look different from when you began the hike 4-5 hours earlier.
The remainder of the hike from here is beneath the Sasso di Landro and Torre Lavaredo summits. Once you arrive back at Rifugio Auronzo we strongly advise stopping in to sip an adult beverage of your choice and at least one helping of apple strudel. You’ve earned both.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo | Drei Zinnen Map
When to Visit Tre Cime di Lavaredo | Drei Zinnen
When is the best time to hike Tre Cime di Lavaredo? The short answer is whenever you have the time and means. It is a hike every mountain lover should embark on once in their life. However; if you want to experience Dre Zinnen without dodging throngs of people on the trail avoid visiting during the summer months.
Instead, plan to hike the Three Peaks in September through mid-October. The only downside with this timeframe is that the mountain huts may begin closing in late September and you can encounter more unpredictable weather. Snow is unlikely, but definitely not out of the question in the Dolomites as you approach the heart of autumn. Pack accordingly (see below for what to bring).
In terms of the best time of day to hike the Three Peaks, we suggest hitting the trail before 9:00 a.m. It will be less busy and by the time you reach Rifugio Locatelli – Innerkofler you should be able to enjoy the sunlight washing over the faces of Cima Ovest, Cima Grande and Cima Piccola.
How to Look Up Tre Cime Weather
Since we recommend hiking Tre Cime in the fall, it is helpful to know how to look up the weather forecast for the region. We have found Bergfex to be a reliable source for Tre Cime weather. They are one of the few weather outlets to provide a multi-day forecast and expected conditions by the hour.
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What to Bring on Your Hike
Hiking Poles – Most of the Three Peaks hike takes place on a trail with crushed gravel that can be loose and slick in parts. We suggest bringing hiking poles for those less sure on their feet or who have knee issues.
Hiking Boots (not shoes) – You can certainly hike Tre Cime in athletic shoes, but we always recommend wearing hiking boots for extra ankle support.
Hat, Gloves & Sunglasses – If visiting in the fall, gloves and a hat are a must. You can be warm one minute and the next chilled by a breeze swooping down from the summits.
Jacket & Layers – Again if visiting in the fall, make sure to have a decent jacket and toss an extra sweater into your backpack. If the forecast calls for a chance of rain, it probably will. So it doesn’t hurt to have a compact rain poncho in your backpack as well.
Water & Snacks – We always fill up a couple of water bottles before hiking in South Tyrol. You will definitely want at least one water bottle hiking Drei Zinnen. Trail snacks are also wise as you may arrive at a hut not open or filled up with other hikers.
Cash – Not all huts accept cards so we always recommend having some cash on hand. If you plan to have a meal with beer or wine you can expect to spend €20-€25.00.
Patience – The Three Peaks sits among the heavens. At times the mountains will be shrouded in clouds, but if you are willing to wait they will eventually make an appearance, and hopefully a grand one at that.
Where to Stay Near the Three Peaks
The Drei Zinnen Nature Park is almost three hours east of Bolzano, the largest city in South Tyrol. You can visit Tre Cime di Lavaredo by doing a day trip from the city, but we highly recommend staying in the Dolomites.
The nearest mountain towns are Toblach (Dobaccio), Sexten (Sesto), Innichen (San Candido) and Cortina d’ Ampezzo. All of these are 30-40 minutes from the nature park. Any will make a great base for your Drei Zinnen hiking adventure.
During our Tre Cime hiking adventures, we stayed at Nigglerhof, a lovely rustic family farm on a mountainside high above Toblach, as well as at a boutique eco-retreat in nearby Val di Casies (read about our getaway to Fontis Luxury Spa Lodge). Both destinations were ideal for exploring the Three Peaks and enjoying the perks of alpine wellness along with the historic charms of the surrounding villages.
If you wish to stay with Tre Cime di Lavaredo in your backyard, another option is to overnight at one of the three mountain huts offering lodging: Rifugio Auronzo, Rifugio Lavaredo and Rifugio Locatelli-Innerkofler. Keep in mind these are only open early summer through early fall.
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