The Dolomites are one of my favorite places to hike, because of the scenery, the many mountain-top refugi that serve lunch, and the fact that the ski lifts take hikers up the mountain throughout summertime; but add to that some very unique trails equipped with ladders, bridges, and iron ropes called the Via Ferrata (translated as iron way, road with irons, or iron trail). The routes were designed during WWI so that the Italian mountain infantry could navigate mountain trails more efficiently, which means that you can, too.
Here's what you need to know if you want to hike a Via Ferrata trail:
There are trails for every level of hiker. There are over 80 Via Ferrata trails in the Dolomites, with difficulty levels of 1 – 5, Level One being an easy walk and Level Five requiring climbing skills. There are actually a couple different rating systems, and here's a great explanation of the Via Ferrata trails rating systems.
There are trails all over the Dolomites. Use this very handy map of the Dolomites' Via Ferrata trails to identify a trail of the right hiking level and in a convenient location for your trip. Click on a trail icon to get details and often photos of the hike. Ivano Dibona is probably the most famous trail, and takes about 8 hours to hike, while the Lagazuoi Tunnels hike is one of the easiest and most unique – I've sent clients there with kids.
You still need to do your research. Most of the hikes will require helmets (which you can rent) and headlamps (easy to tuck into your suitcase). Here's a great overview of how to prepare yourself for a Via Ferrata hike . Make sure you know what you're getting in to before you start off – it may help to look at the photos below.
Trails with ladders, bridges and ropes?
By bridges, I mean:
Here is a photo of a Via Ferrata ladder:
Or below (though I think there may be a more technical name for this type of ladder):
Ropes are usually for the more experienced hiker or climber:
Here you can see the rope along the trail.
Photo credits: Hikers walking, vertical ladder, and sign by Giustino; Photo of bridge with hikers from Wikimedia Commons; Pinut photo by beety; Photo of ladder over Lake Garda by Jon Shave; photo of mountain ropes by Dimitris Iliopoulos.
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