Croda da Lago | The Ultimate Autumn Hike in the Dolomites

lago di federa on the croda di lago hike with bright orange autumn colour reflecting in the lake
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Golden trees reflect in the beautiful Lago di Federa and mountains tower in the distance, dwarfing the cute Rifugio Croda da Lago on the shores. This circuit takes in beautiful larch forests, high alpine lakes and some of the best views in the Dolomites. Here’s everything you need to know to take on the Croda da Lago hike yourself.


The early morning sunlight slowly creeps across the sky. Dark blue shifts to pastel purple and pink.

On the shores of the lake, it feels as though the world is holding its breath. Waiting for the big reveal.

Finally, a shared gasp as the light hits. Everywhere you look the landscape is painted in shades of gold, red and amber. Lago di Federa, like a mirror, doubles the intensity of the beauty.

The magic is over all too soon, but the trail beckons you onwards, over the mountain pass to new adventures. This place, though, will sear images in your memory that you’ll never forget.

This guide contains everything you need to plan your Croda da Lago hike, including insider tips, where to stay and what you shouldn’t miss.

lago di federer on the croda da lago hike, rifugio g palmieri reflecting in the lake
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CRODA DA LAGO ESSENTIALS

TRAILHEAD | Ponte de Ru Curto

DISTANCE | 13.5km circular route

TIME | 5-6 hours

ELEVATION | +/- 800m

DIFFICULTY | Moderate

BEST TIME | Late October

FACTILITES | Rifugio Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri

HOW TO GET THERE

MAP

WHEN TO VISIT

WHERE TO STAY & EAT

Some of these links are affiliate links. If you buy via my links I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps keep me on the road. I’m also a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program.  As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for your support – Cat.


HIKING CRODA DA LAGO – A COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE BEST AUTUMN DAY HIKE IN THE ITALIAN DOLOMITES


Why hike the Croda da Lago in autumn?

Most hikes in the Dolomites UNESCO region are beautiful year-round, but the Croda da Lago really comes into its own in the autumn, as the larch trees explode into colour.

The hike is named for the mountain range that it circumnavigates, and its close proximity to Cortina makes it a great option for a day hike in the area. Although it’s a lovely route at any time, during the autumn it becomes something really special.

The larch trees that are scattered throughout the Dolomites are present here in huge numbers. They line the shores of Lago di Federa and seem to glow. The early morning blast of colour as the sun hits is nature’s magic at its finest, and make this hike an absolute must for an autumn sunrise.

the peak of beco de mezodi reflected in lago di federa with orange larches all around
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If you’re staying in nearby Cortina then there are various alternative routes to get to Rifugio Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri, all of which are absolutely beautiful. More details on those below.

The Croda da Lago Hiking Experience

From the trailhead at Ponte de Ru Curto, this hike starts off with a little wooden bridge across a stream. You’ll wind your way through a beautiful larch forest, meandering past little streams and waterfalls before reaching a cute mountain hut set in a small alpine pasture.

From here, the clockwise route takes you up to the Val Negra viewpoint. The scenery here will steal whatever breath you have left from the uphill hike. After a short wander through a meadow, cows included, you reach the shores of Lago di Federa. Tucked away beneath the impressive Croda da Lago mountain, it’s seriously stunning. The lake reflects every part of the landscape and was one of my favourite spots anywhere in the Dolomites.

a little mountain hut seen from the croda da lago hike
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the peak of beco de mezodi in the sunrise
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bright orange larch trees reflected in lago di federa
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Rifugio Croda da Lago provides a welcome respite and is a great place to refuel. Sit on the deck outside, marvelling at the beauty of the lake and the distinctive peak of the Beco de Mezodi in the distance. The coffee is divine and you totally deserve a slice of homemade cake after all the hiking you’ve been doing!

Now you’re rested, it’s time to continue up to the nearby Forcella Ambrizzola. The spectacular views across the Mondeval valley should distract you from the tough ascent up to Forcella de Formin. Then you’ll tackle your final descent back into the welcoming larch forest below. From here it’s an easy downhill back to the start.

I planned my hike here with the aid of the excellent book Short Hikes in the Dolomites.

Trail Conditions at Croda da Lago

The paths of the Croda da Lago circuit are well marked and easy to follow. There are few crossroads, with Rifugio Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri always clearly marked, and you can travel the loop in either direction. I recommend tackling the hike clockwise since you reach the lake earlier and the steepest section is then downhill.

Having said that, the steep descent from Forcella de Formin is challenging. The path is hard to make out, requiring you to keep an eye out for the red and white flag painted on rocks. Unlike the rest of the loop, this section has loose scree and uneven boulders underfoot and hiking poles definitely make things easier.

views across the mondeval valley to monte pelmo on the croda da lago hike
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croda da lago hike views
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Other than the tricky section around Forcella de Formin, the paths are well maintained with no technically challenging areas. No via ferrata equipment is required. At either end of the hiking season it’s common to find snow and ice up here, so watch your step on the steeper sections and wear good hiking boots.

A Step by Step Guide to the Croda da Lago hike

PONTE DE RU CURTO TO CASON DE FORMIN | 1.7km – 45min

The route starts at the side of the road at Ponte de Ru Curto where you’ll easily locate the trailhead for path 437, signposted for Rifugio Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri. Head downhill and across the wooden bridge over Ru Curto stream and then start heading gently uphill. After about 1km you’ll start climbing uphill beside Ru Formin, a lovely river with a series of waterfalls Cross the wooden bridge before arriving at the pasture and wooden hut of Cason de Formin.

views from rifugio croda da lago across to the nearby mountains with bright orange larch trees in the foreground
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CASON DE FORMIN TO VAL NEGRA VIEWPOINT | 0.7km – 30min

The crossroads at Cason de Formin is where you make the choice regarding which direction to take – since I was staying overnight at the rifugio and tackling this part of the hike in the afternoon I went straight ahead on path 434 and headed uphill. From here, there’s a steep series of switchbacks which was hell on my legs having already done the Lago di Sorapis hike earlier in the day.

the larch forest on the way to val negra viewpoint
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mountains shrouded with cloud
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Eventually, you’ll reach the summit and a short 2-minute detour to the left takes you out onto the Val Negra viewpoint. From here there are incredible views across to Cinque Torri and Cortina. Take a few minutes to catch your breath before returning to the path.

VAL NEGRA VIEWPOINT TO RIFUGIO CRODA DA LAGO | 1.6km – 45min

This is the easiest section of the hike, taking you through a gate (be sure to close it behind yourself) and across cow pasture until you reach the north end of Lago di Federa. If you’re not in a hurry then I recommend taking a detour around the west side of the lake since this is where the best views are to be found. It’ll add about 10 minutes to your hike.

lago di federa at dawn
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Finally, head for the deck at Rifugio Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri and spend some time just taking in all the incredible scenery around you. And maybe a coffee. And some cake. I don’t judge. The rifugio is a fantastic place to stay overnight for sunrise at the lake too.

the dining room at rifugio croda da lago
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the view from the window at rifugio croda da lago
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a hearty pasta dinner at rifugio croda da lago
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You could turn around here, making for a much shorter day and easier hike, but you’d be missing some of the most impressive scenery in the area.

RIFUGIO CRODA DA LAGO TO FORCELLA AMBRIZZOLA | 2.1km – 50min

Continue on path 434 along a gentle uphill towards the peak of Beco de Mezodi and the Forcella Ambrizzola. Be sure to turn around to look back at the rifugio and lake nestled amongst the larch forest. It’s staggeringly beautiful. If you’ve decided to bring a picnic then the slopes under Beco de Mezodi are a lovely place to stop and refuel.

rifugio croda da lago and lago di federa seen from forcella ambrizzola
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FORCELLA AMBRIZZOLA TO FORCELLA DE FORMIN | 1.6km – 1h

Turn right onto path 436 downhill and then take path 435 towards Forcella de Formin. At 2462m this is the highest part of the hike and also the toughest part of the day, with a pretty relentless uphill section to reach the top. The views once you reach the saddle are incredible though.

photographing the autumn colour on the croda da lago hike
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views over the mondeval valley
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Take a few minutes to marvel at the Modeval valley (home of the Mondeval man) spread out before you and the distant peaks of Monte Pelmo. Although the toughest uphill is done, you’ve still got quite a bit of hiking ahead.

FORCELLA DE FORMIN TO PONTE DE RU CURTO | 4.4km – 1h30mins

The loose scree underfoot and the boulder field that comes with this descent don’t make for the easiest downhill in the road. I took this section pretty slowly since it was hard to pick out the markers along the route.

Hiking poles would really have helped with this section, but mine had stubbornly fused collapsed and nothing I did could get them to unscre.

the sauna at rifugio croda da lago
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distant mountains with a hiker on a ridgeline
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flowers in the sunshine on the croda da lago hike
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Eventually, you’ll reach the valley and reenter the larch forest. This is an easy downhill section back to the crossroads at Cason de Formin where you’ll turn left onto path 437 and back to the starting point at Ponte de Ru Curto.

Alternative route to the Croda da Lago hike from Cortina

If you’re staying in Cortina and want to tackle this hike without driving then it’s totally possible to start in Cortina. It’s about 9km from Cortina to Rifugio Croda da Lago, which is where you’ll join the route. From here you could do the circuit in its entirety, although that would make for a pretty long day.

As an alternative, stay overnight at the rifugio and then do the circuit and hike back to Cortina the following day, since it’s all downhill. If you’re here during the peak summer season then you could also get the bus back to Cortina from Ponte de Ru Curto.

TRAILHEAD | Cortina
DISTANCE | 9 km
TIME | 2.5-3 hours
ELEVATION | 950m ascent, 100m descent
DIFFICULTY | moderate

From Cortina you’ll go via Campo di Sotto and take path 432 past Lago Pianoze. Go through the Gores de Federa before tackling the uphill to Malga Federa. Once here, it’s a short hike to Rifugio Croda da Lago and the circuit described above.

Croda da Lago hiking map

The map below outlines the main route in addition to some great photo spots that you should definitely try to get to.

To save this map to your own account, just click on the little star next to the title.

When is the best time to hike the Croda da Lago

The best time of year to hike the Croda da Lago

In my opinion, this hike is best done in late October when the autumn colour is at its finest. Unlike many rifugios in the Dolomites, Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri is usually open until the first weekend of November, making this a perfect overnight option too. If you can’t make it at this time then the second half of July or early September onwards are good options.

TIP | Lago di Federa in autumn is something truly special and you should aim to do this hike in late October for peak colours

As a general rule, the hiking season in the Dolomites runs from late May to early October. Specific hikes should take into account the weather conditions and elevation of the walks you want to undertake. The best weather is usually in August, but it’s also the busiest month. I’d still do this hike, but it won’t be quite as magical.

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Be aware that snow can arrive unexpectedly in October, making this a very different scene. Equally, if the summer arrives late then the larch may not turn until later in the month. Nature is, as always, unpredictable!

The best time of day to hike the Croda da Lago

If you’re here in autumn then you absolutely, 100%, can’t stress it enough, have to get to Lago di Federa for sunrise. Whether you do the approximately 2-hour hike pre-dawn or stay at the rifugio the night before (highly recommended), just make it happen. Watching the larch go from muted orange to an explosion of liquid gold was probably the highlight of my time in the region.

The full loop is also best tackled earlier in the day, since the afternoon tends to bring any bad weather that’s expected. This also isn’t a hike that you want to be doing in the dark since some areas are challenging even in the clear light of day.

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How to get to the Croda da Lago Trailhead at Ponte de Ru Curto

BY CAR

Undoubtedly the easiest way to get around in the Dolomites is in your own car, especially if you’ve got a lot of off-the-beaten-path hikes planned. The closest towns to the trailhead are Cortina d’Ampezzo and Dobbiaco / Toblach.

From Cortina | about 20 minutes on the SR48 to Pocol and then the SP638

From Dobbiaco | about 35 minutes on the SS51 to Cortina, then as above

Parking | There is free parking at the roadside at Ponte de Ru Curto, but this does fill up early, especially in high season. You’ll want to arrive before 8am to guarantee a spot. Alternatively, if you’re staying at the rifugio overnight, places become available from mid-afternoon.

BY BUS

From Cortina | From mid-June to mid-September, you can take the 30/4 Dolomiti bus to the trailhead at stop Pian del Pantan.

From Dobbiaco | Bus 445 goes to Cortina 4 times daily. Check times here.

Where to eat and stay for the Croda da Lago hike

The best option for sunrise is to stay at Rifugio Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri. Not only does this allow you to enjoy sunrise at the lake, but also you can split the hike into more manageable sections if you’re not keen to do the whole thing in a day. The rifugio is open all day to visitors for food and drink, so you can have a meal here even if you’re not staying. There are also public toilets available at the hut.

Another option very close to the rifugio is Malga Federa. They’re open for lunch and dinner, although recommendations are required. They also have overnight accommodation.

If you’re not so bothered about photography then I recommend staying either in Cortina d’Ampezzo or, at a push, Dobbiaco.

BOOKING YOUR TRIP | If you book your trip via my links I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps keep me on the road. Thanks for your support – Cat.

Hotel prices assume a July stay and will vary with the season.

RIFUGIOS

CRODA DA LAGO
Rifugio Croda da Lago / G. Palmieri | Open from early June to early November, the rifugio has the best location possible and the views from the rooms are stunning. With 50 beds, booking is advised and you need to arrive before 6pm. €33/person per night with €10 buffet breakfast and dinner a la carte. Showers cost an extra €5 and the sauna €20 (includes towel and shower token). Book here.

CRODA DA LAGO
Malga Federa | Open from early June to early September and again from early December to March. This small hut has 4 double rooms and 1 quad, all with private bathroom. Booking is essential. €60/person per night with breakfast included and dinner a la carte. Book here.

LUXURY

CORTINA
Cristallo, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa | The first 5* luxury hotel in the Dolomites, this is the place to go if you really want to spoil yourself. There’s a free shuttle to the centre of town, but why would you want to leave the spa? There’s an excellent breakfast included. From €320/night. Check availability here.

CORTINA
Camina Suite & Spa | This family-run hotel is within easy walking distance to the town centre and has amazing spa facilities. The breakfast is wonderful and the views amazing. From €210/night. Check availability here.

DOBBIACO
Natura Boutique Chalet Wellness SPA | With an onsite spa, beautiful light and modern rooms and an amazing breakfast, this lovely hotel in the woods is hard to beat. Private parking is available onsite. From €210/night. Check availability here.

MID-RANGE

CORTINA
B&B Hotel Passo Tre Croci Cortina | Great value for money with both breakfast and dinner included, modern rooms and free onsite parking, this is one of the best options in the area. From €110/night. Check availability here.

DOBBIACO
Hotel Rosengarten | The rooms are beautiful here and the food is fantastic. You can get a free shuttle bus from the train station if you’re arriving without a car. It’s family-run and you actually do get to feel like part of the family when you stay here. From €110/night. Check availability here.

BUDGET

DOBBIACO
Camping Toblacher See | Right on the shores of the lake, this campsite has wonderful modern facilities and is a fantastic option if you’re in a van or camping. The sites are flat and all located a stone’s throw from the lake. The onsite restaurant serves great food and pizza. If you want to splash out you can also check out their Skyview Chalets. From €20/night. Check availability here.

CORTINA
Camping Rocchetta | Located along the hiking route from Cortina to Croda da Lago, this is a good option if you’re planning to hike up to the rifugio for an overnight stay. Open from early June to late September, not only can you stay here in a tent or your camper, but they also have cabin rooms. From €20/night. Check availability here.

Responsible hiking in the Dolomites

With so many visitors every year, and the temptation of Instagram never far away, it’s sadly rather common to see bad behaviour on the trails. Always follow the signs and stay on the trails. Areas that are roped off and/or restricted are usually that way for a really good reason. A barrier isn’t an invitation for you to see how inventive you can be at getting over it.

If you’re planning on flying your drone, please be respectful of other people and bear in mind that drones are viewed as a nuisance by many. If you know of any specific rules relating to droning in the Dolomites region then please let me know.

Make sure that you bring your reusable water bottle and don’t leave your litter behind for others to clean up! I recommend visiting outside of the peak season since overtourism is definitely an issue here. Finally, although some of the prices can seem eye-wateringly high, it’s important to support local when you travel so try to make sure that you’re staying, shopping and eating at local businesses.

WHAT TO TAKE ON YOUR CRODA DA LAGO HIKE

1 | There are some challenging up and downhill sections on the hike, so you should wear hiking boots. The extra ankle support is invaluable. I wear (and love) the Salomon Women’s X Ultra 3. I’ve recently started using hiking poles, and love them for the downhill assistance. I recommend a lightweight option like these Black Diamonds. You can easily strap them to your daypack or backpack when not in use.

READ THIS | My Hiking Gear Guide

2 | Sun protection is vital. Any hiking in the mountains in summer also requires bringing sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat. Nobody wants that UV damage in their lives. Waterproof outer layers are also a really good idea in the mountains. Even if it doesn’t actually rain, these peaks are high enough that clouds can cover them quickly and you’ll get very damp very fast. I have this waterproof shell jacket and these trousers and they’ve saved me from a soaking more than once.

3 | Although most of you will use online maps such as google or maps.me, there’s nothing like an old school paper map. Tabacco Maps are arguably the best topographic maps in the Dolomites. They are scaled 1:25000 and cover the whole north-eastern part of Italy. You can buy the maps here. If you’re relying on your mobile phone then bring a charging cable and powerbank and make sure you’ve downloaded everything before you leave wifi behind.

4 | You’re definitely going to want to bring a camera to capture the amazing views up here, but it’s up to you whether that takes the form of your phone or your main camera. I’m that person who hauls all my gear plus a tripod up the mountain, but you might be more restrained! If you only want to bring a single lens then I’d recommend a 24-70mm for this hike.

READ THIS | What’s in My Camera Bag

HOW TO GET TO THE DOLOMITES

The Dolomites are located in northeastern Italy, but there’s no “Dolomites” airport or station. There are, however, plenty of good options for reaching the area from various nearby hubs. Croda da Lago is located towards the eastern part of the Dolomites.

The closest transport hubs to Croda da Lago are Cortina or Dobbiaco.

DISTANCE TO THE EASTERN DOLOMITES FROM MAJOR AIRPORT HUBS


ITALY | Venice Marco Polo
170km | 2h 30min

ITALY | Milan Malpensa
440km | 4h 30min

ITALY | Verona
275km | 3h

GERMANY | Munich
350km | 4h

AUSTRIA | Innsbruck
160km | 2h 20min

BY CAR

Undoubtedly the easiest way to get from the airport to the Dolomites is by hiring a car. Since the Dolomites is technically an autonomous region in Italy, there’s less hassle if you hire a car in Italy as you don’t have to worry about crossing borders. I recommend checking out AutoEurope for the best car deals and Insurance4carhire to cover excess insurance.

BY BUS

From the airports you can take either the AltoAdigeBus which has thousands of destinations throughout South Tyrol or the Flixbus to Cortina where you can transfer to a local bus service.

BY TRAIN

Honestly, with the number of train changes and cost, this is unlikely to be a convenient way to get to your destination. There are, however, stations in both Cortina and Dobbiaco if you want to investigate further. I recommend using Omio to check your options.

Hopefully, you’ve now got all the information you need to plan your own epic Croda da Lago hike. Let me know if you have any questions or tips for your fellow readers in the comments!

Planning A Trip To the Dolomites?

With world-class hiking in summer, incredible skiing in winter, and a perfect blend of Italian and Austrian culture, the Dolomites is one of my favourite European destinations. Here are more posts to help you plan your own trip to this wonderful part of the Alps.

PLANNING A TRIP TO ITALY | TIPS FOR TRAVELERS TO ITALY

THINGS TO DO | A COMPLETE GUIDE TO VISITING LAGO DI BRAIES, BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN THE DOLOMITES (COMING SOON), VISITING CADINI DI MISURINA VIEWPOINT and A COMPLETE GUIDE TO VISITING ALPE DI SIUSI

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO | A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE DOLOMITES (COMING SOON)

DOLOMITES DAY HIKES | You might want to check out the BEST DAY HIKES IN THE DOLOMITES

DOLOMITES HIKES | A COMPLETE GUIDE TO HIKING SECEDA, HIKING TO TURQUOISE LAGO DI SORAPIS and A COMPLETE GUIDE TO HIKING TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO

TRAVEL INSURANCE | Don’t go anywhere without it! I use and recommend Safety Wing.

THOUGHTFUL TRAVEL | No matter where you go, try to always be aware of the fact that travel impacts the place and people that live there. Being a thoughtful traveller is more important than ever. Here are my top tips to make your trip a mindful one.

PHOTOGRAPHY | Love my photos and want to know how to take better shots on your own trips? Then my photography guide is for you. Here’s all the photography gear I use too. Want to buy one of my images? Head to the Print Store.

ESSENTIAL GEAR | You’ll find my travel essentials here, and a complete guide to all my hiking gear here.

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