Bicycle Touring the Dolomites
When we were researching our route through Europe and polling our friends for suggestions, the Dolomites kept popping up on our radar. The mountains acquired a certain mystique and allure as more people told us how spectacular they were. It wasn’t a hard decision to adjust our route to include the Dolomites after traveling through the Swiss Alps.
The Dolomites are famous among road cyclists for steep, switch-backed passes that challenge the most seasoned climbers. The Giro d’Italia, an annual multi-stage bicycle race, passes through the Dolomites, and numerous smaller bike races are held in the area.
Download the GPX track of our ride across Northern Italy. NOTE: This is not a polished route and is intended for research and planning purposes only.
Via Claudia Augusta
We came into Italy on the Via Claudia Augusta cycling route. It mostly follows an ancient Roman road that connected Italy to Germany through the Alps. Our first campsite in Italy was on the actual ancient road (we think), and it was wild that we were traveling along the same route as the Romans did. We followed the VCA to Bolzano, where we connected to the EuroVelo 7 and the route.
When we were riding near Cortina d’Ampezzo, there was an Eroica cycling event happening at the same time. L’Eroica is a non-competitive cycling event in which the riders wear vintage cycling attire and ride old steel-frame road bikes. It was really entertaining to watch the cyclists go by – it looked like they were straight out of a 1980s time warp. The energy of the event was contagious. The cyclists were clearly having a blast together and they shouted encouragement to us as we gawked unabashedly at their costumes.
Auronzo-Misurina Bike Path
The recently completed Auronzo-Misurina (AM) bike path starts out with a flat ride along the gorgeous Lago di Santa Caterina. We got hit with a torrential storm right after the lake and were lucky enough to find a picnic shelter where we could cook our dinner out of the rain. The floor of the picnic shelter turned out to be a low spot and quickly became a puddle, and Andrew put his trail-building skills to work digging out a drain. We wound up camping right next to the shelter since it didn’t seem like the area got too much traffic, and rain often makes us complacent in our campsite choices.
The second part of the AM bike path is all uphill and a pretty grueling climb. The path is mainly gravel, but certain sections are so steep that the trail builders were forced to pave them, because they would be impossible otherwise. We wound up having to walk even the paved sections because they were too steep to ride with our heavy touring bikes. The views at the top, however, were incomparable.
The descent back down to the valley was amazing – we were going so fast that we didn’t get passed by very many cars. Ripping downhill with huge granite mountains on all sides and the wind roaring in our ears was joyful and freeing, and as always made us momentarily forget all the sweat and work that went into getting to the top. We completed our lollipop loop and rode through San Candido and on to Austria.
Wild camping was pretty easy throughout the mountains, and we never had any problems finding a spot. We planned to be well outside of town centers and looked for undeveloped forest to scout for campsites. Water is easy to find – every town has at least one public fountain, and sometimes there are spigots installed in random spots along the road between towns.
See our post on budget touring in Europe for more tips on wild camping and food.