bicycle touring the dolomites
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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.

bicycle touring the dolomites
Riding into a pretty mountain town in Italy.

Route

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Overview of our route across northern Italy.

You can download the GPX track for our route through Italy here.

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 München-Venezia route.

bicycle touring the dolomites
Cycling through Burgusio with the Abbey of Monte Maria in the background (built in the 12th century).
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Bunker with a view.
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Cool castle built on top of a cliff. It seems like there are so many castles that some are just left to fall into disarray.
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Cycling through a tunnel on the bike path.

München-Venezia Route

The München-Venezia (MV) cycling route was a great way to get into the heart of the Dolomites, and most of the time we were on designated bike paths or low-traffic roads.

bicycle touring the dolomites
We stopped for a pizza and pasta dinner because we were tired of cooking. Had to find a campsite in the dark but the views on the bike path were great!

We took a detour to visit Lago di Braies, where we hid our bikes in the woods so that we could hike up to a nearby pass. The lake itself is very popular, but we only saw a handful of groups on the strenuous hike up to the pass. Getting up close to the mountain scenery was a huge highlight, and we saw some ibex grazing on the sparse vegetation of the high alpine.

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Lago di Braies, the starting point for our hike.
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Hiking up to the pass with Lago di Braies down below.
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Rocky section with chains and some minor scrambling.
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Ibex grazing in the alpine.
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Taking a break on the top of the pass. Very aggressive crows tried to get our snacks.
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More mountains views from our hike.

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.

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Awesome bike path on the way into Cortina d’Ampezzo.
bicycle touring the dolomites
View of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo from the bike path.
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Riding out of Cortina d’Ampezzo at sunset.
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Another shot of Cortina d’Ampezzo.

We inadvertently made a heart-shaped loop around a stunning group of mountains by connecting the MV route and the Auronzo-Misurina bike path, which required a short stretch of semi-busy road to link the two.

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.

bicycle touring the dolomites
The calm before the storm.
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Our campsite the morning after the storm. Picnic shelter in the background.
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Rain cleared up and we got more wonderful views!

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.

bicycle touring the dolomites
Cranking up a steep section on the AM bike path.

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.

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Another view of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
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Sunset in San Candido.
Innichen Abbey in San Candido
Innichen Abbey in San Candido.

Camping

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.

wild camping europe
I think this might be just over the border in Austria, but we camped behind some trees on the bike path and used this table for cooking.

Bicycle Touring the Dolomites Video

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