Pros and cons
Vegas, Yosemite, eastside Sierra, Rodellar — people might argue over their favorite venue, but for my tastes, you can’t beat the Dolomites. There’s a reason UNESCO made the Dolomites an official World Heritage site. With some of the most picturesque scenery the world has to offer — from the pinnacles, spires, looming towers and limestone walls that define the area — there is no shortage is great climbing spots to be had, whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned climber looking for your next big challenge. I love the Dolomites and almost everything about them. I’m fairly certain that after experiencing what this place has to offer, you will too!
Where are the Dolomites?
The Dolomites lay against Austria, in Italy’s northeast corner. The easiest airports to access the towering limestone towers are Innsbruck or Venice, though Milan and Munich are workable, too. For US climbers, a six-hour drive doesn’t disqualify a crag, so keep the Dolomites in mind if you find yourself in Chamonix, almost anywhere in Switzerland, or in Austria.
“From the airport, you can be on rocks in a matter of a few hours, and that’s with a double espresso fuel up in Cortina.”
Much of the allure of the Dolomites comes from the intersection of cultures. South Tyrol, Ladin, and Italian communities all crash into each other here, and despite violent and sometimes contentious pasts, everybody gets along pretty well now. You might see a kid exiting a church service dressed in traditional Sudtirol clothing, while purely Italian gents sit across the street arguing over the latest soccer match.
The Dolomites sit a bit lower than the western Alps around Chamonix and you might have better, milder weather here — though it’s not guaranteed! Do your homework, and if the Dolomites threaten with snow, you can be in Arco, Croatia, or even Finale within hours.
I say to friends all the time, if I could pass a month every summer in the Dolomites, I would. If the weather and your ropemate cooperate, then make a week or two of it and commit to the goodness around Cortina, Bolzano, and Corvara.
“My recommendation is to pick one or two spots and focus. If you try to hit everything, you’re going to pass the week in the car.”
For lodging, try an Airbnb in Cortina if you want the full-on busy, mountain-town feel. Cortina hosted Italy’s first Winter Olympics in 1956 and they just won the 2026 Games. Italians love a festival, so heads up. A nice home-base in a town like Cortina (or Corvara or Ortisei or, if you want a quieter spot, Alleghe) gives you the option to do some laundry, walk to dinner, and take in more of the culture. If you’re looking for refuge though, consider hiking (or taking a chairlift) to a comfortable spot in the hills.
Rifugio Scoiattoli, on the Falzarego Pass, connecting Cortina to Alleghe, makes their own homemade pasta and tiramisu. You’re 150m from 1-3 pitch routes and you have a chairlift for the approach. This is merely one location; there are dozens of rifugi sprinkled throughout the region.
Gear and guidebooks for climbing the Dolomites
You’ll need a guidebook or two for this area. This relatively newer one, Rockfax The Dolomites: Rock Climbs and Via Ferrata is fat, heavy, fairly comprehensive, and will get you through a lifetime of climbing there — all-in-all, a great resource.
Many of the classics have fixed anchors and plenty of fixed gear, but you’ll need slings (or tech cord slings) for threading pockets, Tricams (they tend to fit in weird limestone placements, so if you like ‘em, bring ‘em), nuts, and yes, even some cams.
Unless you are really trying to get out there, you won’t need bivy gear.
Getting around the Dolomites
A car makes a ton of sense in the Dolomites, because while bus and train services exist, schedules often limit your approaches and the infrequency of them makes them impractical. Grab a car when you arrive at your airport; the larger towns have rental car agencies, too. You’ll thank yourself.
The list of places to climb in the Dolomites is endless
Forget me listing classics. The list would crash your computer and half the fun is finding your own favorites. Seriously, I’m not being lazy and shirking work here. The Dolomites have thousands of routes, from cutting-edge sport climbs to old-school horror fests to cruiser classics. But, since you’re probably looking for me to list at least a few spots to get you started, here are some worth checking out:
Looking for twenty-plus pitches of 5.7? Check. That’d be the Pordoi.
Searching for runout test-pieces? No sweat, take a look at Heinz Mariacher’s Tempi Moderni on the south face of the Marmolada. One of the most famous climbs in the Dolomites — with 28 pitches over the nearly 900 meter climb — this route is committing and spooky (even I’m scared of it!).
Mariakante on the southside of Sass Pordoi is awesome and cruisy, with fixed anchors, and you end at the sundeck. Ten minutes later and you’re eating a pizza!
Epically scenic, cragging at Cinque Torri (Five Towers) offers some hard routes as well as some easy routes, making it good for both advanced and beginner climbers. And, you’re 150 meters from the Rifugio Scoiattoli, so when you’re done for the day, you can stop in for homemade pasta and tiramisu!
With a longer approach and fewer climbers, the Andrich route on the Torre Venezia , is a great spot to crack climbing in the Dolomites.
The Dolomites via ferrata
In the Dolomites dialect, “via ferrata” means “iron path,” referring to the iron cables, steps and ladders that make travel through these otherwise impenetrable mountains possible. These original iron way routes helped soldiers cross rock formations during World War I, when Italy fought against the Austro-Hungarian empire in the mountains. My grandfather fought there, during the infamous battles on the Isonzo River and the epic Battle of the Piave, when Austria lost the war.
The remnants of those routes exist today, safely managed by guides and offering awesome, vertical hiking opportunities for a rain or rest day, or for non-climbers. Don’t pooh-pooh these things; they cover some unbelievable terrain! Plan on doing at least one, just for the experience.
What to do on rain days
If your climbing plans get rained out, there’s still plenty to see and do. Italy hosts an endless number of art galleries and museums. If you find yourself watching the rain splatter the window anywhere near Bolzano, consider visiting the Ötzi Museum. Hikers found old Ötzi, or the “Ice Man,” melting out of a glacier on the border with Austria. Turns out he’s a well preserved Copper Age alpine hunter, and the museum details the anthropological, ethnographic, and archaeological significance of the find.
Also worth checking out is Reinhold Messner’s Messner Mountain Museum, a network of six museums around Bolzano — each in its own stunning location — dedicated to the mountains and mountain culture of the area. Each museum in this unique project houses interesting local and international alpine information and art pieces.
Do you need a mountain guide in the Dolomites?
An experienced mountain guide will help you find the best route for your goals, make the climbing more enjoyable, and keep you safer, too. Consider a few days of climbing on your own and then perhaps booking a guide to tackle a more obscure route or objective.
You can find UIAGM/IFMGA mountain guides in every alpine town in the region, including one of our great friends, Alberto DeGiuli in Cortina. He’s a local, speaks perfect English, and knows which huts are serving good coffee and whether or not the rock is dry. Plenty of American guides work in the region, too, often seasonally.