A student stopped while backpacking to take in the beauty of the cloud cloaked peaks of the Dolomites in Italy.
Camera Rich Brame

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Backpacking Italy's Dolomites - Alta Via #1 - Alumni


Sep 11 - 18, 2024


8 days


18+ yrs



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One of our original and most loved alumni trips, this seven-day trek into the rugged landscape of the Italian Dolomites pairs challenging hiking with comfort and culture by lodging in "rifugios" (hostel-style alpine lodging). Join a group of NOLS grads, friends and family to experience traveling, Italian style, through one of Europe’s most legendary mountain ranges.

Photo Credit: Gus G

People have inhabited these southern limestone alps for more than a thousand years, long before this land was Italy. Taking a long walk in the mountains to summit a peak or visit an alpine lake and then return home in the evening for a delicious meal is well woven into this region’s cultural milieu.

Photo Credit: Gus G

Lodging in backcountry rifugios will give us the chance to savor excellent Italian cuisine and mix with other, mostly European travelers, in a hostel-style setting. Rifugios also help us considerably lighten our packs by removing heavy tents, food, and sleeping gear from the equation. With ~25 pound packs we can walk a little further each day and spend more time admiring stunning spires, valleys, ridges and peaks.

Photo Credit: Gus G

The trip starts and ends in the ancient, cobble-stoned city of Bolzano (capital of the Bolzano-Bozen Province: population ~100K). We will award early arrivals with an organized walking tour to nearby city sights, and a wine and cheese tasting the day before the trip starts. The following evening, a group orientation will cover the route and get us acquainted with our trip team before heading into the mountains.

Photo Credit: Travis Welch

We will spend the next week hiking through grassy meadows, conifer forests, through boulder fields, and exposed bedrock. Our route follows established trails with moderate signage. Carved primarily from limestone, the Dolomites have a plethora of sharp peaks and deep valleys to match. Our daily hikes of ~6 miles will have significant elevation change, but we’ll incorporate plenty of breaks for snacks, trail lunch, and to enjoy our surroundings.

Photo Credit: Gus G

We will visit emerald meadows that ring with the quaint sounds of cowbells speaking to the region’s agricultural traditions and current usage. Similar to the United States, open spaces are rarely limited to a single use and the people of this region know that well.

This region of Italy has rich natural and human history that has shaped the region’s unique cultural identity. German is spoken as often as Italian as the South Tyrol region was part of Austria until the close of WWI and still retains much of that cultural ancestry.

Further along our route, we will visit two WWI landmarks that remember the brutal war fought in the Dolomites’ treacherous terrain and those lost on the frontlines. We will also see the first Via Ferratas (iron rods installed in cliff faces, now popular tourist attractions) built on mountain passes during the war to avoid mines planted in the fields below and help with troop and supply movement.

Photo Credit: Giselle Sun

Most days, we can expect pleasant springtime, mountain weather. Day time temperatures hover in the mid 60s with nights in the 40s. Some days will be sunny and hot and others might bring rain, mountain weather is always fickle. At higher elevations even a little snow could even be possible.

Photo Credit: Travis Welch

Our trip will conclude with a trail pickup and shuttle back to Bolzano. After cleaning up the group will share a celebratory dinner together before parting ways the next day.

If you have the opportunity to extend your trip by a few days, Bolzano is well connected to other major cities like Verona, Milan, and more— consider staying extra days on either end of the trip to explore northern Italy.

Overall Difficulty*:

*Staying in huts means cultural interaction, bunks, cooked meals and light packs on the average 5-mile trail days- with plenty of ups and downs. The route's average elevation is ~7,200.


NOLS have many staff for this trip, but some of our most common include: (click their photo for more info)




What Our Grads Say

"The Dolomites adventure was the trip of a lifetime for us. With the perfect mix of physically challenging mileage (mitigated with light daypacks!), breathtaking scenery every day, and the luxury of hot showers, warm beds, delicious European meals and lively NOLS camaraderie at night, it was truly a unique opportunity.” 


If you have questions about enrollment or including families/guests on a particular alumni trip, then contact:

NOLS Alumni Department

Other Alumni Courses

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