Top 5 Climbs in the Dolomites
The Dolomites have always held a special place in my heart. Every year, as a kid, I used to head up there with my parents to escape the Italian Summer heat and ride my mountain bike on some of the world’s most famous passes.
Over my lifetime, the small towns have changed significantly, transitioning from a little known secret, to achieving World UNESCO site status and attracting millions of visitors each year.
Still, to this day, climbing the peaks of the Dolomites on my road bike remains something of a spiritual experience. The history of cycling was written here right after World War 2, when Italy was rising from its ashes. With no TV coverage and little glory to be found, cycle enthusiasts tuned into the radio, envisioning Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali climbing the Dolomites. And today the largest Gran Fondo in Italy, the “Maratona Dles Dolomites”, still follows the path taken by these greats including Marco Pantani who put the Dolomites in the spotlight on the famed Giro D’Italia of 1998.
When you go to the Dolomites you have the opportunity to relive the routes of the greats and breathe in some sports history. Over the last 17 years, I personally have followed that same route, famed by Pantani, as well as many more climbs that are reachable on the road bike. After years of riding the majestic Dolomites, picking a winning climb is not easy but here are my personal Top 5 Climbs in the Dolomites:
Top 5 Climbs in the Dolomites
5) Valparola Pass
This climb starts in La Villa and goes through San Cassiano, reaching the Falzarego Pass at 2105m. With a nice flat section in the middle, it will give you a chance to admire the famous “Bruna Cows” which are something of a local legend in the Dolomites and the Italian Alps in General!
4) Passo Gardena
This climb begins in the small town of Corvara and grinds to 2136m (over 7000 feet!). The Gardena is steady and not too difficult with perfect tarmac making for a very safe descent. From here you can continue and go around the spectacular “Sella Ronda”, which includes 3 more passes.
3) Passo dell Erbe
This is a much quieter and lesser known climb with a steep start that ramps over 15% bringing you to “Pikolin” which literally means “Small” in the Italian dialect found in the Dolomites. Pikolin is a tiny village with a beautiful characteristic church which serves as a reference point in your climb. Completely immersed in the forest for its entire duration, this pass will bring you to Fiemme Valley. What makes this climb so unique is a downhill mid-section which allows you to rest your legs preparing you for a tough one on the way back.
2) Passo Campolongo
This is the easiest climb and only a 5 miles long. Here the most amazing part is the view of the “Sassongher”, a large Rock over 2500m high that overlooks the towns of Corvara, Colfosco, Badia and this omnipresent impressive stone is visible on both the ascent and descent of the climb
1) Passo Pordoi
Numero Uno of my Top 5 Climbs in the Dolomites and home of some of the most spectacular views the Pordoi has been used 38 times in the Giro D’Italia although it wasn’t even paved until the 1970’s. What makes Passo Pordoi so special is the 33 “Tornanti” (switchbacks), each offering a different spectacular view of Dolomites as you make your way up the climb. At the top (it is the highest pass of the dolomites standing at 2239 m) a monument to cycling awaits you. A road bike literally cast in stone has been set here to remind every rider that reaches the top of the feat they have just accomplished.
So there you have it! These are my Top 5 Climbs in the Dolomites, not to be missed on your next trip to Italy. If you are planning a trip to Italy and the Dolomites are on your bucket list, we suggest visiting in July and August as these months historically have the best weather for riding. However, do note that with their ever increasing popularity, the Dolomites can be quiet busy in July and August, making it difficult to avoid vehicles while biking on the mountains passes.
If you are looking for quieter and safer roads and still want to enjoy a cycle vacation with much lower traffic, there are other lesser known locations in Italy where you can experience beautiful (some of which have most recently been featured on the latest Giro D’Italia). Check out our cycle tours and ride amidst mountain peaks that reach 3000m in Le Marche and Abruzzo with sacrificing your safety in the saddle!
Have you been to the Dolomites? If so we would love to hear from you! Please share and let us know your Top 5 Climbs in the Dolomites.