Hiking the Gran Cir Via Ferrata had been on my bucket list for a really long time. It’s one of those hikes in the Dolomites that not everybody knows of yet and where you’ll see some of the most insane views!
The first time that I wanted to do this hike was during our Fall road trip through the Dolomites from last year. Unfortunately that year snow had arrived very early in the Italian Alps, and pretty much everywhere else in Europe. The start of the hiking trail was already covered underneath a thick layer of white powder so we decided that it wouldn’t be the best idea to undertake this hike now.
Fast forward to this year and even though that I arrived in Val Gardena two weeks later than last year there wasn’t any snow in sight!
In this guide you’ll find all of the details that you’ll need to undertake this hike yourself. Including a ton of photos that I took during the hike, either with my camera or some quick phone snaps. And of course you’ll also find a retelling of my personal experience on this hike!
Gran Cir Via Ferrata – The Best Hike On The Passo Gardena In The Dolomites
The Gran Cir is one of the most majestic mountains in the Dolomites and is located right above the Passo Gardena. When you’re standing right in front of it you might wonder: How the hell am I supposed to climb this thing? Its steep cliffs can look very daunting but you actually don’t need to be an expert climber to conquer this mountain.
A secured track leads all the way to the top at 2592 m altitude. That’s why this hike in particular is a great way to see if you like doing a via ferrata.
A via ferrata is a protected climbing route, built with a steel cable secured to the rock, metal steps, ladders, suspension bridges and zip wires. They are a great and thrilling way to explore the mountains and often require you to wear a special via ferrata kit.
🗺 How to reach the Gran Cir Hiking Trail
The Gran Cir Hiking Trail starts at the top of the Passo Gardena. If you’re coming from Val Gardena this means you’ll drive on the SS242 and then switch to the SS243 which will take you up the beautiful Passo Gardena.
The parking lot for the Gran Cir via ferrata is located next to rifugio Frara. It’s a gated parking lot and especially during high season you’ll have to pay for parking. When I was there at the end of October the railing was open all day and evening so parking was free.
Once you’ve parked your car you need to cross the street where you’ll see the first hiking trail markers. There isn’t one yet for Gran Cir but at first you need to follow into the directions of the Jimmy Hütte.
Once you’ve reached this beautiful mountain hut you need to go up next to it on the left side and you’ll end on a gravel hiking trail which leads around the mountain. Keep on walking to the left and after a couple of minutes you’ll see the first arrow for Gran Cir!
🕰 When to hike the Gran Cir Via Ferrata
The best season to hike the Gran Cir via ferrata is either the Summer season or during the months of September and October. It highly depends on the amount of snowfall and like I said before snow can come pretty early in the Italian Alps.
So if you’re planning on doing this hike in October I would only attempt it if the ground isn’t covered yet in snow. Due to the nature of this hiking trail it could get very slippery and dangerous.
Now for the time of day. I highly recommend doing this hike for sunrise! It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had so far in the Dolomites. And that’s coming from someone who visited these stunning mountains 4 times already!
🏨 Where to stay when hiking the Gran Cir
The area of Val Gardena is the most ideal place to stay when hiking the Gran Cir via ferrata. This way you don’t have to drive more than 30 minutes which is very convenient. ifyou want to do this hike in the very early morning like I did.
Below I’ve listed my favorite hotels in the area and also a map where you. canhave a look at other options if you wish.
- Boutique Hotel Nives – For an unforgettable stay right next to the Passo Gardena
- Alpin Garden Luxury Maison – A luxurious adults only hotel
- Hotel Scherlin – A lovely hotel with an even better view over the Passo Gardena
Gran Cir Via Ferrata Hiking Details
Hiking Distance – 4.5km (2.8 miles)
Elevation – 474m
Route Type – Out & Back
Duration – 3 hours
Level – Moderate to Hard. If you’ve already done a couple of hikes in the Dolomites then you’ll already by familiar with the typical loose gravel. It’s this form of underground which makes the hike a lot more strenuous. If you have trekking poles I really advise you to bring them with you!
Location – Passo Gardena
Starting Point – rifugio Frara parking lot
My Experience on the Gran Cir Via Ferrata
After driving all the way from Belgium to Val Gardena the day before I still found the energy to put an alarm for 4am and since it would be clear skies that morning I decided to hike up the Gran Cir Via Ferrata for sunrise.
I stayed at Hotel Scherlin and from there it was a 30 minute drive through Val Gardena and up the Passo Gardena to reach the parking lot of rifugio Frara. I had already been there the day before during sunset to scour the place so I wouldn’t have to search the start of the hiking trail in the dark.
I parked my car, put on my head lamp, stupidly decided not to bring my trekking poles, put on my 13kilo weighing camera bag and I was ready to go!
This all sounds now as if I was very enthousiastic at the moment but to be completely honest I was very nervous. This was the very first time that I did a solo hike in complete darkness and well I didn’t know if I would be able to do it or what it would be like.
I started by crossing the road and following the first signs that would lead me to the Jimmy Hütte. My headlight showed me the way and when I looked up I could see the mountain peaks already a little against the dark night sky.
After 20 minutes I reached the Jimmy Hütte but I couldn’t immediately figure out where to go next. Luckily there were a few locals on the trail as well and they showed me where to go. So if you’re standing on the left side of the mountain hut you’ll see a small hill with some gravel in between. You have to hike up this small hill and then you’ll end up on the main hiking trail.
From here I had to go to the left side of the mountain and after a while I found a trail sign which said Gran Cir.
Now, this is where things started to get interesting and where I really started to regret bringing all of my camera gear…
It’s a pretty steep and strenuous climb to the tip and with every single step I was cursing at myself for leaving my trekking poles in the car!
There were a lot of switchbacks and there was also some climbing involved in some parts but my legs felt like actual mush. It also didn’t help that I hadn’t eaten anything yet and that I had driven 12 hours the previous day. I could feel my body saying: eum… what the hell do you think you are trying to do? We’re tired! We want to sleep. Give us a freaking break!
But oh well, no rest for the wicked…
I made my way up the mountain at a very very veeeery slow pace. So slow that people who had left way later than me catched up witch me and asked me if I was okay.
Well all good here, just extremely tired haha.
After what felt like an endless amount of scrambling up the mountain I finally reached the via ferrata part of the hike.
It’s a steel cable mounted into the rock surface. This way you can hold onto it while going through the most exposed sections of this hike. It only lasts a few meters and in my personal opinion you don’t need any professional via ferrate equipment such as a helmet or a harness. Of course if you would feel more comfortable wearing one you should of course just listen to your instinct. One thing I do recommend is wearing gloves. These cables can feel very cold and be a bit slippery, especially in the early morning!
I had never done a via ferrata before and for me this one was pretty okay to do.
After this part it’s one last steep climb to reach the top but right before I found myself a nice viewing spot which was honestly perfect to also put my tripod and take photos. So I decided pretty fast that this would be my final spot and I didn’t hike all to way up to reach the cross.
The sky was already showing off with insane shades of pink, orange and purple and well I also didn’t want to risk missing the sunrise…
In the end I was very happy with my decision and I had this beautiful place all to myself during the next hour.
Watching a sunrise in the Dolomites on top of a mountain truly is a bucket list experience that you should have at least once in your life!
After enjoying this stunning spectacle I made my way back down to the parking lot. Again, if you bring trekking poles with you it’s a lot easier to keep your balance when hiking down on loose gravel!
After 1 hour I reached the parking lot at the foot of the mountain and I was totally ready to devour breakfast at hotel Scherlin!
🥾 Essential Tips for hiking the Gran Cir Via Ferrata
- Bring a decent pair of trekking poles with you! A lot of hiking trails in the Dolomites come with loose gravel and these will help you keep your balance. It’s also a lot less strenuous on your knees if you’re using trekking poles. I use the LEKI Anti Shock Trekking Poles and they’ve gotten me through some intense hikes in Norway, Iceland and Albania!
- Wear proper hiking shoes! I swear by my Danner Mountain Light boots to get me through all of my hiking adventures.
- Wear gloves! Like I previously mentioned the steel cables can become very cold and slippery. You’ll be a lot more comfortable holding onto the cables this way. I really like to wear special camera gloves, this way I can even keep them on while taking photos or using my phone along the way.
- Bring a head lamp! Especially if you plan to do this hike for sunrise you’ll need it to light your way! I’ve been using this one from Petzl now during my last trip and highly recommend it.
- Make sure to bring enough water with you cause you’ll need it!
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
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