Find out if you can do free wild camping in the Dolomites and other territories of Italy. (Spoiler: it is prohibited, but you can still do it.)
Basics of the Free Wild Camping in the Dolomites and Italy
— In other parts of the world — for example, in my native Karelia — free wild camping is a popular outdoor activity — a way to spend a day, a weekend, or an entire holiday in the wild nature. It’s literally means that you can just go to any forest and put a tent anywhere and for any period of time you want. In theory, you can live in the wood for months.
In the Dolomites and the rest of Italy — it’s not so. Free wild camping is much less popular here than other types of accommodation in the nature. There are three main reasons for this:
- There are many types of accommodation for overnight staying in natural areas with more comfortable conditions: hotels, mountain huts (rifugios) and bivouac (bivaccos), farms…
- Hiking in the mountains is hard. A tent, sleeping bag and other equipment significantly weighs the backpack. To go with such a backpack on the plain you can up to 20-30 km a day. But not in the mountains. At least, if you didn’t prepared.
- Officially, tents can be put only in specially designated places — camping sites. In Italy, they usually called “Area Camper e Pic-nic” or similar.
There are many campsites in the Dolomites and Italy: both in the villages and at the foot of the mountains like, for example, camping Malga Ciapella, in front of the highest mountain in the Dolomites Marmolada, 3342 m. Overnight camping costs from 10 to 30 euros per place (depending on whether you live in your own tent or in a local one).
The location of the campsites can be found on the Eurocampings.eu, and other websites.
Free Wild Camping Laws in the Dolomites and Other Italian Nature Sights
The situation is like this…
At the national level in Italy, there are no rules that regulate overnight stays in tents. There is only a document with recommendations for the regions on such regulation. It is called very complicated and you would hardly want to read it — “Conferral of Administrative Functions and Tasks of the State on the Regions and Local Authorities in the Implementation of Chapter I of Law # 59 of 15th March 1997“.
So the rules for overnight stays in tents (wild camping in Italy) regulated only at the local level: in regions, provinces, communes and individual natural areas, like in camping in the National Park of Belluno Dolomites. The rules differ from the place — or not regulated at all, if a region or territory has not yet invented these same rules.
In my home region Veneto there is an article #12 of Regional Law #40 of 1984, which tells about the absolute prohibition of camping outside the equipped areas. And in the neighboring Trentino — Alto-Adige/Sudtirol there is the same ban on camping in tents outside of places intended to accommodate tourists.
In Italy, however, there is a clear general definition of free wild camping — it’s camping in a tent for over 48 hours in one place.
Free Wild Camping Rules in the Dolomites and Other Territories of Italy
What does the above mean? You can camp almost everywhere if you don’t see a clear prohibition sign, that tents can’t be set up, in every particular place you are hiking. Or you haven’t read it on the region’s website. In some regions you are asked to notify the city hall in advance, but who will do it?
So it’s possible to set up a tent for a shorter period and on places other than special campsites. And even in those places where it is forbidden to set up tents, in the mountains, you can always do it in case of urgent need from sunset until dawn, especially if you are caught by bad weather on the way. It’s an unspoken general rule.
Free camping is also allowed in Trentino “in the case of intended for occasional and free hospitality granted by the owner of the area located in close proximity to his house”.
So it is also possible to set up a tent in the private territory in agreement with the owner and for a period as you agree. It can be more than two days.
Conclusion: whether it’s legal or not, people do wild camping in tents on mountain peaks, passes, or valleys.
A Manual for Free Wild Camping in the Dolomites and Italy
- Camp right before sunset, leave at dawn, so as not to accidentally meet a park inspector. However, I have never seen such an inspector anywhere during 7 years of hiking in the Dolomites.
- Camp in small untouristic places, but not open viewing areas and popular sights.
- Stay in one place not longer than for two days.
- Write to the park or a nearest town in advance and find out the restrictions so as not to get a fine.
- Ask the owner of a private area, if you want to put the tent on his land. Perhaps he will not mind about it, and vice-versa will be happy to have a chance to communicate with you.
- Take all camping equipment and garbage with you. Don’t leave anything in the nature. Be careful of nature and local people in all and other possible ways.
Cover photo: creative hiking in Canali valley in Pale di San Martino in September 2018 © Ivan Kuznetsov.
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