I went outdoors in Italy every month from March to November, but my favorite time for hiking in the Dolomites is early autumn (October-November) and late spring (May-June). There are five reasons for this, no matter of the same number of cons. (And what about cycling?)
— In the beginning, let me just remind you that in Italy it is counted according to the astronomical rather than civil calendar and lasts from June 21 to September 21, and spring — from March 21. Fall, accordingly, lasts until December 21, although in the mountains above 1000 meters winter may come earlier. 21 is the day of solstice and equinox.
Ok, let’s go.
Reason 1. It Is Just the Most Beautiful Time of a Year
— In autumn, the Dolomites have a crystal clear sky. It happens in these mountains only at this time of year — from autumn to spring. Because the cold air is cleaner and even more transparent. In spring — and especially in summer — due to high air temperature, the sky is covered with a peculiar haze and looks not deep blue, but rather pale blue. No, it is also beautiful, but compared to autumn, there is a difference. In autumn, the mountains are better to view and look clearer. It feels as if you can see every vein in the rocks as if you had sharpened it with your camera.
Around September 15th, leaves on the trees and other vegetation gradually begin to appear in all shades of yellow, orange, and red. The most intense colors are from mid-late October to December, until the leaves begin to fall due to the cold.
Even in autumn and winter the Dolomites have the most beautiful sunsets. Again, they are beautiful in summer, but now we will start to have fantastic sunsets — not yellow and orange, but pink, purple and purple! Traveling in the Dolomites in autumn, you will see why these mountains are famous all over the world. It has a special name “enrosadira”.
From here, autumn is the best time not only for hiking, but for photography.
Reason 2. Fall Weather Is More Comfortable for Hiking, Than in the Summer
In autumn, the Dolomites usually have good, comfortable weather for hiking. It is quite stable without sudden changes in temperature and humidity.
In October it is still relatively warm: during the day +15-20 degrees Celsius, at night from 5 to +10. Of course, it is 5—10 degrees colder in November, but November is not yet winter.
Especially the difference is felt with the hottest summer months when even at an altitude of 2000 to 300 meters can be +30 and more degrees during the day, and at night — +10-12. It is almost impossible to walk in such hot weather in the Dolomites in the summer. But in autumn (and spring) — it is just perfect!
In general, there are many sunny days in autumn and a few rainy days, although there may be rain. There is no snow yet, but it can fall out as well.
Read more about the winter in the article “Don’t Mess Up With the Climate, Seasons and Weather in the Dolomites, Especially if Hiking and Cycling“.
Reason 3. You Can Be Alone in the Mountains
In autumn, there are many fewer tourists in the mountains, especially if you go hiking in the Feltrino and Primero Dolomites, where there are even fewer tourists in the summer compared to the more popular regions.
Hiking through the mountains in autumn, you can easily be alone on the trail, without worrying about the fact that on the way you will meet many other people. In autumn hiking, it is even easier to go into a meditative state of mind. Hiking in general is very similar to meditation, in my opinion.
In addition, autumn (as well as spring) is a more creative time. In autumn and spring the fickle nature is more motivating to invent and comprehend your own experience, rather than just enjoy the good weather.
Reason 4. Nature in the Fall Is More Friendly and Reach
At the same time, you can often meet wild animals — namely, deer. If you see mountain goats almost guaranteed above 2000 meters, deers are more frightening and, seeing people, immediately run away. In summer, when the trails are not full of tourists, it is quite difficult to meet them.
I have seen deer in the Dolomites several times and at different times of the year, but the biggest, with huge branching horns — at the end of September, during a hike to the Ombretta Pass near Marmolada mountain, where there are usually many people. By the way, there were only three of them on the trail back then, of which no one stayed overnight in the mountains.
In autumn in the Dolomites, there are also mushrooms: white, chanterelles, and other edible ones. You can collect them if you know about mushrooms.
There are also many other vegetables and fruits, both wild and grown by people, because then the last month of the summer and the first month of the autumn is a great time of harvest.
Chestnuts, beans, grapes, and more.
Reason 5. You Can Easily Travel on a Budget
With the end of the tourist season, it becomes cheaper to travel: prices are slightly reduced with the outflow of the bulk of tourists, there may be discounts, — and so on. So you could easily travel in the Dolomites on a budget.
In the same time there are some cons of hiking in the Dolomites in October and November you should know and consider before going to the hike:
- Cable cars and mountain huts do not work. It is because spring and autumn in the Dolomites is the off-season. The official closing day is exactly September 21, although some popular rifugios are also usually open on weekends in October if the weather is good. From here, you will have to walk to all mountains and passes — which is more difficult. The lack of working rifugios is an even bigger disadvantage, as there is nowhere to spend the night in the mountains. However, there are bivaccos. Always and everywhere in the Dolomites, you can spend the night with a tent, if you do not stay in one place longer than 48 hours. Just remember that for overnight stays in a tent you need a good sleeping bag with a temperature comfortable from 0 to -10 degrees.
- It is harder to travel by public transport. And the main type of public transport in the Dolomites is buses. They have two types of schedules during the year: summer and winter (no spring and autumn). It changes twice a year: June 14 and September 14 — a week before the beginning and end of the season. In summer there are many more buses than in autumn and winter, they go more often.
- The almost complete lack of water in the mountains is another disadvantage of the summer and autumn hiking. In spring there is a lot of water because snow melts, and the mountain streams are filled with water to the maximum. In July, on the contrary, many shallow streams completely dry out, and then snow falls. When planning a hike in autumn, carefully study the map for springs, lakes, water tanks. In full-flowing streams, there is water even in summer.
- You will need to take more gear. In summer you can walk around the Dolomites in shorts, T-shirts, and light trekking sneakers. With the onset of cold weather, you change into warmer autumn clothes and shoes, and take other gear, for example, a raincoat or an umbrella. It makes the backpack heavier.
- Winter can start early. Although I said the weather is stable in autumn, the beginning of winter is harder to predict than the beginning of summer. Snow in the Dolomites melts steadily at the end of June, but it may fall in early September. For example, last year the first heavy snowfall happened already on September 9! Usually, at altitudes above 2000 meters, the snow does not melt anymore, because the nights are cold, even if it is warm during the day. Earlier, the beginning of winter means that there is actually no autumn. Fortunately, one year is just one year. If you are not lucky with the weather this season, come to the Dolomites again.
And what about cycling? With cycling the situation is different. No matter of the heat, the most comfortable time of a year for riding a bike in the Dolomites is summer. In the autumn, and especially in the spring, when the air is more cool, it is colder to ride a bike. You need to wear more cloths what is also more critical for cycling, than for hiking. 🥾
Cover photo: hiking in the Lagorai mountains in the middle of October 2018 © Ivan Kuznetsov.