Experience the Magic of the Mountains Without Having to Rough It — Here’s everything you need to know about hiking with kids in this European Mountain Range: The Dolomites, and how to pack for the Alta.
Off the Beaten Path: Stillness From a Hike
You’ve been dreaming of traveling to Europe with your family and want to get off the beaten path and explore equal parts of culture and adventure. The stillness and splendor of the Dolomite mountains of northern Italy exemplify a quiet place filled with rocky spires, green meadows, and the occasional sound of cowbells tinkling on the necks of alpine cows nibbling on wild grasses at high altitude.
You’ll be proud of your kid’s ages 11 and up for completing the 4-5 day “Northern Half” of the hut to hut hiking on the Alta Via 1 trail. There’s purpose-built into each day.
Why Hut-to-Hut Hiking? Thru-Hiking Without All the Gear
This Dolomites UNESCO world heritage site is filled with views that take your breath away around every bend. Cozy mountain huts (hütten in German or rifugio in Italian) built directly on the trail serve warm 3-course Italian dinners and provide delicious local wines so you can hike from one hut to the next hut avoiding the monotony of having to hike out and back each night to the same hotel.
A Heavy Pack Will Make You or Your Kids Want to Turn Back
While hut to hut hiking, you’ll carry your clothing and water in your backpack each day on the Alta Via 1 Dolomites trail.
You’ll be able to traverse north to south on the same trails WW1 soldiers, refugees, and alpinists throughout the centuries have used to cross these amazing mountains. By hiking hut to hut, you’ll lessen your load and avoid carrying tents, cooking equipment, and survival gear. It makes it so much easier! And fun.
It’s really an excellent beginning multi-day long-distance hut-to-hut hike for beginners in the Alps. We love that it’s especially tasty each night at the incredible huts.
No Special Equipment
So whether you’re smiling in the 72-degree sun or warming up your hands during a chilly summer rainstorm, a summer hike on the Alta Via 1 (AV1) doesn’t require special equipment and is not especially technical.
There are options to make it more adventurous, taxing, and gritty– but the main route is considered level 1 or 2 out of 3 and great for family hiking. Especially families that love good food served at each Hütte (hut).
Best Time for Alta Via 1: July & August
The best part of the Dolomites hiking season runs in July and August where there is little to no snow left near the trail and rainstorms pass quickly. So book a flight to Venice or drive to the trailhead near Cortina d’Ampezzo and get your gear ready!
Carry Less, Enjoy More European Hut-to-Hut Hiking
The secret many pro backpackers know, but us normal working stiffs might not be aware of is the ability to quickly wash quick-dry shirts/pants at the huts each night. You’ll arrive at the mountaintop hut and see people’s recently (hand washed in the sink) cleaned shirts drying on a line next to the hut or strung over railings.
You’ll only need to bring one set of “hiking clothes” and one set of “dinner” clothes and almost everyone wears the same set each day. Pro tip: don’t try to wash your undies or socks, they typically won’t get dry in time.
Alta Via 1 Packing List: Clothing
- 1 Lightweight, quick-drying pants or convertible pants.
- 2 lightweight, quick-drying t-shirts (1 extra in case of soaking rain)
- 1 pack away lightweight waterproof jacket
- 2-3 pairs of good walking socks
- 1 pair of cozy socks for the night
- 2 pairs of thin socks to prevent blisters by wearing under hiking socks
- 1 lightweight fleece or technical fabric warm layer
- 1 pack away lightweight thermal jacket (We didn’t need to use this when walking, but I found it very comforting to have it in the mountain huts once it cooled down in the evenings)
- Lightweight pants or leggings and a t-shirt to wear in the huts in the evenings.
- Sports bra, evening bra (for the ladies),
- enough undies for the entire trip unless you have quick dry undies which are pretty intense to have.
- Sun hat
- 1 pair of good quality walking boots (low or medium top)
- 1 pair of slides for wearing in the huts – Boots ARE NOT ALLOWED inside restaurant/bedroom area
Alta Via 1 Packing List: Equipment
- Quality backpack 36L for men, 32L for women, 18L for kids is all that’s needed.
- Waterproof cover for the pack
- Walking poles – Not strictly needed unless you have a hard time with the downhills, which there are MANY!
- 1.5-liter water reservoir plus a canteen or two
- A few nonperishable snacks
- Safety Whistle
- First aid kit including athletic tape, scissors, bandaids, Neosporin, NSAIDs & sunscreen
- Limited toiletries – a small tube of toothpaste, toothbrush, a small bottle of shampoo, hairbrush, lotion, chapstick
- Phone/chargers/adapters to 220V Italian plug
- Guide book in your language
- Travel documents in waterproof ziplock or drybag
- Credit cards. Most places accept but some euros in reserve for tips
If you chose dorm level accommodations vs private rooms you’ll need this also:
- Sleeping bag liner
- Travel towel
- Laundry detergent to wash out “hiking” clothes
Caveat: People with very fair skin or high-risk skin cancer
You’ll want to bring a thin long sleeve shirt to hike during the sunny daytimes. It gets hot ascending through Forcella del Lago Notch, so quick dry works best to dissipate the heat but still provide better sun protection than merely sunscreen alone.
Caveat: Chronically cold people.
During the downhills or rest stops at yummy mountain cafes for a steaming cup of hot chocolate topped with the freshest whipped cream you can imagine, you may consider bringing a knit hat for your ears, a neck gator, soft hand gloves, thin leggings to wear under your hiking pants and a long sleeve quick-dry shirt.
The Bare Minimum
However, For 80% of us, the bare minimum is plenty and a light pack is greatly appreciated. We’ve never needed more than a quality rain jacket and thin technical warm long sleeve layer for sitting on the decks at night playing games or watching the stars. I’ve pulled hoodies from my daughter’s bags and left them in the car multiple times. In the end, they were grateful for a lighter pack, despite their very strong desire to wear hoodies. Do all tweens love hoodies?
If in Doubt, Don’t Bring it.
You’ll probably want some extra room in your backpack anyways, just in case your kids want you to feel important by carrying some of their stuff or you want to buy a souvenir t-shirt from one of the mountain huts.
More Fun Journeys & Stories for Travelling Families that Love Equal Parts Adventure and Culture
- Watch: 10,000 goats deployed to fight forest fires, it’s a holistic effort to fight the effects of global warming.
- Explore: Listen to this podcast with Rick Steve’s Ireland Expert on How to Buy a Swiss mountain hotel during covid.
- Connect to Your Way: get an idea of how to pack wisely (aka lightly) for your first hut-to-hut hike with kids in the Italian Dolomites.
Until Next Time, Adventure Awaits!!!
Crave the Planet