The Dolomites Part 2: Selva di Val Gardena

Kyle on the Puez Odle Altopiano. Col de la Sonne in the background

In June 2016, we spent a week hiking in the Dolomites in Italy. For our hiking days, we split our time between Cortina D’Ampezzo and Selva di Val Gardena. This post describes our hikes in and around Selva di Val Gardena, including on the Sella Massif to Piz Boè and on the Puez-Odle. Three other posts cover other aspects of the trip:

Before I get into the details of what we did in Selva, I should note one thing we did not. During our short time in Val Gardena, we did not get to Secëda and the famous view near the top lift there. I have no regrets about how we spent our time in Val Gardena or the Dolomites overall, but if I were to go back, I’d make that a priority and consider some other explorations out of Ortisei.

Puez-Odle Altopiano

For our only full day from Selva, we had to choose between two hikes: an end-to-end hike over the Sella Massif and over the Piz Boè or a loop hike leaving from town and taking us over the Puez-Odle Altopiano.

Over breakfast at the hotel, we deliberated between options. On the previous night’s drive, we had seen the route up to the Sella Massif from Passo Gardena. Considerable snow appeared to linger — maybe passable, but also a risk. That, combined with the public transportation logistics, made us decide that the Puez-Odle was a safer bet. We would instead find a way to explore some part of the Sella Massif the next day.

For our Puez-Odle route, we selected walk 31 in Shorter Walks in the Dolomites. To reach the start of our hike, we walked through town to the Dantercepies gondola, which climbs from the northeast side of town to Passo Gardena in two stages. At the pass, we took a mostly level trail to Jimmy Hütte (Rifugio Jimmy). From Jimmy Hütte, we followed a trail north, climbing through rocky terrain on switchbacks. The climb offered great views back across the pass to the Sella Massif. At the top, we entered a rock garden reminiscent of the Badlands. We passed through these spires and continued to climb, reaching Passo Cir.

At Cir, we took a short break for a snack and views. From here, the trail descended slightly along the back side of a ridge, toward the head of a long valley that extended back to Selva. At the head of the valley, we reached Passo Crespeina.

The view here merited another rest and look around. Once over the pass, we descended past Lago di Crespeina and around a broad bowl in the mountains.

After walking along this landscape for a while, the trail suddenly narrowed and we found ourselves hiking along a fairly narrow rock spine, with steep drop-offs and long valleys on either side. To the south, we could see Sassongher’s distinctive shape while Vallunga lay to our north and west.

From here, we continued our counterclockwise loop, climbing slightly to a rocky plain with grazing sheep and peaks to our north and east. We followed the plain along to Rifugio Puez, our lunch spot for the day. We ate outside with great views of the Vallunga — but also of some approaching storms. Happily, they passed around, rather than over, us. After lunch, we climbed a small point to the west of the Rifugio before returning to descend a trail into Vallunga.

This trail brought us down into the valley adjacent to a waterfall, at which we stopped to briefly explore. Our walk through Vallunga brought us to the Prà di Ri. Cows grazed in this large meadow, with cliffs rising on two sides.

Below the Prà di Ri, we passed hillsides that looked almost like terraced gardens — lots of small meadows separated by short cliffs. Eventually, our walk in the valley lead us back to Selva. We walked to the hotel, cleaned up, and had a relaxing dinner. I was also happy to have a day’s break from driving.

Piz Boè and the Sella Massif

For our last day in the Dolomites, we woke up to a forecast of thunderstorms. Over a quick breakfast, we decided that we needed a plan that would maximize what we would see early in the day and give us some flexibility.

With these goals in mind, we checked out and drove toward Passo Pordoi, where a cable car could take us quickly up the Sella Massif. Because we would arrive a bit before the chairlift opened, we stopped on the way for a short walk and views near Hotel Mariaflora.

From Passo Pordoi, we took the Funivia Sass Pordoi up to the Sella Massif. At the top, we paused only briefly to check the weather and take in the views before setting out east, in the direction of Piz Boè. Neither of the books we bought describes exactly our short hike from here, but walk 40 in Shorter Walks in the Dolomites describes most of it.

Here, the massif was almost entirely still covered in snow, but the routes had been packed by many hikers before us. We made a gradual descent to a col and Rifugio Forcella Pordoi. From the col, we climbed slightly onto another snowy plain. Piz Boè, with Rifugio Capanna Fassa on its summit, rose from the plain to our east. We turned off the main trail to begin ascending.

This was mostly straightforward, though the uneven terrain and trail were less packed and it was not always easy to find the best way up. From the top, though, we had great views of the entire massif and to the Marmolada, as well as down to Lago Gelato (sadly, not made of actual gelato).

With bad weather expected, we did not stay as long as we would have liked. On the descent, I stepped off the packed route at one point and post-holed up to my waist. It took some digging to get myself out.

Once we rejoined the main trail, we consulted the sky. Comfortable that we had time to explore more before the weather would become a problem, we continued north. The trail skirted below Piz Boé and crossed the head of a long, deep valley. We reached Rifugio Boé and looked down another rocky valley toward Colfosco. My dad had said this was his favorite view on his trip to the Dolomites some years earlier. I was glad to make it here.

By this time, the sky had started to darken and we could see rain on the horizon. It was time to turn around and head for the cable car. As we reached Rifugio Forcella Pordoi, thunder started to rumble. We completed our climb back to the cable car station just as lightning started to flash above the Marmolada. From the safety it offered, we enjoyed our view of the thunderstorms before descending.

Back to Venice and on to Home

The drive back to Venice from Passo Pordoi brought us over more passes, through other villages, and by different mountains. Each new bend offered a view I wanted to stay and explore, reinforcing my desire to return to the Dolomites before I had even left.

Eventually, we reached our hotel, the Best Western Titian Inn ( near the Venice airport. We dropped our bags, showered, and left to return the car at the airport. With the car returned, we faced the reality that we were tired. While we had originally planned to take the bus or vaporetto over to Venice, we did not feel like dealing with crowds or more transit. Instead, we just took the shuttle back to the hotel. From there, we walked a few blocks down the street to Ristorante Al Quadrante, a neighborhood pizza place. Dinner was delicious, cheap, and filling. Full, we returned to the hotel, repacked a bit, and fell asleep.

We woke up the next morning for our flight home. The airport lounge at Venice has a nice view over the runways and out over the lagoon to the city. Watching the morning sun over Venice made for a nice bookend to the trip.

3 thoughts on “The Dolomites Part 2: Selva di Val Gardena”

  1. thank you for your awesome blog. one question. did you fine the maps in the hiking book sufficient or did you buy or download more comprehensive hiking maps. many thanks for all your work providing us with these insights.

    1. Hi. We mostly used the maps in the hiking books. We found them adequate to understand where we were and for planning hikes. Not having an overall map of the area made it harder to know about alternatives/variations (though the books were better at describing alternative routes than most I have used!) and to imagine how we might connect different ones. If I were to go back, I would probably get an overview map — but I thought these books were excellent.

  2. Great tips and write up (and photos), thanks! I visited in 2018 and saw Seceda, well worth a visit there, def recommend going back. Planning a trip next week and basing ourselves near Cortina to start so this has been very useful, thanks!

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