Climbing the via ferrata to Gran Cir in Val Gardena | The Dolomites, Italy

View of Sassolungo from the summit of Gran Cir

A mountain peak with some of the best 360-degree views on offer in the Dolomites, the hike to Gran Cir from Passo Gardena is the perfect package of adventure and beauty.

With the afternoon coming to a close and my legs itching after a day spent indoors getting photos edited and words written, I needed a short but fun adventure to end the day. A quick Google for adventurous hikes in Val Gardena landed me on a short but fun two-hour return hike from the nearby Passo Gardena. Which, as luck would have it, I needed to drive through that night anyway. How good!

The hike to the summit of Gran Cir from Passo Gardena had everything I wanted for my afternoon. A hike to the top of a mountain, 360-degree views of the Dolomites, and a via ferrata for that little pinch of extra adventure. With three or four hours of daylight left, the two-hour return journey was simply too good an opportunity to pass up!

Hiking to the man-made cross at the summit of Gran Cir, visible from the carpark below, is a super fun and doable hike for those who like a bit more adventure than simply following a trail. There are some via ferrata assisted sections along very exposed cliff edge with some vertigo-inducing drops on this one. So, if you’re not confident with that, simply enjoy the sunset from down below at Rifugio Frara.

View of the Sella Group from the summit of Gran Cir

The route | Passo Gardena to Gran Cir

Passo Gardena connects two famous valleys in the Dolomites, Val Gardena and Val Badia. It’s from the top of the pass, at Rifugio Frara’s carpark where the trailhead begins. If you’re facing the front of Rifugio Frara, turn around, and the summit you want to reach can be seen, marked with a big cross, just to the right. You’ll be able to see the trails and roads that wind up the hill in front of you. You can follow these any way you wish to reach the base of the peak proper, or, follow the signs for the Jimmy hütte which will lead you there as well.

Sign to Jimmy hütte at Passo Gardena
Scree gully leading up to Gran Cir

Side note | I actually did this hike twice because the first time I climbed the wrong mountain! I ended up summiting the far left peak, rather than the far-right peak because I stopped paying attention to which way the path was taking me. The far-left peak is far more difficult than the one you’re ‘supposed’ to climb, with some actual rock climbing and far more serious via ferrata sections involved. I’m a confident climber/scrambler but even I felt it was all a bit sketchy. I didn’t actually realise I had climbed the wrong mountain until I reached the top, saw a much smaller cross that didn’t look right, and then heard voices and looked across to see the peak I was supposed to be on. It’s quite funny now looking back and it all added to the adventure, but you can save yourself the troubles I had by making sure you pay attention to where the path is leading you!

Back to the guide.

Once you’ve reached the top of the hill section, you’ll come to a scree gully where the mountain juts out of the earth properly. You’ll need to scramble your way up the loose rock, following some thin paths and the red markings up to the first via ferrata section. If you’re climbing the correct mountain, these sections are very manageable. Just keep hold of the ropes and make sure your feet are on firm holds. You can, of course, do this hike with a harness, helmet, and ropes, which you can hire from adventure centres in the area, but personally I don’t think they are necessary. However, do whatever you feel most comfortable with!

Selfie halfway up Gran Cir with Sella Group in the background
Hiking trail leading up to summit of Gran Cir

Keep following the via ferrata and the red markings until you reach the big cross at the summit. Here, you can enjoy the 360-degree views of the mountains around you, including Mount Antelao and Mount Pelmo to the east, the dominating Sella Group to the south, with its highest peak, Piz Boe, and to the west the famous Sassolungo.

View of Sassolungo from Gardena Pass

Watching the sunset from the top of Gran Cir is utterly breathtaking. The west burns bright orange and yellow and red, while the east turns pastel purple and pink and blue. If you’re lucky, as I was, you might even get to see the moon rise as the sun sets, a truly epic sight.

Watching sunset from summit of Gran Cir in Val Gardena
Moon rise from the summit of Gran Cir in Val Gardena

Once you’ve had your fill of some of the best views in the Dolomites, make your way back down the same way you came up, taking extra care if you’re coming down in the dark or fading light.

And that’s it. Once you’re back, you can enjoy a hard-earned drink at Rifugio Frara or head on to your next destination.

Everything you need to know

How to get there

Location | Passo Gardena, Corvara, South Tyrol, Italy

By car | The trailhead at the top of Passo Gardena is most easily reached by car, which is also the best way to get around the Dolomites. The closest towns are Corvara in Val Badia, or Selva in Val Gardena, both of which are only 20-minutes away by car.

By bus | During the summer months there are buses that run between the towns of Corvara and Selva through Passo Gardena. Bus routes and times do change seasonally, so for more information, check the tourist information boards in each town. Alternatively, click here.  


The essentials

Cost | The hike is completely free

Opening hours | The hike is open at all hours, however, due to the via ferrata sections involved it is safest to only attempt the hike during the day.

Facilities | At the top of Passo Gardena, you can find a carpark, Rifugio Frara which serves food and drinks and offers accommodation, an adventure centre, and chair lifts.

Duration | The hike should take around two to three hours return, with an elevation gain of approximately 470-metres.

When to visit

Time of year | For warm weather, visit during the summer months, late June through to the end of August. During the winter months, December to April, there is the chance that Gardena Pass can be closed due to snow, in which case you won’t be able to access the hike.

Time of day | Both of my attempts at the hike were in the late afternoon so that I could enjoy the sunset. However, you could do the hike at any time of day, keeping in mind it’s safest to hike in good light and in favourable weather conditions.

Where to stay

Val Gardena and Val Badia are havens for skiers, rock climbers, and hikers, meaning there are ample accommodation options in the area.

Rifugio Frara | At the top of Passo Gardena is Rifugio Frara where you can stay the night. For prices and availability, click here. 

Hotel Cir | Also at the top of Passo Gardena is Hotel Cir. Click here for price and availability.

Airbnb | Click this link to see what’s available on Airbnb in the area and potentially save yourself up to $55.

Hotels | For hotels in the Val Gardena region of Italy, click here.

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