Three mountain huts, breathtaking 360° alpine panoramas, an open-air war museum, and an amazing day out among some of the best scenery in the Italian Dolomites. If any of that sounds exciting, the Passo Giau to Cinque Torri hike is for you. In this article, I’ll guide you through this incredible hike and share some practical tips to help you plan your next adventure.
- Who Is This Hike For?
- Hike Overview and The Map
- How to Hike to Cinque Torri from Passo Giau
- Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise?
- When to Do This Hike
- What to Pack
- Photography Tips
- Alternative Routes
- Passo Giau to Cinque Torri Hike With a Dog
- Final Thoughts
Who Is This Hike For?
The Italian Dolomites are well-known for their dramatic landscapes and exceptional hiking trails. Yet few are so uniquely diverse and infinitely rewarding as the hike from Passo Giau to Rifugio Nuvolau and Cinque Torri.
With stunning scenery every step of the way, numerous mountain huts ideal for a relaxed break, and a WW1 open-air museum to explore at your leisure, this hike has something in store for everyone. If you enjoy the great outdoors, you’ll love it.
Though not overly difficult, this hike does feature steep ascents and occasionally challenging terrain. While you don’t need to be a highly trained athlete to complete it, some general fitness is nonetheless desired.
That said, this hike is extremely flexible and there are various ways to increase or decrease its difficulty. We’ll discuss those in more detail later in the article. For now, just know that in summer, you can bypass the most demanding sections by taking the chairlifts.
This makes it a perfect choice for less experienced hikers looking for a somewhat easier route to get started. You don’t require any special equipment or prior experience in Alpine walking. All you need is the willingness to spend a day out in nature and some basic preparation.
I also highly recommend this Cinque Torri hike to landscape photographers. The area around Passo Giau is hands down one of the most strikingly beautiful in the Dolomites. You’ll find no shortage of excellent compositions here to keep both you and your camera busy.
Hike Overview and The Map
The hike begins at Passo Giau, some 15 kilometers southwest of Cortina d’Ampezzo. You then take route 452 up towards Rifugio Averau before continuing the climb to Rifugio Nuvolau.
From there, you descend to Rifugio Scoiattoli and the open-air WW1 museum of Cinque Torri. Finally, follow route 443 down to Passo Guau where you originally started.
Please note that this is just one of the many possible hikes in this particular area of the Dolomites. It’s more challenging than some of the other alternatives but also hugely entertaining and extremely rewarding when it comes to views.
We’ll talk about the alternative routes later in the article but for now, here’s what you can expect:
- Trail type: a well-marked loop trail
- Total length: ~11 kilometers (~7 miles)
- Elevation gain: 657 meters
- Start / end: Passo Giau
- Difficulty: medium – non-technical trail with occasional steep sections
- Time required: 5-6 hours
- Accessibility: May – November
- Costs: food or drinks in one of the huts (optional)
- Highlights: Rifugio Averau, Rifugio Nuvolau, Cinque Torri
The image above should give you a decent idea of the kind of terrain you’ll be dealing with. Additionally, you can always review the detailed map along with all the key stats and the elevation profile over here.
How to Hike to Cinque Torri from Passo Giau
From Rifugio Nuvolau perched on the top of a cliff like some wizard’s house to the trenches of Cinque Torri, there are plenty of highlights to expect on this hike. To enjoy them all without feeling rushed or stressed, I suggest starting early in the morning.
Ideally, you want to plan the hike for a clear sunny day. As someone who once got soaked there, I assure you that Passo Giau is quite miserable when it rains. Besides, when it’s too foggy you won’t see the views anyway.
Getting to the Trailhead at Passo Giau
The starting point of the hike is Passo Giau, a mountain pass that connects Cortina d’Ampezzo with Selva di Cadore. In my opinion, it is one of the most remarkable passes in the Dolomites and well worth a visit even if you don’t intend to do the hike.
If you have a car, Passo Giau is a half-an-hour drive from Cortina d’Ampezzo or some 20 minutes from Selva di Cadore along the SP638. It’s a twisty mountain road that some might find intimidating. Especially given that it’s somewhat popular with high-speed junkies.
Luckily, it’s wide enough and the scenery is fabulous. Just drive carefully and you’ll be fine. As you arrive, there’s a spacious (and free) parking lot. The area is hugely popular so it tends to fill up quickly, but somehow I always managed to secure a spot.
Alternatively, in summer, the Dolomitibus bus service connects Cortina d’Ampezzo with Passo Giau and Val Fiorentina. Unfortunately, the schedules are quite chaotic and the official website is a pain to navigate unless you understand Italian. Best ask your hotel staff to clarify.
And of course, you could also consider a taxi or even hitchhiking. I haven’t tried the latter but in summer, there’s plenty of traffic in the area so I wouldn’t anticipate any difficulties.
Ascent To Rifugio Averau (1.5 hours)
To begin the hike, follow the gravel path from Berghotel Passo Giau north towards the iconic peak of Ra Gusela towering above the pass. You’ll soon reach a fork that marks the start of the loop we aim to complete.
To the left, trail 452 leads to Rifugios Averau and Nuvolau, circling Ra Guself from the west. On the right, trail 443 heads directly to Cinque Torri skirting the mountain from the east.
Which way to go here really doesn’t matter much as you’ll be returning from the opposite direction anyway. Both are viable options but since we went left (trail 452), that’s the direction we’ll be focusing on in this article.
After the intersection, the path narrows down and soon enters a rough patch that resembles a talus with large boulders scattered around. This section is somewhat harder to navigate but it’s fairly short. Once you’re through, the trail evens out and starts climbing steadily uphill.
From here, it’s a relatively straightforward 3-kilometer ascent to Averau. The path is well-marked and easy to follow allowing you to contemplate the gorgeous scenery on your left. There, majestic mountains and dreamy valleys stretch into the distance for as far as an eye can see.
As you near the top, the hike gets noticeably steeper. The last kilometer follows the outline of what is a red ski run during winter. While not exactly difficult, it’s both tiresome and somewhat dull. But keep at it and soon enough you’ll reach the Averau hut.
There, you’ll be rewarded with a splendid view north towards the cliffs of Cinque Torri and the jagged peaks of the Tofana range behind it. So take a moment to catch your breath and relish this hard-earned prize.
Up to Rifugio Nuvolau (30 minutes)
Rifugio Averau is a great place to have a rest and sip a drink if you so desire. But to me, the next hut is even better. So if you can hold off for a little longer, I would suggest you keep going.
Strictly speaking, a climb to Rifugio Nuvolau is completely optional. That said, if you don’t want to miss out on one of the coolest spots of this entire hike, I highly encourage you to do it.
The ascent to Nuvolau starts right behind the Averau hut and looks rather intimidating from this lower angle. The good news is, it’s much easier than it appears. Yes, you will be pushing constantly uphill for the next 20-30 minutes but the incline isn’t overly difficult.
And believe me, you won’t for a second regret doing it. Rifugio Nuvolau has got to be one of the most awesome mountain huts I have ever visited! Perched on a cliff at an altitude of 2,575 meters, it offers 360° panoramic views that are nothing short of breathtaking.
From its terrace, your eyes are met with a mesmerizing tapestry of jagged cliffs, verdant valleys, and tranquil alpine meadows. In the distance, the iconic peaks of Monte Civetta, Tofana di Rozes, and Cinque Torri stand as the proud sentinels of the Italian Dolomites.
It’s honestly almost too picturesque to be true. I can’t think of a more suitable place to take a break, have lunch, rest, or even relax and do nothing. And take your time while you’re at it. Because quite frankly, it doesn’t get much better than this.
The Cinque Torri Loop (1.5 – 2 hours)
Once you’re ready to go on, our next stop is the famous Cinque Torri group. Translated from Italian as “Five Towers”, this is a distinctly shaped rock formation visible in the distance from the moment you emerged at the Averau hut.
The descent from Nuvolau is steep but not too challenging. Plan for some 30-40 minutes to reach Cinque Torri which will be in your sights this entire duration. Seeing your goal grow ever closer always produces a boost, so you might even get there faster.
Exploring Cinque Torri is also optional but well worth it in my opinion. Besides it being one of the most recognizable rock formations in the Dolomites, it is also a giant open-air museum.
During World War I, this area was a theater of conflict between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops. The trenches and shelters from that era have recently been rebuilt to remind the visitors about the events of those darker days.
The entry is free and I highly encourage you to stroll the trenches and read the historical facts written on the plaques. It is honestly both fascinating and bizarre to think that in such a serenely beautiful place, a war raged on just a hundred years ago.
The full circle around Cinque Torri might take anywhere between forty-five minutes and two hours. This largely depends on how curious you are and whether you inspect all the exhibitions available in the museum.
And if you need a quick break to process everything you’ve seen or simply want to rest before heading down, there are 2 more huts nearby: Rifugio Scoiattoli and Rifugio 5 Torri. Both offer snacks, drinks, and — naturally — unbeatable views of the Dolomites.
Back To Passo Giau (1.5 hours)
Once you complete the Cinque Torri loop, you’ll have effectively covered the most exciting highlights of the hike. The only thing remaining is to return to where you started. For that, you have two options.
The most obvious one is to simply retrace your steps the same way you arrived. You’ll have to go uphill again, and overall, it’s going to be a longer and more difficult alternative. But since you already know the terrain, you might prefer it.
A quicker, and arguably more interesting approach is to take another route down. Trail 443 starts south of Cinque Torri, dives into a breach in between two massive cliffs, and after a series of tight, narrow switchbacks circles Ra Gusela massif from the east.
There are a couple of steep sections on this descent where good hiking boots and some caution are essential, but overall, I think it’s an easier way down. Besides, you get to enjoy some new scenery that you haven’t seen before so it’s a win-win situation.
The steep parts are fairly short too. Afterward, the path evens out, and it’s mostly relaxed cruising to Passo Giau where we set off in the morning. Well done and congratulations on completing the hike!
Clockwise or Counter-Clockwise?
In this article, I described hiking from Passo Giau to Cinque Torri and back in a clockwise direction. But since it’s a loop trail you might be wondering: would it make more sense to do it in reverse?
The answer, in my opinion, is that it really doesn’t matter much. Both are perfectly fine choices and it largely boils down to your preference. Difficulty-wise, they will be very similar as well.
My suggestion would be to decide based on what you’re most interested in. If your main priority is Cinque Torri, then do the hike in the counter-clockwise direction and head there first. And if you’d rather start with the huts of Averau and Nuvolau, do it the way I described above.
To landscape photography enthusiasts such as myself, I would advise doing the hike in the counterclockwise direction. The reason here is that in the morning, the light is more favorable on the eastern side of Ra Gusela.
Meanwhile, in the evening, the sunset here will be blocked by the cliff to your right, so you want to be on the western side instead. Somewhere near the Averau and Nuvolau huts, both of which make for pretty cool photo subjects during the golden hour.
When to Do This Hike
Generally, you can do the hike from Passo Giau to Cinque Torri whenever there is no snow. In the Dolomites, that is usually from late May to early November. In winter months, this area is part of a ski resort so you can see most of the highlights without doing any hiking at all.
The exact month isn’t that important. I would give a slight edge to September simply because autumn is a lovely season throughout the Dolomites and it’s not overly crowded. But summer is great too. With days long and warm, it’s a beautiful time to be in this part of Italy.
Note that most Rifugios are only open from early June until the end of September. The only exception is Averau which closes in mid-October. So if you want to stay the night or plan on having lunch on the terrace, keep that in mind.
Whenever you do it, I suggest starting in the morning. This will allow you to complete the hike without feeling rushed and take as much time during breaks as you want. After all, sipping a beer on the hut terrace while contemplating the views is an experience in its own right.
What to Pack
When it comes to packing, Passo Giau to Cinque Torri hike is relatively lightweight. If you do it when the huts are open, you really don’t need to bring much. Still, here are a few things that might come in handy:
- Hiking shoes. When it’s dry, you can probably complete the hike even in sneakers but I still recommend dedicated mountain boots. But whatever shoes you wear, make sure they’re comfortable.
- Appropriate hiking clothes — that means breathable layers instead of cotton or jeans. Pack a light jacket too — even in summer, it sometimes gets cold in the mountains.
- Drinking water. If the huts are open, you don’t need much, as you can refill there. Otherwise, I suggest at least 1.5 liters per person.
- Food or snacks unless you plan on having lunch in one of the Refugios.
- A detailed map that works offline, be that on your phone or in paper format. I always use Mapy.cz or Maps.me and haven’t run into any issues so far.
- A power bank* — so that your phone survives until the evening.
- A headlamp in case you stay longer than expected and have to descend in the dark.
- A camera to photograph those insanely beautiful landscapes.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen to protect your skin from the harsh Alpine sun.
- A hat or a bandana to cover your head and absorb sweat.
- (Optional) Hiking poles — to reduce the strain on your knees.
When it comes to hiking, the first piece of advice I always give to my fellow photographers is to pack lightly. Lugging around all that gear for hours is no fun, trust me. So only take the absolute minimum you can get away with.
For me, that’s usually a camera, a single all-around zoom such as 24-105 mm, and a small drone. DJI Mini 3 Pro is excellent for situations like these. For this hike, I would also suggest a lightweight wide-angle zoom, for example, Tamron 17-28 mm.
You only need a tripod if you’re planning on shooting sunrise or sunset. But even then, whether having it is worth the extra weight is something you should decide for yourself. Personally, I tend to leave it behind and just make do without it.
As always with landscape photography, sunset or sunrise are the best times to photograph on this hike. Cinque Torri, Rifugio Averau, and Rifugio Nuvolau are all fantastic subjects during the golden hour.
To get that light, spending the night in one of the huts is your best bet. Keep in mind that they often sell out months in advance, so plan beforehand. The only other alternative is staying until sunset and then hiking down in the dusk.
That might sound scary but isn’t that hard. Just make sure you bring a headlamp and maybe go back the same route you came so that you know the terrain.
As for the month, the period between mid-June and the end of July is ideal for landscape photography in the Dolomites. The alpine flowers are in full bloom and you can find some excellent foregrounds. But honestly, you can get great shots here in just about any season.
As mentioned before, this circle loop is just one of the many hiking options in the area. There are plenty of ways to tweak it to better suit your preferences.
The two most obvious ones are to do the hike in a reverse direction or convert it into the there-and-back trail. Both are pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go into too much detail here.
A more interesting change is selecting a different trailhead. For example, instead of starting at Passo Giau, you could drive a little further and park at Rifugio Fedare. From there, you could either hike or, more importantly, take the ski lift up.
The lift operates during the summer months and brings you directly to the Averau hut. This eliminates most of the uphill climb making the hike less challenging and giving you some flexibility. For instance, you could take it in the afternoon, stay until sunset, then hike down.
There’s another lift to the north, near Lago Bai de Dones. This one will take you to Cinque Torri, allowing you to start there. You could also hike up from Lago Bai de Dones, but the ascent follows the ski piste and is somewhat dull.
You could also start the hike from Col Gallina, just below Passo Falzarego. Trail 419 would take you past Lago di Limedes to Averau and Cinque Torri. It’s a very different hike yet comparable in difficulty. You can read all about it over at the Moon & Honey blog.
Finally, for those who seek something more challenging, there is a via ferrata from Passo Giau to Rifugio Nuvolau. While not overly hard (difficulty A), it’s steep and has some exposed sections secured by cables and ladders. A helm and harness are highly recommended.
Passo Giau to Cinque Torri Hike With a Dog
As a dog owner, you might be curious about whether your four-legged companion can join you on the Passo Giau to Cinque Torri hike. Absolutely! My dog Rocky did it with me and had a blast.
Assuming your dog is reasonably fit and can cover such a long distance, there’s nothing preventing them from coming along. The trail is well-passable throughout, so your fluffy friend shouldn’t have any difficulties.
The only exception here is if you want to stay the night in one of the mountain huts. Not all of them allow animals, so be sure to check beforehand.
Obviously, bring enough water and food for your pet and take good care of him during the hike. And of course, make sure that your dog is not harming the environment or making other people uncomfortable.
There are several hikes that I would gladly do again, and Passo Giau to Cinque Torri is definitely one of them. It’s not overly challenging, extremely rewarding, and hugely entertaining. With lots of ways to customize it, this hike truly offers everything for a perfect day out in the mountains.
If you’re a hiking enthusiast or simply love nature and scenic views, this is an experience that you won’t want to miss. I had a ton of fun doing it and am sure you will too.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to Passo Giau to Cinque Torri hike and got something valuable out of it. If so, do me a favor and share it with your friends and on social media. And if you have any further questions, let me know in the comments below.
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