The Dream: Running Hut-to-Hut in the Dolomites

How one runner made a bucket list trail running trip into reality.

Photo: Andy Cochrane

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

I was no more than 8 years old when I saw my first photo of someone running in the Dolomites. Red windbreaker, dark shorts, storm brewing over a line of jagged peaks. I cut it out of the magazine (don’t tell my mom) and still have it in my wallet today. For years, trail running in the Italian Alps wasn’t on my bucket list; it was my bucket list. 

Photo by Andy Cochrane

This fall, I finally got to check it off. Along with two friends and my coach Magda Boulet, I flew to Venice and drove north into the Dolomites. We spent a week running from hut to hut, meandering 20 miles each day, stopping for cappuccinos and strudel and staying at small, family-run rifugios high up in the mountains.

RELATED: Use Trail Running to Get Fit for Big Mountain Objectives

It was a trip of hearty laughs, long meals, stout climbs, loose descents and a handful of exposed ledges to tiptoe across. But the top of the long list of highlights was the people we met. The kindness and care we received from total strangers was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

Route & Rifugios

We worked with a local guiding company, Dolomite Mountains, that made our planning easy. They offered suggestions on trails, places to sleep and peaks to climb. Our route took us 100 miles from San Candido to Compatsch, along a few of the major thoroughfares. We ran through the Sesto subgroup of mountains, on the border of Italy’s German-speaking South Tyrol and the Italian Veneto region, which was the frontier of Austria and Italy in World War I. 

Photo by Andy Cochrane (Photo: Andy Cochrane)

Many of the trails here were developed by soldiers– old trenches, defensive barricades and forts are still visible in many places. On our first day we ran under Tre Cime, a trio of peaks that reminded me of home in the Tetons. We continued through remote valleys and high passes in Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park, through the iconic Alta Badia valley, past Puez Nature Park to Val Gardena, through a beautiful alpine meadow called Alpe di Siusi, then summited Plattkofel and climbed up Rosszahnscharte, our last major pass, before running all the way down to Compatsch.

For the first two days we were led by Paolo Posocco, a local runner and incredibly knowledgeable guide, who offered a steady buffet of insights on the ecology, history and trails of the area. After two days with Paolo, we were sad to see him go– and still stay in touch to this day. 

There are dozens of bucolic rifugios, but a few stand out from the rest. Drei Zinnen Blick is in a valley adjacent to a beautiful lake, close to Tre Cime. Rifugio Fodara Vedla is perched high in the range, with no cell service and warm and friendly hosts that make you feel like family. Rifugio Sassopiatto has some of the best views, perched on a ridgeline. Gostner Schwaige, a small restaurant near the very end of our run, was hands down the best food we had all trip.

Photo by Andy Cochrane (Photo: Andy Cochrane)

Weather & Seasons

We spent the last week of September in the Dolomites, which is squarely in the fringe season. With cool temperatures (we had more than one frosty morning), leaves changing color and admittedly fickle weather, I think it was the perfect time to visit. There were considerably fewer tourists than during the peak seasons, making trails more fun to run. Midday rifugio stops were quieter and we had a lot more options for places to stay, making our interactions with hosts and immersion into local culture that much more intimate.

Gear We Used & Loved

Outdoor Voices Exercise Dress–  OV only recently started making gear for the running scene and hit the mark with this dress. Breathable fabric, adjustable straps, two pockets and a built-in liner make it great for long days in the mountains. 

Outdoor Voices Fast Track Shortsleeve– Less is often more. This running tee is comfortable, breathes well and is lightweight, everything I ask for in a good running base layer.

Stio Fremont Stretch Fleece Jogger– We had a lot of cold mornings when shorts wouldn’t quite cut it. These breathable fleece tights move with you and are some of the comfiest tights we’ve ever tested.

Stio Alpiner Hooded Jacket– A must-have layer for any high-output alpine missions, the Alpiner rarely overheats even when you’re sweaty. Stretchy and water resistant, it was perfect for our cool, misty days. 

Tracksmith Brighton Base Layer– One of the brand’s most popular pieces for a reason. With a Merino wool mesh that’s more open around the core, it keeps your extremities warm while not overheating the rest of you. Plus it’s odor resistant, which is a huge bonus on a week-long trip.

Tracksmith Off Road Shorts– Designed for long days on the trail, these 2-in-1 shorts have a light outer layer with compression shorts underneath, a back belt for carrying an extra layer, two waist pockets for snacks and liner pockets for your phone or keys. 

Ciele ALZCap– The newest iteration of the widely popular GOCap, it has more mesh coverage to maximize breathability and a more fitted, low profile look than previous versions. 

Skida Nordic Hat– The brand’s first product hasn’t changed in years, for good reason. Originally designed for cross country skiing, we found the Nordic hat to be perfect for fall running. It wicks moisture while keeping you comfy and warm, and is easy to stow when not in use. 

Brooks Catamount Trail Shoe– The trails in the Dolomites are rocky and rough, which means a shoe with good traction is key. With a unique rubber grip, foam cushioning and a protective midsole layer, the Catamount helped us get up and down half a dozen mountain passes.

Coros Apex Pro Watch– With an incredibly long battery life, accurate tracking and well-designed mapping features, the Apex Pro played a key role in keeping us on route and on time.

Photo by Andy Cochrane (Photo: Andy Cochrane)

Want to Know What It Takes to Finish at Western States? Just Ask Hellah Sidibe.

Find out what happened when this six-year run streaker and HOKA Global Athlete Ambassador took on an iconic ultramarathon in California's Sierra Nevada