If you’re planning your Dolomites driving route, there’s a good chance that you’d like to see some of the epic views of the Dolomites on your journey - what’s better than a scenic road trip?!
We drove through the Dolomites in February and were blown away by not only the best driving routes in the Dolomites, but what were probably some of the best driving routes in the world.
Some of the best views in the Dolomites are easily reachable by car, especially in the summer - a popular time for hiking and outdoor activities in the region.
But we were pleasantly surprised to find driving conditions fairly straightforward in the winter months too, with the proper precautions of course!
So here are the best scenic drives in the Dolomites.
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Where are the Dolomites?
The Dolomites are a mountain range in the northeast of Italy, also known as the Dolomite Alps.
They cover around 16,000km2 and several regional areas of Italy including South Tyrol, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto. The region also borders Austria.
The whole area is UNESCO protected and you’ll see some of the most magnificent and dramatic scenery in the whole of Europe, and even the world, in this area of Italy.
Can you drive in the Dolomites in winter?
The short answer is yes. However you should be taking proper precautions, driving a road safe vehicle and following Italian law for driving requirements during the winter.
We drove in the Dolomites in February and there was plenty of snow although we didn’t experience any fresh snowfall while we were there. However we found the main roads, towns and villages to be clear of snow and very well-maintained in terms of driveability.
We drive an all-wheel-drive vehicle which definitely gave us peace of mind for the steeper roads and occasional patches of ice.
I would highly recommend hiring an AWD or 4WD vehicle for driving in the Dolomites, just for that extra precaution if you’re planning a winter road trip in the Dolomites.
Below I’ve outlined the requirements for driving in Italy during winter - please do your own research as these requirements are subject to change.
What do you need to drive in Italy in the winter?
Like many European countries, Italy has strict laws around driving in the winter and what you must do to prepare your vehicle as well as what you need to carry in your car.
To drive in the Dolomites in winter (and most of Italy) you are required to follow these Italy winter driving requirements:
Have winter tyres or all-season tyres on your vehicle between 1 November and 31 March (look for the Alpine symbol on tyres to check they meet the requirements)
Carry snow chains in your vehicle
If using snow chains you cannot drive over 50kmph
Carry a warning triangle and reflective vests (all year requirement)
Carry a spare tyre and tools (all year requirement)
Headlamp beam deflectors if driving a UK vehicle (all year requirement)
A sticker indicating your vehicle’s country if it’s not shown on your licence plate (all year requirement)
Which roads in the Dolomites are closed during winter?
This is a tricky one to answer because some roads are closed on set dates every year - find that list here.
However, heavy snowfall or hazardous driving conditions may lead other roads to be closed unexpectedly or with short notice.
The best thing to do is check the road closures page for the region before setting out on your journey. Find the relevant regional road closures pages here.
When is the best time of year to visit the Dolomites for a road trip?
From a safety perspective, as well as less hassle preparing your car for winter driving, I would recommend a Dolomites road trip in the summer months. More roads will be open and you have the option of venturing more into the mountain passes for hiking.
However we found February and March to be a very pleasant time to drive in the Dolomites in winter.
We were lucky that every day was sunny and blue skies, just very cold and lots of compacted snow, but the roads were well-maintained and completely clear.
So if you’d prefer to avoid the peak season crowds in summer but not visit in the depths of winter, I’d suggest autumn or early spring as great times to visit.
The best scenic driving routes in the Dolomites
Possibly the most famous pass in the Dolomites located 2,136m above sea level in the South Tyrol region.
Its popularity is due to its great location, with year-round accessibility, proximity to nearby ski resorts and year-round recreational activities such as hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.
The stunning rocky pinnacles protrude into the sky all around you as you wind along the bends in the road. We saw the stunning mountains and rock faces in the mass with a blanket of snow below, but in the summer you’ll see a very different view of lush meadows and mountain huts.
This is the easiest driving route in the Dolomites for epic views. Roads are maintained well and amenities are nearby.
At 2,239m above sea level, this high mountain pass is a popular biking route and you’re pretty safe to say it will be clear to drive in winter unless there’s active snowfall.
The roads were winding getting up here but the climb was more gradual from the south side and there is a large rest area at the top. From here you have stunning views of the valley and the sheer rock faces that dominate each side of the pass.
There’s also a cable car that services this path and the nearby ski resorts of Canazai in the south and Arabba in the north mean it’s a well-trafficked route.
At 2240, above sea level, this is one of the highest passes in the Dolomites and it’s a popular pass for skiing in the winter and cycling routes in the summer.
It connects Val di Fassa and Val Gardena in the province of Trentino.
The road does hit 12.5% gradient at some points so caution should be exercised depending on the time of year you’re visiting.
In the summer, a lot of tourist coaches drive this route so be wary of large vehicles too!
The charming villages and clusters of houses and cabins make this a really magical drive in the Dolomites.
At 2,236m, Giau Pass is still one of the highest passes in the Dolomites, but it has a much wider expanse with sweeping views of meadows and pastures as you drive through.
The dramatic and jagged peaks of the mountains, combined with the picturesque pastures make this a popular hiking spot in the summer and you can’t go wrong with stopping at any of the parking locations on this route and enjoying a walk.
Located further south in the Dolomite region, this pass connects Cortina d'Ampezzo with Colle Santa Lucia.
The maximum incline here is 9% and along with the Sella Pass, is used in some of the most famous sections of the Giro d'Italia racing.
This stunning pass is much further west that a lot of the others and can often be closed due to the weather.
The narrow route is cliff side with stunning panoramic views of the mountains, lakes and valleys.
At 2,621m, this is the highest pass in the Italian Alps and lies just inside the Lombardy region.
Most of the gradient is around 7% but it also reaches up to 10% in places, with 15 hairpin bends.
Because it’s narrow, there are not as many cars on this route, mostly cyclists and bikers. You can drive a short section of it from Bormio if you’d like to experience part of it.
Herb Pass / Würzjoch
Passo del Erbe is a bonus Dolomites route on this list because we took this route accidentally as we made our way back to our accommodation in Val di Funes and we were blown away by it.
Admittedly we made a slight error and didn’t realise that this pass is only open seasonally! We drove up the pass from the east and reached the car park: Parkplatz Pe de Börz where the pass across the mountain and down to Val di Funes was closed due to the snow.
The drive up was narrow but absolutely stunning. Steep in parts but with very little traffic on the road due to it being closed (we should have realised!) we didn’t have any issues.
This is a popular route in the summer for bikers and cyclists to be aware of that for the summer months.
If you’re planning a visit to Val di Funes, I definitely recommend this route from Gardena Pass if you’re looking for scenic drives in the Dolomites.
Summary: best Dolomites driving routes
The Dolomites are famous for skiing, hiking and outdoor recreational activities. But there are just as many adventures to be had by car thanks to the epic scenery and amazing driving routes in the Dolomites.
Whether you’re visiting in winter or summer (or anywhere in between) there are spectacular driving routes to enjoy. Just please take precautions in winter, prepare your vehicle adequately, check for road closures and do not attempt dangerous drives if snowfall or visibility is low.
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