Adventures Italy mountains

Lago di Sorapiss Hike Review

By on July 31, 2015

During our adventures in Cortina, and as a way to shake out my legs before Lavaredo, Jason and I decided to hike up to Lago di Sorapiss. He had done some research and the pictures from other trips were breathtaking. Like all the other hikes we “researched” in the Cortina area, there was very little actual information on the internet. Coming from Colorado where every standard and non-standard route is ridiculously detailed by the US Forest Service, National Park Service, or a wide variety of bloggers, it was both refreshing and frustrating to start a hike without any real idea how long or difficult it was going to be. Especially since we did it the day before I was planning on running 74 miles!

Lago di Sorapiss is named for the mountain that stands tall over the lake, Sorapiss, which means “above the waterfall”. According to Wikipedia, legend states that Sorapiss was peace-loving king who turned himself into a mountain after his daughter was bewitched into providing shade to a witch’s house in return for a magical mirror. The king’s daughter, Misurina (also the name of another famous lake in the Cortina region), shed tears for her father forming Lago di Sorapiss. In addition to folklore, Lago di Sorapiss also holds a real place in Cortina history. The original Rifugio Vandelli was built by the Austrians in 1891, was destroyed by an avalanche four years later, and was rebuilt in 1896 in a more secluded area. It was rebuilt again by the Club Alpino Italiano in 1924 after the area became part of the Kingdom of Italy, was destroyed by a fire in 1959, and was rebuilt again in 1966.


Flowers and the view from the lake

Based on Jason’s research we knew the hike was usually done as a one way trip with people taking a gondola to Rifugio Tondi, hiking up to Ponta Negra, doing a small via ferrata, descending to the lake and then hiking down to Passo Tre Croci and taking the bus back to town. We didn’t want to take the gondola, and wanted to go before it was open, so we decided to do an out-and-back from Passo Tre Croci. Although web-based information is pretty much non-existent, the trail markings are excellent! We easily found the correct trail, which happened to also be marked with red North Face ribbons since it was part of Lavaredo.

The first part of the trail follows an old road, probably from the WWI timeframe past two old bunkers before narrowing considerably. Soon the sweeping views changed to a dense evergreen forest. The trail wound through the trees and had that odd feeling that happens when dead vegetation builds up on the forest floor over millennia where it feels like the ground is hollow. The trail for Lavaredo quickly split from the trail to Lago di Sorapiss and left me wondering what I might encounter on the section of trail that followed (spoiler: more of the wonderfully soft ground and the best running I had for the entire race).

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The “difficult” section

Soon the trail turned upward and began the sustained climb to the lake. In some spots the trail seemed impossibly steep and I was thankful I was wearing my Salomon S-Lab Ultra Sense 4, a theme that would be repeated throughout our entire experience in the Dolomites. Seriously, those shoes were made for that type of terrain and they performed flawlessly! Jason had warned me that there were a couple of sections with fixed iron ropes to help people on more exposed sections of the trail. I was picturing steep drop-offs and a barely there trail, but the actual sections that had the fixed iron rope seemed like normal sections of trail. In fact I only held on to the rope for photographic effect. On the return trip we did see a family that was clutching on to the fixed ropes for dear life, so maybe my idea of an exposed trail does not fit the normal definition.


Having fun at Lago di Sorapiss

After the fixed rope section, the trail continued to climb but in a much more moderate way. Soon we were at the turnoff for Rifugio Vandelli  and shortly thereafter saw our first glimpses of the lake. One of the reviews Jason found stated that “the lake has an almost surreal color which calls for a leisurely rest here.” The color of the lake was the strangest opalescent blue, almost milky colored. But when you looked straight down into the water, it was perfectly clear and you could see all the way to the bottom. We spent quite a while wandering around the lake, taking pictures and experimenting with the video functionality of Jason’s camera by taking running videos of me. Soon my stomach was protesting the lack of breakfast and we decided to head back down to the car.

We followed the same trail back, this time with more people on the trail. The views were equally as stunning, especially once we got out of the forest and were on the old dirt road. The early morning clouds had started to clear from the massifs, but stuck around just enough to lend a dramatic element to our photos.


Lago di Sorapiss panorama

The hike to Lago di Sorapiss was absolutely stunning and worth every step. The statistics ended up being 7.4 miles and 1,188 feet of elevation gain for the entire trip (out and back). My Strava data can be found here, but please ignore the pace calculations. I had my watch set to “good” GPS mode, which Strava interprets to mean “really fast”.  I highly recommend this hike to anyone visiting the Dolomites, and you can even extend the fun with an overnight stay at Rifugio Vandelli, less than a 0.25 miles from the lake. If you visit, check back and let me know what you thought. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it just as much as we did!