Would you believe me if I told you that I’d found the most spectacular hike in the Dolomites? Listen up. There are so many amazing hikes to do in the Dolomites that it’s challenging to pick just one, but out of my three weeks spent in Italy, there was one place that stole my heart, quite literally.
Hiking to El Cor the heart of the Dolomites is one of the best adventures I’ve been on in Italy.
El Cor (the heart, in Italian) was one of my first introductions to Italian hiking and one that has been forever cemented in my mind. Verdant alpine pastures, perfectly solitude, unbelievable views. And a perfect heart cut out of the rock, a window high in the mountains. Also, it’s a total secret! It’s so secret there isn’t even a trail there!
If you’re going to the Dolomites in summer and looking for a fantastic hike, you’ll no doubt want to put El Cor on the list, but if you do a quick search, you’ll see it’s an elusive track, and it’s hard to get any info about it, let alone in English but have no fear friends! I’m here to help.
Here’s everything you need to know about hiking to El Cor, the literal heart of the Dolomites.
The start of the El Cor track in a little village called Gares which is just west of Taibon Agordino.
You can reach the car park (Parcheggio Capanna Cima Comelle) in about 30 minutes if leaving from Taibon. There’s a great little cafe there for a quick espresso and a last-minute treat to get you up the mountain.
Hiking to El Cor the heart of the Dolomites takes a full day generally. Your time will vary greatly depending on your fitness and how often you stop, but at the very least, you should plan for 6 – 8 hours. This is a long trip and will take the majority of the day. A technical climb that’s unmarked and difficult, using an experienced guide is crucial.
I repeat you need a guide. You need ropes and rock climbing gear. You need experience.
Ok full disclosure, this is not the easiest route in Italy.
You won’t find full paths and hoards of crowds or clever via ferratas. The majority of this trip is off route and unmarked meaning that you either need to hire a guide (which is what I did) or be extremely familiar with the area and terrain (which is unlikely if you’re visiting as a traveler).
I got a personalized guide who made sure I was safe and happy the entire time. I used (Giovanni Orlando) as a guide. You can also stop into the Ufficio Turistico di Agordo or the Ufficio Turistico di Alleghe for more information on the route.
This obviously is a summer hike.
The track to El Cor starts on a generous, but steep, walking path that takes you up quickly for an hour. You’ll reach the end of the track and find a Malga (an Italian farmhouse) where you may or may not see a protective border collie patrolling the scene.
And that’s about as detailed as my description can get, which is why I recommend hiring a guide.
From the malga, you’ll go off-trail and down a steep gully. If you’re afraid of rock climbing and heights, this may not be an adventure for you. My guide carefully placed climbing gear on the rocks and roped me up tight to make sure I was safe while navigating my way down the slippery and steep gully.
We then put on over the shoe crampons and made our way carefully across a snowfield.
From there, the route to El Cor was easier but steep and exposed. We zig-zagged up the face of the mountain, which finally plopped us on the ridge, which is where all the magic happened! Finally!
At first, you can’t see the heart of the Dolomites, but you do get a quick view of the surrounding peaks which are pretty damn impressive. Cima Pape, El Mul, and Monte Agner are the three mountains you’ll see towering above the valley below.
A little further on the ridge, you’ll be blessed with your first sighting of the El Cor. While it’s visible, it’s not blatantly obvious so make sure you’ve got your eyes peeled.
This is a great stop to stop for lunch when hiking to El Cor the heart of the Dolomites.
I’d highly recommend fresh bread rolls and the local deli meat, Speck. Honestly, it’s a simple sandwich but one of the best I’ve ever had on a hike; and when you’re in Italy, nothing tastes terrible.
Take in the view and take all of the photos because once you leave this spot, El Cor will disappear and you won’t see it again.
With a full belly, you’ll be ready to complete the circuit. You’ll walk along the narrow ridge towards Tromba del Miel where the terrain flattens out, and you’ll have more room to move around. You’ll follow the vague cairns down the mountain and loop back up with another generous walking trail. This trail will take you back to the malga, and you’ll return the same way you ascended.
Finish the trip with a well-deserved beer at the cafe and enjoy the warm sun before the afternoon rain!
It almost goes without saying (and if you’re on a guided hike, this will be no problem because you’ll likely be roped up to your guide) but please please please do not attempt to hike to El Cor on your own.
It’s incredibly exposed, and a fall here would be fatal.
Additionally, this is a precarious natural formation and exposure to human traffic will undoubtedly degrade the feature quickly, so keep your space and admire it from a distance. Resist all irresponsible urges to get a stupid shot for Instagram! If I see anyone standing in the middle of the heart with their Instagram husband, I’ll lose it.
Things to consider and remember:
It’s common to encounter intense afternoon storms in the Dolomites, so if you’re planning this trip, you’ll want to leave early in the morning to mitigate this.
We left Taibon at 6:45 am and started walking by 7:30. If you begin the trip and begin to feel uncomfortable with the terrain (it’s very steep and exposed!), don’t be afraid to turn around.
It’s so important to listen to your gut!
What to bring:
Layers: The mountains in the Dolomites are high. The temperatures at the top can feel very different than the temperatures down in the valley. Be prepared with prolonged pangs, warm insulating mid-layers, and rain protection. It’d also recommend throwing in a hat and gloves, even in summer, just in case.
Water: There is virtually no water on the trail either. Aside from at the Malga (which was being guarded by border collie who did not like intruders, so we stayed clear). You’ll need at least 1L or maybe more if it’s going to be a warm day.
Food: Bring lots of food, including lunch. You’ll need the energy to sustain you for you around 8 hours.
Gear: If you’re going with a guide, they will have all the equipment you need to get to the top safely. This includes ropes, harnesses, crampons, and climbing gear.
Camera: The views from the top will blow your mind, so don’t forget your camera with a spare battery!