9 essential tips for driving the Great Dolomites Road

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strada delle dolomiti
strada delle dolomiti

Have you heard of the Great Dolomites road? It’s one of the most famous road trips in Italy and it’s FANTASTIC.

Seriously, if you’re planning on driving in the Dolomites, you have to drive this route. It’s one of the most spectacular roads we’ve ever seen- which is saying something, given how much driving we do! The entire area of the Dolomites is a UNESCO World Heritage site- and it really does deserve it- it’s a fantastic area.

Is driving the Great Dolomites Road difficult?

Whether you’re driving in a motorhome, car, motorbike or campervan, the Great Dolomites Road is perfectly doable. Promise.

If you’re not used to mountain roads, it can seem a little intimidating, but follow the steps below, take your time and enjoy one of our very favourite roads.

Great Dolomites Route planner

These driving directions will go from Bolzano, which is the way we drove it. Obviously, you can drive them in reverse. 🙂 The road goes up into the mountains and passes through South Tyrol, Trentino and Veneto.

Driving the Great Dolomites Road- things to know before you set off

  • There are several names for the road: SS241; Die Große Dolomitenstraße (German) and Grande Strada delle Dolomiti OR Strada dei formaggi delle Dolomiti (Italian)
  • It’s well signposted and there’s decent phone signal around the entire area.
  • The road goes from being well paved and wide to being…well…not. Lots of cracks, bumps and sometimes narrow
  • There is NO guarantee of fuel stations between Bolzano and Canazei – fill up before you start. (They can be shut)
  • There are a couple of restaurants/ cafes/ shops along the route, in small villages or tourist spots. But ideally, bring food and drink with you to enjoy in a beautiful spot (more on that below!)
  • Expect most people to be speaking German. Yes, in Italy. This section is part of the historic Austro-Hungarian empire. Road signs and people will be in German and Italian, but the further north you go, the more German you’ll hear. Cortina is Italian again.
Driving the Great Dolomites Road with a motorhome, campervan, car or motorbike
Driving the Great Dolomites Road with a motorhome, campervan, car or motorbike

What is the best time to drive the Great Dolomite Road?

  • This road is best driven in good weather, so you can enjoy the views. Cloudy is doable, but if it’s raining, you may want to postpone- you won’t get the same experience. Fog- forget it completely.
  • Expect lorries and coaches coming in the opposite direction at all times. If you’re nervous, early morning is the best time to drive this road.
  • Timing is key! Ideally, avoid high season (July/ August). It’s too busy and rest stops will be full, not to mention increased difficulty driving up and down steep hills with extra traffic. We visited at the beginning of October and it was perfect- trees changing colour, not too many people, yet warm enough to enjoy a walk.
  • The road may shut in winter, especially in times of heavy snowfall. Signs will warn you.
  • If you are driving in winter, make sure your vehicle carries the necessary safety equipment for Italy.

Great Dolomites road map

Here’s a map of the Great Dolomites road route. Actually, here are two maps…

Most scenic route? Bolzano to Cortina Itinerary

This is the entire Great Dolomites route, from Bolzano to Cortina d’Ampezzo. This route incorporates the Pordoi Pass.

106km • 2h 40 mins • Easy-Moderate difficulty

Great Dolomites road map and route planner Bolzano to Cortina via Pordoi Pass
Great Dolomites road map and route planner Bolzano to Cortina via Pordoi Pass

Great Dolomites Road and Sella Pass Dolomites Itinerary (the one we drove)

However, if you are short on time and want to see a lot, this is the route we recommend. It allows you to see many of the key points in the Dolomites without spending too much time travelling and allows you to drive up Sella Pass, which is SPECTACULAR.

76km • 2h • Easy-Moderate difficulty

Views: Breathtaking

Ability to park for photos of views: 5/5

Overall Star rating: 5/5

Great Dolomites Road map and route planner- Bolzano to Ortisei via Sella Pass
Great Dolomites Road map and route planner- Bolzano to Ortisei via Sella Pass

NOTE: Driving time does not reflect time for photo stops. There will be MANY of these- this route actually took us 4 hours, including a stop for lunch and a dog walk up Sella Pass. 

Watch us drive the Great Dolomites Road in our Motorhome

This is the video of us driving the Great Dolomites Road from Bolzano to Canazei. (The first 60 seconds are the same as the Dolomites intro which may have already popped up, so just skip forward… or enjoy those incredible views again!!)

Our 1-day Great dolomites road trip itinerary in a motorhome

We drove the Great Dolomites road all the way to Canazei. From there, you have a choice- do the Sella Pass to Ortisei (which is what we drove) or do the Pordoi Pass towards Cortina d’Ampezzo.

Both passes are spectacular and you can easily plan a road trip which involves one or both of them if you have time.

We chose to drive towards Ortisei because we wanted to do the cable car up to Seceda and visit the Val di Funes, but if you’ve already seen everything you want to in this area than by all means pick the route towards Cortina.

Great Dolomites Road route planner- Pordoi or Sella Pass
Great Dolomites Road route planner- Pordoi or Sella Pass

Great Dolomites drive (step by step road tour)

We drove up from Trento, so we started at the Bolzano. If you are heading North (from Trento), it’s the exit north of Bolzano- Bolzano Nord/ Eggental exit

  • Look for road SS241- Grande Strada delle Dolomiti (Italian) or Die Große Dolomitenstraße (German)
  • Take this road- you will immediately drive into a LONG tunnel, which goes uphill. Do not panic- I promise there will be some views shortly.
  • You exit the tunnel, still climbing uphill. You’re driving through a gorge, which is beautiful, but there are trees on both sides so you haven’t got amazing views yet. Wait for it.
  • Suddenly, you turn a corner and get your first view of the ‘real’ Dolomites. Feel free to stop the motorhome/ car/ campervan in a safe place and take photos- but I promise you’ll get better shots shortly.
  • Keep following the road and going uphill. The views get better and better
  • Arrive at Lake Carezza. This is worth a stop if you can spare 30 minutes.
  • There is a cafe here, where you can buy food if you need, but our advice is to get it to take away (if you’re in a motorhome or camper, even better.) Trust me, the perfect lunch spot is coming up.
  • Turn left out of Lake Carezza (assuming that’s the way you’re going!) and keep climbing. After 15 minutes, you’ll arrive at a flatish section with unbelievable views over the valley and other Dolomite mountains.
  • Here, you’ll find LOADS of small parking areas which are perfect for a lunch stop. (NOTE: You CAN NOT wild camp/ free camp/ sleep in the Dolomites national park overnight. Even out of season. Sorry.)
  • Brace yourself. Things are about to get wiggly. It’s been fairly sedate in terms of tight hairpin bends so far. But going downhill that all changes.
  • Arrive in Canazei. This is where you choose whether to do the Sella Pass to Ortisei or the Pordoi Pass to Cortina d’Ampezzo. There is no right/ wrong answer and both are fabulous, so pick the one which works best with your Dolomites itinerary and what you want to see next.
Driving the Great Dolomites Road- expect incredible mountain scenery
Driving the Great Dolomites Road- expect incredible mountain scenery

Driving the Dolomites Road tips

  • BE KIND TO YOUR BRAKES. Small pulses and take your foot off them as much as possible. Drive slowly, use your gears and engine braking as much as possible.
  • If in doubt, pull into a safe place (there are lots of laybys on the way down) and rest for 5-10 minutes to give the brakes a chance to cool. (Do NOT put cold water onto hot brakes- that causes stress fractures)
  • If you’re in a motorhome, remember your length. On many hairpin bends, you will need to pull out onto the other side in order to get around safely. Check for traffic coming the other direction.
  • Similarly, if you are a car, expect motorhomes/ coaches/ lorries to pull out and stop a decent distance before the bend to allow them to swing around.
Motorhome parking on the Great Dolomites Road- a perfect lunch spot
Motorhome parking on the Great Dolomites Road- a perfect lunch spot

Can you drive the Great Dolomite road from Venice?

Absolutely! Many people hope to visit the Dolomites on a road trip from Venice and it’s doable in a day, although it will be a long day!

Venice to Bolzano is about 2 hours, 45 minutes and then you would complete the rest of the Great Dolomites Road. We suggest taking the Sella Pass to Ortisei route, which will then lead you back the motorway of the A22 and south again, where you can enjoy more spectacular gondola rides in Venice.

Wild camping in the Dolomites with a motorhome/ campervan

Sorry, wild or free camping on the Great Dolomites road is not allowed. The Dolomites are a UNESCO World Heritage site and frankly, I agree with them not allowing wild camping (although they do allow it up Tre Cime di Lavaredo- which is AMAZING!)

Which might sound crazy, as we LOVE wild camping in our motorhome. There are plenty of park rangers and police and you will be moved on when they find you.

Some people have said it is ok to wild camp outside of peak season. I’ll be honest, we did see a small campervan parked up Sella Pass and covered in snow (which was odd, as we didn’t have snow!)

It looked like it had been there for a while… but we don’t know if anyone was using it or if it belonged to one of the park rangers. That was the only vehicle we saw during our entire Dolomites visit which looked like it was wild camping.

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