Have you seen photos of the Dolomites and want to ride your bike there…. But you’re daunted by the challenge of the epic climbs?
Well, I’ve ridden almost all of the Dolomites passes and the scenery is spectacular, the riding is incredible, and it’s tough!
If you’re not in amazing shape, or you’re traveling with kids, or you just want to go for an easy ride in the Dolomites, this guide to cycling the Dolomites valley bike paths is for you!
I’ll introduce you to a few of the best cycling paths in the Dolomites, and then using one bike route as an example, show you step-by-step how to:
- Reserve your bikes and equipment
- Figure out your transport to and/or from the ride
- Enjoy the ride!
Our family loves riding the Dolomites cycling paths and I’ve ridden on them with kids of all ages and my parents.
I hope this guide helps get you on a Dolomites path too!
IMPORTANT for 2023: The local train that runs between Merano and Malles has eruptedted service while they work on the track. This means on weekends you must take a bus from Merano to Malles. On weekdays, you take a quick bus from the Merano train station to the Tel (Töll) train station, and from there you take the local train to Malles. Hopefully in 2024 the train will be back to normal.
Where Are the Dolomites Valley Cycling Paths?
The Dolomites Valley cycling paths are all around the Dolomites. The Südtirol Rad (Cycling South Tyrol) network of bike routes and bicyle rental shops is excellent – it’s the company we always use.
The main bike paths in the Dolomites are:
- Ciclabile Val Venosta (Route Vinschgau)
- Ciclabile Val Pusteria (Route Pustertal)
- Ciclabile Val Isarco (Route Eisacktal)
- Ciclabile Brennero (Route Brenner)
- Ciclabile Alto Adige Sud (Route Südtirols Süden)
You don’t have to ride the entire route – you can start and finish at different points along the route. For example, the route I’ll go over below is 59 km (from Malles to Merano), and it’s just a part of the 111 km route from Resia to Bolzano.
How can you personalize your route? Because there are multiple bike rental stations, and there’s an excellent public transport network in the area – you can use the local trains if you want a lift.
Helpful Tip: If you think you’ll be hopping on and off trains, look into getting the 1-day bikemobil Card. We haven’t used this card because we take the train to the start and then ride back, but we see many others using the trains along the route.
Good To Know: You can see helpful route elevation profiles on the Südtirol Rad website.
Who Should Ride on the Dolomites Bike Paths?
Riding the Dolomites bike paths are for anyone who:
- Loves dramatic mountain scenery – you’ll be stopping to take a lot of photos!
- Wants to exercise in the Dolomites but without extreme exertion
- Seeks outdoor time together with a group of mixed athletic abilities
- Wants to ride in the Dolomites but without the stress of road traffic (although there are some road crossings and a few sections you share with cars, especially by cities)
- Wants to ride mainly on smooth, paved bike paths but is also ok with a few gravel and hard-packed dirt sections
All Levels of Cyclists Can Ride the Dolomites Bike Paths
Anyone can ride these Dolomite cycling paths! I’m a cyclist and I love these paths (even though I also love epic climbs). My parents (in their 70s) have had so much fun on the Dolomites paths (even without e-bikes). I’ve cycled here with my kids from ages 1 – 9. My younger kids have ridden bikes for part of the ride and then hopped in the trailer when they’re tired (we bungee the little kids’ bikes to the trailer).
With the increase in the availability of e-bikes, riding in the Dolomites has become accessible to everyone.
The Best Times to Ride on the Dolomites Valley Cycling Paths
Dolomites bike paths can be ridden year-round, and you’ll see locals on them most of the year. For the best weather, I’d stick to the months of May through September. While June, July, and August can be toasty, the breeze from the ride and the cool air from the river make the ride doable and fun even in the heat.
We have done the ride below (Val Venosta) in June and July.
Step-By-Step Guide to Cycling on the Val Venosta Dolomites Bike Path
I’ll walk you through cycling on one of the valley paths (Val Venosta from Malles to Merano), but the process is similar for each one. And, if you have any questions, the staff at Südtirol Rad is very helpful.
Our favorite Dolomites bike path is the Val Venosta bike route. The route technically runs from Resia (Reschen) to Bolzano (Bozen), but we usually ride from Malles (Mals) to Bolzano. Why? Because the train doesn’t go all the way to the Resia rental station, so it’s not convenient (you’d need to drive or take a taxi to the ride start).
On our latest ride, we rode from Malles to Merano. I skipped the Merano to Bolzano section because I was riding alone with two of my kids and wanted to avoid the most trafficked part of the route (Merano – Bolzano).
1. Check the Train Schedule
Use the Südtirol Mobil website or app to plan your journey to the rental location of your choice. In our case, we needed to travel from Merano to Malles in the morning. The schedule showed we’d arrive in Malles at 10:55 (but always check, as the timetables change).
2. Reserve Your Bike and Equipment
Once you decide on your route and date, call or reserve your bikes online with Südtirol Rad. The website lists the bicycle types and other equipment you may want to rent. If you’re unsure, call and speak to someone.
Helpful Tip: Think about renting an e-bike, even if you don’t ride one at home. I’ve ridden normal bikes on this route and on our last trip I rented an e-bike. They’re amazing and worth having. You don’t have to use the e-assist the entire time, but it’s nice to have toward the end of the ride. Also, as someone who always has a kid in a trailer or bike attached to my bike – I’ll never go back to a regular bicycle on these routes.
You’ll get a lock with your bike rental, but you’ll also need to reserve helmets.
Good To Know: If you’ll be doing a lot of cycling in Italy, you may want to bring your own helmets. But, know that our experience with Südtirol Rad’s helmets has been good.
3. Prepare for Your Ride
The day before your ride, make sure you have all of your supplies ready. We bring:
- snacks and lunch (if you’re picnicking)
- water (you can refill along the route)
- clothing layer (like a windbreaker or fleece)
- helmet (if you’re using your own)
- comfortable shoes
- camera (if you don’t use the one on your phone)
- wallet with ID and cash and credit card
4. Make Your Way to the Bicycle Pick-Up Station
Heads Up: If you want to park in the big Merano train station (Piazzale Prader), know that there’s a small market on Tuesday (limited parking) and a large market on Friday (no parking).
After parking, walk across the street to buy your train tickets to Malles (or buy them on the Südtirol Mobil website or app).
Good To Know: In 2023, the train doesn’t run from Merano to Malles. You first have to take a bus to nearby Töll train station, and then take the train the rest of the way to Malles. On the weekend, it’s just a bus from Merano to Malles. At the Merano train station, take the bus from the right side of the station (if you’re facing the station).
Take the train to Malles. When you get off the train, head to the Südtirol Rad bike rental station in the parking lot (there are a couple of other bike rental companies right in the station as you get off the train).
Good To Know: You can charge your phone on the train (using your own cord).
Good To Know: If you need a toilet, you can use one at the Merano train station (on the left side of the station if you’re facing it) or on the train.
5. Get Your Bicycles
Give the staff your reservation info and get fitted for your bikes. They’ll help you adjust helmets, show you how to use the bike locks and e-bikes, and answer any questions you have about the bicycles or route.
Good To Know: When you’re signing out and paying for your bicycles, you can also sign up for theft insurance. We’ve never gotten it, because we never leave the bikes. We only get off to eat lunch, have a snack, refill our water bottles, check out something on the route, or play at a playground. If you plan on leaving your bike (like to go inside a restaurant for lunch, do a wine tasting, etc.), you may want to get the insurance.
Helpful Tip: The phone number for assistance is on the bicycle. Call it if you have any problems. We had a small bike problem on our last ride (my fault), and the staff was amazing. They were ready to drive out to help us but we were able to quickly fix it using WhatsApp photos and video.
6. Enjoy the Ride
Ride the gentle downhill from Malles to Merano. You’ll cycle most of the way along the river (the cool air feels great on a hot day!), passing apple orchards and vineyards. You’ll have mountain views along the way, and you’ll pass through charming villages and towns.
Take your time, soak up the views, take a lot of photos!
There are a couple of gravel sections, and the second one also has some ups and downs. I found it very helpful to have an e-bike on the hilly section.
When you get close to Merano, there are some bigger downhills, and some curves. Just take your time!
Our recent ride info:
Malles to Merano (pulling one child in a Weehoo trailer bike and with another on an e-bike):
59 km – official route distance (but 64 km on our bike odometer)
Less than 100 meters elevation gain, over 600 meters elevation loss
3 hours of riding time
4.5 hours total time
Taking Breaks – There are plenty of places to stop along the way to eat or rest. There are special rest areas with picnic benches marked with a brown sign (rastplatz/area di sosta). We also liked the fresh apple juice stand at 32 kilometers and the big wooden chairs with a view at 58 kilometers.
Using the Toilet – You can use a toilet at a café or restaurant. There’s a public WC at 40 km in the yellow building on the left of the bike path. You may also need to use the ‘great green latrine’ at some point along the route.
Water Refills – There are multiple water refill stations along the route in the small villages.
7. Return Your Bicycle to the Rental Station
When you enter Merano, start looking for the red signs for the bahnhof (station). When you get to the station, look across the street for the Südtirol Rad bike rental station. It’s also on the pamphlet they give you when you pick up your bicycle.
Helpful Tips for Cycling the Dolomites Valley Paths
If you want to use an e-bike, be sure to reserve it in advance. With Südtirol Rad, online reservations need to be made 2 days in advance.
Start your ride in the morning so you can enjoy the day without rushing to get back to the return you bike before it closes.
Have a phone with you. You may need to call the help number if you have problems with your bicycle. And, if you’re in a large group, you’ll be able to communicate with each other.
Stick to the signed route. Follow the brown signs for Merano and you’ll be fine!
Stop along the way. On the Malles to Merano route, there’s a fresh apple juice stand and the big wooden chairs with a view, and the town of Glurns is gorgeous.
Bring a layer. The weather can change quickly on the route, and if you’re taking the train, know that it can be chilly (air-conditioning).
If you drive to catch a train (for example, like we drive to Merano), park in a free lot, a paid garage, or a space that uses the EasyPark app (so you can top-up from your phone if necessary).
You’ll mostly be on traffic-free bike paths, but you will occasionally cross roads (by stopping or yielding) and ride with some traffic. You may want to review the Important Italian Road Signs.
Cycling the Dolomites Bike Paths with Kids
Based on my cycling experience in Italy, in the Dolomites, and with Südtirol Rad, here are some things to keep in mind if you want to ride with your children:
- You can only have one child with you on your bicycle. For example, in other places, I’ve ridden with a child seat attached to my bike and a trailer attached to the same bike. They won’t let you do that, so you’ll need to have one adult riding per child that needs to be on or attached to a bike.
- Rent an e-bike for your kids who want to ride. This was the first time my 9-year-old rode the entire way, and he didn’t want the e-bike but was so glad he had it, especially for the last 10-15 kilometers.
- There are so many fabulous playgrounds on the route! Keep an eye out for them at the following (approximate) kilometer markers on the Val Venosta route between Malles and Merano:
- 28 km – shady, after the gravel section
- 34 km – also a little lake
- 37 km
- 48 km
- You can leave your stroller at the rental station. For example, if you’re staying at a hotel in Merano, you can walk your child to the train station and leave your stroller at the bike rental station there.
- Take the train! We take the train to the route start and our kids love looking out for castles and looking at the river, orchards, and vineyards. The train windows are large so everyone gets a good view.
- Make the bike ride your day’s activity. I always think we’ll have energy to hang out in Merano after the ride, but even though the cycling paths aren’t hilly, you’re still exercising! If you want to explore a town after your ride, don’t do it – schedule it for another day. Get a gelato and rest at your hotel, at the pool, etc.
Dolomites Cycle Path FAQs
Yes, you can ride any type of bike on the paths. You don’t need a mountain bike, as the paths are almost completely paved, and the gravel sections are gentle enough to ride on a city bike or road bike.
The Dolomites valley bike paths don’t have as much elevation gain and loss as climbs you’ll encounter on rides like the Sella Ronda near (with four epic mountain passes). The Val Gardena has gentler riding elevation-wise, but you’re cycling with traffic (unlike on the valley bike paths). You can ride a short section of bike path in the Val Gardena, but if you want a longer route, the valley bike paths are your best bet.
If you’ll be doing a lot of cycling on your Italy trip and you really want to ride your own bike, you can bring it. But, we live here and have our own bikes, and always choose to rent bikes for our rides on the Dolomites valley paths. Why? It’s convenient, great value, and we don’t have to travel with our bikes.
We’ve cycled on both and enjoy both areas and their bike paths. The Dolomites have more dramatic scenery and the routes tend to have cyclists only, whereas on Lake Garda you’ll be sharing the route with more walkers (and casual bikers).