With picture-postcard perfection, high alpine meadows and dramatic rocky hikes, there’s a multitude of experiences in the Braies Valley. Lago di Braies is just the icing on this wonderful area.
Fed by alpine streams and underground springs, Lago di Braies lures travellers to its sparkling emerald waters. Surrounded by blonde shingle beaches and backed by sheer rocky cliffs, it’s a photographer’s dream location, an idyll in the Dolomites, and a pristine nature reserve.
Set against the massive north wall of Croda del Becco (Seekofel) – one of the giants of the Dolomites – Lake Braies is sometimes blue-green, sometimes crystal clear, sometimes milky and at all times enchanting.
Take a boat journey to magnetic beaches with mountains rising all around. Stroll past the quaint chapel on a slow amble through the forested path. Or hike the gruelling Rifugio Biella circuit to get up close to the domineering rock face constantly overlooking the lake.
But most importantly, leave the picture-postcard lake behind and experience the Braies Valley beyond the hum of tourist buses idling in the Lake Braies car park.
Wander the beguiling Bagni di Braies Vecchia, explore the high alpine pastures of Prato Piazza and hike to one of the most complete and spectacular views of the Tre Cime towers. All just a stone’s throw from Lago di Braies.
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MAP – WHERE IS LAKE BRAIES?
Lago di Braies, or The Pragser Wildsee in German, is located in the Braies Valley, which is in the northeast corner of the Italian Dolomites. Lake Braies is 16 kilometres from Dobbiaco (Tolbach).
The valley and lake are part of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies nature park, the largest in the Dolomites. The area is formed by karstification where soluble rock has formed the grooves and crevices that shape the formidable mountains. It’s also responsible for the landslide which formed Lago di Braies.
VISITING LAGO DI BRAIES
In order to maintain the ecosystem at Lago di Braies, both bus tickets and parking spaces must be booked in advance for visits between 10 July and 10 September.
Entry remains unrestricted at all other times and it’s possible to walk or cycle to the lake throughout the year without pre-booking.
All the details on how to book your bus tickets and parking spaces is in the HOW TO VISIT section at the end of this guide.
WHAT TO DO AT LAGO DI BRAIES
1 – RENT A BOAT
The handmade wooden boats lining the shore of Lago di Braies are the instantly recognisable image of this picture-perfect Dolomites lake. Set in a row that arcs from the jetty towards the centre of the lake, the boats of Lago di Braies extract every ounce of romanticism they can muster.
And it works. But, to fully indulge in the Lake Braies experience you need to grab an oar, settle on an uncomfortable wooden bench and row across the lake. It’s the perfect way to drink in the views of this delicious setting.
From Hotel Pragser Wildsee, row to the south end of the lake where a lovely pebble beach offers one of the best vantage points of the lake. Get out, lie down, and stare up at the towering Cristallo Group of mountains, so close you can see every glistening glacier.
Boat Rental / May, Jun, Sep, Oct: 10am to 5pm; Jul-Aug: 8:30am to 6:30pm | Cost – €19 for 30 min; €29 for 1 hour for up to 4 people.
2 – PICNIC ON A PEBBLE BEACH
Lago di Braies generally freezes over in November, refusing to return to liquid form until late May. At a depth of 36 metres, even in the height of summer, the temperature rarely exceeds 14 degrees. So unless you have nerves of steel, this is not a lake you are going to want to swim in.
So there’s absolutely no need to bring your swimwear. A much better option is to bring a picnic and enjoy a relaxing lunch on one of the beautiful blonde pebble beaches.
With a blaze of emerald lapping the shore, the mighty rock face in the background and rows of pine trees framing the water, it’s a thoroughly beautiful place to sit and do nothing.
The area directly opposite Hotel Lago di Braies has a lovely shingle beach, ideal for a picnic. Otherwise, it’s possible to find a nice secluded spot in the woods just back from the main path.
READ NEXT / OUR DOLOMITES ROAD TRIP
3 – STROLL AROUND LAKE BRAIES
During summer, the sun starts to rise over the mountains at around 9:30am. At this time the shimmering mountain-lit lake is at its most seductive. It’s also early enough to avoid most of the crowds and the best time to complete the very easy walk around the lake – one of our favourite hikes in the Dolomites.
Partly shaded by towering pine trees, and partly under the glare of the rocky mountains above, the walk around Lago di Braies alternates between skirting the edge of the water and diverting into the woods. There’s a small waterfall in the northeast edge just past a raised wooden walkway that’s possibly the most scenic vantage point.
It’s a 3.5-kilometre walk around the lake which should take around 1 hour and 30 minutes, possibly longer if you decide to stop regularly to take photos. There is minimal elevation so it’s very easy. Far easier than the challenging Rifugio Biella hike, which is next.
Start – Hotel Lago di Braies | Distance – 3.5 kilometre round trip | Time – 1 hour, 30 minutes | Elevation – +/- 50 metres | Difficulty – Easy
4 – HIKE THE RIFUGIO BIELLA (SEEKOFEL HUT) CIRCUIT
A big part of what makes Lago di Braies such a dramatic location in the Dolomites is the towering mountain framing the background; the imposing face of Croda del Becco (Seekofel). To appreciate the diversity of the area, take the challenging hike up to the top of this rocky wonderland on the Rifugio Biella (Seekofel Hut) circuit.
The hut is the starting point for the climb up to the summit of Croda del Becco, a diversion suitable for experienced hikers only. But the circuit to Rifugio Biella is achievable for anyone with a head for heights and a decent level of fitness. It’s a long and tiring hike, but with plenty of breaks, it’s a very rewarding way to experience Lago di Braies, far removed from the busy tourist spot.
RIFUGIO BIELLA CIRCUIT DIRECTIONS
Start at the Hotel Lago di Braies, then head around the western shore of the lake. At the shingle beach on the opposite end of the lake, turn right on path 1 (Dolomites high-level route 1) signed to Rifugio Biella. Follow the demanding uphill slog over the loose scree and onto the tight zig zags over the rocky spine above the valley.
After the zigzags the path splits. Turn right staying on path 1 and continue on a relentless climb through more zig zags and, with the help of fixed chains, over a wall of rock. Here in the high valley the heat can be daunting, so bring sun protection. Finally, almost 3 hours after starting, it’s a short downhill walk to Rifugio Biella.
You can go back the way you came, but for a round trip take path 28, southeast to Forcella Cocodain. Bending northeast continue to follow path 28 until you meet a junction with path 4. At the junction turn left on path 4 and follow it back to re-join path 1 just above the first set of zigzags. Then descend to the lake. The route on path 28 can be tricky to find, but the paths are clearly marked on the Maps.Me App.
Start – Hotel Lago di Braies | Distance – 16.5 kilometre round trip | Time -5 hour, 30 minutes | Elevation – +/- 950 metres | Difficulty – Hard
5 – EXPLORE THE BRAIES VALLEY
The Braies Valley (Prags Valley) is a stunning location in the Dolomites, and not just for the lake. Flower-filled meadows with vintage mountain huts in various forms of decay, line the roads ploughed by tourist buses. Take some time to pull off into one of the parking bays by the side of the road and explore a part of the Braies Valley often overlooked by tourists.
The best area is at Bagni di Braies Vecchia. Leaving Lago di Braies, turn right at Segheria following signs to Rifugio Prato Piazza (Plätzwiese). Drive for a couple of minutes until you see the abandoned ruined hotel and pull off the road to explore. Here, hidden in the long grasses and alpine flowers, there is enough fodder to keep a photographer content for hours.
Small mountain huts, hidden in the long grasses with the mountains in the background are a tranquil world, miles away from the nearby lake. The area around Ponticello and up to the Postmeister Alm mountain cabin has plenty of parking and scenic places to stroll around.
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6 – VISIT PRATO PIAZZA (PLÄTZWIESE)
For us the highlight of visiting Lago di Braies was the high alpine plateau of Prato Piazza. Situated on the saddle between the Picco di Vallandro and the Croda Rossa d’Ampezzo mountains, Prato Piazza is a panoramic wonderland in a dramatic location.
The wide alpine pasture is a nature lovers paradise. There’s a multitude of hikes designed to collect the incredible Prato Piazza scenery and the terrain is ideal for mountain biking. Have a lunchtime beer on the terrace of the rifugio while you design a quick itinerary for the afternoon.
HIKE TO MONTE SPECIE FOR TRE CIME VIEWS
There are a number of hikes from Prato Piazza which showcase the unique location of the high plateau. However, the one we recommend is Monte Specie. It takes around 3 hours to complete with an elevation of 330 metres.
Start from the parking lot at Rifugio Prato Piazza and follow the number path 37 through the forest to Rifugio Vallandro (2,040m). North of the rifugio, continue on path 34, which leads up to Monte Specie (2,308m). At the top there’s a viewing platform indicating the mountain ranges you can see from the summit. The closest and most impressive are the towering peaks of Tre Cime (see our guide to hiking Tre Cime). Return the way you came.
WHERE TO STAY
As a popular tourist destination, there’s no shortage of accommodation in the Braies Valley. However, it does get booked up very quickly so it’s important to plan ahead. If you want to stay on the lake, the only option is Hotel Lago di Braies. It’s a charming old hotel with plenty of history but it has seen better days.
Staying up at Prato Piazza overnight means you’ll be in a prime location for sunrise and sunset, both of which are remarkable on the high plateau. There are two options on Prato Piazza, Hohe Gaisl and Rifugio Prato Piazza. Both are next door to each other, so the early morning views as the sun hits the opposite mountains is equally as stunning from each.
A family-run property in the centre of Dobbiaco, Hotel Rosengarten has a traditional restaurant, excellent views and breakfast for champions.
VALLE DI CASIES (GSIES)
About 30 minutes from Lago di Braies, Binterhof is a self-contained farm stay in a beautiful valley. The very friendly hosts provide supplies for breakfast and tips for the best places to visit.
PRATO PIAZZA (PLÄTZWIESE)
Hohe Gaisl is a comfortable mountain hotel with traditional South Tyrol stylings and a restaurant that does an excellent set menu in the evenings. The location is exceptional and the views are incredible.
WHEN TO VISIT LAGO DI BRAIES
Lago di Braies is accessible any time of year.
The lake is generally frozen over from November through to May. With a frosting on the trees and a crisp air descending from Croda del Becco, the lake is a beautiful place to visit in winter. It will also be much quieter.
The shoulder seasons of April to June and September to October are great times to visit the lake. With the ever-changing colours of the foliage and lake, you’ll be spoilt for photographic opportunities.
The peak tourist season is mid-July to end-August which is a good time to avoid if possible.
Rifugio Biella is open from June to September. However, getting to the rifugio involves a high altitude walk so it’s possible snow will be lingering on the mountains well into June. Always check the weather conditions before setting off.
Hiking at Prato Piazza is best from mid-July due to the altitude, however, it’s open throughout winter for skiing.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
The Dolomites is serviced by several international airports. Venice and Innsbruck are the closest main airports to Dobbiaco (Tolbach). However, driving from any of the airports is straightforward, so it’s best to check the prices and times from your home airport.
MAIN AIRPORTS SERVICING THE DOLOMITES
(DRIVING DISTANCES TO DOBBIACO)
168 kilometres | 2 hours, 10 minutes
179 kilometres | 2 hours, 20 minutes
132 kilometres | 1 hours, 40 minutes
249 kilometres | 2 hours, 55 minutes
HOW TO GET TO LAGO DI BRAIES
Lago di Braies is located in the northeast corner of the Italian Dolomites. It’s 16 kilometres from Dobbiaco (Tolbach) and 48 kilometres from Cortina d’Ampezzo.
The best way to see the Dolomites, and Lago di Braies, is by car. This will allow you to get to the lake early, to avoid the crowds and catch the early morning glow. A car also helps to explore the valley in more detail, including the nearby Bagni di Braies Vecchia. For your hire car, we recommend rentalcars.com who compare prices across all major car rental companies.
The closest town to Lago di Braies is Dobbiaco (Tolbach) which is just a 20-minute drive away. The other popular location nearby is Cortina d’Ampezzo which is around 30 to 40 minutes away.
We have more information about driving in this beautiful part of the world in our Dolomites itinerary.
CAR PARKING AT LAKE BRAIES
There are two car parks for Lago di Braies, one at the lake itself and the other at the town of Segheria, 5.5 kilometres from the lake. If you are visiting between 9:30am and 4pm from 10 July to 10 September, parking spaces must be booked in advance. Please note: the parking at PI Lago di Braies is especially busy, so book well in advance.
LAKE BRAIES BY BUS
Buses operate to Lago di Braise from Monguelfo and Dobbiaco. If you are visiting between 10 July and 10 September, bus trips must be booked in advance. All other times, tickets can be purchased on the bus. Select BUS SHUTTLE from this link to see the latest timetable.
HOW TO GET TO PRATO PIAZZA
Prato Piazza is a high alpine area 16 kilometres from Lago di Braies. Due to the single-track road, and to reduce the number of cars up on the plateau, you’re only allowed to drive up at certain times of the day. Here’s how to get to Prato Piazza.
PRATO PIAZZA BY CAR
To get to Prato Piazza by car, take the toll road from Ponticello (Brückele) which operates on a traffic light controlled one way system. Private cars are allowed up before 10am and down after 4pm. Outside those hours you’ll need to park at Ponticello (Brückele) and take the bus. The only exception is if you’re staying in the Hohe Gaisl hotel on the plateau when you are allowed up at any time. Just make sure you wait for the light to turn green.
PRATO PIAZZA BY BUS
To get to Prato Piazza by public transport, take the 443 shuttle bus. It starts at Monguelfo (Welsberg) with a stop at Brückele-Ponticello before winding its way up a tight single track road to Prato Piazza. The bus runs from 8:40am, roughly every 20 minutes.
MORE READING FOR YOUR DOLOMITES TRIP
The Dolomites is an area we love going back to. With exceptional hiking, dramatic scenery and a blend of Austrian and Italian culture, it’s one of our favourite destinations in the Alps. Here’s some more reading to help plan your Dolomites road trip itinerary.
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