By Grace Koelma
Geisler Alm/Adolf Munkel Trail in the Dolomites
Hiking the Dolomites with kids
So, you're planning (or dreaming!) of a trip to the Dolomites with kids, and wondering whether it's even possible to hike in those insane mountains with little (or bigger) ones?
The good news is YES, it is possible, and will be one of the best things you'll do in Europe (it's that breathaking!).
This guide is specifically for parents with kids, who want to find the best kid-friendly hikes in the South Tyrol region.
We've been traveling the world for 2 and a half years with our (now) 4-year-old, and since we stopped carrying him in the hiking backpack, it's been tough to find hikes that match his little legs.
Eric has also been nursing an ankle injury, which has meant that he can't really carry Leo at all on steep terrain. Before visiting Europe in mid-2019, we spent 14 months in North America, and hikes longer than 4km were pretty much off limits for us, which was a big disappointment.
That's why we were so excited to find that Geisler Alm was not only a perfect beginner hike with stunning Dolomites scenery, but achievable for our 4-year-old to do on his own.
Note: Because I know that hiking with kids is unpredictable, I've put a ton of detail in this guide so you know where you're at every step of the way. The hike is really quite simple, but these steps will help you with route options and signage, so you're not confused when you're out there.
Take it on the trail - download the offline version (PDF) here.
Our experience hiking to Geisler Alm made our Dolomites adventure absolutely unforgettable, so we hope this guide inspires you to get out there with your kids. If you do the Adolf Munkel trail to Geisler Alm and share pics on Insta, tag us @darelist.family. We'd love to see!
Adolf Munkel: trail overview
- 8-10km (depending on route)
- 4-5 hours walking time, easy trail for most part
- Loop from Zanser Alm to Geisler Alm and back
- With 2 extended refugio stops, we were out on the trail/mountain for 10 hours
The trail we chose on the Adolf Munkel trail was around 10km, a loop out from Zanser Alm to Geisler Alm and back to the Zanser Alm carpark. The loop is usually 9km but we took a few detours, including an additional pitstop at Glatsch Alm to break up the trip and give Leo's legs a rest.
This route involved about 5 hours of walking on alpine trails, which our 4yo managed without being carried once. (Yes, he did ask. But because he wasn't whining and was easily distracted by stories, we just kept saying no to see what his endurance really was.)
We were astounded at how far he could go, and with two leisurely pit stops at alpine refugios (with playgrounds) along the trail, it ended up being an incredible 10 hour day spent in some of the most amazing scenery we've ever witnessed. We would do it again in a heartbeat!
P.s: We were all exhausted at the end, and drove straight to town (missing the iconic Dolomites sunset at Val di Funes!) where we subsequently ate a whole pizza each - mmmm. So worth it.
Know before you go
The Adolf Munkel trail to Geisler Alm is perhaps one of the most beautiful and accessible trails in the Dolomites.
Keep scrolling to see our photos of this place, and you'll see why we're in love!
The trail passes beneath the towering and very iconic Odle/Geisler mountain group, known as the 'Pale Mountains'. It's found in the Nature Park Puez-Odle and the Odle Massif, which are UNESCO world heritage sites.
- The South Tyrol region of Italy borders Austria and Switzerland, and is the only part of Italy where German is the mother tongue. Therefore, in the Dolomites you'll find that all roadsigns, restaurant menus, hiking trail posts and place names are named twice - in German and Italian.
- There is no park pass required for visiting Nature Park Puez-Odle, but in the Dolomites you generally have to pay for parking.
- The hike begins at Zanser Alm carpark, in the Val di Funes (Villnöß / Vilnöss) valley.
- It's open year round, but the park's peak visitor season is July and August, when the alpine wildflowers bloom in the meadows.
- Be aware that small children may find it harder to hike in extremely hot or cold temperatures, so we'd recommend visiting in late May, early June or September, when the temperatures are more bearable.
- Depending on when you are visiting, you may see wildlife on the trail, and cows and horses in the pastures, so use common sense and don't get too close or offer food, or attempt to touch.
Getting to the Geisler Alm trail
- Drive to Zanser Alm (exact Google maps location here) which is where the trailhead and carpark for the Adolf Munkel trail to Geisler Alm begins. Zanser Alm is a 2 hour drive from Bolzano, 3 hours from Venice, almost 4 hours drive from Milan and 3.5 hours from Munich.
- There is a fee to park at Zanser Alm, between €5-6, depending on which season you go. We paid €6 for the day. (Note: Zanser Alm is Malga Zannes in Italian).
- The area is also accessible by bus and train. Catch a train to Bressanone or Chuisa station and catch bus no. 340 to Val di Funes (Villnöß / Vilnöss).
- We would strongly suggest hiring a car, as it gives you more flexibility with where you go, and what time you arrive. The closest airports are Bolzano/Bolzen (45km), Innsbruck (85km) and Verona (190km).
- Bonus! Many guesthouses and hotels include a tourist guest pass which gives you free travel on all public transport services in the South Tyrol Transport Network, including regional trains, local buses. The pass also gives a huge discount on cable cars (we used ours to save €39 on our return trip to Seceda 2500!). Before booking your hotel, we'd recommend you ask your host whether you have access to this pass, because it can save you a ton!
What to expect on the trail (with kids)
- This trail is listed as appropriate for beginners, and varies in length, depending on what you prefer and your children's energy levels. If you are out on the trail, you have the option to lake de-tours or more direct routes to Geisler Alm, which will affect how long you're out.
- What we love about the Adolf Munkel trail is that there are refugios along the way, to stop and rest your legs and have a picnic. Refugios are small, family-run guesthouses and restaurants (often with cows in pasture) that almost always include a large sunny terrace to enjoy a beer on, and a playground for your children. Our son played happily here for hours, while we got to rest.
- The trail to Geisler Alm is excellent, and signposted the whole way. Some parts are steeper, and the trail narrows, but nothing we felt unsafe doing with our 4-year-old. There are also sections that may be challenging for small legs, climbing over roots, and hopping across small streams but again - nothing too difficult.
An important note on trail signage
The signs can get confusing if you're not familiar with bi-lingual hiking naming procedures (or if you didn't research enough before hand, like us! Whoops!). Because we got a bit disoriented, we decided to document everything to make this guide simple to follow, so be sure to 'save to reading list' so you can view it offline.
Basically, every trail signpost shows the route numbers in red/white, and names of the final destination in both German and Italian. The time to walk is also shown in minutes shorthand (eg. 5', 40'), which is helpful when deciding on routes with kids, though add on 10-15 minutes from what is estimated.
Some sign posts have one destination - bi-lingual names - and others (like the very bottom one in the photo above) show that a trail leads to two destinations. With bi-lingual naming it ends up looking like 4 destinations, which is why we got confused - but it's actually two destinations. So if you know this simple fact in advance, you'll be streets ahead of us!
If in doubt, just keep looking for signs to Geisler Alm / Rif. Delle Odle, and pair that with the trail numbers we mention (as several trails can lead to Geisler Alm, some more direct and others more scenic but longer).
Tip: We'd recommend downloading an offline version of this guide and Google maps too, which can be seriously helpful if you need to get your bearings on the trail.
Map of the route with markers
This is a rough guide from Google maps (link here), but your route may vary slightly depending on which option you take at the junctions. The numbers correspond with instructions below.
Hiking instructions: Geisler Alm loop, via Glatsch Alm
A: Trail to the ridge line junction: approx. 90* mins
1. Begin at the Zanser Alm parking lot, and take trail no. 6 toward Geisler Alm/Rif Delle Odle from parking lot main building (near the entry/toll hut).
*Possibly longer, if factoring in time for perfect hiking stick selection and toadstool gazing
2. For the first 20 minutes or so, you'll pass through beautiful farmland and wooded areas, past a small stream with waterfalls. In this section there's not much shade, so if you're hiking in summer, start early. (We started at 8.45am and the autumn temperature was perfect). Keep in mind that you cannot touch or pick flowers or toadstools. Read the park signs carefully at the trailhead.
3. You'll get to a fork in the path after a wide bridge, where you'll need to take trail no. 35 towards Geisler Alm. This is the path that turns left up the hill and goes through a turnstile.
4. The path winds up through gorgeous forest with views of the incredible white mountain peaks glimmering through the trees. You will reach a sign with no. 36B signposted - this is a more direct route to Geisler Alm. We chose to keep trekking along no. 35, as it goes closer to the base of the mountains, and is much more scenic.
5. After 10-15 minutes of ascending steadily uphill, you'll reach an alpine meadow right at the base of the mountains, with a few huge boulders and a great view of the base of the Pale Mountains.
6. After that, it's a short walk along the ridge line under the base of the mountains to the junction on the ridge line, where trail no. 36 splits off the one you're currently on - trail no. 35. We stopped to have a snack here on the little benches.
B: Detour to Glatsch Alm (optional): 30 mins walking return
7. Here is where you can take a little detour downhill to Glatsch Alm via trail no. 36 - which is just 15 minutes off the path, and 15 back again. We'd highly recommend this pit-stop to give their little legs a rest and get something to eat.
* If you don't want to take the detour, continue along trail 35, and skip to section D.
The trail signage is a little confusing here, as trail no. 36 goes in two directions (hence why we got lost ).
If you want to go to Glatsch Alm, take the no. 36 route in the direction of Glatsch Alm / Malga Glatsch / Zans Zannes, which is the trail that goes uphill rather than staying on the ridge.
After you go up for a few minutes, you descend down the other side of the hill with stunning views into the meadow, and be able hear the cowbells clanging in the pasture. #swoon
C: Glatsch Alm refugio
Glatsch Alm is a mini version of Geisler Alm - a typical family-run refugio (guesthouse) and restaurant set among gorgeous alpine meadows. It features:
- a licensed restaurant
- sunny and partially shaded terrace (with live music if you're lucky!)
- small playground with swings, slide, sandpit, toys and trampoline
- cow pastures and stunning views
Enjoy stunning views of the famous Pale Mountains, while you sip a beer in the sun, and your kids play happily. In the middle of a hike, a stop like this is basically paradise.
Because we were disoriented, we actually thought Glatsch Alm was Geisler Alm for around an hour , but we are so glad we accidentally ended up there. Best detour we could have made, and once we'd enjoyed some food and Bavarian folk tunes in the sun, we set off again for Geisler Alm, our energy renewed.
Quick exit strategy: if you need to finish the hike sooner than you'd thought and want to forfeit the Geisler Alm route (which adds a further 2 hours walking to your hike), you can take the trail no. 36 from the entry gate just below the refugio, down to the carpark at Zans / Zannes (Zanser Alm). I'm not sure what this path is like, but it is the most direct way back to the carpark at this stage (40-60mins).
Before we left, we explored around the Glatsch Alm meadows, and it is seriously beautiful, and gives you a stunning view over the refugio and cow pastures.
D: Trail to Geisler Alm: approx. 45-55 mins
8. We returned up the same trail, over the hill to the 35/36 intersection (on the ridge line, near the benches).
9. When back at the crossroads, look for the sign marked trail no. 35 Gschnagenhart / Geisler Alm / Rif. Delle Odle, which is continuing along the ridge line in the direction you were heading before you took the detour to Glatsch Alm.
10. Continue along the ridge line for a little while, where you'll come to another trail split.
Option 1: Take trail no. 36A downhill towards Geisler Alm / Rif. Delle Odle, which is the most direct way to Geisler Alm, approaching from slightly below the large meadow, and another approx. 30 mins of walking. We took this option because our 4yo was tiring.
Option 2: Take the more scenic but longer route along no. 36 (signposted towards Gschnagenhart Alm / Malga Gschnagenhart), which approaches from the ridge line above.
11. We took trail no. 36A, and still thought it was really pretty, but if our kid was older we would have opted for staying on no. 36.
12. From the junction at 36A, it was 30 minutes on an easy trail to Geisler Alm refugio. You'll know when you're close, because you'll reach a signpost that indicates you need to take trail 36 again, and go through another turnstile/stile and over some boardwalks covering marshy ground to get to Geisler Alm.
E: Geisler Alm refugio
Geisler Alm is simply stunning - a meadow with two refugios/restaurants with a breathtaking view of the Pale Mountains and back of the Seceda Ridgeline.
- two licensed restaurants (one in the main Geisler Alm house, and another at Gschnagenhart Alm, which is up the farm road towards the mountains.)
- sunny and partially shaded terraces
- large playground with a flying fox, animal farm swinging bridge and more.
- cow pastures and stunning views
- ergonomic deck chairs on the mountainside to relax on
Once you've checked out Geisler Alm and lounged on the deck chairs on the hillside above it, head up the wide farm road and through the gate to Gschnagenhart Alm, which is a much quieter refugio with incomparable views.
A trail extends past the turnstile into the field, which leads to no. 36, the other way you can enter Geisler Alm (at the 36A intersection). We walked out into the meadow and were stunned by the views. This was probably our favourite moment of the day, the peace and quiet was lovely, and the sheer cliffs were so astounding almost made me want to cry.
F: Trail to the Zanser Alm carpark (via Dulser Alm): approx 60 mins
As the light was fading, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away from Geisler Alm, and returned to the main refugio, where there are two directions trail no. 36 takes towards Zans / Zannes (Zanser Alm).
13. We chose to return the way we'd entered - down the path past the playground, along the boardwalks to the turnstile.
We took trail no. 36 downhill from there (signed in the direction of Zans / Zannes / Dusler Alm).
This trail is fairly steep in sections, and probably the hardest part of the hike, partly due to getting tired after a big day hiking, and partly because there are many roots and steep sections to navigate. Our 4-year-old still managed it all cheerily though (with lots of stories/songs/games of 'I spy' for distractions).
14. At the bottom of this narrow forest path downhill, the path widens, and you'll reach an unsealed road in both directions. At this point you have the option (look at the signpost) to reach Zans / Zannes from two directions. Left is no. 36B, and is on the unsealed road taking 50 mins. To the right is no. 36, and it begins on the wide road for 100m, but after passing the Dusler Alm refugio, it becomes a narrow path through the forest, taking about 40 mins to complete with kids.
We took this option, as we didn't want to walk on the road, and preferred a quicker route.
15. When you've been following the forest path after Dusler Alm for 35 mins, you'll come to a final signpost, indicating that trail no. 33 will take you to Zans / Zannes (Zanser Alm). You are so close - only 5 minutes away!
16. The path joins the road again right before the Zanser Alm carpark. It enters at the other end, which was disorientating, but just keep walking until you reach the original building and find your car from there.
You're done, and if you're anything like us, tired but very, very happy with our achievement, especially for our little guy!
This guide was a huge one, because we wanted to make our instructions as clear as possible. Let us know if it was helpful and tag us @darelist.family if you share pics on Instagram!
Grace, Eric and Leo
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Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!
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