After dropping from Lavaredo at the approximately 50 mile point, I really needed some rest. My legs were sore and my heart was heavy so Jason and I spent the morning just relaxing on the lawn chairs in front of the Hotel Villa Argentina. After while I was itching to do something. My legs were still sore, my heart was still heavy, but I’m not the type to “waste” vacation time. Jason did a little research and determined that we could hike to Lago di Federa at the base of the Croda da Lago massif from our hotel. The information we found in the official tourism map for Cortina stated that the trail was “easy” (Lago di Sorapiss was “moderate”) and that there were a couple of options to reach the lake.
After we decided to stick to the trail that was labeled the easiest we started up the road from our hotel. We quickly ducked onto a side trail to avoid the cars speeding down the pass and didn’t pay any attention to the “trail closed” sign posted at the trailhead. After about a quarter of a mile we realized that the “trail closed” sign applied to the trail we wanted to take that linked the side trail from the road to the trail to Lago di Federa. Luckily we had a map and were able to determine that another trail would take us to the same location.
We started hiking on the new trail, following what were pretty clearly old tire tracks through the trees and grasses. Neither one of us saw any side trails or trail splits so we were very confused when were suddenly on a paved road with no trail in front of us. Luckily the trail was excessively well marked and we realized we were now on a third trail that accessed Lago di Federa and apparently the trail had recently be paved. Jason assumed that road paving was recent and that there was a gate somewhere between us and town that prevented cars from driving up to the lake since the map stated we were on a “road not suitable for cars”. I thought he was wrong and that it was in fact a paved road that we could have driven to access the lake, which was confirmed shortly thereafter when two cars passed by.
After hiking up the road for what seemed like forever (mountain roads in Europe can be steep!), we came to an open meadow with cows grazing and what we assumed was the rifugio next to Lago di Federa. We walked up past the “rifugio” and quickly realized that there was not a lake beyond it. We headed down towards the creek, assuming that it would lead to the lake, but it just went into a steep walled mini canyon. We walked around the cow pasture looking for the lake. Nothing! I thought the lake was still above us, but Jason was convinced that it should be where we were. Eventually the map loaded on Jason’s phone and we could see that the lake was above us. What we thought was the rifugio was actually a malga (a sort of farmhouse, usually used by shepherds during summertime to produce dairy products).
So we continued up, up, up. My legs were killing me by this point and I was so ready to just be at the lake and relax. Unfortunately we still had about 700 feet to climb up steep mountain roads (this time they were not paved), but I did have my trekking poles which helped a ton. They really help relieve your legs by putting a lot of the effort of hiking into your upper body – which of course only made my arms and shoulders sore the next day! Finally the actual rifugio and the lake came into view.
The entire way up I was silently cursing Jason for picking this supposedly “easy” hike, the map makers for calling this trail “easy”, and myself for not being able to muster any power for my poor tired legs. But once we got to the lake all those curses were silenced. Although not an unusual color like Lago di Sorapiss, Lago di Federa was breathtakingly beautiful. Il Becco di Mezzodi casts it’s reflection upon the silent lake and the Rifugio Gianni Palmieri stands guard. The lake surprisingly lacks any tributaries and there are no noticeable snowmelt paths for water to keep the lake full. Instead it is almost entirely spring fed which ensures the lake level is relatively constant throughout the seasons.
After spending some time taking pictures around the lake we decided to head down and attempt to make it to the hotel in time for dinner. Since the trail that was closed was only a connector trail, we decided to take the “easy” trail back to the hotel and risk spending a little more time walking on the busy road instead of going back the way we came. The trail started off really mellow, rolling along a ridge between the Cortina Valley and Passo Falzareggo. After a stunning lookout at the end of the ridge, the trail turned steeply downhill. We assumed that the steep downhill trend would be brief and then would resume its mellow path for the remaineder since it was labeled an easy trail. That was not the case and if anything the trail became even steeper. Luckily the connector trail had been closed because this “easier” trail was wayyyy harder and would have been a killer on the way up.
We finally made it back to the road up the pass and were thankful that we only had one kilometer on a paved road with a gentle decline to reach our hotel and dinner. We decided to postpone our post-hike shower and go straight to dinner, where we lived it up and ordered our first half liter of wine on the trip. Dinner was delicious, dessert was well-earned, showers felt amazing, and we fell asleep the minute our heads hit the pillow to rest up before continuing the adventures the following day.
If you’re ever in the Cortina area, I highly recommend visiting Lago di Federa. Although Jason and I were able to confirm that there are no truly “easy” trails up to the lake, the experience is definitely worth the effort. If we were to go back, I would start earlier in the day and plan on having lunch at Rifugio Palmieri or even splurging for a night there. I imagine that the sunset and sunrise would be breathtaking. Anticipate about 8.7 miles roundtrip if you do the hike from Hotel Villa Argentina as a loop, slightly shorter if you do it from the official trailhead. The route has a little over 2,600 feet of elevation gain and Jason and I completed the hike in about 4.5 hours (including our stops to take pictures). On fresh legs (i.e., not the day after running 50 hard mountain miles) I think the hike could be done in around 3 hours but could take up to 6-7 hours for someone who is a less experienced hiker. There is also a way to make it a one way hike for an easier trip but then you’d miss out on some of the fun! Leave me a comment if you have any questions about the hike or if you’ve done it and have recommendations for future hikers!