Passo di Gavia is a beauty of a cycling climb. It’s got the immense scenery and grandeur of the Passo dello Stelvio but less of the traffic. At 2,621m it’s not quite as high as the Stelvio, but it’s still the tenth highest paved mountain pass in Europe and with testing 8% average gradients the Gavia Pass profile is undoubtedly challenging.
It's difficult to pick a favourite in a region of legendary climbs, but if we had to, Passo Gavia (from Ponte di Legno in the south) would be it. It’s challenging, spectacular, tranquil and rewarding in equal measure.
If you haven’t done it, get it on your must-do list!
Route map and profile
Distance: 16.5 km
Elevation Gain: 1,339 m
Max Grade: 29 %
Avg. Grade: 8 %
All metrics in this guide are approximate
PASSO DI GAVIA HIGHLIGHTS
The phenomenal beauty of this ride was our overriding takeaway.
Once you’re above the tree line, the sensational scenery makes you feel on top of the world. The narrow roads and quiet serenity make it hard not to love cycling the Gavia Pass, despite the pain its gradients put you through!
1. An easy-ish start: 0-5km
The Gavia climb begins just north of Ponte di Legno, where the road crosses the Torrente Frigidolfo. Though there’s the odd steeper section, the first five kilometers offer a bit of a warm up for what’s to come; the 6% average gradient will soon seem pretty chilled.
You already start to get some views too; the snow-capped peaks in the distance give a sneak preview.
2. Switchbacks through wood: Pietra Rossa to the traverse: 5-11km
After the hamlet of Pietra Rossa, you may notice signposts that indicate that the real climbing is about to begin!
The next 6km of switchbacks are on a very narrow road that winds up through the forest. You'll see the average gradient for this section rise to around 8.5%, with maximums in the teens.
One signpost shows a worrying 16% gradient!
3. Traverse and tunnel: 11-14km
After the turns, you start a four-kilometre traverse around the mountainside.
You rise above the tree line on a road that's extremely narrow, so that two cars aren’t able to pass each other.
It feels as if the gradients relax a bit. Certainly now you’re above the trees, the views over the gorge below and mountains all around are spectacular. You can see a long way up the valley, though at this point you can’t see the summit.
One point to note is that it’s quite exposed on this traverse and you’re at significant altitude. There’s no hiding from the weather should the rain roll in - bring enough clothes!
At the end of the traverse, ready yourself for the dreaded tunnel. It’s 0.5km long and the road climbs up through it. It’s dark. You’ll need your lights and some reflective clothing is sensible too.
Note: we’ve heard people mention that there’s an old cliff road you can ride instead of the tunnel. The road is closed to cars and we understand it has a rough, gravel surface. We haven’t done it so can’t confirm.
4.Tunnel to summit: 14-16.5km
After leaving the tunnel you can see the last two+ kilometres with the road stretching to hairpins ahead. The gradients sit at a stubborn 8-10% and we found the road surface tricky. The upside is the unbelievable views of 3,500+m giants surrounding you.
After the hairpins, the road eventually curves around and you see the Rifugio Bonetta at the summit. It’s a welcome sight!
At the top of the Pass is the Rifugio Bonetta. It was built in 1959 and has 37 rooms, a bar and walls decorated with snowy Giro photos.
We spotted a water fountain at around the 4km mark. There’s also a signpost to Ristoro Bar Caione at around 12km.
Otherwise you’d need refuel in Ponte di Legno or on the way back to Bormio in Santa Caterina di Valfurva.
TIPS for CYCLING Gavia Pass
Read our tips for cycling in the Italian Alps before you set out. The “when to go” section of our ultimate guide to the Stelvio region for cyclists talks about the best time of year to visit: in short, June/July/August/September.
Remember that snow is possible at any time of year and it’s rarely warm at the top of the Gavia Pass. Bring enough clothes for the descent, together with lights for the tunnel.
If you’re keen on Granfondos, check out the Granfondo Gavia Mortirolo which takes place in June every year.
It's also worth checking whether they're holding a "Gavia Pass bike day": in 2018 the Gavia Pass was closed to motorised traffic on 6 and 29th July and 2 September.
This climb is full of Giro d’Italia cycling history:
- People often seem to think the Passo del Gavia is in the Dolomites. It’s not, it’s in the Italian Alps, Lombardy!
Just north of the Passo Gavia is a monument commemorating the Battle of San Matteo during World War 1.
There are two beautiful lakes very close to both sides of the summit, Lago Nero and Lago Bianco.
Have you ridden Passo Gavia?
We'd love to hear from you - comment below or drop us a line.
Don't miss our other ride guides on this region: see the related rides section above and our guides to the Mortirolo and Mortirolo and Gavia loop guide. Also our guides to Stelvio (from Bormio), Stelvio (from Prato), Umbrail Pass loop, Bernina Pass loop and Cancano Lakes.
Check out our ultimate guide to cycling the Stelvio region and other articles, below.
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what every cyclist needs to know about the Stelvio