Stelvio Unpaved!


Forty kilometres from Bormio to the Cima Garibaldi just above Passo dello Stelvio via four mountain passes (one even higher than Stelvio). The last 26 kilometres completely unpaved. One of the most fun rides I’ve ever done. And the descent of Stelvio wasn’t bad either.

This post will walk through the various sections of the route. I was with my old Aussie friend Bazza – a road biker. It was only his second Alps mountain bike ride ever. Me being me … there will be lots of photos. Sorry.

I Torri di Fraele (0 – 14 kilometres)

The first 14 kilometres from Bormio are paved and worthwhile for any road cyclist visiting Bormio. We cycled the 17 hairpins to I Torri (the towers) di Fraele.

Torri means “towers” and there are the ruins of two old square towers first built in 1391. They were fortified in the 15th century then mainly destroyed in 1513 when the Grisons invaded. There was apparently some fighting here and below the cliff is called “burrone dei morti” – ravine of the dead.

Lago di Cancano (14-19 kilometres)

After the towers, the road becomes unpaved. It leads to a beautiful plateau with several lakes/dams.

Last year, I explored this plateau with a mountain bike. Full details here.

Lago Scale
Lago di Cancano Dam

We would cross the dam of Lago di Cancano and head up the far side to an intersection. My previous visit I went right and descended an insane road down to a lower Stelvio hairpin. This time we would turn left and head up.

Bocchetta di Pedenolo (19-29 kilometres)

The next 10 kilometres climb to a mountain pass called Bocchetta di Pedenolo at 2703 metres. It features perhaps 40 hairpins split into two amazing sections. The first section climbs up to a plateau called Piano di Pedenolo. During this stretch the “road” soon ends and becomes a decent trail. It’s steep but perfectly rideable. But a few cliff sections I found slightly scary and briefly walked.

Near Piano di Pedenolo

After surviving these hairpins we reached the plateau. Here the trail becomes an old road again (we would pass two old farm buildings and see a few cows and sheep). This section is beautiful and not scary: no cliff ledges.

Road to Bocchetta di Pedenolo – 2704m

The sign (see above) says 2760 metres, but I believe the Bocchetta di Pendolo is “only” 2703 metres.

Bocchetta di Forcola 29-32 kilometres

The next three kilometres are a technical down/up to another mountain pass, Bocchetta di Forcola. At 2766 metres, it is 8 metres higher than Passo dello Stelvio!

Can you spot Barry ?

From the pass we had our first view of the distant Passo dello Stelvio.

Descent to Umbrail Pass 32-36 kilometres

The next four kilometres are thankfully downhill. It’s a single track hiking trail.

Descending to Umbrail Pass
Single Track. Umbrail below. Stelvio in distance.

Umbrail Pass is the highest paved road in Switzerland at 2501 metres. It is exactly at the Italian border and joins the Bormio side of the main road roughly 3 kilometres from Stelvio’s summit. Here we would cross the paved road. (Note, on the map, we made a quick detour to get some food at a restaurant just inside Italy, on the main road).

Umbrail Pass to above Stelvio 36-40 kilometres

This next stretch is the one part of the ride where we walked a lot. You might want to take the main road, but I enjoyed it. Exactly at Umbrail Pass we jumped onto an old trail/road with more than 20 hairpins.

Umbrail pass below/behind. I am at almost 2800 metres

The trail climbs to the Piz da las Trais Linguas (peak of the three languages) also know as the Cima Garibaldi. At 2843 metres, it is directly above the over-developed paved summit of Passo dello Stelvio. Wooooohooooo, success!

Cima Garibaldi – 2843 metres
Cima Garibaldi – 2843 metres

In the photo below is a view of the Cima Garibaldi (the castle thing at very top) and the summit of Stelvio taken from the far side after we had ridden down:

Piz da las Trais Linguas – the castle above Stelvio

Beers and photos

We descended from the Cima Garibaldi to the busy pass below:


I highly recommend the Tibetan restaurant/hotel several hundred metres off the main road from the col. Amazing views.


A summit beer:

Passo dello Stelvio

A Hairpin-Filled Descent

We were tired but pleased so we kept things simple and descended the main road back to Bormio. I won’t go into any details here as I’ve already posted too many photos. But see here for details of the paved Stelvio climbs. All three sides are truly special (two Italian sides, and the Swiss side).

But we did enjoy the 40 hairpins descent back to Bormio:

Hairpin Heaven – paved descent

This …. was …. a fantastic route. So quiet and beautiful. In fact, one striking aspect of the ride was how noisy things became once we reached Umbrail Pass – mainly endless motorcycle droning. I was euphoric as I wasn’t certain we would succeed with this challenge.


Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Wow, just Wow!!

    Looks like a great day out Will, fantastic!!

    Can I just say what a fantastic resource your blog is. I used your experiences to plan some great rides this summer while on a family holiday road trip: Finestre, Gran Serin, Sommeiller, Nivolet, Schwarzee plus a few Swiss Road climbs. The photos and descriptions you provide are priceless.

    Looks like Bormio is going to be one of our stops next year. This will definitely be on my to do list next summer.

    Thanks again

  2. This is AMAZING! Almost exactly the route I wanted to attempt this summer, but didnt manage to find the time..
    The only change/suggestion I would add: instead of starting in Bormio, start in Switzerland in Santa Maria in Müstairtal (just at the bottom of Umbrail pass). From Santa Maria, ride up the amazing Val Mora on nice gravel, then down to Lago di Cancano, through the Swiss Natiunal Park. From the lake, follow your ruote up to Stelvio, and descend down Umbrail Pass instead at the end.
    Take care!

  3. Great blog
    thanks so much
    I’m headd to Corvara and Bormio at the end of next week with my gravel bike – do you think this ride coudl be done with a gravel bike.. I like the sound of it way more than the full tarmac option – and happy to here any other suggestions too.

    Cheers from New Zealand

    • It’s possible. It depends how fussy you are. It can be rough, but it’s mostly uphill so less of a problem on a gravel bike. We actually descended the main, paved road.

  4. Thanks for this idea! We just did it today on gravel bikes (but went up the paved road to Stelvio Pass for the last three km from Umbrail Pass and down the road the whole way back to Bormio. It was spectacular! It took us about 5 1/2 hours riding time in total. Epic ride!

    • Paul Douglas on

      Hi, I just wanted to check in on this because this is something I’ve been wrestling with. You did the Stelvio climb with gravel bikes? Would you be willing to share a bit more about how this was, what you were riding etc. ? Would be much appreciated.

      • I think, if you are no too fussy, you can climb this route with a gravel bike. It is virtually all uphill. I just wouldn’t descend it with a gravel bike.

  5. Thanks for sharing this experience, Will. It’s priceless and an adventure of a lifetime from what I can see. My goal this month is to do the Passo del Stelvio and having seen this blog, have now decided to follow in your footsteps. Having ridden across the Himalayas on more than one occasion, this looks every bit as exciting and challenging, but much closer to home. There is something magic about climbing crazy big hills that you cannot put into words!

  6. Ended up trying it and blew out a pedal – not the sort of thing you carry a sparre for , so it was a long way back to bormio from half way up (had ridden it the traditional way the day before anyway so wasn’t too gutted)

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