• Distance 17 km
  • Elevation gain 1340m
  • Difficulty
  • Epic rating

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!

All metrics in this article 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!

Cyclist on mid section of Passo Gavia climb Dramatic scenery after the tunnel
Cyclist cycling Passo di GaviaPutting things into perspective; you’re dwarfed by the mountains around you
Summit of Passo GaviaSummit of the Gavia Pass

Route notes

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!

Near the start of the GaviaPass climb, cycling past an ancient monumentNear the bottom of the climb, just after Precasaglio
Cycling the narrow steep wooded section of the GaviaPassA steep, narrow road takes you through woodland
Cyclist cycling on narrow road through wooded section of Passo del Gavia climbNarrow wooded road climbing Passo Gavia

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.

Cyclist on the mid section of the climb to Passo di GaviaThe mid section of the climb traverses around the mountain summit above you
Cycling the traverse section around Passo di Gavia climbIncredible views on this narrow road to the Passo Gavia summit
Upper reaches of the Passo del Gavia cycling climbWorking hard, just before the tunnel

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!

Cyclist nearing the summit of the Gavia Pass cycling climbNearing the summit of the Passo Gavia
Cyclist approaching the summit of the Passo di GaviaApproaching the summit
Cycling through the Gavia Pass summit and past the Passo Gavia summit signPasso Gavia summit sign

Café stops

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.

Rifugio Bonetta restaurant and hostel at the top of the Passo di Gavia Rifugio Bonetta at the Passo Gavia summit
Gavia Pass summit signSummit sign at the Passo Gavia
Passo di Gavia summit signA popular summit sign!

Accommodation

We rode from Bormio. You can find details of where we stayed and other bike-friendly hotel options in our article on the best bike hotels in Bormio.

 

Tips for cycling the 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.

It’s a good idea to check the weather before you set out – the meteo Passo Gavia and  Passo Gavia webcam should help.

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:

  • The Giro has passed over the Gavia nine times (1960-2018).
  • On 5 June 1988, the race passed over the Gavia in a snowstorm, making for an unforgettable stage and photos that are still iconic today. The stage was won by Erik Breukink. American Andy Hampsten, the second-place finisher, became the overall race leader and went on to win the Giro. 
  • 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 loopBernina Pass loop and Cancano Lakes.

Check out our ultimate guide to cycling the Stelvio region and other articles, below.

Please support Epic Road Rides

A huge amount of time and effort goes into the article you’ve just read, all with the aim of helping you!

If you found what you’ve read useful, I’d really appreciate it if you dropped something in the tip jar here.

It’s a way you can say thank you and help us carry on creating top quality content with no annoying ads and no pay wall.

Leave us a tip here!

Looking for an organised cycling trip?

If you want someone to help you plan and book your cycling holiday, fill out this form. We aren’t a tour operator/agent but we work with lots of people who are and will do our best to put you in touch with someone that can help (within 24 hours wherever possible)!

We will use this info to send the enquiry to Clare and/or their team. Our privacy policy explains more and here’s a reminder of our terms and conditions.







Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up epicroadrides.com in 2018 to help make it easy for cyclists to explore the world by bike. Today her mission is still inspiring cyclists to discover new places on two wheels – and doing what she can to make sure they have the best possible time while they’re there. Clare has visited 50+ destinations around the world, many of them by bike.

The contents of this website are provided for general information purposes only. It is not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on it. You should carry out your own due diligence and take professional advice. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content on our website is accurate, complete or up to date. If you use any information or content on this website, download from, or otherwise obtain content or services through our website, it is entirely at your own discretion and risk. Epic Road Rides Ltd disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the information and content on this website. Find out more here.

Leave your comment

  • (will not be published)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.