Corno Grande, the summit of the Gran Sasso… the highest peak of the Apennines


We will never tire of telling anyone visiting us that Abruzzo is the only region in Italy where you can start your day in the mountains, up to the almost 3000 meters of Monte Corno, and enjoy a lazy afternoon on the same day on one of its white, sandy beaches. The Gran Sasso, the highest peak of the Apennines, is ours and we are proud of it. The Romans named it the true Navel of Italy: Fiscellus Mons in Latin – Monte Ombelico in Italian. Let’s take a better look at this “roof of Italy”, and you may be inspired to come and explore.


The crest of Monte Corno has the shape of a horseshoe and boasts four peaks: the East peak (2,903 meters), the Central peak (2,893 meters), the Torrione Cambi, (2,875 meters) -named after a mountaineer who sadly lost his life trying to climb it-, and the West peak (2,912 meters) which is the highest. A very long time ago the Corno Grande was a marine basin formed by coral reefs with shallow waters and rich in corals. This explains why you can still come across fossils of shells and fish when walking under the imposing north face of the mountain.

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The Corno Grande, and the Gran Sasso in general, looks like a a huge piece of dolomite surrounded by luscious green, hinting at the enormous biodiversity of this area. The mountain consists of limestone and its intriguing rock formations, cracks, chimneys and canals, make it a true paradise for hikers and mountaineers. In winter, the area lends itself to wonderful outings in the snow, to discover the peace and incredible quiet on snow shoes or tour skis. In summer, it offers a completely different experience, when hiking on one of the many trails, enjoying a glimpse of the wildlife and spotting some of the unique and protected alpine flowers. There are trails for everyone, ranging from a pleasant and relaxed walk to a more challenging hike all the way to the top.


The Corno Grande can be climbed either from the north side, starting at Prati di Tivo and taking the cable car up to the Madonnina, or from the south side, starting from the observatory on Campo Imperatore. The easiest ascent is the “Via Normale”, which takes you to the summit on the west side in about 3 hours. The trail is clearly marked and there are no difficult passages, but you do need a good basic physical condition. Remember that when walking in the mountains, you need good walking boots, enough food and drink for the trip, and appropriate clothing since the weather can be unpredictable. In short: pick a good day, prepare yourself and enjoy!


The East peak can be reached following the Ricci trail, which is not for the faint-hearted. Some parts are quite exposed, but also very evocative, like the east mountain face – an impressive vertical wall of rock with a precipice of 1,600 meters. Not recommended for anyone suffering from vertigo.
The Ricci trail starts from Prati di Tivo and goes up to the Rifugio Franchetti, where you turn left towards the canal that leads to the east face. Do not worry, the climb up is not as scary as it seems when looking up from Rifugio Franchetti!


Another option is the Direttissima trail that leads to the West peak. This is probably the most popular rout, but you do need some experience in rock climbing to be confident enough. You should also wear a helmet to protect you from falling stones, and bring a harness and a pair of ropes for safety. The passages are 2nd degree at the most, but some parts are very exposed; sometimes in summer it gets very busy and you may have to wait, perched high up on the rock, before you can climb up.
This route is popular because of the beauty of its rock formations, chimneys, canals and walls of rock, and the sweeping views of the Valle dell’Inferno, the crests of Monte Brancastello, Monte Camicia, Monte Prena, and beyond.
At the top, you are rewarded with a view of the Calderone glacier, the southernmost glacier in Europe, at the center of the “horseshoe” of the Corno Grande massif, on the northern side, at an altitude between 2630 and 2830 meters high. Unfortunately, it is slowly disappearing due to climate change, so you might not want to wait too long.
So come and visit our wonderful mountains, and enjoy the spectacular views, the unique landscape, and the surprising biodiversity: a priceless spectacle.

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Photographer: Maurizio Anselmi

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Photographer: Maurizio Anselmi

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Photographer: Maurizio Anselmi

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Photographer: Maurizio Anselmi

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Trail to Brancastello

Monte Brancastello is quite popular. Some climb it from Vado di Corno, which is the easiest route, others “cross” it along the Centenary trail, which follows the eastern ridge of the Corno Grande.
The northern side, the Vallone, is not so busy. The trail climbs up, above the mountain village of San Pietro, and offers a truly remarkable panorama with a view of all the main peaks of the Gran Sasso mountain chain, including the “Paretone” and the north face of Monte Camicia. From the village a narrow tarmac road takes you up to about 1100 meters, where you can park your car.


This hike covers a substantial difference in height (about 1400 m.) over a distance of 15 km. You will find no water along the way, so bring enough water with you, especially in summer. Also there are hardly any painted signs to show you the way, so bring your map and compass.
Since the trail is hardly waymarked, and there is no clear path for some of the way up and most of the way down, this is considered a “difficult” hike and you will need some orientation skills to keep on the trail.

Trail details


Difficulty: EE
Total ascent/descent: about 1450 m.
Walking time: 4-5 hours
Distance: about 15 km.
Signs: no signs except for a short stretch on the crest



From San Pietro, near Isola del Gran Sasso, take a narrow tarmac road up to “Prati di San Pietro”, pass the Water Museum and continue up until the tarmac ends. This is where you park your car.



From the car park (at 1145 m.) follow the track that goes up to the right leading to Macchia di San Pietro. Continue up, ignoring other tracks on your right, until you reach an old abandoned farmhouse with a stable (at 1425 m. – 30 min.). Take the path next to the building on the right, which soon gets clearer, and shortly after leads you out of the wood (junction at 1486 m.).


Ignore a thin track going up on your left, and continue right (flat) on a path that leads to the bottom of the valley (at 1540 m.). From here you zig-zag up to the ridge to the left of the canal; the track is not easily visible in the high grass. After about one hundred meters, start the crossing to return to the bottom of the valley. A fairly clear path climbs up on your left, upstream, with occasional cairns. At about 1755 m. a short detour takes you to the bottom of the valley where you can find a spring, which is usually dry in late summer.


From here the track becomes quite faint and disappears completely in a field of high grass and nettles! Climb up until you reach the rock formations that continue to the right, then go up the steep slope until you cross a clear path at about 2250 m. Turn left here (or right, if you want a short detour to Pizzo San Gabriele) and follow a clear mule track with yellow-red signs to reach the top of Monte Brancastello (2385 m. – 2,5 hours).

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Visit Gran Sasso--monte-prena

Trail to Monte Prena

The northern side of Monte Prena is perhaps one of the less visited parts in the Gran Sasso mountains. There are two possible trails leading up: one starts at the “Radura del Quadrato”, and the other at the “Colle delle Nozze”. There are few other trails in this area, but there are some options to make your walk more interesting. The circular walk described below, for example, starts at the Colle delle Nozze and finishes at the Radura, but could be extended to include the Vado di Ferruccio (and descending via the Cimetta), or even the top of Monte Prena, if you really want to reach the summit. Such variations obviously add considerable height differences and time to the walk, so should not be considered lightly.


Walking these trails definitely require some mountain hiking experience, so as to be able to assess the impact of the ascent as well as the descent (total difference of heights is over 1400 m.), the considerable distance (about 20 km.) and also the difficulty of the terrain and the weather conditions. This is a serious and quite a demanding hike, so be prepared.

Trail details


Difficulty: EE
Total ascent/descent: about 1400 m.
Walking time: 8-9 hours
Distance: about 18 km.
Signs: the whole trail described below is marked with yellow-red paint stripes or dots. Along the crossing above the wood there are yellow painted iron poles and some stone cairns.



From Castelli follow the road up to the hamlet of San Rocco, and take the unpaved road that starts just above Bar Restaurant “4 Vadi”. Follow this road up to the first curve to the right, near a junction in the hamlet of Piano di Fallo.



At the junction with a sign (702 m.), follow the track that goes up and passes by some houses. Shortly after, at another junction (714 m.), keep to the right and continue until you cross the Leomogna stream which can be forded quite easily (731 m. – 10 min.). The path continues on the other side, climbing up sharply with several zigzags into a beautiful beech forest. At about 960 m., you will cross the “Sentiero dei 4 Vadi” marked with painted dots. Follow this keeping to the left until you come to another junction with a sign, Colle delle Nozze (979 m. – 40 min.). Here you leave the “Sentiero dei 4 Vadi” (which descends towards Fondo della Salsa, described elsewhere) and follow the clear track to your right (north) that climbs up into the beech forest (the hamlet of Le Camiciole).


The path continues on the wide crest and climbs steeply with many turns, to about 1200 m. where it bends to the right. Here you can see the open space between the trees that was probably used for a cableway. After crossing it, you continue to climb, up to about 1318 m. where you will find a natural balcony with a sweeping view of the whole valley.
Then enter the wood where the track becomes fainter and steeper (Piano dell’Orto). Follow the track and the paint marks straight up until you get to a rock barrier (about 1420 m.) that you can pass by an opening in the rockface. Then the path gets easier and is better marked. Follow the path through the dense forest until it opens onto some meadows at about 1630 m. Then up on a crest and climbing steeply up to about 1675 m. where the crossing starts (iron pole – 2 hours). This is a long crossing in high grass, on steep meadows that almost disappear into the Rava canal underneath. The track is not always clear here, but there are some iron poles to mark your way.


At about 1800 m. you cross a canal where you can see a large nail on the other side. The track gets better here and the terrain easier. Still obliquely you pass some large boulders before you reach the junction with the path leading to the Radura del Quadrato (about 1925 m. – 2 hours and 45 min.). From here, if you are up to it, you can climb up even further to the Vado di Ferruccio.

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Trail to Monte Aquila

This hike is all about the “Paretone”. As you proceed towards the top, this enormous rock bastion slowly reveals the complexity and size of the mountain face, revealing angles and facets that are often missed, like La Comba, the Hass-Acetelli canal, the Farfalla, and the Iannetta canal – all places hardly known and explored only by a few mountaineers seeking the thrills of these intriguing but dangerous rocky crags.

Thrilling also to those who pass underneath, as in the hike described below, surrounded by wild and untamed nature, particularly the stretch through the Valle dell’Inferno during the steep climb from the Rifugio Nino d’Arcangelo to the top of Monte Aquila. This mountain offers a unique 360-degree panorama, including different and contradictory environments, from rock faces to plateaus, from ravines to ski lifts. Unbeatable and worth the hike!

Trail details

The Gran Grasso massif here offers a continuous barrier that can only be crossed from one side to the other by few passes (“vado” means pass), which have been used since time immemorial by animals and humans alike. The “road” that goes up from Casale San Nicola to Vado di Corno, for example, was one of very few communication routes between the Valle Siciliana to the east and the Valle Aterno to the west. Here traders, pilgrims and shepherds with their flocks passed for centuries, as shown by how the path is dug out in the rock in some places, and is generally wide and easy.

There may be some confusion about the Geological path (“sentiero Geologico”). This was opened in 1987 by the Club Alpino Italia (section CAI Teramo) and went from Fonte Nera to Vado di Corno through the Valle dell’Inferno, passing through rock walls fitted with iron chains. As it turned out to be too dangerous in the lower part, this route was abandoned, however, and no longer maintained.
Today the “Geological path” refers to the classic route leading from Casale San Nicola to Vado di Corno. The lower part of this route is marked with painted signs, whereas the upper part -from the rifugio Nino D’Arcangelo up to Monte Aquila- follows the traces of the old path, with faded yellow-red marks and a steep section fitted with chains and steel cables.


Although the old trail has not officially been maintained, small improvements have been made and one chain section has been replaced. But beware that the anchors are still from 1987 and cannot guarantee your safety!



Difficulty: EE
Total ascent/descent: about 1500 m.
Walking time: 6-8 hours
Distance: about 18 km. (20 km. when starting from Casale)
Signs: white-red signs on the road, yellow-red signs uphill, and white-red signs downhill from the summit of Monte Aquila to Vado di Corno



At Casale San Nicola (842 m.), right under the motorway pylon, turn left to take the road going south, which soon becomes unpaved. Continue straight on ignoring any junctions. After passing an old concrete volleyball court, the road becomes a little more rugged. It leads through a wood and after a few narrow bends it enters the valley. Pass the junction for Fonte Nera and park your car a little further on, near a small building with an information panel, just before the ENEL waterworks (2.5 km. from the village).



From the ENEL information panel (at about 1060 m.), continue on the unpaved road until you pass the stream of the Valle dell’Inferno right under the waterworks. After about 1 km. the road goes down and makes two hairpin bends; at the first bend, take a clear, signposted path on your right, with concrete steps leading down to the stream. After crossing the stream (1089 m), continue along a small concrete canal until you reach a track that clearly goes up. At about 1250 m., leave the track and take the path that climbs up to the right and takes you up on a ridge.


Follow the path to the end and enter the wood. Then you start climbing up by numerous zig-zags until you come out onto the meadows, at a saddle with a junction (1673 m.). Here you follow the path on the right, which goes slightly downhill to re-enter the valley. After crossing a canal, you reach the rifugio Nino d’Arcangelo (closed, 1655 m. – 1 hour and 45 min.).


From the rifugio, follow the road for a short distance, until you reach a hairpin bend to the left. Here you leave the road and follow a path with faded yellow-red signs that climbs to the right, up to the saddle with a great view of the Valle dell’Inferno below. The track takes you gently down to the bottom of the valley, where you go up again on the other side to arrive under a rock face with a fitted chain (1900 m.). Use the chain to climb up the first steep section, then use your hands for the next 5 meters, then another chain and finally a steel cable.


Now you will find yourself at the bottom of a long and steep grassy slope. There is no track and the terrain is difficult, just go straight up, aiming to the right of the large obelisk rock that dominates this part of the valley. Climb up the slope, passing some shepherds’ huts, to reach a saddle at the foot of a rock face. To get up to the crest, follow the track, keeping slightly to the left where you need to climb up a steep canal (1st-degree passage).
From here on, the slope becomes less steep and you can easily reach the summit (2494 m. – 4 hours).