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Italy’s largest lake was carved at the end of the last ice age, as glaciers retreated north into the Alps. This glacial retreat resulted in a lake with a classic moraine shape that is surrounded by the scenic Gruppo del Baldo subrange of the Italian Alps.
The retreat of the glaciers also created a number of canyons and streams, which have made the lake a hotspot of water sport activities. Away from the water, unique geological formations and rugged mountains lend themselves to all sorts of hiking and climbing activities.
If you are looking for an active summer family holiday destination, look no farther than Lake Garda and all of the unique and picturesque towns that sit on its shores.
With so many options to choose from, it can be a bit hard to decide where to start. Below, we’ve included a list of five of the most popular activities on and around the lake as well as some instructions on how to get there.
The most simple way to get to Lake Garda is to begin with a flight into Malpensa Airport (MXP), in Milan, or the Venice Marco Polo Airport (VCE) and rent a car.
Driving to Lake Garda from Milan takes about two to 2.5 hours, depending on which part of the lake you are heading to. The most direct route is following the E62 to the E64 before joining the A4 and taking that on to the lake.
From Venice, the drive is also about 2.5 hours, but there is a more scenic route that loops through the mountain and takes four hours. The direct route, however, requires taking the A57 to the E70 until you reach the base of the lake.
For those who want to avoid the hassle of renting a car, both trains and buses are available from the airports to various towns on the shores of the lake. Some take less than an hour, while others may take a bit more and require making transfers.
Situated a bit more than halfway up Lake Garda’s western shoreline, Vione Canyon is a particularly popular destination for water sports enthusiasts.
The approach through narrow and rocky passages opens up to present a lush green canyon full of emerald-green pools. Here, there are plenty of opportunities for swimming, cliff jumping, abseiling and climbing that are perfectly suitable for adults and children of almost all ages.
Among the various highlights of a family trip here is the ability to swim in the refreshingly cool waters, the chance to abseil down a 40-meter cliff, the chance to jump from a five-meter one and, a fan favourite, six-meter long slide.
All of this can perfectly be experienced in a half-day outing, but longer trips are also available to see different parts of the canyon and extend the water sport fun!
Just to the north of the stunning shores of Lake Garda is the Sarca Valley and it is here that some of the best via ferrata climbing options in the region may be found.
The valley, which surrounds the Sarca River, boasts a multitude of via ferrata routes that run from the valley’s floor up pristine limestone cliffs, spires and towers. From these lofty heights, climbers are rewarded with stunning views both into the Dolomites as well as back out over the lake.
Among the favourite climbing options for families are 900-meter vertical ascent up to Cima Capi, which is technically quite easy, but requires a fair bit of physical fitness, and Via Ferrata Ferrata delle aquile on Paganella, which is an incredibly picturesque route that crosses out over the Adige Valley, providing plenty of breathtaking views.
For families with older children, then the 970-meter high Via Ferrata Pisetta is another great option. The steep climb is quite strenuous and some of the climbing can get a bit tricky, but the views at the end of the path are well worthwhile.
Combining some simply stunning mountain scenery with a rich fusion of both mountain and Mediterranean culture, Lake Garda is one of the many premier hiking destinations in northern Italy.
However, the undisputed highlight of visiting the lake is to head out for a walk along the Ponale Road. The former highway stretches in between Lake Garda and the Ledro valley. The road is now closed to cars and offers hiking enthusiasts a pleasant way to get some of the best possible views of the lake.
As you hike along the Ponale Road, expect a cultural experience as well as a scenic one. Get the chance to see the ancient Riva del Garda aqueduct and Tagliata del Ponale, a World War I fortification.
Finish off the hike by visiting the Pregasina lookout, which offers a great view of the road as well as the surroundings. Best of all, the hiking is not very difficult, which makes this the perfect way to spend a day with the family.
Boasting plenty of impeccable limestone walls and cliffs towering over its turquoise blue waters, Lake Garda is the perfect place for a day of family climbing fun.
Arco, which sits at the very northern tip of the lake, is an especially good spot. Complete with incredible views down over the lake as well as out into the mountains, there are few better ways to spend a day out of doors.
For children, Arco is the perfect spot to make that first rock climbing ascent. There are also plenty of great spots to get that first adrenaline-rush of abseiling and several great ziplines as well.
Along with these fun activities, for those who may prefer a bit of walking, Arco is home to plenty of via ferrata which lead up imposing rock faces to yield immaculate views. Fun for everyone involved!
For older children and those with a bit more rock climbing experience, Lake Garda is still the place to be. With plenty of incredible single and multi-pitch routes up high-quality limestone, the lake is a veritable paradise for more advanced rock climbers too!
If Lake Garda is rock climbing country then Arco is its capital. Just a short drive away from the lovely resort town, hundreds routes await, ranging from short single-pitch ascents to longer, multi-pitch ones.
Whether you spend a day or more in the area, you can fill your time with plenty of rewarding rock climbing experiences. Among the favourites are the Athene and Ape Maia routes up the San Paolo Wall. However, there are a wide array of sport, trad, alpine and top rope routes from which to choose.
If you simply cannot get enough of the outdoors or Lake Garda and plan to spend a week or more exploring this incredible part of Italy then booking a multi-sport adventure trip may be just what you’re looking for.
Combine loads of great activities such as hiking, via ferrata, rock climbing, canyoning and mountain biking. Each day, sample a slightly different part of the region, experiencing its diverse geography while doing a whole bunch of different things.
Not only is this a great way to tire out the kids and keep them from bouncing off the walls of your hotel, but it’ll be a memorable experience that could be the very beginning of a life-long passion for one of these incredible outdoor sports!
So the next time you are spinning around a globe or pouring over a map to find the perfect family outdoor holiday destination, look no further than Lake Garda. Come and enjoy the immaculate scenery, incredible culture and discover the wide variety of outdoor activities waiting to be experienced!
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