Destination :: Lago di Braies, Dolomites, Italy

There are a number of world-famous beauty spots in the Dolomites, but Lago Di Braies (or Prager Wildsee) is one of, if not the most iconic. This stunning lake is located at 1,469 meters above sea level in the municipality of Prags in South Tyrol, Italy, and attracts approximately 15,000 visitors per day during summertime.

Prager Wildsee, coined “Pearl of the Alps/Dolomites,” is one of those instafamous locations that most people have probably seen online but won’t necessarily know much about. I’d seen countless photos on social media, photography forums, postcards, and prints long before I planned to visit the Dolomites. With this in mind, I knew that if I was going to get a nice photo, I’d need to be on location pre-sunrise, and because it was such a touristy area, I decided to book a campsite.

Wild camping in the Dolomites is a bit of a gray area, especially when it comes to sleeping in a motorhome or camper. It’s technically banned by law, but if you’re self-contained and not overtly seen to be camping, it seems to be tolerated in most rural locales. If I planned to sleep in a busy spot, I’d often ask a local business if I could stay in their private parking in exchange for using their service or inquired whether it was okay to sleep overnight at a local trailhead or park up. I didn’t require any apps to find overnight spots, but if you get stuck, then Park4night is very useful for finding both free park-ups and official camping. The closest campsite to Prager Wildsee is Camping Olympia (20 minutes away), which provides excellent facilities, and is reasonably priced.

I set an alarm for 4:30 a.m. and pulled into the parking area at Prager Wildsee just before 5:30 a.m. There were a few other photographers scattered around, but overall, it was pretty quiet (by 6:30 a.m., it was getting busy). The popularity of the lake can be a little off-putting but arrive for sunrise, and you won’t be disappointed. In the modern world, it’s not uncommon for photos of beauty spots to be so digitally enhanced that visiting the real thing can be a little underwhelming, but Prager Wildsee was every bit as beautiful in person. Traditional wooden rowing boats tied in sequence sit on emerald-green waters, with a rustic boathouse providing the perfect photography subject to complement the epic backdrop. Once the sun rises, the first rays of light turn the lake into a giant mirror reflecting the north face of Croda Del Becco (9,219 feet). I initially set up my tripod on the shoreline, where I captured some photos on my 1965 Rolleiflex, but then scrambled up the steep hill behind for a better vantage point, and this certainly provided my favorite compositions. Be sure to take your time as it’s slippery and easy to lose your footing when you come back down.

If you’re not in a rush, then there are a number of hikes in the area, with the most popular being a 3.5-kilometer (2.2-mile) loop around the lake, which is considered relatively easy and can be completed in a little over an hour. If you seek something more challenging, then there are also treks to the summits of Seekofel, Grosser Rosskopf, and Herrnstein, Lake Hochalpensee, and more. Once you’re done exploring, there’s a restaurant at Hotel Lago di Braies (may require pre-booking), toilets, boat hire, and various other facilities close to the parking.

Prager Wildsee is certainly a “pearl” of the Dolomites, but if you want to experience the natural majesty and serenity that made this lake so famous, you’ll need to arrive very early. My recommendation would be to prepare some food and drink ahead of time, arrive before first light, get a handful of sunrise photos near the boathouse, then be one of the first people on the hiking loop around the lake (final photo taken on Leica M6 35mm).

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No money in the bank, but gas in the tank. Our resident Bikepacking Editor Jack Mac is an exploration photographer and writer living full-time in his 1986 Vanagon Syncro but spends most days at the garage pondering why he didn’t buy a Land Cruiser Troopy. If he’s not watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, he can be found mountaineering for Berghaus, sea kayaking for Prijon, or bikepacking for Surly Bikes. Jack most recently spent two years on various assignments in the Arctic Circle but is now back in the UK preparing for his upcoming expeditions—looking at Land Cruisers. Find him on his website, Instagram, or on Facebook under Bicycle Touring Apocalypse.