The Ponale track is one of the most spectacular hiking/biking trails on Lake Garda. Carved into the rock overhanging the lake, it allows you to admire amazing panoramas. It can be traveled on foot, by mountain bike, or, as we did, with E-Bike.
Lake Garda, Ponale track: from Arco to Pregasina and Lake Ledro by E-Bike
In addition to water and mountain sports, Northern Garda is also a paradise for bicycle lovers, and in particular mountain bikes. Get a map of the itineraries at the Info Points of the Garda Trentino Tourist Board, and you will realize how intricate and developed the network of itineraries is, traced both in the Sarca valley behind Riva and Torbole, and in the amphitheater of mountains which surrounds the lake. Signage is accurate and well maintained. Flat cycle paths are often paved and within everyone's reach. The routes at high altitude are generally dirt roads, and reserved for the more sporty.
Taking advantage of the discounts offered by our hotel, we rented two 500 WH E-Bikes from Bike Shop Giuliani, in Arco di Trento, which offered us quality vehicles, a very accurate service, and competitive prices.
I had long dreamed of biking the Ponale road, and, finally, I took the opportunity to discover this fascinating itinerary, which until now I had only admired from below.
Starting from Arco di Trento, we first took the beautiful cycle path that runs alongside the Sarca river, among vineyards and orchards (in one stretch, to be true, it also passes near an industrial center), and quickly leads to Torbole (at the Sarca mouth). From here, we took the equally pleasant cycle track that runs along the lake shore and leads to Riva del Garda. This, surely, is the best option outside the summer period. During the summer, when the coast of Torbole and Riva del Garda is very crowded, it is better to avoid the stretch of cycle track along the lake and cut through the countryside between Arco di Trento and Riva del Garda.
Once in Riva del Garda, somehow, you cross the very beautiful and elegant town center (here there is no lakeside cycle track), overpass the port, and take the western Gardesana road (SS 45 bis), which originates near the pier, when it leaves the town, heading south, or towards Limone del Garda. Immediately before the tunnel of the Gardesana, on the right (looking south) you have the entrance to the Ponale road. It is a road, which takes its name from the stream that descends from the Ledro valley, built in the mid-1800s, and which served as a carriageway between Riva and Ledro, passing the stretch of cliffs overhanging the lake of Cima d'Oro. The road fulfilled its function as a carriageable road until 1995. In 1992, the much more comfortable new road linking Riva and Val di Ledro was completed. Since 2004, after a few years of abandonment, the Ponale road has become a fascinating cycle path, or a track to be covered on foot.
After an initial paved section, the road becomes a dirt road (apart from a few sections paved in concrete in the tunnel), and climbs with a very constant slope (the constancy can be appreciated by looking at it from the lake), and cuts across the entire wall overlooking the lake. Today, the road is well protected by suitable parapets (in some places by barriers); frequently, some clearings or wide curves allow you to admire the incredible views of the emerald waters of the upper lake of Garda further down. The slope of this section is not really demanding, even if, in our case, the use of an electric bicycle certainly made the climb less tiring. In any case, we believe this first section is feasible, with classic MTB, for cyclists who have average training. In this first stretch, there are also several tunnels, dug into the rock, and without lining. Let's clarify immediately that torches or lights are not essential to walk through them. The limited length, or the availability of side openings, lets in enough light to have good visibility inside. This first stretch, especially in summer, is also frequented by many trekkers. Wisely, inside the tunnels, the transit routes for hikers and cyclists (dangerous, especially if going downhill) have been separated.
After a few kms of ascent, the road turns inland and enters the valley of the Ponale stream. Here, you will find a pleasant refreshment point, the Ponale Alto restaurant. Many trekkers stop here, as this is their destination. It took us about half an hour to reach this point, from the access to the road. But, undoubtedly, it is worth going beyond the restaurant.
Shortly after, in the locality of Belvedere, you have a crossroads (with clear signs): take the road to the left and continue towards Pregasina. Taking the one on the right (which is the true continuation of the Ponale road), you go up to Val di Ledro and to Lake Ledro. In order not to miss anything, we have taken them both, starting with the one that goes up to Pregasina.
After crossing the bridge over the valley deeply incised by the Ponale stream, the road continues almost entirely paved, and reconquers the slopes directly exposed to Lake Garda. With a series of hairpin bends, and some steeper stretches, it further gains height, and comes to join up with the modern road which, originating from today's SS240 for the Ledro valley, and leads to Pregasina. You have to ride along a stretch of it (be aware that cars can also pass through here).
This road crosses some grassy slopes, and is surrounded by the first houses of Pregasina. You will pass through a small public garden overlooking the lake, where many stop for resting or eating. We advise you not to stop here, and to continue towards the inhabited centre, which can be reached after about one kilometre. Reach Pregasina, and enjoy the simple and rustic beauty of its buildings and the peace of the place. For us, who traveled the itinerary on August 15th 2019, it went even better, and we found the "Guest Party" welcoming us. The idea of a nice cold beer was much more inspiring, than the bike's electric motor, in helping us ride the last few meters quickly. From the Ponale Alto restaurant to here, it took us about another half hour.
From Pregasina, it is strongly recommended to continue for about another 3-4 km, crossing the viallge, and reach Punta Larici, from which you can enjoy a majestic and exciting panorama over the whole of Lake Garda, not only towards the north, but also towards South, up to Sirmione!
This time we got off and returned to the crossroads for Val di Ledro, at the Belvedere.
During the return to the crossroads, we immediately had the opportunity to experience the thrill of speed that can be experienced on these continuous downhill stretches. My son who is also a motorbiker had a blast. In reality, this first stretch of descent requires attention: the road isn't very wide, the straights aren't very long, and there are some hairpin bends that require hard braking and reduced speed. A few scuffs started, and the little boy inside us came out.... We touched 40 km/h.... However, in this stretch, we strongly advise caution, also because, in addition to uphill cyclists, people on foot pass through it (and in the first stretch out of Pregasina, also cars).
At the crossroads, we took the Ponale road again, aiming for Lake Ledro. The road here is entirely paved, and becomes wider. In some places, it is still carved into the rock face. The slope returns to being very regular (and not excessive), and the overcrowding is less, even in the height of summer (most of them stop at the Ponale Alto restaurant, or continue on to Pregasina, or Punta Larici).
After another 3-4 km of easy climb (even without an E-bike), in 20 minutes we reached the point where the ancient road joins the SS240 which from Riva del Garda goes up to Val di Ledro, at the exit from a long gallery. Very carefully (cars can come out of the tunnel), we crossed the state road and covered a short uphill stretch.
Soon, fortunately, you have to leave the state road. Take via San Giacomo, which after a few hundred meters leads you to the hamlet of Prè di Ledro. The landscape here is rural, with some farmsteads and vineyards along the roadside. The houses begin to have a mountain look. Lake Garda is close as the crow flies, but the landscape is already different.
Continue along via San Giacomo, heading for Molina di Ledro. Here comes the most challenging section, because the track gets steeper. You have to pass the buttress that borders Lake Ledro to the east.
The road, in some points, is unpaved, and with hairpin bends. I confess here that I have used the aid of electric engine more, both due to the tiredness accumulated up to this point, and due to the desire to quickly reach our final destination, Lake Ledro.
Lake Ledro is another very pleasant surprise on the itinerary. Nestled in the mountains, it is located at about 650 meters above sea level. The surrounding environment and its banks are very pleasant, and its waters (even with overcast skies, as in our case) have amazing shades of green. Its shores are equipped with beaches and lawn areas, where to relax, or with refreshment points where you can have a pick-nick. It is possible to go all around the lake on foot or by bicycle. We have only covered a section of the pedestrian and cycle path on the northern shore.
After resting a bit, the exciting descent back to Riva del Garda began, which only took us half an hour. Already abandoned the shores of Lake Ledro, it is inevitable to let yourself go, sometimes forgetting about the brakes, and throw yourself at breakneck speed along the road that heads towards Lake Garda. Immediately after Molina di Ledro, pay attention to the first tight hairpin bends and dirt roads. In the section where we followed the State Road 240, the undersigned reached 57 km/h....
In short, you return to the crossroads, just above the Ponale Alto restaurant, and then continue along the stretch of road overlooking the lake. Here the track, as we have already said before, is unpaved and can be more crowded. We recommend that you descend wisely, limiting your speed in the bends, narrowest sections and tunnels.
In less than no time, we find ourselves back in Riva del Garda.
Having arrived here, it is inevitable to experience a feeling of full satisfaction with the beauty of the itinerary ridden, and of the magic day spent. Your eyes and mind are filled with the sights and scenery that passed you along the way.
Garda enjoys a mild climate, and, therefore, except for some winter days with bad weather, or colder ones, if the forecast guarantees sunshine, you can practically follow the itinerary all year round.
But the itinerary described so far is just one of many waiting to be discovered by you in Northern Garda. And one holiday won't be enough to exhaust them all.
Have a good ride. Fabio Muriano
Read also the article about the E-Bike excursion from Carlazzo in Val Cavargna to Monte Garzirola.
A beatiful video that gives an idea of the track