Le Cascate del Dardagna (The Waterfalls of the Dardagna) were a series of intermediate-sized waterfalls tumbling in succession for a reported cumulative height of 200m or so. I don't think there was a safe way to see the entire waterfall in one go, but the trail went alongside the entire waterfall providing the opportunity to experience at least three of its main tiers from up close.
What stood out about this waterfall experience was that the entire hike truly felt like I was back in Nature. Nestled in the mountains of the Appennino Bolognese (Bolognian Apennines), the trail was serene and uncrowded as it was dominated by trees and the sounds of rushing water (coming from the Dardagna River as well as tributaries feeding it). Under the jurisdiction of the Parco Regionale Corno alle Scale, it was also refreshing to see signs saying "Rispetta La Natura" (Respect Nature), where it seemed this respect was evident during the hike.
In fact, while most of Italy appeared to be developed in some way shape or form, places like this really stood out to us. With the falls being within a reasonable day trip from the more famous cities such as Florence (80km), Bologna (70km), Modena (70km), and even Pisa (120km), the Nature would provide a nice contrast and mix up with the crowds and the historical sites that the urban centers would feature.
The hike began from the Santuario di Madonna dell'Acero (the Sanctuary of Madonna of the Acero), which was an intriguing building right at the trailhead within the hamlet of Madonna dell'Acero (see directions below). From there, I hiked up along a wide and unpaved road that could only be driven by authorized vehicles as the road weaved between a few buildings. After a gate, the path then flattened out and started to descend amidst more naturesque forest scenery.
At each trail junction, there were numbered red-white arrow signs, and I basically had to remain on the trail 331 to continue towards Cascate del Dardagna. The gradually descending and narrowing path crossed a couple of bridges (I recalled one had a small cascade by it) before the trail eventually started to climb steeply alongside the rushing Dardagna River.
After a few more minutes of uphill hiking on the trail perched on a narrow ledge above the Dardagna, the trail then crossed a bridge before a cascade on a separate tributary feeding the Dardagna. Not long after that bridge, I eventually encountered the first and bottommost of the Dardagna Waterfalls (roughly 30 minutes from the trailhead).
This 15m tall bottom tier was probably the most photographed of the waterfall's sections as it had a somewhat vertical drop with the falls itself being segmented or split. Although there was a bridge across the Dardagna leading to another trail (which I didn't take), the waterfall trail that I stuck with continued further upstream in a much steeper and narrower ascent (though there were steps and handrails to assure me that I wasn't doing anything terribly dangerous).
After another 20 minutes of climbing above the first waterfall as well as some other steep intermediate tiers, the trail then approached the second waterfall. This one was probably on the order of 10m, and it also had a somewhat segmented appearance like the first waterfall. There were also lots of foliage and large rocks in a fairly flat opening right in front of the falls, which made it possible to scramble a bit (with care) for a closer look.
Next, the trail then ascended more steep steps, but after five more minutes of this, the trail terminated at the base of the third waterfall. This particular falls was probably a little taller than the first waterfall I saw, but it possessed a more conventional mountain cascade shape (see photo at the top of this page) while also providing an interesting panorama of the downstream scenery over the top of the second waterfall. I'm sure this would've been a pretty neat place to take a breather and maybe even have a picnic lunch, but it was also happened to be hailing so I had to hasten my visit.
Since the majority of the hike was downhill back to the trailhead, I went much faster on the way back. Although I'd imagine this hike would typically take two hours round trip, I ended up taking about 100 minutes doing this hike solo under some threatening weather conditions.
First of all, I have to really thank the kind folks at the Rifugio Segavecchia for providing me with a detailed map as well as very helpful hints on the driving route I should have taken to get to the Cascate del Dardagna. They were also very patient with my Italian during the entire conversation. Our GPS had put us on the wrong road that ultimately led us on a very narrow single-lane road which ended at this mountain lodge. It ended up being a fairly costly 40-minute detour, but at least with their help, our waterfalling experience along with this writeup became possible.
Anyways, we'll describe the correct route we should have taken in the first place.
From Florence, we took the A11 autostrada towards the Pistoia exit. Then we headed north on SS64 (SS = Strada Statale or what might be considered a state highway) towards the town of Silla. We then turned left onto John Fitzgerald Kennedy Road, which became SP324 (SP = Strada Provinciale or provincial road). We then followed this road towards the town of Lizzano in Belvedere.
The main road continued through Lizzano in Belvedere, then we deviated from the main road at Villagio Europa towards Vidiciatico. After continuing on the main road passing through Vidiciatico and then La Ca, we then took a road towards Madonna dell'Acero.
Although we saw there was a parking lot along the main road near a fairly hidden visitor center, we actually found additional (albeit very limited) parking next to the Sanctuary of Madonna dell'Acero. The hike began from there.
To give you a sense of context, Madonna dell'Acero was 102km (roughly 2 hours drive) north of Florence, 120km (about 2.5 hours drive) northeast of Pisa, 105km (2 hours drive) northeast of Lucca, 177km (about 3 hours drive) north of Siena, and 82km (about 2 hours drive) south of Bologna.
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