Soča Valley and Slovenian Alps – my tips and highlights
There’s this valley in the north of Slovenia, with this beautiful turquoise river that looks photoshopped, nestled in a picture-perfect idyllic mountain landscape. Scroll down and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating! Mountains, waterfalls, suspension bridges and narrow gorges, rustic huts, swimming pools and lakes, paddling, hiking, camping in the middle of nature on the wild river Soča – all this awaits you in the Slovenian Alps, more precisely in the Soča Valley and Triglav National Park.
Here I had the feeling I usually only get in places like Canada: as if I had been beamed into a postcard, where my heart is suddenly so full as if it’s about to burst and I can’t believe it really looks like this.
In short, I couldn’t have imagined a more beautiful place for my first trip abroad this year! Slovenia is not yet so widely known as a travel destination, but it combines so many beautiful and different landscapes in a small area. I’ve been to Slovenia before and I have to say that the Slovenian Alps in the northwest is where I liked it the best so far. In fact, so good that we decided without further ado to just spend the whole vacation there. My personal tips and highlights for a road trip through the Soča Valley and the Slovenian Alps can now be found here: I’ll take you along and show you what sights there are and which places I found the most beautiful. Now sit back and come with me for a few minutes!
Route: Kranjska Gora – Vršič Pass through the Triglav Mountains – Bovec – Tolmin – Lake Bohinj – Bled
Kranjska Gora and the nature reserve Zelenci
Our first stop in Slovenia was Kranjska Gora. This mountain village is a winter sports resort with alpine architecture nestled in a picturesque mountain landscape. It is located in the very north of Slovenia near the Austrian border and is easy to reach via the Wurzen Pass from Carinthia/Villach (insider tip: the bunker museum at the top of the pass!). In summer you can hike or mountain bike here. The nearby small nature reserve Zelenci is worth a visit: hiking trails and wooden footbridges lead through a marshy area, which is a geological peculiarity. Most beautiful is the small lake with its crazy emerald green color, from which small springs bubble up.
Chilling at Jasna Lake
The picturesque mountain lake is located just outside Kranjska Gora and is a popular tourist attraction. No wonder: walking along the small, turquoise lake with the mountain peaks towering behind it, you feel like you’re in a photo wallpaper. A few chill cafes and bars on the shore, swimming spots and SUP rentals make it a nice destination (and a really good spot for sunset). Right next to it stretched a wide river valley with lots of boulders and a really shallow mountain river – perfect for cooling your feet or for toddlers to splash around in. In imperial weather and during the week in the morning, when there was hardly anything going on, it was most beautiful here.
Drive over the Vršič Pass – the most beautiful route to the Soča Valley.
In my opinion, the most impressive route into the Soča Valley is over the Vršič Pass, the highest mountain pass in Slovenia at 1,611 meters. In the First World War
rieg it was built as a military road for Austria-Hungary by Russian prisoners of war, some hairpin bends even still have the old cobblestones. We drove the pass fortunately during the week (the weekend is probably too busy), had caught best postcard weather and here I suddenly had this surreal Canada feeling again – as if I would drive through a postcard. Even if for the entire route from Kranjska Gora to Trenta only 24 km and about 1h driving time is given, take at least half a day! Because the drive through the mountains is an experience in itself. Along the pass there are rustic huts to stop at, hiking trails and viewpoints, and you’ll want to stop more than once (drive during the week if you can!).
Vrsic Pass: Some of the road here is still on the old cobblestones.
My tips for stops on the Vrsic Pass:
Russian Chapel: The small wooden chapel commemorates the sad fate of the Russian prisoners of war who had to build the pass road during WWI
Huts: Be sure to stop at one of the rustic huts along the pass and try Slovenian hut food such as goulash or curd strudel, for example at the Erjavec hut or Poštarski dom.
My tip: Short hike (about 1/2 h) from the top of the pass to the Poštarski dom (“Postman’s Lodge”, see pictures below). You can avoid the crowds at the top of the pass and get beautiful mountain panoramas and a delicious hut stop – past the Ticar hut, the remains of a bunker and the “rock face” Ajdovska deklica. Go from the hut about 10 min further up to the small peak for the best views!
Botanical Garden Alpinum Juliana: Before Trenta you pass the hidden alpine botanical garden with native plants in an idyllic location.
My tip: The Poštarski dom mountain hut on the Vrsic Pass As beautiful as the mountains are, as terrible is the history: The Alpine front ran through these mountains during World War I. More than a million soldiers became victims of the Isonzo battles (Ital.: Isonzo = Soča). Traces and places of remembrance can be found in many places. Above: remains of a bunker, Russian chapel.
Mala korita Soče – the small Soča troughs
If you go down from the top of the pass to Trenta, you will come to the Soča valley – because it rises up in the mountains at the Vršič pass and flows into the Adriatic Sea in Italy (from a parking lot at the pass you can even scramble to the source of the Soča). On the way it flows sometimes flat and lazy, sometimes it bubbles through narrow rocky gorges, forming emerald-colored troughs and deep pools.
The great thing about the Soča is that it is one of the few natural, ‘wild’ rivers in Europe.
Almost everywhere you can swim along the shallow banks – sometimes even in one of the natural swimming pools. One place you should not miss is the “small Soča gorge” (mala korita Soče). It is one of those places where the river rushes through a narrow place between high rocks, in between turquoise pools are formed. Feel free to take your time to walk along the shore! I found it beautiful here and also much quieter than downstream at
the Great Soča Troughs.
The Great Soča Troughs – Paradisiacal & Ice Cold
Only a few kilometers downstream, the area around the “Great Soča Troughs” (Velika korita Soče) is one of the most beautiful places in the valley. Along the length of about one kilometer, the Soča rushes through a gorge with huge boulders and repeatedly forms deep, emerald-colored natural pools that invite you to swim. If you dare!
The Soča is a mountain river and really freezing cold. The water temperature is maximum ten degrees, in some places even only five degrees. I’ve been swimming in the frozen lake in Finland and in Antarctica and I know what cold water is, and even I could only get over it after several attempts. But then it was super refreshing – especially in blistering heat and after a hike! The Great Soča Cliffs are in any case a popular spot for swimming and fill from the morning with bathers, the very brave jump from the cliffs into the deep pools.
Ice-cold bathing fun awaits you along the Soca – if you dare!
The enchanting Šunik water grove
A truly magical hidden spot in the forest is the Šunik Water Grove (Šunikov vodni gaj). There is a tiny parking lot, but you can also hike there from the Great Soča Troughs past the campsite (about 1-1.5h). Either just follow the road after Kamp Klin, or cross the Lepenjica River on a precarious suspension bridge and then make an adventurous dash through the forest. (We had to turn back at some point, as the path was completely overgrown, and returned to the road – a pity, actually!). Arrived at the water grove, a small circular trail leads through a fairy tale forest full of waterfalls and moss-covered stones. Simply beautiful!
Hiking on the Soča Trail
Since we had to deal with a heat wave, we weren’t able to hike as much as we had actually planned. We mostly went to single sights by car and started shorter hikes from there – mostly along the river due to the heat (always pack bathing suits!). In the Soča Valley there are many hiking possibilities, from easy paths along the river to high alpine tours – depending on time, desired difficulty and preferences. However, the hikes are often not so well signposted. It is best to get a hiking guide or offline maps and use GPS tracks. Popular is the “Soča Trail”, a 25km long path along the river, which can also be hiked partially or in two stages, and which leads over several suspension bridges. To get to the starting point and back you can take the public bus between Kranjska Gora and Bovec during the summer months. By the way, the Soča trail is also a stage of the long-distance Alpe Adria Trail (rumored to be one of the most beautiful).
Slap Virje – waterfall with swimming pool
Very close to Bovec you can visit a waterfall in the forest, in whose natural pool you can swim: Slap Virje. The waterfall is really beautiful and very special, but unfortunately also quite crowded. There is a parking lot above the waterfall (5,- Euro fee), but you can also reach it on foot from more distant hiking parking lots.
Slap Boka – the most powerful waterfall in Slovenia
Over 144m falls the
Boka waterfall down a vertical rock face (106m of it in free fall), which is not only quite an impressive sight, but also makes it the highest waterfall in Slovenia. Unfortunately, you can only admire it from a viewing platform from a distance.
If you like and dare, you can climb above the platform on a steep, rocky path even further up to two more viewpoints, where you can at least get a bit closer (I got as far as the second one and then turned back). Kind of impressive already, but if I had to skip a sight due to lack of time, this would most likely be it.
Fairytale hike to Kozjak cave waterfall
I loved this little hike! It leads from the village of Kobarid along the Soča River and through the forest to an enchanted gorge, at the end of which you come across a waterfall in a mystical cave. The path is definitely the goal here, because it is really beautiful – incl. suspension bridge, beautiful views, swimming in the river, a smaller waterfall and idyllic stream in the forest (tour on Komoot). At the top you pay just before the waterfall in the cave 5, – entrance fee, which was worth it in my opinion but (you finally support the national park with it). Comes best early or in the evening, when less is going on.
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