Introducing Kranjska Gora to Soča Valley
Just a couple of kilometres from Kranjska Gora is one of the road-engineering marvels of the 20th century: a breakneck, alpine highway that connects Kranjska Gora with Bovec, 50km to the southwest. The trip involves no fewer than 50 pulse-quickening hairpin turns and dramatic vistas as you cross the Vršič Pass at 1611m.
Commissioned during WWI by Germany and Austria-Hungary in their epic struggle with Italy, much of the hard labour was done by Russian prisoners of war, and for that reason, the highway is now called the Ruska cesta (Russian Road).
The road is open from May to October and is easiest to navigate by car or bus (in summer, buses from Kranjska Gora to Bovec use this road), though it is possible by bike. Though the following are not stops on the bus route, let the driver know when you board where you want to get off and they will usually oblige.
From Kranjska Gora, the first stop is Jasna Lake (Jezero Jasna). It's a beautiful blue glacial lake with white sand around its rim and the little Pivnica River flowing alongside. Standing guard is a bronze statue of that irascible old goat Zlatorog and a decent gostišče (inn with restaurant).
As you zig-zag up to just over 1100m, you come to the Russian chapel, erected on the site where more than 400 Russian POWs were buried in an avalanche in March 1916.
The climb then begins in earnest as the road meanders past a couple of huts and corkscrews up the next few kilometres to Vršič Pass (1611m), about 13km from Kranjska Gora. From here, to the west is Mojstrovka (2366m), to the east Prisojnik/Prisank (2547m), and to the south the valley of the Soča River points the way to Primorska. A hair-raising descent of about 10km ends just short of a monument to Dr Julius Kugy (1858–1944), a pioneer climber and writer whose books eulogise the beauty of the Julian Alps.
From here you can take a side trip along the first part of the Soča Trail (Soška Pot) to the source of the Soča River (Izvir Soče), about 2.5km to the northwest. Fed by an underground lake, the infant river bursts from a dark cave before dropping 15m to the rocky bed from where it begins its long journey to the Adriatic.
Not long after joining the main road again, you'll pass the entrance to the Alpinum Juliana, a botanical garden established in 1926 that showcases the flora of all of Slovenia's Alps (Julian, Kamnik-Savinja and Karavanke) as well as the Karst.
The elongated mountain village of Trenta (elevation 620m) is just south. The lower section, Spodnja Trenta (Lower Trenta), is home to the Triglav National Park Information Centre. You’ll also find here the Trenta Museum, which focuses on the park's geology and natural history as well as the Trenta guides and pioneers of Slovenian alpinism.
The village of Soča is another 8km downstream. Bovec, the recreational centre of the Upper Soča Valley (Gornje Posočje), is 12km west of Soča.
There are several mountain huts en route where you can grab a bite or stay the night. Expect to pay €15 to €20 per person for a bunk, depending on availability. Most are open from May through September. Huts include Koča na Gozdu; Erjačeva Koča na Vršiču; and Tičarjev Dom na Vršiču.
For something fancier, the Kekec Homestead, about 2.5km off the main road heading for the source of the Soča, has eight upmarket rooms and a small pool.
There are abundant camping opportunities. In Trenta, there’s Camping Trenta and the smaller Kamp Triglav. Further toward Soča, there’s Kamp Korita and the more adventure-oriented Eko Camp, standing side by side.
From June to through September, several buses daily make the trip over the pass from Kranjska Gora. Alpetour runs three to four buses daily from Kranjska Gora to Trenta (€4.70, 70 minutes, 30km) and Bovec (€6.70, two hours, 46km). Check the website for a timetable.