Photograph by Ciril Jazbec
Read Caption
Swimmers cool off in the emerald waters of the Great Soča Gorge, near Bovec.
Photograph by Ciril Jazbec

3 amazing outdoor adventures in Slovenia

Discover what Europeans have long known: The northwest part of this Balkan nation offers adrenaline-inducing fun in storybook settings.

With the towering limestone massifs of the Julian Alps, plummeting gorges, an emerald river—and only about 3,000 permanent residents—the Trenta-Bovec-Žaga area of northwestern Slovenia has long been a secret stash for European adventurers. Over the centuries, the region drew iron miners, sheepherders, and alpinists, but its isolation dissuaded many from planting roots. Now an influx of outfitters is breathing new life here, and sporty travelers are the winners.

“I don’t know of many other places where you can ski, mountain bike, raft, fly fish, and paraglide in the same spring weekend, all in such a beautiful setting,” says Petra Vasadi, owner of Soca Rider rafting company. Although visits surge in summer, the trails in and around 324-square-mile Triglav National Park afford ample room to roam, and the area’s villages and mountain huts offer storybook surroundings for relaxing after a day outdoors. (See 10 incredible Mediterranean adventures.)

Raft the Soča River

The Soča’s mesmerizing hue, born of mineral deposits in the limestone bedrock, enchants visitors even before they dip a paddle in the more than 15 miles of Class I to IV rapids that run between the settlements of Lepena and Trnovo. The water color, boulder “gardens,” and forest-lined gorges draw rafters and kayakers from around the world.

And while the setting belies a dark history—Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops waged battles along this river in WWI—peace reigns today, especially in the crystalline pools and coves between rapids. The river runs higher during the spring melt, but summer and early fall offer warmer weather to offset the brisk water temperatures.

Hike mountain slopes

Tucked in a horseshoe-shaped valley, Trenta is a gateway to hundreds of miles of hiking, including the 12-mile Trenta–Kranjska Gora stage of the Alpe-Adria trail, which winds through forests, crests 5,285-foot Vršič Pass, and pauses at a tiny wooden chapel built in 1917 by Russian prisoners of war to honor their fallen comrades.

View Images

Trenta is a gateway to hundreds of miles of hiking, much of it dog friendly.

For a quicker high, board the cable car in Bovec and disembark—35 minutes and more than a vertical mile later—at Kanin ski resort, home to one of Slovenia’s highest restaurants and routes ranging from gentle strolls to the demanding 8,487-foot summit of Big Mount Kanin, which offers views stretching to the Adriatic Sea, some 35 miles away.

Cycle Vršič Pass

With 50 switchbacks, an elevation gain of 4,035 feet, and soul-stirring vistas, the 39-mile Vršič Pass ride—from Kranjska Gora to Trnovo—is a bucket-list feat for hard-core cyclists. The asphalt and cobblestone route passes a monument to Julius Kugy, the Italian climber and botanist hailed for exploring these mountains; the Juliana Alpine Botanical Garden (most colorful in May and June); and a WWI cemetery.

View Images

Bike routes range from mellow lakeside spins to thigh-burning mountain ascents.

An easier 25-mile spin begins in the town of Tolmin and traces the turquoise Most na Soči lake before rolling through a series of villages, past the Babja Jama cave, where women and children reportedly hid during the 15th-century Osmani plunder, to the medieval town of Kanal and beyond.

An avid outdoorsman, John Briley writes about travel, health, fitness, and adventure. Follow him on Instagram @jbriley66.