The iconic drive through Vršič Pass in Slovenia is about both the destination and the journey. While the pass offers magnificent views and awesome hikes, the drive to get to Vršič Pass from Ljubljana or Lake Bled is spectacularly scenic as well. Read on to discover what to see and do on a day trip to Vršič Pass!
At 5,285 feet, Vršič Pass is the highest mountain pass in Slovenia and the Eastern Julian Alps. Starting in Kranjska Gora in the Upper Carniola region, the high mountain road winds its way through a series of switchbacks up to the pass and then down the other side to the Trenta Valley. Altogether, there are 50 hairpin bends on the road, offering beautiful vistas.
The road through the Vršič Pass was built as a military route in 1915 at the behest of the Austro-Hungarian administration. The road was built by Russian prisoners of war and hence, on the Kranjska Gora side, it bears the name Ruska Cesta, the Russian Road.
While you could just drive to the pass from Ljubljana and back and still have an experience to remember, you can make a long day of it and take in the many sights and viewpoints along the way. Our day trip to Vršič Pass was one of the highlights of our Slovenia trip.
Things to Do on the Vršič Pass Drive
With beautiful viewpoints, historic sights, and the opportunity for short and long hikes, the Vrsic Pass drive will keep you engaged and enthralled. If it isn’t already on your must-do list for Slovenia, add it now!
From Ljubljana or Lake Bled, drive to Kranjska Gora to begin the journey up to the pass. Your drive to Vršič Pass features some of the loveliest natural scenery on the planet, with mountains and gorges, valleys and forests, lakes and waterfalls.
From Kranjska Gora to Trenta on the other side, the driving distance is just about 16 miles, but there are lots of places to stop and things to see and do along the way. Start early to maximize your sightseeing time!
Here are the best things to do on the drive through the Vršič Pass:
#1 Admire the mountains at Kranjska Gora
As you drive through the alpine resort town of Kranjska Gora, make a quick stop to admire the beauty of the wall of mountains and take a few photos.
Kranjska Gora is one of the gateways into Triglav National Park, Slovenia’s only national park. The church in town, dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, has a beautiful white and gold interior.
The spot where we stopped had an unobstructed view of the mountains, across a green meadow. A couple of horses grazed in the distance, and cheery wildflowers provided bursts of color here and there. It was the perfect viewpoint to start our day in the Julian Alps.
George, our guide and driver for the day, parked well off the narrow road so we could take photos. The road is narrow, so when you stop to take in the views or take photos, make sure you have a safe place to park.
#2 Enjoy the views at Lake Jasna
Located just a little over one mile from Kranjska Gora, Lake Jasna is a haven of serene beauty in the midst of tall mountains. The small alpine lake features several beach areas and a diving platform, so you can enjoy the water when it’s warm enough. You can also rent canoes or paddleboards.
Walking the shore of the lake to enjoy the views from many different angles is a must, as is a photo stop at the Zlatorog statue. The golden-horned chamois of Slovenian lore is said to inhabit the higher elevations of Mount Triglav. You’ll see a Zlatorog statue at Lake Bohinj as well.
Spend a few minutes savoring the stunning beauty of your surroundings. Watch the river flow into the man-made lake, and the ducks cavorting in the water. Admire the beautiful blue-green color of the crystal clear lake. On a still morning, the reflections of the mountains in the lake are stunning.
There is a snack bar and ice cream parlor at Lake Jasna if you want to enjoy a sweet treat or a hot drink while you take in the views. Lake Jasna is a popular spot during the day in the summer, but it was quite serene when we stopped by early in the day.
#3 Visit the Russian Chapel
After the lake, the road begins to wind up the mountain in a series of switchbacks. At switchback number 8, about half way up the mountain, you come to your next stop along the route, the Russian Chapel.
The chapel was built in 1916-17 by Russian prisoners of war as a memorial to their comrades that died during the arduous construction of the road, including some that perished in an avalanche that struck their camp.
The picturesque wooden chapel, with two towers, is dedicated to Saint Vladimir. You can’t go inside the chapel, but the facade is worth viewing up close.
Walk the beautiful grounds, with its little bubbling spring, colorful wildflowers in season, and mature trees. There are several information plaques that describe the history of the chapel.
There is a parking lot at the chapel, as well as restrooms.
#4 Photograph the north face of Prisank
Still further up, you come to the viewpoint from where you have a fabulous view of the majestic north face of Prisank. There are trails here to walk as you take in the beauty all around you, and the views are simply magnificent.
The Prisank Window, a hole in Mt. Prisank, is a much photographed natural feature here. The window looks tiny from the viewpoint, and it can be difficult to spot unless it is pointed out to you. But it is actually quite large, at about 260 feet tall and 130 feet wide.
Experienced mountain climbers can make the ascent up to the window, and even further up to the summit of the mountain. If you visit on a nice weather day, walk a portion of the little trail that goes closer to the mountains from the viewpoint before you head back to your car.
Below and to the left of the window is the natural rock sculpture known as the Pagan Girl or the Heathen Maiden. From this viewpoint, the face is difficult to spot without a powerful zoom lens or binoculars.
#5 More fabulous views and a short walk
A little bit further along the drive is another viewpoint with a road that leads to a little cafe. Our guide George knew about the viewpoint and took us there, but I could not find a name for this stop.
Park at the parking lot and walk the wide path that leads close to the mountains. With the wall of mountains close enough that you feel you can reach out and touch them, the views on this walk are gorgeous. You will not be able to stop taking photos!
#6 Take in the vistas at Vršič Pass
Your next stop is the legendary Vršič Pass: the pinnacle of your trip, both literally and figuratively. There is ample parking by the side of the road. Pose for a photo by the marker, and then enjoy the panoramic vistas stretching out in all directions.
Velvety green forests drape the sides of hills, while in the back, the charcoal-grey granite faces of the Alps reach up to touch the clouds. Here and there, dribbles of white indicate snow, even in summer. In the foreground, the light tan of rocks offers contrast and completes the picture postcard scenes.
The views at Vršič Pass are stunning in every season. We visited in early June, when wildflowers were everywhere and the lakes were thawed. Changing leaf colors make fall a lovely time to do the drive, and in the spring, you’ll get to see a lot more snow on the mountains.
There is a cafe where you can enjoy a drink, or you can have a meal at the restaurant that’s a short walk from the parking lot. Or, if you’ve brought along a picnic lunch, spread out a blanket and savor the views along with your meal!
#7 Hike to Slemenova Špica
If you enjoy hiking, you will love Slovenia, because the opportunities for beautiful hikes are endless. At Vršič Pass, the hike to Slemenova Špica is both beautiful and doable on a day trip.
The out and back trail is about 3 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of a little less than 1,200 feet. From the pass, the trail climbs gradually to the saddle of Vratca, from where you get a fabulous view of the north face of Prisank.
Keep on the trail for Slemenova Špica and you will eventually reach a grass-covered plateau, from where you can see Mt. Jalovec and Mt. Mojstrovka. The views are spectacular, and you’ll see wildflowers along the way in season.
At this point, you can turn back, or continue further to the peak of Slemenova špica for more stunning views into the Tamar Valley. From here, return to the parking lot the way you came.
With stops for photos and to enjoy the views, this hike takes about 3 hours. Attempt it only if the weather is good.
#8 Walk the short trail to see the Heathen Maiden
Want to do a quick walk to get a better view of the Heathen Maiden on the north face of Prisank? From the Vršič Pass parking lot, walk southwards and follow signs to Tičarjev dom. If you continue past the hut, you will come to a couple of military bunkers.
Turn right and follow signs that say Ajdovska deklica (Heathen Maiden), and you will come to the viewpoint from where you can get a relatively clear view of the maiden’s face in the cliff.
Take photos and read the information plaque at the viewpoint that relates the story of the girl. Return to the parking lot the way you came.
#9 Visit the Šupca viewpoint on the Trenta side
From Vršič Pass, continue your drive to the Trenta Valley. But just across from the pass is another beautiful viewpoint where you must stop: the Šupca viewpoint is the final major viewpoint on the drive.
If you enjoy military history, at the Šupca viewpoint, you will find relics from the First World War to browse, including the remains of a telpher cable-car line. And from the viewing platform, you can gape at the stunning views over the valley and across to Vršič Pass.
#10 Drive down to the Trenta Valley
Now it’s time for the final stretch: negotiating the hairpin bends down into the Trenta Valley, before you head back to your starting point. The scenic Trenta Valley contains just three small villages, as well as the source of the aquamarine Soča River.
Once you reach the bottom, you can go back the way you came, for more vistas that will keep you enthralled. If you visit in the summer when daylight hours are long, you might even be able to stop at a couple of places on the return journey for more photos!
#11 Do a detour to see the Planica Nordic Center
On the way back, you can take an optional detour from Kranjska Gora to see the Planica Nordic Center, a unique winter sports destination in Slovenia. Here you can enjoy the adrenaline rush of the steepest zipline on the planet.
The area includes eight sporting hills: one for ski flying, and seven for ski jumping. It also features a cross-country skiing track. Ski flying actually originated in Planica, all the way back in 1936.
Along the way, enjoy fabulous views of Mount Mangart, the third tallest peak in Slovenia, at 8,789 feet.
#12 Enjoy the beauty of the drive
While the places I have described along the drive are definitely stunning, the drive itself is one big roll of super scenic vistas, and as you wind up and down the mountain, you’ll be treated to one beautiful view after another.
Slovenia boasts some of the most spectacular natural beauty on the planet, and nowhere is that beauty more evident than in and around Triglav National Park. This drive gives you the opportunity to experience some of that beauty at close quarters.
The Vršič Pass drive is one of my favorite memories from our first trip to Slovenia, and I would return in a heartbeat to do it all over again.
Information and Tips for the Vršič Pass drive
And now for some practical information to help you prepare for the Vršič Pass drive. I hope my tips help you have an enjoyable and memorable day trip to the highest pass in Slovenia!
Structuring your Vršič Pass drive
If you want your day trip to the Vršič Pass to include a long hike (and you absolutely should include one, if you can), then keep your visit limited to Vršič Pass.
If you don’t include a hike, you can do a combined day trip to Vršič Pass and the Soča River Valley, driving all the way to Kobarid and then back. The drive through the Soča River Valley is also spectacular, and you will have many opportunities to take photos of the surreal aqua water.
Renting a car for your Vršič Pass road trip
The Vršič Pass drive is one of the best day trips from Ljubljana you can do, especially if you enjoy the outdoors. You can also do this day trip from Bled, or from Kranjska Gora or Bovec (on the Trenta side).
Driving yourself is the most flexible option, because you can stop when and where you like, and enjoy as much time as you wish at each stop along the route. The only disadvantage is that the driver loses out on the spectacular views out the windows as you drive!
Looking to rent a car for your Europe trip? Discover Cars offers you the ability to compare availability and prices across many major car-hire companies. Pick the car that best meets your needs!
The Vršič Pass road is paved for the most part and cobblestoned in the switchback portions. It is a relatively narrow road with one lane in each direction. It is also a winding road, with lots of switchbacks.
When we visited, we found the road was well-maintained for its entire length. There are pullouts at various points where you can park safely if you wish to stop for photos.
The drive is popular, so expect a fair amount of traffic during the day in high season. You will see motorcyclists weaving in and out, and intrepid bicyclists pedaling up to the pass, so be very careful.
The Vršič Pass road is open for about seven months of the year. In the winters, the road is closed to traffic because of large amounts of snow at the higher elevations.
Check for traffic conditions on the official site to make sure the road is open, especially if your visit is scheduled for early spring or late fall. In some months of the year when the road is open, snow tires may be mandatory.
Cell reception may be spotty in the mountains, so it’s best to download any maps or brochures you need before you start off on the drive. There are signs to most of the viewpoints and sights along the route.
What if you don’t want to drive?
While driving yourself affords the greatest flexibility, you can also visit Vršič Pass using public transport or on a guided tour.
By public transport: Take the bus from Ljubljana to Kranjska Gora, and then another bus from Kranjska Gora to Vršič Pass. The journey from Ljubljana to Kranjska Gora takes about 2 hours, and there are multiple departures each day.
The ride from Kranjska Gora to Vršič Pass takes about 30 minutes. Check the time table for the day you plan to visit as these services are not as frequent. Book your tickets ahead of time to be sure of getting a seat on the way back!
By guided tour: Book this guided tour that takes you over the Vršič Pass to the Soča River Valley for a visit to some of the prettiest places in Slovenia.
Splurge on a car and driver: My husband and I hired Slovenia Private Tours for our day trip, and we were so glad we did. George is a super safe driver, extremely knowledgeable about the area and his country, and an excellent conversationalist.
We had a fabulous day out, and highly recommend this splurge! (This is not an affiliate link and our review is not compensated in any way. Our experience was wonderful and we wanted to share!)
Food and drink
Although there is a cafe and a restaurant at Vršič Pass, our suggestion would be to carry a picnic lunch and find a scenic spot to enjoy it, somewhere along the way.
Best time of year to visit Vršič Pass
Although any time of year when the road is open would be a great time to do the drive over Vršič Pass, you will be less prone to run into bad weather in the very late spring, summer, and very early fall.
In the spring, you’ll see the beautiful pale green of new leaves on deciduous trees, wildflowers in profusion in meadows and valleys along the route as well as along the road in some places. You will still see snow on the mountaintops, making for fabulous photos.
In the fall, changing leaf colors make an already beautiful landscape even more stunning. I would love to return to the Julian Alps in fall: I have seen photos online and the entire region looks lovely.
And in the summer, fully thawed lakes and rivers and brilliantly blue skies make the drive memorable, but you might have to contend with more traffic and more people at the stops along the way.
How much time should you allow?
Plan on about 10-12 hours if you will do a long hike, several small walks, and stops at all the major viewpoints and sights I have described. Start early to give yourself ample time to enjoy the scenery without feeling rushed.
The Vršič Pass drive really is one of the best day trips from Ljubljana you can do! Of course, if you are based in Bled, or Kranjska Gora, you can clip off about one to one and one-half hours of driving at each end. But it’s totally doable from Ljubljana as well.
What to wear
Layers are always appropriate in the mountains, where the weather can change abruptly. Pack or wear a light but warm jacket, and carry a raincoat or an umbrella. Wear comfortable, closed-toe walking or hiking shoes, and carry sunscreen and a sun hat.
So there you have it: my guide to an epic day trip to the Vršič Pass in the Julian Alps of Slovenia! Have you visited? If you have, I’d love to read your thoughts: comment below to respond!
If you haven’t yet done the scenic drive through the Vršič Pass, I hope you add it to your itinerary for Slovenia! And if you are thinking about a trip to this beautiful country, check out my itinerary for 7 days in Slovenia.
There are many wonderful things to do in Slovenia, from exploring beautiful Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj to visiting coastal Piran and lovely Ljubljana. My Slovenia destination guide has lots of useful information and loads of photos for you to browse as you flesh out your trip. And if you enjoy day trips, read about other fabulous day trips from Ljubljana you can do.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, we receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you.
More Information for Your Slovenia Trip:
Lake Bohinj: The Best Things to Do at Lake Bohinj in the Summer
Piran: What to Do in Piran on Your First Visit
Predjama Castle: Visiting Predjama Castle on a Day Trip
Lake Bled: The Best Things to Do in Lake Bled
Vintgar Gorge: Why You Should Visit Vintgar Gorge
Postojna Cave: A Day Trip to Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle
Skofja Loka: A Day Trip to Skofja Loka From Ljubljana
Ljubljana: What to See and Do in Ljubljana
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Photo license: Heathen Maiden, Sleme CC BY-SA 2.0