Slovenia has as many as 7,000 caves within its entire system. If you like the outdoors, the Caves of Škocjan are a must-visit locale. You likely heard of Postojna, but Škocjan, while lesser-known, is still among Slovenia’s most important natural treasures – and maybe in the world.
The Škocjan caves are impressive due to their unique formation. Their underground canyon is one of the largest in the world. It has the Reka River flowing in its caves and going as wide as 21 miles (34 km) towards the Adriatic Sea. For spelunkers, this is something you should see at least once in your life.
Touring the vast, underground chambers of the Škocjan Caves are something you need to do at least once if you’re in Slovenia. Here’s everything you need to know about this majestic locale.
The Exploration History of the Škocjan Caves
The first recorded exploration of the Škocjan Caves comes from a document in 1819. This document was an official report to the government’s District Office in Sežana, in which an unknown writer describes the Škocjan Caves.
Even then, the first written sources about the caves come during the era of Antiquity. Posidonius of Apamea, a Greek politician, and explorer, had the caves marked on his published maps. They were also a part of Renaissance cartography, including the Lazius-Ortelius map from 1561 and Mercator’s Novus Atlas from 1637.
Informal explorations also happened around the late 18th century. Paintings of the cave’s internal areas are present in some French painter Louis-François Cassas’ works. Among the subjects was the Velika Dolina or Big Collapse Doline.
Twenty years after the first recorded exploration, Jakob Svetina, a master plumber from Trieste, explored 120m across Rijeka into the caves’ interior to find out how to capture water for the Trieste waterworks.
In the mid-19th century, Idrija miners recorded their deepest descent into the caves at 1476 feet (450 m) in 1851. By then, many people have seen how beautiful the Škocjan Caves are. Word of the Škocjan Caves’ beauty spread throughout Europe in the latter half of the 19th century.
The cave attracted speleologists from all over the continent. These include Dr. Adolf Schmidl, the Miller Brothers from Vienna, Anton Hanke, Viljem Putick from the Czech Republic, and Josip Marinič from Trieste. Later on, more Italians visited the caves.
Men ran the first headlong trails from nearby villages, who were also excellent guides. The part of the caves where today’s tourist tour begins – the Silent Cave – was discovered by local guides in 1904.
The first explorers were not interested in the cave because it is a blind sleeve without running water. In 1938, a shorter tunnel was dug from the Globočak valley for more convenient access for visitors. In 1958, electric lighting was arranged in the caves.
What is in the Škocjan Caves Regional Park?
The Škocjan Caves Regional Park lies on the native karst of Slovenia. The caves are a critical natural monument of the park and offer some of the most breathtaking views. Their vast halls and a real underground “canyon” are some of the most awe-inspiring sights, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1986.
The Škocjan Caves are also very famous for their pioneering research. The karst underground is among the most expansive biome in the world. Unusual but rich archeological finds testify to the significance of the cave from prehistoric times.
In addition, Velika and Mala Dolina, the submerged parts of the river with deep landslides, have a rich biodiversity. They offer some of the most interesting microclimatic conditions, even for a small land area.
Typical alpine and completely Mediterranean plants intertwine within and without, which makes the locale incredible. The rich natural heritage is complemented by a varied carpet of dry karst meadows on the surface.
The park itself has wonderful trivia for all waiting to enjoy it: the meadows above have more different butterflies on one karst meadow compared to the whole of Great Britain.
There are also many moths in There are especially many moths on the Škocjan Caves Regional Park. Karts are also used as watering holes that intercept rainwater, used in the past to feed livestock.
In both the protected and influential areas of the park, you’ll also find a rich cultural heritage waiting for you. You’ll see a lot of this in the karst architecture and the different ethnological, historical, and art-historical monuments.
and many archaeological sites from the Early Stone Age. Some items have found their place in the museum’s smaller museum collections, which enrich the visit of guests from all over the world.
Understanding The Abstract of Natural Heritage
When talking about the Škocjan Caves Regional Park, one of the things you’ll hear from local Slovenes is the idea of natural heritage. This concept is about the connection between man and the increasingly alienated nature. It’s not a religion, but rather a physical and metaphysical world in which man lives.
It sounds weird to hear such an abstract idea, but it hinges on our natural connection with nature. Slovenes value nature because they know they have a natural connection to it. Locals understand that they have it good because nature gives back.
Unfortunately, humanity has done a great sin against nature in recent centuries. Rapid industrialization is pushing nature to the brink. While Slovenes are doing their best to keep nature and modernity in balance, there’s still a lot of work left.
What’s In and Around The Škocjan Caves Regional Park?
The Škocjan Caves Regional Park is located on the Matična (Klasično) Karst. The Karst is home to many native products that Slovenia is proud of, including the bora, prosciutto, and Teran wine.
Karst lies between the Adriatic Sea and a general locale where researchers are slowly exploring. Researchers are seriously moving to discover more karst forms, including karst caves and other karst phenomena.
The rock base of the Škocjan Caves Regional Park transitions from flysch rock to limestone. This is unique to these karst locales, where the phenomena underscore the microcosm available in the area.
The regional park includes an extremely characteristic and, on a global scale, unique karst landscape. Its cave network, avalanche valleys, and individual natural monuments create the Karst architecture slowly shaped by time.
The local flora and fauna receive unique representation around the world. It’s hard to find endemic species in other places – all under exceptional coexistence in an extremely small area.
The biological and biotical diversity is mindblowing. It is also both interesting and vulnerable at the same time. This is the reason why the employees of the park, together with the locals, pay attention to the preservation of natural ecosystems. The karst should keep its status quo.
Going In and Around The Škocjan Caves
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the idyllic alpine between the peaks. The wilderness and the enormous dimensions of the landslides are awe-inspiring. The cave spaces and walls are majestic, even when under the shade of darkness.
The Škocjan Caves have a wide-spanning branched system of cave tunnels. They are up to 3.85 miles (6.2 km) long. The depth to the lowest point is 731 ft (223 m), and it’s the largest and best known natural phenomenon of the Classical Karst.
The entire park comprises as many as 11 speleological objects, the entirety of which are interconnected by Rijeka or by landslides. The changing sinks in the geological past have created a variety of landslide valleys. Many of these formed at this junction, inside under the underground cavities.
When you go out and visit, Velika and Mala Dolina are enchanting to every visitor. Their depth of 534 ft (163 m) houses an unbelievable amount of flora and fauna. The most beautiful view of both valleys is the ones with the natural bridge and the cave that separate them, called Mikl’s barn.
Škocjan Caves Guided Tours
The park has some of the best guided tours in Slovenia. If you’re looking to visit, it’s crucial to take these guided tours to get the best experience. The park is located on the native Karst, acting as a real open-air museum that shows the history of the locale.
In it, you’ll find a beautifully developed surface and underground phenomena. The web of Škocjan Caves stands out due to its authenticity. Its exceptional archeological finds, the tons of pioneering research of the karst underground, and its rich natural and cultural heritage make it a must-visit.
You can stop in the park only for a short visit in a single afternoon. You can also go on a multi-day stay, lodging in nearby historical apartments and hotels. So, which routes can you use?
Through The Underground Canyons
When using the underground canyon, you will start at the information center of the caves. You will find yourself heading towards the Globočak landslide and through an artificial tunnel.
You will enter the calm Tiha jama, a fossil tunnel full of numerous stalactite formations. By the time you reach the exit, expect to find yourself enchanted by the view of the underground canyon of Rijeka.
You will cross over the Cerkvenik bridge, running a little under 164 ft (50m) above the riverbed. From the cave, you can expect to return to the surface in the Great Valley.
Through The River Route
When using the river route, you will be able to walk alone or with a guide through the natural entrance of Rijeka on the way. This route will lead you towards the first part of the cave below the village of Škocjan.
Once you’re there, you’ll find natural light penetrates into the tunnel from many openings. The path runs just above the water, you can smell the freshness of the minerals. You’ll reach the Mala Dolina landslide soon, including the natural bridge.
You’ll find these land formations under which the river descends into the lake, then through a narrow riverbed in high waterfalls. After you find these two landscapes, you will also be able to see the Velika Dolina with Tominčeva jama, known for its many archeological finds.
Through The Škocjan Learning Path
The Škocjan learning path is an entirely different experience altogether. This trail is a great way to experience the park on a walk along the circular educational trail. It allows you to go around the landslides Velika and Mala Dolina and through the villages Betajna, Škocjan, and Matavun.
A guided or solo tour begins and ends at the information center. On it, you can see the entirety of the characteristics of karst phenomena. You’ll see the relief and hydrological properties, the beautifully diverse flora and fauna, and the rich cultural heritage of this area.
The learning path also includes a visit to the museum collections in Škocjan. You will see many of the archaeological finds that came from the olden times in these caves and meadows.
Through Hanke’s Channel
Among the densest routes, Hanke’s Channel offers a lot of sights, sounds, and experiences. The guided tour will begin at the information center and move from there. Caving equipment will be available in the center for your use.
When you’re approaching one of the entrances to the Škocjan Caves, you will see the Schmidl Hall. From there, you would need to follow the underground flow of the beautiful Reka River.
Following the trail at this point will take you to an underground gorge, showing off beautiful formations like the Hanke Canal, going to Swid’s Lookout. It is a partially restored path carved into the steep walls by the first cave explorers more than 130 years ago.
The tour is not your typical 15-minute tour, but rather an expansive tour that lasts about 3 to 4 hours. The walks are a little over 2 km and makes 400 steps along a varied footpath. The tour is most suitable for adults.
Viewing is not possible for children under 15 years of age, considering the complicated path you will pass through. Visits for adolescents from 15 to 18 years of age are possible only if accompanied by parents or guardians and are only possible with prior written consent.
Before the tour, the guides will first give you lessons with the basic cave equipment and its use at the information center. You would also need to be fit enough to go caving, being in good psychophysical condition. Your guide will also provide everything you need, from your introduction to your route to instructions for a safe visit.
Like any proper tour, it’s crucial to prevent any distractions. You want to be appropriately dressed in comfortable clothes such as a tracksuit or, in winter, you can wear a ski suit or similar. You would also want to have rubber boots or high hiking boots with you.
For the equipment, it is recommended to have a flashlight with you. If you don’t have boots you can wear, there are a few pairs to rent at the information center. You would also be given cave overalls, a helmet, a seat belt and a transport bag with water, and a garbage bag. These need to be returned back to the center too.
In the event of force majeure like storms or heavy rain, a viewing will not continue, and inspection will not be repeated if it was previously confirmed. Tours are also only possible after a yet confirmed reservation, with at least ten days reservation in advance.
What Else Can You Do In Škocjan Caves Regional Park?
There are more things you can do around the Škocjan Caves Regional Park. There are museum collections that you can find, together with the local meadows. There’s also Jakopin’s Barn, full of ethnological collections.
Škocjan Caves Museum
The original collection of the History of the Škocjan Caves Exploration history in Jurjev skednje is now part of a modern museum installation. The museum acts both as a way to preserve and present topics such as the Škocjan Caves research.
Their arrangement for tourism in the past allows for the collection be a new information point at the reception center. Completed in 2015, many exhibits were accumulated, from some basic works by foreign authors translated into Slovene.
From the installation of the first collection to the opening of the new one, there are many foundations laid for a superb upgrade. The entire collection is now interactive, with a wide range of different exhibits for those who want history lessons.
You’ll see documentaries, installations, and other material when you visit, including contributions from private museums like Srečko Rože’s Military Museum in Lokva.
The collection follows four perseverance themes throughout the karst – written sources, cave lighting, research, and cave equipment. These, with the help of original records by Friedrich Müller, can help guide the curious and the would-be explorer.
Müller, the man who penetrated the mysterious depths of the Škocjan Caves with a wooden boat and torchlight, is here to inspire those who visit the museum. Courage, ingenuity, and originality – these are the virtues that locals and foreign researchers should have when doing daring explorations of the Škocjan underground.
The museum is 10 minutes away from the information center. The tour itself will take about half an hour of your time. The collections are open from June to September from 11:30 to 19:30 every week.
There are several other collections that you won’t find in the museum. For starters, the ethnological collection in Jakopin’s barn offers some of the most authentic throwbacks to the past.
The collections in Delez’s homestead offer a geological collection of rocks. There is also a biological collection of the local flora and fauna, together with an archeological collection.
The current geological collection of rocks are everything that you can find in the native Karst. These rocks have as much as 80 million years of earth’s history recorded.
Some of the rocks within the collection include some interesting and important types of natural stone for autochthonous Karst architecture.
These rocks also contain almost everything from the olden times, including whole or crushed shells of ore shells. There are also perforators, limestone algae, rare corals, hardy animals, and some other fossils predominate.
You will also see finds from Mušja Jama near Škocjan. Within this 164 ft (50m) deep abyss, archaeologists discovered as many as 600 metal objects from several periods during antiquity. These go as far back as the 12th and 8th centuries BC!
Settlements in Škocjan and Gradišče had several items in them. The numerous cemeteries and other rich archaeological finds offer some of the most essential materials from the 1st millennium BC.
You’ll find many burnt and broken objects, mostly weapons and animal bones from the abyss. These go as far back as the late Bronze Age, and work as offerings to deities took place above the cave.
Škocjan Caves Cycling Routes
The Škocjan Caves Regional Park offers several cycling routes for people who want to explore around. So far, there are five routes available. These are:
- Divaški Kolesarski Krog or the Wild Cycling Route
- Through the park
- The Brkini Route
- Around Vremščica
- To Lipica and Back
Each trail offers a different view for those who look to go around and enjoy. Here’s a breakdown of what you should expect with the routes.
Through The Wild Cycling Route
The Wild Cycling Route is a demanding but unbelievably picturesque path, taking you through the Škocjan Caves Park. It will then start climbing you through the hilly Brkini and the attractive settlement of Rodik.
Once you reach Artviže, you are now at the highest point and start your descent towards the Rijeka valley. The northern area of the route itself will run just below Vremščica, going through Senožeče and Laže towards Dolenja vas, known for its free-standing camp tower.
From here to Divača, it is only a shot across the Čebulovica pass. This route is great for cyclists who need a little challenge. Those who want to take this route should come with mountain and trekking bikes.
The circular route through the Karst and Brkini is quite wild. If after this round, or after you see more potatoes en route, you’ll start cycling at the railway station in Divača. It’s a pleasant route to visit, starting from Divača on the side road to Dolnje Ležeče to Matavun (Škocjan Caves).
Through The Park
Most of the route going through the park runs through the narrow protected area of the park. Among other things, the ones you will see include the Church of St. Helena in Gradišče near Divača. This church has frescoes from the 15th century and named after the mother of Constantine.
You’ll also see some beautiful karst phenomena. Among them is the breathtaking view of the almost 330ft (100 m) deep Okroglica abyss. You’ll see the village Škocjan with a beautiful view of the Rijeka gorge, together with smaller museum collections.
You’ll notice that most of the route runs from the reception center in Matavun. You would then turn right onto the macadam road, which leads us through Dolnje Ležeče to Gradišče pri Divači.
As you continue partly on the macadam and partly on the local road towards Betanja, you’ll get through Škocjan and return to the reception center in Matavun. There are several places where you can stop in the village of Škocjan too.
You can rest near the Church of St. Kancijan. Inside the church, walls are some interesting tombstones, which were part of an older cemetery. Behind the church, there’s a beautiful view of the Rijeka gorge, the slopes of Vremščica, and Snežnik.
Through The Brkini Cycling Tour
The Brkini cycling tour takes you to a different vista for your travels. It will take you across the varied flysch Brkini across the Vremska valley. It will then take you back to the starting point in the park.
You will go up a mildly steep but long ascent, climbing on the so-called ridge road along the top of Brkini. Brkini has some of the most beautiful views all around, and you’ll start seeing them open up.
Cyclists will eventually reach a relaxing descent towards the Vremska Dolina valley. You will see some of the rich cultural tradition of these places in Suhorje, a settlement monument, and Vremski Britof.
Through The Vremščica
The cycling circle around Vremščica through the southern slope, going all the way to Košanska valley, then visit its northern part. Once you reach a basic flat part of the Vremska valley, the long ascent to the very top of Vremščica awaits you.
The top of Vremščica is beautiful. In some cases, this is enough to get your mind off many things. Once you reach the village of Buje, you’ll also see a panoramic view of the surroundings.
This final route is another great pick that will bring you to a different attraction within the Karst. You’ll see the Lipica stud farm and the Lipizzan horses. While pushing through the Karst, you’ll be in Pared – the largest ice cave in the area.
Once you’re in Pared, you’ll also see the village of Lokev and a camp tower from the 15th century. This served as a defense against the Turks, and you can expect your eyes to widen with its towering height. You will soon drive through the south gate to the stud farm’s estate, where the meadows next to the Lipizzan horses are adorned with old oaks.
The Škocjan Caves Regional Park is one of the most beautiful, naturally diverse landscapes in Slovenia. It is one of the hidden treasures of the country. It is a perfect example of man and nature’s convergence and coexistence.
If you’re visiting Slovenia, a tour of the Škocjan Caves is a must. You can expect pure solemnity and union with nature when you visit the area. It also has enough people for you to see the soul of Slovenia without having too big of a crowd.
Are you ready to do some spelunking? If caves are not your thing, there are more things you can do. Whether you want to go outdoors, enjoy the city, or absorb some more culture, there’s something in Slovenia for you.
Talk to us now and let’s find out what you can enjoy in beautiful Slovenia.