Soca River Packrafting - Slovenia

Spent a week in the stunningly beautiful Soča River in mid-July, 2016. The crystal-clear, turquoise-tinted Soča runs down a deep alpine valley in western Slovenia, just a few miles from the Italian and Austrian borders. The scenery is breathtaking and the area is unspoiled, although Euro kayakers flock here to enjoy the white water. Enough infrastructure is in place to make this an easy trip, but it is not at all touristy by European standards. The river has numerous runs suitable for kayak or packraft, including class I-II sections with great views and class IV rock gardens. The canyons provide endless rock gardens and small drops, and the river is generally forgiving. However, there are a few underwater rock strainers in the limestone, so don’t let down your guard on the easy sections. I kayaked the first three days and packrafted the next 3 days to get the best of both worlds. The packraft was especially useful for the horrible put-in at Otona, which consists of half a mile of extremely steep trail and exposed stairways into a deep gorge. I have to admit to enjoying the glares of struggling kayakers as I breezed down past them that day. In six days, we did most of the whitewater runs, including the following, in up to down stream order. KRSOVEC to CESOCA (Tricky class III start, then drops into a thrilling 6’ wide slot canyon for several hundred yards, then easier), CESOCA to SRPENICA I (Class I-II float through open valley with great mountain views), SRPENICA I to SRPENICA II (beautiful canyon, a bit harder with spread out rapids not over grade III, great for play and warm-up), SRPENICA II to TRNOVO I (harder and more frequent rapids between big rocks, to grade III+, probably IV at high water, scenic and fun), TRNOVO I to TRNOVO II (“The Slalom Course”, more technical, continuous tricky but fun rocky drops, approaching class IV, and probably IV or more at high water), TRNOVO II to OTONA (Did not run, as this section is not recommended, not only due to being harder but because it has numerous dangerous undercuts and rock strainers or siphons), OTONA to NAPOLEANOV MOST (despite the death-march to the put-in described above, this section is worth the effort for its great water and being at the bottom of an impressively deep and scenic gorge, a busy run with many technical drops through big rocks, finally drifting under the Napoleanov Most - “Napoleon’s Bridge” - an impressive stone bridge built by the eponymous emperor high above the river at the entrance to the historic town of Kobarid). There are easier runs downstream, and harder ones upstream on the Soča and its tributaries

The water levels in mid July were lowish but very adequate, you could only blame your self for bumping any rocks. When I returned a week later to get one more run in with the packraft, the levels had fallen notably, but were still runnable. Early spring and peak runoff levels would of course be more challenging.

IF YOU GO: This should be WHEN you go, this is a once-in-a-lifetime-if-at-all-possible sort of river. Closest airport is Trieste (Italy), which was a short hop from Munich for us. Then a couple of hours into the Slovenian alps. The charming towns of Bovec and Kobarid, located at the ends of the whitewater section, have plenty of hotels, shops and restaurants, but retain a local feel. Also rentable houses and rustic restaurants in the other villages dotting the rural landscape along the river. The people here are generally charming and welcoming, and while many speak a second language, it isn’t always English. Learning to say “hvala” (thank you) and “dober dan” (good day) will go a long way. (BTW, Soča is pronounced “SO-cha”). The well-stocked, friendly kayak shop (Alpin Action) in Trnovo is an excellent resource for gear and information, and also rents boats. You do need a permit to run the river, but these are cheap and easily purchased, and support the local authorities who keep the river in excellent condition and provide info signs at the put-ins. Also, the river is technically closed after 5 pm, so camping on-river would be dodgy. In any case, the thick night fogs that form along the river would make camping a soggy experience. Try it the European way, getting off the river and enjoying the excellent local food and beer at night (I can also highly recommend the wines of Slovenia, which offer the best quality-price ratio I have seen in Europe). Slovenia is in the Eurozone, but quite inexpensive compared to other more tourist-ridden zones. Unsurprisingly, the Soča is popular with kayakers, especially from Germany and Austria, so you will have a chance to rub shoulders with boaters from many lands, and make new friends. The put-ins can be crowded, but the river never felt at all overused. Most of the Germans tend to boat in large groups, so they stay relatively localized. Although, we did meet one 70-year old Austrian who was boating alone on the class IV. He did an amazing self-rescue at one point, climbing up on an 8 foot high rock in midstream, hauling his boat up to the top and then launching off the other side back into the river. Hope I can do that when I’m 70!

Thank you so so so much !!!

I am actually “moving” to slovenia in 2 months and can’take wait. I am really surprised that it is not more famous thanot that because it really looks incredible. Thanks for all the info it’s a gold mine for me !anything you recommand in particular ? Or anything you absolutely NOT recommend, by any chance ?

After the week on the Soca, we spent another week traveling in Slovenia - it was all charming. The mountain pass at the upstream end of the Soca is fantastic. The area around Lake Bled is touristy for sure, but there are other lakes and mountains nearby. It’s clear Slovenia is benefitting from being in the Euro zone, good roads and infrastructure. Now is a great time to be going. There are ski areas and hiking/mountaineering - you should try to climb Mt. Triglav while you are there, every Slovenian is supposed to do this once in their lifetime. The Soca and its tributaries have excellent trout fishing. The people we met were great, and if you take the trouble to learn a little bit of Slovenian while you are there, they will love you. They make a variety of great local wines, as well as beer, and the food is quite good. Had no problems there, and there is nothing I would avoid other than obviously being respectful of people and customs. Have fun exploring!

Sweet man! Thanks very much !
Yeah, I am planning on getting to know few expressions so I don’t sound like an English conqueror !LOl
I did read that the Soca can be dangerous here and there, so I’ll see, hopefully I meet a few paddles on the way to take me along, but I will definitely check the whitewater “shops” to get some info !Cheers mate !

Thanks a lot for the info, this one has been on my list for donkeys years so even more so now if/when I ever get back to Europe. Great to see something from a packrafting perspective as well.
Cheers Mick