In the middle of the Slovenian Karst region, you find the small valley Rakov Škocjan, with spectacular gorges, cliffs and deep caves. Here, an underground river comes to the surface, only to disappear into another cave, two kilometer downstream.
Once, long ago, the entire river Rak was flowing underground. On its way, the river water dissolved limestone rocks and created a cave. Eventually, the cave became so large, that the ceiling collapsed. The river water continued to dissolve the fallen rocks and the lovely valley of Rakov Škocjan remained. At the “beginning and ending” of the above-ground river, the formation of the valley continues. Here, we find the most spectacular Karst formations of the wide region, including the large and small “natural bridges”.
In the valley of Rakov Škocjan we find a combination of very different habitats. At a short distance, there are deep caves, forests and steep, sunny rocks.
Around the spring of river Rak, at the small natural bridge, te vegetation is much influenced by a cool and moist cave-climate. Here, ferns grow abundantly and part of the rocks is covered wit peat-moss. In between, lovely wild roses (Rosa pendulina) flower in late spring. At the other end of the valley, around the large natural bridge, the endemic Justin’s bellflower (Campanula justiniana) grows on the steep, dry limestone cliffs.
Much of the area is forested, and we have a good chance to see black woodpeckers and norther ravens. On the cliffs at the small natural bridge there is usually a pair of grey wagtails nesting and the upper part of the river Rak forms an excellent habitat for dippers.
Sunny, rocky cliffs and forest clearings form good reptile habitat. Especially common are wall lizards (search around the chirch ruin on top of the large natural bridge) and green lizards (at sunny roadsides). Less numerous are Horvath’s rock lizards and Carniolan lizards (Zootoca carniolica), which can sometimes be encountered in sunny forest clearings.
Where the river runs slowly, green frogs are abundant. If you are lucky, you may see grass snakes, which hunt these frogs. The cave salamander, the olm (Proteus anguinus) lives in the underground river and has been observed a few times in the springs of Rakov Škocjan.
Special insects at Rakov Škocjan include the scarce frittilary (Euphydryas maturna), which is one of the most beautiful Slovenian butterflies. Dragonflies are abundant at the slower parts of the river: watch for Beautiful Demoiselle and the, no less beautiful, Banded Demoiselle.
The river itself is home to many fish. In the upstream part, we may see grayling and also the rare, nocturnal burbot is present. Lower down, chub, tench and pike are abundant, while large shoals of minnows roam the entire river. At some springs along the river, we can get a glimpse of the underground world of the Slovenian Karst: tiny specks of white in the sand turn out to be the remains of the shells of cave-snails, which are found nowhere else in the world!
Recently, crayfish have been observed near one of the springs. They used to be so abundant, that the river is named after them: “Rak” means crayfish in Slovenian. We hope that these recent sightings mean that they are returning to their former stronghold!
A marked, 6 km long trail leads you around the valley Rakov Škocjan. You can start this trail at several places along the unpaved forest road. Halfway, you can take a shortcut if you like to hike only half of the distance. The trail is undemanding and goes through the forest and along forest edges.
“Must see” places along the way include the small natural bridge (at the springs) and the large natural bridge (close to where the river Rak disappears underground). On the middle of the large natural bridge, there is a romantic ruin of a church. About midway between the small and large natural bridges, there are several large karst springs.
The path down to the small natural bridge is steep and permanently slippery because of te moist cave-air. underneath, you walk over loose rocks: we recommend good hiking shoes.
At Rakov Škocjan you find hotel Rak, which offers meals as well as rooms. Nearby, in Unec, there is pizzeria/restaurant Portus. Further restaurants are in Rakek (rastaurant Pav), Podskrajnik and Cerknica.
From Ljubljana, take a bus or train to Rakek. From there, there is a 3 km long makked trail to Rakov Škocjan.
Take the A1 motorway Ljubljana-Koper. Leave at the exit Unec, in the direction of Rakek/Cerknica. Soon after leaving the highway, you find a signpost in the direction of Rakov Škocjan and Postojna. Follow the road Unec-Postojna, which runs largely parallel to the A1 motorway. After about 2 km, there is a signpost to the left-hand side, pointing to an unpaved road. Aproximately 1 km further, you find the start of a marked trail around Rakov Škocjan.
We organise custom guided tours to Rakov Škocjan. Where we meet depends on what is most convenient for you: mostly Unec, Cerknica or Postojna. Contact us for inqueries.