Kamnik Gorge & Waterfall
On a sunny summer day in Green Slovenia there is not much that can beat a day spent on top of a 1,666m high mountain called Veliki Planina, (Big mountain meadow), close to the pretty medieval town of Kamnik and just an hour direct from Lipizzaner Lodge. You find the cable car station by driving out of Kamnik and following the Kamnik Bistrica river along the foothills of the mountain for about 10 minutes.
But we had always stopped at the cable car station and had never been further up this road to find out what was there.. (if you knew how amazing Velika Planina was, you would understand). We did a little bit of research and decided to explore.. so one day after breakfast we jumped in the car and drove past that cable car stop and you could have knocked our cotton socks off at the amazing places we found!
In just one amazing day we found the springs of the very same river Kamnik Bistrica, a stunning gorge carving through the river rocks AND climbed up a waterfall.. all of these discoveries were made on lovely forest mini hikes and just to top off the day, we also found an amazing secret hospital hidden deep in the forest, (but we will cover the Kamnik WW2 secret Partisans Forest hospital in another "Secret places to visit page").
In this article we will concentrate solely on explaining how you can catch all the 3 water wonders of nature here in one day. So what you do is drive through Kamnik and get to the Velika Planina cable car station, then just keep going straight on up mountain road until it pretty much runs out after 10 more minutes at a restaurant and big car park signposted as the "Dom" (town hall) in a tiny hamlet called Kamniska Bistrica.
The local signs are still just in Slovene and local info boards can also be unecessarily confusing, so we recommend you do the three water features from the top down in the order we show here.. start with the springs (Izvir) of the Kamniska Bistrica river. We recommend good shoes, water and emergency food for your day's adventures.
The Spring (Izvir) of the Kamniska Bistrica river
The car park looks a bit like a training ground for tanks, so if it hasnt been repaired yet, please be careful. You are now moments from the source of the river! The road bridge you drove over just before turning into the car park crosses over the start of the river where the spring empties huge amounts of fresh water into a lake. Just walk along the path and steps down where you will see this small lake forming with crystal clear water and a small rock island in the middle.. it gets better!
Hug the lakeside and follow the path, climbing over the odd rock or tree root until you get to the wooden bridge and all around here you are surrounded by green rocks and lush vegetation, a scene that reminded us of the Cambodian jungle.. this is the source of the Kamnik Bistrica river and it is an incredibly beautiful place. You could climb around and explore some more and there is even a little path on the other side of the mini lake if you can get there.. but just enjoy and explore.. wow what a place!
Depending on what time of year you visit will depend on how much water is here, whether you can maybe swim or dip a toe, but we were just so happy to be here in another Slovenian green paradise.
Logisitic Decision to make here..
Now it would be possible to leave the car at this spot and just walk the rest of the day, but it would take the rest of the day and be a long hike and you would probably have to do a bit of it on the narrow road as the river joins and disappears from the road at different gradients too.. But if you have time, it's stunning here.. why not!
We recommend you drive between the other 2 tiny car parks for the waterfall and the gorge.. your decision might be made based on where you can get a space as the road is narrow, so not much chance to park anywhere else.
We decided to do the waterfall hike next and then drive back to see the gorge so we could have a bite to eat at the DOM restaurant at the end of our time here.
The Organ Waterfall (Orglice Slap)
The waterfall walk car park is about 5 mins down from the Kamnik Bistrica tank car park and will appear on the left.. there is a sign in Slovenian for Orglice Slap, which translates as organ waterfall, (we will tell you why we think it called this when we get there with you)!
This is the longest walk of the day and is entirely inside a forest surrounded by mountains with a river. Depending which way you go it is really quite tricky to say how long it takes, as you might try to climb the waterfall or spend longer at the Secret hospital.. but you could get to the waterfall in about an hour, maybe quicker, but with kids and distractions it could and should be longer!
So you just follow the stone forest track and the red signs up through the stunningly beautiful forest. Depending on the time of year will depend if you are accompanied by the lovely sound of a lot of running water or a little, but if you think about it you are hunting a waterfall, so you will be following a river AND going UP!
The thing in Green Slovenia that frustrates us the most on behalf of our visitors are the poor quality of signs here and so rarely in English.. we did make this point at the local TIC (tourist info) later for this particular walk, so there is a little hope.. but this waterfall could be so better signposted with just a little bit of effort , so for now we will write in a little more detail for you so you are at least prepared for this adventure..
Everything will seem fine and dandy on this walk until the signs get a little bit thin on the ground and we started doubting if we were going the right way and had missed a sign, but don't worry, the start of this track is quite long and UP, but there is just one main track. You will eventually get to a sign at a crossroads, which helpfully says left to the waterfall AND right to the waterfall, but go left at this first one!
This track will take you to the Bela Bistrica river, which is the one fed by the Organ falls and soon you will get to one more crossroads where you could go left to the mysterious Bela Bolnisca and the waterfall or go straight on to.. you guessed it, the waterfall.. this path is now actually a big circle going either side of the river.. so you can actually choose either, but we recommend you stay on the right hand side of the river as you are going up to the waterfall and save the best and triciker path till the way back!
From this last sign it isn't far to the waterfall and when you arrive you might see why we think it is called the organ as it is on a series of different levels punctuated with thick beautiful rock boulders maybe a bit like a musical instrument..
Don't worry that you can't see the top of the waterflow yet, you will need to climb up the boulders..wow!
And this climb is the really fun bit, but please go very carefully, especially with kids. There are actually 2 ways to go up and when we arrived here we saw two people scrambling down the side of a kinda path to the left of the falls and so we thought that was the way to go, but the path almost becomes a part of the side of the steep hill, so very tricky to negotiate.
So we just went directly up the waterfall, crawling over thick boulders, dodging the water pools and pulling ourselves up to reach the top flow of the "organ". Your upwards journey ends when you round another monster boulder and see the main chute of water.
We were here at the end of summer so there was some water, but it was possible to still to climb the 5 or 7 levels up, but wow it is just so exhilarating being in nature up here and conquering this natural rock climbing frame with that reward of seeing the main waterfall at the top, we felt quite proud of ourselves.
And then it is time to go back down the falls.. this is a little more tricky and slithery. At the bottom, with slightly wet feet, we joined the Bela Bistrica (white) river to give it a bit of comapnay on it's journey.
We recommend you take the first chance you get to cross the river and come down on the oppostite side.. there are little red circles and lines painted on some rocks and trees to show you. The forest is thicker and more deep on this other side and the track is mushier when wet and narrower, but you must do this loop.
You might be feeling a little tired by now and when we saw a tiny little sign stuck on a giant tree saying "Bolnisnica" further down the river path, our instinct was to just ignore it and go straight on down the river, but we remembered that Bolnisnica means "hospital" and we know that Slovenia has several secret WW2 Partisan hospitals hidden away in the forests, so our curiosity got the better of us and luckily, we decided to follow the mysterious sign and take a right here, deeper into the thick forest.
Now, a visitor to Slovenia would not have a clue what this sign meant and so could easily miss out on something totally amazing.. indeed it turned out to be soooo special that we are putting the Kamnik Bela WW2 Secret Forest Partisan Hospital into its own article..as we said, we will just focus on the logistics of the walk and the 3 water features in this article!
But we sincerely hope you go see the hospital site.. it will totally blow you away and make your day even more special.
The way out of the secret hospital will link with the river path anyway and you will reach the main path for the car park again after a really fab forest hike with those misty mountains towering above you.
We had one final mini surprise on this part of the hike, as the Bela river was empty of water further down, so we decided to walk down along the riverbed on the white stones and pebbles instead.. great choice, it was so beautiful moving the same way as the crystal clear water would flow, ducking under low branches and crashing into big boulders. It was another unexpected highlight in the day.
And then with a little hop like a frog out of the riverbed onto the path, you are back onto the final stretch before the car park and the main road.. fantastic.
Kamnik Gorge (Soteska Predaselj)
So now for the third and final different water wonder of nature for the day! Drive back up the road for a few minutes to another small car park which will be on your left (going on the road uphill) and has a small but terrifying sign saying "Soteska Predaselj".. don't worry this is the gorge! (the usual word for gorge in Slovenian is "Korita", but here they use "soteska" as well.. sneaky).
The gorge is directly below you, just follow that scary sign down the hill along the tight curvy path to the sound of the water crashing and carving it's way through the rocks. There is a really great view of the clear blue water from the first wonky wooden bridge that you get to. Just keep going down if you want to get river side, but we were happy with that view and hungry, so drove back up to the DOM at the top of the road for a late lunch.
There you have it, a spring.. a waterfall (actually 2 if you go to the secret hospital) and a gorge.. with rocks, forest and mountains.. some of the very best natural ingredients Green Slovenia has on offer for the medication of your soul!
This whole adventure took us just over half the day, so it would be possible afterwards to go up the Velika Plania mountain on the cable car on a longer summer day or maybe to just pop into Kamnik old town for a coffee and a chillout like we did!
Alternatively you really could leave the car at one of these 3 car parks and spend the whole day hiking between all 3 special places. You could even park further down the road at the cable car parking instead and hike up the main river Kamniska Bistrica for a really massive hiking adventure!