A guide for hiking in Kazbegi, Georgia

One of Georgia’s main tourist attractions is the incredibly beautiful Gergeti Trinity Church in Kazbegi. The 14th-century monastery is perched right on the edge of a hill towering above the town of Stepantsminda in northern Georgia. Although the church itself is an awe-inspiring sight, the surrounding Caucasus Mountains are equally an incredible attraction and offer some of the best hiking in Georgia.

There are a few good day hikes around Stepantsminda which offer splendid views of the mountains as well as the famous Kazbegi church.

Part of the adventure of visiting the Gergeti Trinity Church is hiking up to it from Stepantsminda town. A winding trail takes you gradually around the base of the hill and up to the church complex. However, if like me, you enjoy chasing epic views, you can also continue hiking on to the Gergeti Glacier at the base of Mount Kazbek, the third highest peak in the country. It turned out to be one of my favourite days of my trip to Georgia.

If you’re planning on visiting Kazbegi and enjoy the idea of hiking in the stunning Caucasus Mountains, then this guide to hiking in Kazbegi will help you get the most out of your trip.

Travelling to the Caucasus? Check out my post on the 12 must-see places to visit in the Caucasus with suggested itineraries

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Gergeti Trinity church
Gergeti Trinity Church

When to visit Kazbegi

You can technically visit Kazbegi all year round. The Georgian Military Highway from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda is kept clear of snow even in the middle of winter. The Caucasus Mountains in Georgia are full of hiking trails in summer and skiing lines in winter.

In winter most people head to Gudauri, which is a popular ski resort, just south of Stepantsminda. However, you can still visit the Gergeti Trinity Church if you like, although mostly by off-road vehicle.

In the winter months from November to February, you’ll find it difficult to do much hiking in Kazbegi with a high chance of snowfall and ice covering the trails. I visited around mid-November for a few days and I was extremely lucky with the weather. The first snow had already fallen, blanketing much of the area in a beautiful white layer and the trails were certainly icy. However, I had clear blue skies and the scenery was absolutely stunning with very few tourists around at all.

I had good quality hiking boots and hiking poles. Without them, I doubt very much that hiking is a good idea in those kinds of conditions, but if you’re prepared it’s a great time to visit.

The most popular time to visit Kazbegi though is in summer from June to August. The fields are green, days are warm and it’s easy to navigate the trails. However, you’ll be contending with a lot more people as it gets quite crowded.

September to October would be the ideal time to visit Kazbegi. The incredible fall colours make the landscape in Georgia very picturesque and the cooler weather is perfect for hiking. It’s still too early for snow to fall and the crowds have started to fade by this time as well.

Kazbegi town
Stepantsminda

Getting to Kazbegi

Kazbegi is a relatively easy place to reach from Tbilisi. The demand from locals and tourists means that there is frequent transport and the road is generally open all year round.

The road from Tbilisi to Kazbegi is known as the Georgian Military Highway, which is a spectacular, well-paved road that is an enjoyable few hours of driving. The route has always been an important link between Europe and Asia, running north of Tbilisi to the Russian border. It was originally improved for the movement of troops during hostile relationships with Russia but has since become just as important for trade and tourism purposes.

Travelling to Tbilisi? Read: 11 free things to do in Tbilisi

Tbilisi to Stepantsminda

In Tbilisi, you’ll need to get to the Didube Bus Station in the north of the city. From there you have the options of taking local marshrutkas or minibuses to Stepantsminda, as well as sedan taxis which can be shared or hired privately.

You can reach Didube by the metro system in Tbilisi. Once you get off the train, go down the stairs, turn right and you’ll be met with a chaotic crowd of people and vehicles which is exactly where you need to be. There is a sign indicating Kazbegi marshrutkas, but it’s often best to just wait until someone asks where you want to go and they’ll soon point you in the right direction.

There’s a designated timetable for the marshrutka departures to Kazbegi. They leave every hour in the morning from 8am until 1pm. In the afternoon they are less frequent. There are departures at 2.30pm and again at 3.30pm. Then, you have to wait for the last run of evening departures at 5pm, 6pm and 7pm. It costs 10 GEL (AU$5) for a seat and the journey takes between 3-4 hours with one 10 minute break around halfway.

You also have the option of taking sedan taxis which can be shared with other people or hired privately. If shared, you can expect to pay around 20 GEL per person for a direct drop. If you want to stop along the way, the driver might ask for 25 GEL for each person. Some people find this option more comfortable. In high season, there’ll be many people to share with if you’re travelling alone and don’t want to pay for the whole vehicle.

A final option is the ‘sightseeing marshrutka’ which service mostly tourists. These vans also leave from Didube and are a good option if you’re planning on staying the night in Stepantsminda and have the time to explore the sights along the highway to Kazbegi. These vans leave when full and cost 20 GEL (AU$10) per person. They make 20-minute stops at each Ananuri Fortress and Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument. I chose this option and I’m glad I did. Although it’s double the price of a direct trip, the stops are worth your time and money.

Stepantsminda to the Gergeti Trinity Church

Once you’ve arrived in Stepantsminda, taxis are waiting to take people up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. If you’re in a hurry or prefer not to hike up to the church, then you can pay 15 GEL (AU$8) per person for a seat in an off-road taxi up to the church and back.

Kazbegi to Tbilisi

To get from Kazbegi to Tbilisi, head back to the main street of Stepantsminda where the marshrutka originally dropped you. They have regular departures almost hourly heading back to Tbilisi. They cost 10 GEL per seat and will drop you at Didube Station.

Georgian Russian Friendship Monument
Georgian-Russian Friendship Monument

How long to stay in Kazbegi

It is possible to travel to Kazbegi on a day trip from Tbilisi. This usually requires an organised Kazbegi tour van which stops along the way at a couple of popular spots and includes a drive up to the Gergeti Trinity Church before heading all the way back to Tbilisi. This is common for people short on time and is a good option if you prefer not to stay the night in Kazbegi or organise much of the logistics yourself. You can check out these day trips here:

If you have the time and don’t mind organising a few logistics yourself, it’s best to stay in Stepantsminda, the main town of the Kazbegi region, for at least one night. This allows you enough time to really appreciate the beautiful scenery and do some Kazbegi hiking.

With one night, you’ll be able to reach Stepantsminda by midday or early afternoon from Tbilisi and hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church and back. You can stay for the night and then return the next day to Tbilisi at your leisure. Alternatively, if you want to take one of the sightseeing marshrutkas that stop along the highway to Kazbegi, you’ll arrive a bit later in Stepantsminda. Then, you can stay the night and do your hike up to the church early the next morning, before returning to Tbilisi in the late afternoon.

With two nights, you get to really enjoy the Kazbegi area. You can arrive in Stepantsminda by early to mid-afternoon and enjoy the town at a leisurely pace. The next morning you can rise early and hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church first. Enjoy the church with very few visitors and then continue on to Gergeti Glacier (more on this below). You can then either stay at the Altihut in the mountains for something really unique or just return to your accommodation in Stepantsminda for a second night. The next day you can return to Tbilisi by marshrutka whenever you feel like it.

If you have even more time, or just really like the place, then you could easily spend another night. This would give you a day to rent a bicycle from Stepantsminda and ride the 20km to Juta village, a settlement at 2200m (a slightly uphill ride there but easy and downhill on the way back!). Alternatively, you can take a taxi to Juta and stay in a guesthouse there for something more remote. From Juta, you can tackle more hiking up to the Chaukhi Pass.

Stepantsminda
Stepantsminda

Where to stay in Stepantsminda 

There are a number of good family-run guesthouses in Stepantsminda, the main town in Kazbegi. These are my favourite kind of accommodation in Georgia. They usually have a more homely feel and really showcase the amazing hospitality of Georgians. Many of these guesthouses in Stepantsminda are in a similar budget range from around 24 GEL up to 50 GEL per night. There are also mid-range hotels in Kazbegi for much more than that if you prefer a bit more comfort and luxury.

I stayed at Belas Guesthouse which has a few private rooms on the family property. They were extremely friendly even though only a couple of the family members spoke English. The view from the balcony on the top two rooms is beautiful and the rooms are spacious with your own gas cooker and kettle if you want to self cater. It’s across the river from the main town and closer to the start of the hiking trail to the Gergeti Trinity Church. From the marshrutka stand, it was about a 10-minute walk. I paid 29 GEL (AU$14) per night.

Another place that is popular with budget travellers is Archil and Nino Gigauri Guesthouse which is in the main town section on the same side of the river as the marshrutka stand. It’s a cosy place which has a homely feel and people rave about the friendly hosts. Prices start from 25 GEL (AU$12) per night.

Where to eat in Stepantsminda 

There are a number of good restaurants in Stepantsminda and it’s not hard to find decent Georgian food and good Saperavi. As I was there towards the very tail end of the season, much of the town was starting to slow down for winter. Many of the restaurants were either not opening for extended hours or simply had only one table occupied, so it was difficult to judge where the most popular places were.

I ate at Stepantsminda Restaurant which is conveniently located in the middle of town and just near the marshrutka stand. They have a standard Georgian menu and I had their kharcho soup (beef and rice soup) and mchadi (corn bread) and it was pretty good.

I also went to Cozy Corner Restaurant and Karaoke Bar down near the river. It’s apparently extremely popular in high season, but it was only me and another couple in there when I went! The food and wine was very good and I could imagine late nights on the karaoke would be common in high tourist season.

Important locations I mention in this post are marked on this map here:

Hiking to the Gergeti Trinity Church

If you’re wondering how to get to Gergeti Trinity Church in Kazbegi, then hiking is arguably the best way.

Hiking to Gergeti Trinity Church is a great half-day excursion for those with enough time to stay a night in Stepantsminda. It’s not just about saving some money on a taxi either, this short hike is quite beautiful and gives you a different perspective of the famous church.

Despite many people opting to hike up to the church, finding the right trail is not as straight forward as you might think. I recommend having Maps.Me downloaded for offline use first. It should take 45 minutes to one hour to reach the top where the church is at 2170m.

There are a few trail options. You can technically follow a path to the right of the church that skirts through the winding paved road that the vehicles take. This is not ideal as you have to contend with all the traffic. Instead, you should take one of the trails that goes left of the church and takes you around the base of the hill and up in a more gradual way.

Hiking in Kazbegi to Gergeti Trinity church
Hiking to Gergeti Trinity Church

From the main town of Stepantsminda, you first have to cross the river to the other side of town. I was staying at Belas Guesthouse so I was already closer to the start of the trail. Once you cross the river, keep following the main road up through the village until it comes to a T-intersection at the end. Turn left and continue walking until you pass the last building which is a cafe.

From there, the road ends and a dirt track splits into two. You can really take either one. The one on the left follows the river more closely and winds its way more gradually around the base of the hill before finally heading up to the church. Many people prefer this way because it’s more gradual.

The one on the right goes more steadily upwards to the ruins of a stone tower (you can see this tower as I looked back in the image above). You’ll pass the tower and follow the path around the base of the church before finally heading up to it.

Gergeti Trinity church
Gergeti Trinity Church

When I began my hike in mid-November, it was extremely cold in the morning shadows of the mountains. The trails were completely covered in snow and ice. I took the path to the right and it was certainly slippery and difficult to traverse the steep section at the start, but with my boots and poles, I managed.

I reached the church and there was just a couple of other people there. It really depends on the season but it was very quiet in November. I explored the church for an hour, before continuing on to follow the trail up to the Gergeti Glacier (continue reading below!).

Otherwise, you can simply head back the same way you came up after looking around the monastery complex. Or, you can try to hitch a ride down with a taxi or driver that have brought other people up to the church, if you’re tired.

Hiking to the Gergeti Trinity Church is definitely one of the best things to do in Kazbegi. Even if you’re not a keen hiker, it’s certainly doable and most people of all levels of fitness can make it if they take their time. In warmer months, you don’t even need to worry too much about proper hiking footwear as the trail is worn and mostly dirt.

Gergeti Trinity church
Gergeti Trinity Church

Hiking to the Gergeti Glacier

From the Gergeti Trinity Church, if you look back down the paved road that the vehicles come from you’ll see a large parking lot. Behind that is where the mountains continue to climb up and beyond towards Mount Kazbek. This is where the fun begins.

From the large paved carpark, there’s a short steep hill immediately behind it that you need to climb. There’s a relatively worn trail, although when I was there in mid-November it was covered in snow and hard to follow.

Still, it’s pretty straight forward, you simply need to continue following the ridge up and up and up as it climbs higher towards Mount Kazbek. Naturally, the views get better and better as you climber higher. After the first hour, you’ll look back to spectacular views of the church down below against the backdrop of the mountains. After another while, you’ll lose sight of the church altogether and be surrounded just by the Caucasus’ peaks.

The trail was slightly covered in snow but still kind of visible as I continued. I eventually came to a plateau which was covered completely in snow. There were some small rock formations but they were submerged in white powder. A quick check on Maps.Me and I realised that I’d made it to Sabertse Pass at 3000m.

Mount Kazbek
Mount Kazbek and Gergeti Glacier view from Sabertse Pass

From there, I could see the mighty Mount Kazbek and the long tail of the Gergeti Glacier coming down the valley. I could see Altihut, a mountain lodge, as well, which was just below, across what is usually a running stream in summer. The trail was completely covered in snow from that point onwards and I decided not to risk it on my own. So I decided to turn around and head back down.

I met a couple of European climbers on the way up who had horses in tow carrying their gear. They were planning an ascent of Mount Kazbek and had full camping gear assuming that the huts were not operating for the winter.

The trail is the same on the way back to the carpark of the Gergeti Trinity Church and then the same way again down to Stepantsminda.

From talking to local people, I found out that before the snow hits Kazbegi, it’s possible to reach the base of the Gergeti Glacier itself which is further beyond Altihut towards Bethlemi Hut at 3650m, which is where many climbers stay the night before attempting a climb. It does require a bit of walking on the glacier and it’s best to use some caution depending on the weather conditions at the time. If you’re going to continue onto the base of the glacier, you really need to leave Stepantsminda as early as possible in order to make it back within daylight hours.

Gergeti Trinity church in Kazbegi
View of the Gergeti Trinity Church from the glacier trail

From the time I left my accommodation in the morning, climbed up to the Gergeti Trinity Church and then onto Sabertse Pass and returned to my guesthouse, 7.5 hours had passed and I’d covered 13km and ascended 1250m.

I was told that it would be at least another hour to the base of the glacier from Sabertse Pass, which would’ve added another 2 hours onto my overall time.

Make sure that you check the weather and trail conditions before heading out. Although, there are both the Altihut and Bethlemi Hut towards the upper end of the trail if you need to take shelter for a while or even for the night.

Even if you don’t have the time or energy to make it all the way to the pass or glacier, you can still hike up from the church carpark as far as you like. The views looking back down at the church are certainly worth it.

If you’re hiking in warmer months and you have plenty of time in Kazbegi, then I would recommend thinking about staying the night in Altihut at 3000m. It’s well set out and is like a perfect mountain hut, with a restaurant, bar, free Wi-Fi and comfortable dorms. The thought of the sunset, sunrise and night sky views from that hut makes me want to book a flight and head straight back!

If you enjoy hiking, then the Caucasus are a large underappreciated region for some of the best hiking trails and incredible views. Although Georgia tends to steal the spotlight for hiking in the Caucasus, Armenia and Azerbaijan also have great scenery and trails.

I wrote an article for Matador Network on 9 treks that showcase the Caucasus’ remote and rugged beauty if you want to plan other hiking adventures for your trip.

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