If you visit Georgia, I recommend that you don’t miss a trip to the mythical region of Kazbegi, located on the border with North Ossetia. Here, you’ll find the only open border with Russia, which hundreds of trucks cross every day. They make this crossing through the famous military road which has always played an important role in Russia’s invasion and control of Georgia.
Due to its relative proximity to Tbilisi, its easy access and its incredible landscapes, Kazbegi has become the most visited mountain region in the country. Of course, hiking is the most popular activity.
It’s true (and sad) that most visitors don’t go beyond the famous Gergeti Trinity Church. Worst of all, they travel up to the church by car!
Those who want to give it their best will find several top-class hiking trails. The most popular routes are the trek from Juta to Roshka via the Chaukhi Pass, the hike along the Truso Valley, the climb to Mount Kazbek and the hike to the Gergeti Glacier. Have a look at other great hikes in Svaneti and Tusheti.
In this article, I will focus on the hike from Kazbegi up to the Gergeti Glacier, which includes a visit to the famous Gergeti Trinity Church. The views, from both the church and the glacier, are fantastic!
The hikes to the church and the Gergeti Glacier share the same starting trail. After a little walk, you’ll arrive at the church. Then, if you want to hike up to the glacier, you’ll keep walking uphill on the same trail (which is pretty steep).
The trail starts in the village of Kazbegi, which is now called Stepantsminda. Remember this because some people use only one name or the other. Yes, it can be a bit confusing, but both names work.
Hiking from Kazbegi (Stepantsminda) to the Gergeti Glacier:
Details up to the Gergeti Church:
Distance: 5 kilometers round-trip
Duration: 2 hours
Maximum height: 2,200 meters
Elevation gained: 500 meters
Details up to the Gergeti Glacier:
Distance: 20 kilometers round-trip
Duration: 8 hours
Maximum height: 3,260 meters
Elevation gained: 1,500 meters
How many days does it take to complete the trek?
This is a one-day hike. That’s why it’s so popular among tourists. In fact, while the hike up to the church is quite steep, it could actually be labeled a walk. I mean, it’s only 2 kilometers!
The climb up to the glacier is a totally different experience. It’s over 20 kilometers round-trip, and the incline is considerable.
If you want to extend your adventure, you can spend a night in the new hut that was built before the glacier. It’s a cool way to enjoy spectacular views for a couple of days. You can hike up to the hut on the first day, spend the night there, continue to the glacier the next morning and then walk down to Stepantsminda in the afternoon.
Is it safe to hike without guides? Do I need to bring a GPS?
If you have some hiking experience, I would say yes, it’s safe to hike without guides. You may see organized groups accompanied by mountain guides, but many independent travelers complete this route on their own.
The hike up to the church is not complicated at all, and the trail up to the glacier is also pretty straightforward. However, I always recommend hiking with a GPS to be on the safe side. I brought my Garmin Fenix 5X, but you can find cheaper options on the market.
Difficulty and danger
The hike to the church is of easy difficulty. The path is steep, with many loose stones, but it’s quite short. Even if you take a few breaks, you’ll be at the church in 1 hour.
The hike to the glacier is of medium-high difficulty. The path is quite steep all the way up. You go up, and up, and up until you finally reach the glacier. If you’re in good shape, you can make the round trip in about 6 hours. If you aren’t used to hiking, it may take you up to 8-9 hours.
As for danger, please don’t walk over the glacier if you don’t have the right gear (crampons, ice ax, etc.). Even if you have climbing gear, be careful because there are cracks in the glacier that may be covered by snow. If you didn’t bring crampons, etc., half turn and back!
Is it possible to camp along the route?
Yes. A camping area is located not far from the new hut. Actually, when I went up there, some campers were around. I think they were camping before they attempted Mount Kazbek.
Budget for hiking from Kazbegi to the Gergeti Glacier
There is no entrance fee to access the area, so you won’t spend much on this trek. On the other hand, if you decide to stay at the new hut, keep in mind that it’s quite expensive (compared to Georgia’s otherwise friendly prices).
Accommodation in Kazbegi
A wide range of accommodation is available in Stepantsminda: camping, huts, backpacker hostels, luxurious 5-star hotels, whatever you want.
I stayed at the Camp at Kuro, which is a kind of campsite with excellent views of Mount Kazbek. There’s a house with several shared rooms, so you don’t need to bring a tent. The place is basic but nice, and the people who work there are very friendly. Also, it’s one of the cheapest options in Kazbegi.
If you want to spend a night near the glacier, you can stay in the new AltiHut. It’s very well equipped and has good services. It seems that Swiss huts served as the inspiration for its construction.
Farther on, after you cross the glacier, you’ll find another hut: the classic Meteo Station. However, this hut is designed mainly for people who attempt the climb to the top of Mount Kazbek.
Transportation in the region
In addition to the busy military highway that crosses the region, other secondary roads connect Stepantsminda with nearby towns and villages.
You have the option of going up to the church by car. All agencies in Stepantsminda, along with most taxi drivers, will offer you this tour.
Weather: When to hike in Kazbegi?
The best months to visit Kazbek are from June to October, when the temperatures are pleasant and snow doesn’t cover the roads.
However, the region remains accessible for much of the year (except when heavy snowfalls are blocking the roads). If you have warm clothes and want to visit the region without any tourists in sight, you can travel there in November or March. I’m sure the mountains look beautiful covered in a white mantle.
The trek from Stepantsminda to the Gergeti Glacier by stages:
FIRST STAGE: ARRIVING IN STEPANTSMINDA
The most popular way to get to Kazbek is by minibus (marshrutka). Most minibusses depart from the Didube station in Tbilisi approximately every hour. I suggest that you arrive in enough time to get a good seat. The trip takes about 3.5 hours, and the ticket costs 10 GEL.
The other option is to travel by shared taxi. Taxis can also be found at the Didube station. They leave when they are full, and cost 20 GEL.
SECOND STAGE: WALKING UP TO THE CHURCH
Getting to the Gergeti Church is relatively easy. First, you leave the town of Stepantsminda. Then, you cross a bridge that gets you to Gergeti, a small town on the other side of the river.
From there, you’ll follow the main road that crosses most of the town. At one point, you’ll see a sign telling you to go left, towards the church. A little farther on, the road becomes a stone path that gets pretty steep. Stay on the stone path and you will reach an open meadow from which you can see the church. Enjoy the place and take some cool pictures; the views from the church are fantastic.
THIRD STAGE: FROM THE CHURCH TO THE GLACIER AND RETURN
After a break at the church, you’ll be ready to face the hardest part of the trek. There are two trails: the one on the right, which offers better views but has more elevation gain, and the one on the left, which is more gradual but also more crowded. I took the one on the right; it was steep but I didn’t meet any hikers.
When you arrive at the Altihut, you’ll be close to the glacier. From there, the path changes a little; it gets drier and rockier. The final part is full of those little pebbles that sometimes make the trail a bit slippery. However, don’t worry, as the terrain is not complicated.
Just be careful when you are getting close to the glacier because it’s not easy to see that you’re walking over the ice, and there are slippery parts. Let me explain. The glacier is mixed with earth and stones in its lower part, so you can be walking on the glacier without knowing it. When you start seeing ice, it’s likely that you are already over the glacier.
Once you have enjoyed the beauty of Mount Kazbek from up close and taken dozens of photos of the mountains around you, take the trail back to Stepantsminda and celebrate with a glass of delicious Georgian wine.
FOURTH STAGE: LEAVING STEPANTSMINDA
The marshrutkas leave the main square of Stepantsminda every hour from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The price is the same as that of the outgoing trip: 10 GEL.
Do you want to climb to the top of Mount Kazbek?
For some people, the real reason to visit this region is to climb Mount Kazbek. To reach the summit, you must take the same trail that leads first to the church and then to the glacier. Next, you have to cross the glacier, spend the night at the Meteo Station hut and attempt the summit the next day (or the day after) depending on your acclimatization.
To try this climb, you must be well-acclimatized, have the right gear (e.g., ice axes, crampons, ropes, etc.) and, if you do not know the trail, be accompanied by a guide. Some people go up without guides but they are usually experienced climbers. I recommend going with a guide.
If you need to hire guides, mountain gear, etc., you can go to the store in the central square, near the cafe-bus, and ask there. An experienced guide will ask for 500 Euros for up to four people, and hiring the gear will cost you about 40 Euros. With a bit of negotiating, you can lower these prices by 30%.
What gear do I need to get to the glacier?
– Small backpack
– Hiking boots or hiking shoes
– Breathable t-shirt
– Convertible pants
– Down jacket
– Waterproof jacket
– Filtered water bottle
Tips for hiking in Kazbegi
– Leave early to avoid crowds around the church.
– Take the climb easy because it gets long.
– Bring water and snacks.
– Don’t walk over the glacier without the right gear.
– If you are going to attempt the climb to Mount Kazbek, consider hiring a guide.
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Hi, I’m Miguel; Adventure traveler, scuba diver and hiking lover. I have been traveling the world for the last 12 years and I hope my experiences, photos and hiking routes inspire you to travel the world too.