Georgian Military Highway travel guide: 10 must-see highlights from Tbilisi to Kazbegi
Best places to stop along the Georgian military road in 2023
The Georgian Military Highway is an epic road that connects Georgia to Russia and runs through the breathtaking landscapes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains. This paved road was built in the 19th century and has since become a popular route for travelers seeking to take in the beautiful panoramas and explore the many historical landmarks along the way. For those looking for an easy way to experience the stunning scenery of the region, the Georgian Military Road is the perfect option. This travel guide will take you through the best places to stop along the Military Road, including the famous Mount Kazbegi (5,047m) and the Gergeti’s Trinity church.
Why you should visit the Georgian Military Road?
The Georgian Military Road is a great destination for anyone who’s on a tight schedule and looking for an easy mountain escape from the capital. The road is paved and remains open all year round. It is just a short day trip from Tbilisi. The scenery along the way is simply stunning, with the jagged peaks of the Caucasus mountains, lush valleys, and quaint villages dotting the landscape. You will come across historical landmarks such as the Ananuri Fortress and the Gergeti Trinity Church, offering a glimpse into the region’s fascinating past. The sole border crossing between Georgia and Russia is located at Zemo Larsi/Verkhny Lars on the Georgian Military Highway, connecting Kazbegi (Georgia) and Vladikavkaz (North Ossetia).
Things to know before your Georgian Military Highway road trip
History of the Georgian Military Road
The Georgian Military Highway is a historical route linking Georgia to Russia through the Greater Caucasus Mountain range. The road was built to facilitate the entry of imperial troops, after the annexation of Georgia by Russia in the late 19th century. Running along the Aragvi Valley, the Tergi Valley and the Dariali Gorge, the road follows the ancient route taken once upon a time by Persian, Roman and Mongolian invaders as well as by the merchants of the Silk Road. There are many historical landmarks along the route, from the medieval Ananuri Fortress to the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument, which has incredible views across the Aragvi Valley. Although it was closed for two years after the war in 2008, the road is a major link between Georgia and Russia.
When is the best time to take the journey?
Even though the road is open all year, there is a higher risk of avalanches during winter and rockfalls in the spring season, specifically the part of the road between Gudauri and Kazbegi. Normally, the closure of the road only lasts for a few hours after being cleared, yet it can occasionally continue for several days. There are a big ski resort in Gudauri so they do try to keep the road clear throughout the winter season.
July and August is ‘peak season’ on the military road, when most people from Tbilisi choose to travel. This means it’s busier on the road attractions. That’s why we think the best time to visit it is June and September.
How long does it take to travel the Georgian Military Highway?
The Georgian Military Highway is approximately 220 kilometers long and the journey can be completed in a day. However, it is recommended to take at least two days so that visitors can fully experience all the stops and attractions along the way.
Crossing the Russian border
Zemo Larsi / Verkhnij Lars is the only bordercrossing between Georgia (Kazbegi) and the Russian Republic of North Ossetia-Alania (Vladikavkaz). It has been open for international travelers even after Ukraine invasion. Note that you cannot cross it on foot; you must hitch a ride if you are not in a car or bus. You can cycle across, though. You’ll find all the latest updates on border crossings in this article or in our Overland Georgia facebook group.
What is the best way to travel the Georgian Military Highway?
Self drive the Georgian Military Road: What are the road conditions like?
The best way to experience the Georgian Military Highway is by embarking on a road trip with your own vehicle, so you can stop wherever you like: there are plenty of viewpoints along the way! The road surface is completely asphalted but it can be quite uneven and potholed in some areas, particularly in the mountainous regions. However, efforts have been made to improve the road surface in recent years, and it is generally well-maintained. Outside winter, the road doesn’t give rise to any difficulties. As it is the only road into Russia, there are many goods lorries along the road. Do not be surprised by the hundreds of goods lorries queued up on the side of the road, patiently waiting to cross the border.
Shared taxis or marshrutkas from Tbilisi to Kazbegi
There are two other ways to travel from Tbilisi to Kazbegi: a shared taxi or a marshrutka van. The shared taxi, found at Didube Station, offers a fast and economical journey, with the possibility of making stops along the way. Negotiating the fare is possible, typically around 25 GEL for a seat. Alternatively, the marshrutka vans depart hourly from the Didube bus terminal and have a fixed price of 15 GEL. However, they don’t make photo stops on the georgian military road!
Our guidebook Explore Georgia
All the information in this article is based on our experience, our research and, above all, our Explore Georgia travel guide. For more details about this itinerary and the best routes in Georgia, our Explore Georgia guidebook might be helpful. We have compiled the best off-road routes of the country on high resolution satellite maps with all the camping spots and viewpoints. You’ll also find historical information on the Georgian culture, and explanations of the landscape, fauna and flora. For those who prefer, we provide GPS tracks and a foldable tourist map of the country.
10 must-see highlights along the Military Road from Tbilisi to Kazbegi
A UNESCO World Heritage site, the city of Mtskheta rises majestically at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. From the 3rd century BC to the 5th century BC, Mtskheta was the capital of the Kartli Kingdom. It was also in the capital that Christianity was proclaimed as the official religion of Georgia, thanks to the work of Saint Nino. Many remarkable and beautiful religious buildings are still to be found throughout Mtskheta, such as Svetitskhoveli Cathedral or Jvari Monastery that overlooks the city. Mtskheta may have lost its political importance, but it remains an important spiritual and religious centre.
2. Ananuri Fortress and Zhinvali Reservoir
You cannot miss the medieval Ananuri Fortress, situated on the left bank of the Aragvi River, beside the Georgian Military Highway. The fortifications, which date back to the 17th century, overlook the beautiful turquoise waters of the Zhinvali Reservoir. This UNESCO World Heritage Site also includes an orthodox monastery complex and several churches. Among these is the great Assumption Church, notable for its richly decorated facades and interior frescoes which have been perfectly preserved.
Pasanauri is often referred to as ‘the birthplace of khinkali’. Indeed, the typical Georgian dumplings served here are supposed to be among the finest in the entire nation. Choosing which of the half a dozen restaurants to dine at will be the hardest part of stopping for lunch on the highway at Pasanauri. During our recent trip and on the recommendation of some friends, we opted to dine at Korbuda retaurant instead. The khinkali they serve are some of the juiciest and most delicious we have ever tasted.
If you want to rent a 4×4 equipped with camping gear to explore Tusheti, we have listed the best rental agencies in Georgia in this article. Find our selection of the most reliable agencies in Tbilisi and Kutaisi.
4. Sno village and Juta Valley
Situated at the bottom of the Sno Valley, at an altitude of 2,200 m, the small Khevsur village of Juta is a popular destination, as it is the starting point for a splendid three-day trek through the Chaukhi massif. If you do not want to do the three-day trek, you can hike for three to four hours (round trip) to access beautiful viewpoints over the massif. The hiking trail passes through wildflower meadows surrounded by mountains, but it can get very busy in summer. The gravel track to the village of Juta is easy. There are inns and restaurants in the village, as well as a campsite.
If you have a bit of time, it could be worth making a brief stop at Sno village. This picturesque, tiny alpine village is famous for its natural mineral water springs. Interestingly, the village also boasts an unusual attraction known as the “Gigantic Sculptures,” as marked on Google Maps. Just prior to reaching the village, you’ll come across a handful of enormous stone heads dotted throughout a rolling field. Each one depicts the likeness of a cherished national poet of Georgia, and they are the sturdy creations of a local artist named Merab Piranishvili.
5. Gudauri and Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument
Located only 120 km from the capital, along the Georgian Military Highway, Gudauri is a famous and popular ski resort. With 52 km of ski runs, the resort is fantastic for downhill skiing, but it also has perfect conditions for off-piste skiing. The town has a variety of tourist facilities (hotels, restaurants, etc.) and is an ideal pit stop on the road to Stepantsminda. In the summer, even more activities are available, including paragliding, hiking and climbing. There is also a viewpoint at the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument, which offers a spectacular panorama of the whole valley. The monument was built in 1983 to commemorate the 200-year anniversary of the Treaty of Georgievsk and celebrate diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia. It was designed by Georgian architect George Chakhava.
6. Jvari Pass
The road reaches its highest point at the Jvari Pass which offers breathtaking scenery. Whether covered in snow or adorned with lush greenery, the Greater Caucasus showcases its grandeur here. Along the way, you’ll pass a small cemetery where German prisoners of war from WWII are buried, contributing to the construction of bridges and tunnels on the Military Road. The Jvari Pass provides awe-inspiring views, inviting you to roll down the window and savor the fresh air for the remaining 25 kilometers to Kazbegi. Additionally, there are mineral springs along the highway where you can stop to fill up water bottles, with some offering sparkling mineral water known for its therapeutic properties. The Travertine Mineral Springs, with their vibrant colors resulting from mineral deposits, create a stunning sight.
Is the Jvari pass open? Is the military road passable? Can I cross the Russian border? We answer all these questions live in our Overland Georgia Facebook group. To chat with other travellers and share your best photos of the military highway, join our discussion group!
7. Truso Valley
A dirt track runs along the Terek River and opens up to reveal the immense meadows of Truso Valley, coloured white and red by the iron springs that surge from the mountains. Allow time to explore the imposing fortress village and the monastery that border this wild and almost uninhabited valley. You can drive (a 4×4 is mandatory) or hike as far as the fortress of Zakagori. In our opinion, this is a must-see stop on the military route. You can discover this magnificent valley on Route 1 of our Explore Georgia guide. We give you all the details of the route, the camping spots and the viewpoints on high-resolution satellite maps in the book.
8. Gergeti Trinity Church
Gergeti’s stunning Trinity Church is probably the most photographed church in the country. And with good reason: perched 2,170 m above sea level, the georgian orthodox church overlooks the Tergi Valley, and offers a sensational panoramic view of Mount Kazbek (5,047 m). You can get to the church via a newly tarmacked road or via a hiking trail. Once you’ve arrived in Stepantsminda, taxis are waiting to take people up to the Gergeti Trinity Church. If you’re in a hurry, then you can pay 15 GEL per person for a seat in a shared taxi up to the church and back again with a brief wait at the church itself. However, we would recommend hiking up to the church!
9. Hiking to Kazbegi glacier
If you have a whole day, reaching Gergeti Trinity church is not much of a challenge. You can continue further west, towards Mt. Kazbek. After one hour of tiresome climbing, you will reach a stone cairn – this place is known as Arsha pass and offers first views of Gergeti glacier. This is also the place where many people turn back. Only those persistent keep walking, cross a few streams, walk past newly built Altihut and reach the foot of the glacier. And if you start early you can even reach former meteostation Betlemi hut, located at 3600m (and return on the same day) – but this is a feat reserved only for extremely fit hikers. On average, moderately fit hikers needs about to five hours to climb to the glacier and another three hours to return. Of course, it all depends on your walking speed, number of breaks.
10. Gveleti Waterfalls
About 7km north of Stepanstsminda village, at both ends of the forked valley, lies a couple of nice waterfalls known as Gveleti. To reach them, one doesn’t have to walk far; it’s a pretty easy stroll. Walk from the main road to both waterfalls and back takes 1 hour. You can go deeper into the valley with a 4×4. Then, both waterfalls can be seen in 30 minutes.
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