Guide to a Georgian Military Road: 18 Best Things to Do & Stops to Make
The Georgian Military Road in the north of Georgia is recognized as one of the most beautiful routes in the Caucasus. And for a reason. A 208 km long highway that connects Russia with Georgia is a real historical route full of unique churches and fortresses, emerald meadows and snow-capped peaks, hot springs and lakes hidden behind the mountains.
Many tourists try to visit Georgian Military Highway to see the ancient creations of human hands and dive deeply into the nature and atmosphere of these lands. Of course, after all a tour along the Military Road is a great start to exploring Georgia. Only the Gergeti Trinity Church opens stunning views of the majestic Caucasus mountains but then invites to explore further.
I drove the Military Highway three times and all times by car – two times in a small sedan car and one time Mark and I rented a jeep to go off-road. All three times it was such an exciting journey that I craved for more. We hiked many trails, visited dozens of villages and just enjoyed the views from the balcony of one of the hotels where we stayed. Yet, I feel it was not enough and I still want to return.
The majority of travelers prefer to take a one-day tour from Tbilisi to Kazbegi and drive Georgia Military Road quickly not knowing how much there is to see along the way.
But don’t be in a hurry. Sit back in a comfortable seat and watch the scenery roll by. Make stops to feel the mountain wind and smell the air, visit all the churches, springs, and natural landmarks. The military highway in Georgia is worth a long drive!
Below, I would love to share the details and descriptions of all the interesting places and attractions of the Georgian military road. This post mentions all famous and lesser-known spots, when is the best time to visit, and how to plan this road trip to get the most out of it.
How to Travel the Military Road in Georgia
Ideally by car, taxi or on a tour to stop wherever you like. The road itself, viewing platforms, churches, and monuments along it are main attractions.
You can take a minibus for a cheap price and shake in it for 3-4 hours along serpentines, looking out of the window and seeing others (those who came by car) descend to the Zhinvali reservoir, climb the walls of the Ananuri fortress, take pictures on the cliffs and inhale the mountain air.
Is this the type of adventure you are looking for? If yes, then go to the Didube bus station to find a marshrutka to Kabegi. And read this transport guide.
If you don’t want to travel in marshrutka with others or you are not ready to drive on Georgian roads, then rent a car with a local driver through Gotrip. Gotrip is the most popular website for transfers and private tours in Georgia. A private tour through them will cost almost twice less than going by taxi.
But the best way to make all the stops and get the most of your trip is by renting a car. There is no way for you to see at least half of the places mentioned below if traveling with a driver.
Driving on your own is fun and a real adventure. The road is a mountain serpentine with one lane in each direction. In some areas, there are sharp bends gradually climbing up to the pass, but the drive is not difficult at all. Yes, you need to go slower on many turns and watch out for impatient drivers who will be trying to overtake you. Other than that, just relax.
Yet keep in mind – from mid-April to October, any car is suitable for driving along the Georgian Military Road. From November to March, it is safer to drive a jeep.
For car hire in Georgia, Mark and I personally use (and can highly speak of) LocalRent company. The first time we rented a vehicle through them was in 2017 and since then we use only their services, not only in Georgia but Armenia, Turkey and Montenegro.
Read my post on renting a car and driving in Georgia to understand what you can expect throughout the process. See prices and car fleet available for rent in Tbilisi through LocalRent.
Where is Georgian Military Road in Kazbegi Region?
The Georgia Military Road is a 208 km long route that connects Vladikavkaz, Russia, and Tbilisi, Georgia. This is the only direct land route from Russia to Georgia and Armenia.
The most famous road in Georgia was also one of the most famous roads in the territory of the former Russian Empire, especially since there were few famous roads at that time at all.
It is believed that the Georgian Military highway already existed in ancient times. A greek geographer Strabo gave a detailed description of this path back in the 1st century BC. In an essay on Iberia, he notes that this mountain road is very difficult and dangerous since the traveler must climb to the peaks along narrow paths where even two people cannot walk together.
The construction of the Georgian Military Highway began in 1783 after the signing of the Georgievsky treaty on the protectorate of the Russian Empire over Georgia and the founding of Vladikavkaz, the main outpost in the Caucasus. From 1785 to 1799 the old trail, which took about a month to travel, was replaced by a road. It became possible to get to Tbilisi even by horse.
To overcome the most difficult places, fortifications and watchtowers were erected in open areas along the road. Over the next two centuries, the Military road remained the main method of communication between Russia and the entire Transcaucasus.
The grand opening of the road took place in August 1862. Since then, the highway experienced different times – it was partially destroyed, restored to its previous state, closed to all types of transport except for tours. In 1992, at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a border appeared between Russia and Georgia.
Where does this name come from? At first, the name was “Aleksandrov’s Way”. But the beginning of a new military operation in 1903 assigned the name Georgia Military Road. Since then it never changed.
Weather And The Best Time to Go on a Georgian Military Highway Trip
Military highway in Georgia is open year-round. Each season has its own charm and its own beauty. In winter it is as magical as in summer. However, from late October to April parts of the road may be closed due to heavy snowfalls, ice, and landslides. The best and the most comfortable time to go on a road trip from Tbilisi to Kazbegi is from May to October when the roads are open, the snow has already come down, everything is growing and blooming, and there are no rains and fogs.
Kazbegi or as it’s also called Stepantsminda village is located in a mountainous region. During the fall-winter period, it is very cold and damp. Usually, the weather is getting more and more pleasant in May. Before that, constant fog and wind do not let you feel comfortable outside for longer periods of time.
For mountain landscapes and nice weather, the best time to drive the Military highway is also from May to October. During this time the roads are open, the snow is already melting, everything is blooming, and there are no fogs.
In May though, snow is still on the peaks and plateau and you will definitely need warmer clothes. It will come in handy even if you travel to Kazbegi in the summer. Roads and lots of hiking trails are already clean from the snow during this time of the year.
Summers, weather-wise, are perfect for the drive and for Kazbegi. However, this season is suitable for those who don’t mind crowds. Also, July and August are hot and stuffy.
Overall, you can drive a Military Road in Georgia at any time during the year. If you are not a hiker, there is still something to do every season. Beautiful hotels in Stepantsminda offer delicious Georgian cuisine and wine, indoor pools, and stunning views. Fresh mountainous air, old churches, and even a museum can keep you busy for a few days.
Is Georgian Military Road Dangerous?
To make the long story short – it all depends on when you go. If you are traveling in good dry weather when there is no rain and fog and the road is clear – there is nothing dangerous about it. On such days, it becomes somewhat dangerous only late at night. With no lights but with random unexpected wholes in the road and truck drivers who are always in a rush, it definitely becomes dangerous to drive after the sunset.
During the day, you should watch out for other cars as a lot of local drivers assume they are on a race track, overtaking everyone and everywhere they can, especially on sharp turns. Lately, they have slowed down a bit because of the fines but you still have to drive slower and watch out. And trust me, you will be totally fine.
Driving Military Highway road in winter may be stressful to some people because of the crazy drivers, ice road, heavy fog, no markings, strong winds, and snowfalls. If you haven’t driven in such conditions before, I advise against it.
Overall, if you have no experience driving in the mountains or outside your hometown, it is better not to take risks and try to drive this highway on your own. Better hire a driver (but the one who doesn’t speed or do insane maneuvers on the road) and enjoy your trip.
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Planning a Military Highway Road Trip From Tbilisi
The length of the Georgian Military Highway on the territory of Georgia is 160 km. Since it is a twisty serpentine road, it takes more time to drive it. On average, if not making any stops at all, it will take about 3 hours to get to Stepantsminda village (former Kazbegi).
If you are willing to rent a car and visit all the famous landmarks along the way, it will take 8-10 hours. This time is not enough though for hikes, waterfalls, abandoned villages, gorges, and towns.
For the best experience, choose to stay at least one night in Stepantsminda.
There are several key points along the Georgia Military Road where you should stop and enjoy the beauty of the region. I would love to share not only the main spots where all tourists go but a few places that the majority never gets to see. Here is my list:
18 Amazing Stops to Make On Kazbegi Georgia Military Highway Road Trip
1. Visit Jvari Monastery But Skip Mtskheta
The first capital of Georgia Mtskheta and nearby Jvari Monastery are located only 15 kilometers away from Tbilisi. Most tourists, who start Georgian Military Highway road trip, usually stop in both of these places. I personally recommend not including Mtskheta in your itinerary when driving Georgia Military Road.
First of all, because this UNESCO town requires two-three hours of your time. Second, it takes some extra time to detour and get in and out of the town.
Since there is so much to see along the way to Stepantsminda, going to Mtskheta on the same day will make you miss a few other spots. It is better to add this destination to your day trip from Tbilisi to Gori and/or Uplistsikhe. Or when you go on another road trip in Georgia to Borjomi.
The only other time when I recommend stopping in Mtskheta is if you plan to spend a night in Kazbegi.
Jvari Monastery is a great choice. Just make sure to visit before 10 am before buses with tourists flood the place.
2. Stop at Zhinvali Reservoir
Zhinvali Reservoir with azure water can be your next stop. If you traveled quite a bit and saw lots of different lakes, this particular reservoir may not arouse your interest. We saw very similar scenery when traveling in Montenegro, USA, yet we were curious to stop by, get fresh air and look at the lake which supplies Tbilisi with drinking water. A few villages were flooded in order to create this reservoir.
There are several observation platforms along the lake. The first one is at the Monument of 300 Aragvians overlooking the dam. But that’s at the very beginning, with the water being in a distance. You can also stop at one of the other three spots before reaching Ananuri Fortress.
3. Go to Ananuri Fortress Complex
Ananuri Fortress gets busy during the high season. So the earlier you get, the more you’ll have this place for yourself.
The main highlight here is how wonderfully preserved this piece of history is. All walls of the fortress, including several watchtowers, have survived. You can go up to the very top of the watchtower for an excellent view and opportunity to take a nice photo.
The Assumption Church located on the territory is unique in its own way. The thing is that it was built in the 17th century and is one of this type in Georgia and the Caucasus region. From the side where the 13th-century tower with a black tiled roof in the shape of a pyramid adjoins the temple, an interesting stone carving is visible. Inside, there is an altar with harsh imprints on the interior.
After walking around and taking some photos, do not rush to leave. On the right side of the entrance, there is a pedestrian and motor road which leads to the shore of the Zhinvali reservoir. If you are visiting on a hot day, feel free to take a dip.
4. Eat the Best Khinkali in Pasanauri Village
If you are making all these stops, most likely you will be hungry by the time when you get to Pasanauri village. I highly suggest stopping at one of the local restaurants and getting some khinkali. Our hosts in Tbilisi told us that Pasanauri has some of the best khinkali in entire Georgia. When we tried it (after eating them all over the country) we agreed with that statement.
We dined a few times in different restaurants on the way from Tbilisi to Kazbegi and back and everywhere khinkali was delicious. However, we noticed that in Chabaruxi restaurant which has a beautiful view from the second floor, waiters and the owner cheat and add up to the bill. If you stop there, keep in mind that you may need to argue or just let it go.
Other restaurants where we ate and loved the food and service were HB Gudauri and Chveni Ubani.
TIP: Almost none of the restaurants accept credit cards. Have some cash with you.
5. Make a Quick Detour to the Aragvi Gorge
For this side trip, you’d need to have an off-road SUV. If you rent a smaller car then skip and jump to the next suggestion.
Aragvi Gorge is very picturesque. A twisty dirt road runs on the bottom of the gorge and brings you to the artificial turquoise lake which you can also see from above. To get on this road, you need to get at first into the village of Kvemo Mleta, and the starting point is the Lomisa Monastery.
6. Stop at Viewpoint “Cross” and Panorama Cafe
The viewing platform “Cross” is made in the form of an iron cross, this is why it is called this way. Since it is located on a bend, it’s very easy to miss it. The coordinates are here.
The viewing platform opens up a view on Aragvi Gorge from above as well as the mountains and nearby villages. On our visit, there were two other people, once they left it became unbelievably quiet and grand.
Nearby is a stall Cafe Panorama with tea, coffee, and sweets. I am not sure what their schedule is but it seems they don’t have any and work as they wish. So it may be closed once you get there.
7. Spend Some Time in Gudauri
The village of Gudauri is the largest and most modern ski resort in Georgia which lays only 130 km from Tbilisi. It has 57 km of well-prepared tracks, including cross country skiing, as well as nice prices for lifts (from $73 per week) and several dozen hotels.
However, winter is not the only time to visit and skiing is not the only activity there.
It is very pleasant to come here to walk among the green mountains in a cool climate, breathing the freshest air and enjoying the incomparable views of the mountain range right below your feet.
If you are visiting Georgia Military Highway in summer or winter when the cable car is operating, you can make a stop in Gudauri to take a lift to Sadzeli peak at 3628 meters. Devote 2 hours of your time to this activity. Going up takes about 40 minutes, the same amount goes for descent (unless you are skiing, snowboarding or cycling). On the top, plan to spend between 20 and 30 minutes.
On this peak, you get 360 degrees panorama and even in summer, it is still possible to see snow there. Don’t forget a pullover, it will be chilly on the top.
Here are the coordinates for the lower lift.
8. Make a Quick Stop at Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument
The Peoples’ Friendship Arch is located at an altitude of 2384 meters and stands 50 meters from the Georgian Military Highway. You see it from a distance and it is impossible to drive past it.
The arch is huge, bright, with colorful mosaics. It was built in 1983 in honor of the 200th anniversary of the signing of the treaty on the accession of Georgia to Russia.
The area near the Arch is very crowded but it’s still nice to walk around and take a couple of pictures. It offers a stunning view of the gorge, mountains and an artificial lake. You’ll see locals nearby selling socks, honey, churchkhela, and berries but all of this is much cheaper in Tbilisi.
If you wish, you can ride a horse or ATV. In summer, it is possible to paraglide, the price starts from $60 for 15 minutes.
Those who prefer getting away from crowds can make a stop a little further on the mountain plateau. Approximate coordinates for the parking lot are here. It’s going to be on your right when driving from Tbilisi, and also difficult to pass.
Once you park, just cross the street and go a bit up the mountain to the right. You’ll get the same views of the Aragvi Gorge, artificial lake and the round Mount Miketi mountain. The same views but without any people.
Nobody sells anything there, no Instagrammers jumping around taking 1000 photos of the same spot. You will be able to enjoy nature in splendid isolation.
9. Mountain Pass
The ancient stone pillar, installed in 1824, is the only landmark of the Georgian Military Highway at an altitude of 2395 meters. It shows that we have reached the pass. Near it, there are some ruins and a building that looks more like a church but no one is allowed to enter the territory.
The main interest here is the terrain itself and the road. The pass goes through the Main Caucasian ridge, from the valley of the Terek River to the valley of the Aragvi River, and is also called the Jvari Pass.
Snowy peaks can be seen here even in summer. To the west of the pass is the Kelskoe volcanic plateau.
Honestly, you won’t lose much if you don’t make a stop here. We did it for a few minutes and enjoyed it.
10. Mineral Springs
When you continue your drive, you’ll see on the left side of the road a calcareous agglomerate – a frozen stone “waterfall” with white-red stains. It is unlikely to miss this place since there are always a lot of cars and the colored slope of the mountain is visible from afar.
To the right from this spring, there is another one (a small one) where you can fill your bottle with sparkling mineral water. This water is medicinal, but you shouldn’t be drinking it in large quantities. And it is really carbonated and quite unusual in taste.
11. Cable Car ‘Kobi-Gudauri’
‘KOBI-Gudauri’ cableway is a new type of gondola with 10 seats. After it was recently built, it became the highest skylift in Georgia.
The cableway connects the village of Kobi (an ancient village in the Truso Gorge) and Gudauri. The main goal for building it was to connect two villages during the winter snowfalls and avalanches. When the main road closes, the cableway will be operating and helping locals to commute.
For travelers like you and me, ‘Kobi-Gudauri’ gondola provides a fantastic opportunity to have some fun, see Truso Gorge and a bit of Caucasus range from above.
The beginning is at an altitude of 2701 meters, the highest point is 2946 m and the cable length is 7.5 km.
There are two routes to choose from – long and short. A short one takes 40 minutes round-trip and costs 10 GEL ($3.5) per adult. A longer trip costs 30 GEL ($10) per person and takes a one-hour round-trip.
The gondola is open daily from 10.00 to 16.00.
12. Visit Sno Village and Juta Valley
Juta is that destination where you’d want to spend at least a day. But if you don’t have that time, you can always visit for half a day.
However, if you can’t make it to Juta, there won’t be much to do in Sno village alone. Sure, it’s interesting to walk around and see how people live, you can climb the watchtower and go to the field with huge stones on which portraits of famous Georgians are carved. But nothing really else.
On our visit, we got lucky while walking the tiny streets of Sno. We met a local man who invited us to his house to treat with tea and homemade sweets and show how he makes cheeses. If not this guy, we would have spent much less time there.
The drive from Sno to Juta is very picturesque and stretches through two other small villages such as Akhaltsikhe and Karkuchanare. They are partially abandoned and interesting to look at.
A lot of people will tell you that you can’t go to Juta by sedan and have to hire SUV instead. In reality, you totally can.
We went all the way to Juta by Toyota Prius and had no difficulty getting there. The road in many places was gravel but not hard to drive on. However, in rain or snow, SUV is a must-have.
Juta is one of the highest mountain villages in Georgia. It offers stunning hikes and has its own unique atmosphere. If you are coming for one day, just stroll around or go on a hike towards Chaukhi Pass.
13. Stepantsminda (or Kazbegi) and Gergeti Trinity Church
Stepantsminda or former Kazbegi is a village in the mountains at an altitude of 1744 meters at the foot of Mount Kazbek (5034 m). People mainly come here to see Mount Kazbek, Gergeti Trinity Church, and Rooms hotel.
In the past, when there was no road, people used to hike to the church. But recently, an asphalt road was built, and getting to the church became easier and faster. When we were there, we still saw a lot of hikers on the road but couldn’t understand why they were doing it. Walking on this road is not very safe, doesn’t feel authentic anymore and getting to the top by taxi is not expensive at all.
If you want to save time and see more, better drive to the church and go on another hike from there.
If driving or taking a taxi, expect to spend somewhere between 40 min and 1 hour of your time. This includes time on driving.
During the winter travel, getting to the church by car may be challenging because of the snow. You may need to leave the vehicle halfway and go on foot.
14. Admire the Gveleti Waterfall
Gveleti Waterfall is located north of Stepantsminda almost on the border with Russia. To get to it, you need an SUV or park a car in the village of Gveleti and walk 3 km one way.
The round-trip from Stepantsminda to Gveleti village in a jeep takes 30-40 minutes. Walking to the waterfall and back to the car for one hour. Honestly, the waterfall is nothing extraordinary but a walk there and back is very pleasant.
Taxi drivers who offer to drive to Gergeti Trinity Church in vans sometimes also offer to visit waterfalls not paying anything extra. If you don’t have a car and take a tour, that’s a good deal!
15. Meditate in Darial Gorge And Monastery Complex
The Darial Gorge, where the tumultuous Terek River flows, in ancient times was called the “Gateway to the Caucasus”. Nowadays, there is a border between Russia and Georgia among incredible views.
The place is very picturesque. The Dariali Monastery Complex (or the fortress of Queen Tamara) rises by the road a few meters away from the border. During our visit, we were the only visitors and could enjoy the grandness of this place.
Not far from it, there are also a few vista points, opening up the view of the valley, fast river, and tall mountains.
By the way, the bunker from the time of the battles of Soviet soldiers with the alpine shooters of the Edelweiss division is still preserved in the rock under the Dariali Monastery.
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16. Go on the Adventure to Truso Gorge & Abandoned Villages
Truso Gorge goes west of the Georgian military highway towards South Ossetia. It is famous not only for an “incredibly picturesque mountains”, but for the unusual and somewhat melancholic feel. Abandoned villages, a raging river and the fact that these mountains hid the soldiers during the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008, only add up to the atmosphere. If you walk for a long time, you can reach the Georgian border patrol.
The starting point of the route is Kvemo Okrokana Village. If you have a smaller car, you can drive almost all the way to the village, park it anywhere in the area and start your walk to Abano Lake and then to St. 12th Apostles Fathers Monastery and Zakagori Fortress. The entire walk to the fortress will take you 4 hours one way. A lot of people walk only to Abano Mineral Lake and back which takes 5-6 hours round trip.
When we ventured into the Gorge, we didn’t know anything, wore jeans, and didn’t take any water or food with us (mistake.) We went unprepared and went with a flow.
After walking for about 30 minutes under the sun we were already so tired. Luckily, there was a guy in SUV on the way to Albano Lake to pick up his tourists. He was very kind to give us a lift. On the way back we asked other tourists who had a Jeep to give us a ride too. That was the moment when we truly regretted we didn’t hire Jeep ourselves. The drive was only 20 minutes one way and saved us so much time.
If possible, I would recommend you hire an off-road car. Driving through that gorge is going to be quite an adventure which is also going to save you a few hours of your time and let you see more. Otherwise, once you are already in Kazbegi, you can get a tour to Truso Gorge from any local driver.
I bet even the owner of your guesthouse offers those tours. On one of our visits when we stayed in Tamta Guesthouse (which was amazing by the way,) our host was offering various tours at very good prices.
TIP: No matter what you decide, don’t forget to pack food and water with you. Having lunch or a snack by the mineral lake is such a delight!
17. Hike to Gergeti Glacier
We personally haven’t done this hike yet (planning to return next year.) Our friends who did it told us that it was one of the best adventures they had in Kazbegi.
There are two ways how to start this hike. The longer but cheaper one is to go to Gergeti Trinity Church viewpoint and from there follow the trail. Another more expensive but a bit faster option is to hire a driver who can go by his Mitsubishi Delica van further than church and cover part of the trail.
Hiring a driver is more expensive but we saw many tourists doing it. Again, check with your hosts how much this tour will cost.
18. Soak in Toti Waterfall & Pools
Toti waterfalls (or as they are also called Arsha waterfall) and pools with mineral water nearby are located in Toti village. The best way to include this place in your itinerary would be either on the way back from Stepantsminda to Tbilisi or on one of your slower days in Kazbegi.
The quickest way to get to the falls is to park a car in Arsha village and walk for about 30 minutes.
Local people were telling us that the water in the pool is mineral and beneficial.
How Much Time Do You Need For Driving Georgia Military Road?
That’s a very good question that many people ask and the answer really depends on what you expect to do and how much you like to be in the mountains.
I personally believe that one day is never enough. Even those who plan to see only the Georgia Military Road without any hikes or side trips, still need to devote at least 2 full days and spend one night in Stepantsminda. It will definitely take the entire day to drive the highway, make all stops, and get to see a bit of Kazbegi.
If your goal is to do everything mentioned in this post, book 3 nights (4 for those who travel slowly) in Stepantsminda or Sno.