The forest stretched forward in front of me… Remote, vast, and seemingly endless treetops stretching upwards against the clear blue sky. Kocevje Forest in Southern Slovenia is a special place… This is home to a thriving population of Europe’s greatest predators: brown bears.
In many parts of Europe, these feared and misunderstood creatures have been hunted to the brink of extinction and there is virtually no chance of encountering them in the wild. There have been a few reintroduction attempts over the last ten years and almost all of the countries who have attempted to reintroduce brown bears have imported the bears from, yup, you guessed it, the Kocevje forest in Slovenia…
Let’s go find some fucking bears in Slovenia!
Spotting animals in the wild
Encountering animals in the wild is a truly unique experience and something that I have always tried to do whilst backpacking around the world. I’ve never really been a fan of zoos, instead far preferring to camp out in the hills in the hope of having a wildlife encounter of my own…
So, how do you find a bear in Slovenia?
As far as spotting bears in the wild is concerned, there is no better (and safer) place to go than the Kocevje Forest. There aren’t many tours in the region and they don’t come cheap but there are between 500 and 700 bears in the area so you have a good chance of coming across one if you head into the wild!
Make sure to thoroughly read up on the official information on bears, the national park information, and research programs monitoring bears in this area. The last one is a jackpot!
On that page, you’ll find links to the recent tracking map of around ten people before you who have done the exact same thing! All you need to do then is trace their movements across the forest and then plot the route out across your map…
Before heading into the forest, you will need to do some prep. As well as reading up online, I strongly recommend packing the following for your adventure into the woods…
These are the three items which you absolutely must pack as each of these could save your life!
The GRAYL GEOPRESS water bottle is the ONLY all-in-one filter water bottle setup you'll need. Whether you need to purify the water from a hostel sink in Kathmandu or a stream trickle in the Andes, the Geopress has got you covered.
Back to the adventure… Bear spotting in Slovenia!
That night, I was so excited that I couldn’t get a wink of sleep. Next day, I jumped into my car and drove down to the forest but two hours later I was still looking for the village called Lovški Potok (‘The Hunter’s River).
Finally, I decided to stop listening to the recorded voice telling me to “turn right in 300 metres” and I ended up smack-bang in the middle of a field. After a few minutes of walking around, I finally seemed to have found the spot… or at least I was pretty close to it!
I parked on the side of the road and I started to hike. The forest seemed to stretch endlessly over the hills and it was slightly disorienting! There were a ton of tracks and crossroads, the path was hard to follow and I realised that as far as little pathways and trees go, they all look the fucking same!
After a few hours of wandering around aimlessly, I really started to get worried. I pulled out my cell phone to check the time: no network! I was really on my own now.
There was no sign of human activity whatsoever but also no sign of bear activity which was kinda lucky. The thought of encountering a super fast wild beast twice my weight didn’t really seem all that thrilling anymore.
The atmosphere of the forest was getting heavier by the minute. I moved in silence with no idea where I was headed. I would stop every now and then to check for any alarming sounds. Every little noise made me jump and pray to god it wasn’t a bloody bear!
Signs of life…
I kept walking for a long time until I reached an area of less dense forest. I took a few steps and felt something soft under my foot… A big dollop of fresh animal shit!
Wait a minute… what animal poop could it possibly be? I had seen no cows or horses and I had trekked enough to spot at least a few if they were around. My doubts were confirmed as I came across a tree with scratch marks; deep, long scars in the bark of a pine tree with resin seeping from the marks.
I could clearly see animal hairs. Yup, it was clear a bear had shat in the woods… literally!
My heart was pounding and my mind was torn between utter excitement and absolute terror. There was no way I was going back – not after getting this close! So I kept going.
I could see a lot of poop scattered around and there were clearly more than one bear around. It finally seemed that I was coming closer to the place I had set out to find. I pored over my map and took a reading on the compass on my phone to check I was going the right way, convinced that I was, I soldiered on…
Spotting a bear in Slovenia…
I reached a clearing. There was a hole in the middle and I could see piles of bones scattered around it.
This was the place! It was a feeding station! The ultimate place for spotting bears!
You see, in Slovenia, bears tend to stay in the forest as long as they can to find food. But if the population increases or the food supply decreases, they come out to scavenge in the village dumpsters. So to counter that, villagers establish feeding stations to contain them within the forest. And I had found one of them…
I could see at the end of the clearing an observation hut perched on top of a tree. It was the perfect location for spotting bears so I climbed up and waited for sunset.
The sky was getting pitch dark by now and yet there were still no sign of bears. It was uncomfortable, humid and cold but I kept fighting sleep for a long time and didn’t even realise when it hit me and I passed out!
When I opened my eyes, god knows after how long, I saw it! A baby bear looking for food! I stared at him for 15 minutes straight, through my binoculars until he grabbed a nice piece of meat and ambled back into the forest.
I had goosebumps all over my body. What an incredible experience!
After a while, I climbed down from my spot and ventured back to my car…
Getting to Ljubljana…
So amigos, if you are keen to go to Slovenia, stay in Ljubljana where there are cool hostels to chill out in. Don’t forget to check Metelkova Mesto when you are in town – an awesome spot for urban explorers!
Marco Polo makes the most detailed maps of Slovenia by far and I strongly recommend picking up this map if you are heading into the wild… And also, if you’re going looking for bears in Slovenia, maybe consider…
Getting Insured Before Spotting Bears in Slovenia
I mean, they’re bears. They have big-ass claws and jaws and paws. They can maim you, scalp you, scratch their butt on a tree, and leave the scene of the crime all before you hit the ground.
Shoutout from Will – The OG Broke Backpacker and Bear Spotter: Have fun on your backpacking adventure, but please do get insurance – take it from someone who has racked up tens of thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! Travelling without insurance would be fucking stupid. I highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
I Found a Bear in Slovenia!
Mission goddamn fucking success! Seeing a bear in the zoo is one thing, seeing it at a bear feeding station in the Slovenian backcountry is another story!
So, what are you waiting for? What are you scared of? Getting mauled to death by a bear? Yeah, that’s fair… but what’s an adventure without a slim to medium (to extreme) chance of death!
You’re insured. You’ve got your map and survival knife. It’s time for a teddy bear picnic.
Happy adventuring, amigos!
DISCLAIMER: Bears are dangerous! They have big fucking claws and teeth that’ll rip you to pieces and, no, you’re pocket knife probably ain’t gonna do much.
In case it needs to be said, if you’re going bear spotting in Slovenia, you might die! Still wanna go? Good on ya! Creedence for being a madlad.
Just before you embark, remember to tell your mum you love her. And, if you do die, remember that it’s nobody’s fault but yours: not the bear’s, or Slovenia’s, or anybody else’s.
Enjoy your adventure. If young and in a blaze of glory is how you want to go out, props for making a choice! In the words of Mel Gibson:
Updated: October 2019 by Ziggy Samuels at Zigz Writes Things.
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