The Best Mountain Treks In Bulgaria
There are a total of 3 National Parks on the territory of Bulgaria. Combined together, they cover an area of over 193 049 hectares, ranking amongst the largest and most valuable protected areas in all of Europe. Each park offers outstanding opportunities for eco-tourism, scientific research and a chance to see some incredibly well preserved wild regions with unspoiled nature. The mountain slopes of Pirin, Rila and the Central Balkans have long been fascinating the lovers of nature, avid hikers, climbers and adventurers. Should you decide to experience the magic of Bulgaria for yourself, here are some of the country’s best treks where you can enjoy endless hiking routes, mesmerizing vistas, meadows, rivers and mountain tops with amazing glacial lakes!
Trekking in the Rila Mountains: Seven Rila Lakes & Musala Peak
Rila is the highest mountain range of Bulgaria and on the entire Balkan Peninsula. The name ‘Rila’ is thought to have originated from the Thracian culture and it actually means ‘’well-watered mountain’’.
The Seven Rila Lakes
The Seven Rila Lakes are without a doubt one of the most beautiful places that you can visit in Bulgaria. Every year, thousands of locals and tourists make their way up the beautiful slopes of the Rila Mountains hoping to soak in all the natural splendour and amazing panoramas. The Seven Rila Lakes are technically a group of glacial lakes, gracefully flowing into one another. They each have their unique colour, form and structure and carry some rather unusual names, depending on what they appear to resemble (Kidney Lake, Twin Lake, Eye Lake and more).
The lakes are located in the northwestern parts of Rila Mountains, the highest mountain range on the Balkan Peninsula. The trekking routes to the lakes are fairly easy to access and pass through, depending on how long you want to walk. There are several ways to reach the lakes. You can either hike all the way (it will take you a good few hours) or get on the chairlift (30 min ride) and have it take you to the top, at 2140 metres, already above the tree line and by the lowest of the lakes. From the main walking route there you can reach the highest lake in approximately 2,5 to 3 hours. The view from above the so-called Lake Peak is an absolutely breathtaking thing to witness!
The lakes make for a great day trip and the best time to visit them is mid-July and through August. You can make it to the lakes in just less than a 2-hour drive from the capital Sofia.
Musala is the highest peak in the Rila Mountains, in Bulgaria and on the entire Balkan Peninsula. It’s located at 2925 metres above sea level, inside Rila National Park and above the popular ski resort of Borovets. Considering the summit is covered with snow most of the year and it’s at a rather scary height, you’ll be surprised to know it’s actually not such a challenging hike compared to many other ones in the country (like its “smaller brother”, peak Malyovitsa). If you take the chairlift from Borovets to Yastrebets you can comfortably reach 2369 meters in no time, where you can begin your hike.
You will be able to reach the top in about 3 hours and should you need some food or refreshments you will have the option of stopping at one of the huts along the way (Musala Hut and the Icy Lake Shelter). The only challenging part of the trek will the last hour since it’s mostly climbing uphill, however, it’s very much worth it since the peak offers some stunning views of the lakes below.
Trekking in the Pirin Mountains: Bezbog Peak & Koncheto Ridge
Pirin is Bulgaria’s second-highest mountain range and it’s certainly no short on scenic hiking trails, including many high-altitude ones. The mountain boasts with stunning Alpine summits, crystal-clear glacial lakes and unbelievably pristine, clean nature. Pirin National Park takes over the larger part of the mountain range – the park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
If you’d rather go for a light hike without too many obstacles and challenging paths, head over to Bezbog Peak which happens to be right in the heart Pirin. The peak is not far from the ski resort of Bansko and makes for a great weekend trip. There is a lovely hut at the top and many people choose to go there for a night or two and just get away from the big cities. Once you reach the bottom there is a chairlift which will take you to Bezbog Hut. From there it’s about an hour and a half pleasant walk to the peak and the stunning nearby lake (Bezbog lake).
The entire area around the hut is simply stunning; you will want to spend several hours exploring it and soaking in all the natural beauty and peace. Another easy hiking option from the hut is to go to Popovi Lakes. The trip is about an hour and a half hiking in one direction.
The Koncheto Ridge is located at an altitude of 2800 metres in the Pirin Mountains. The ridge is a popular spot for the lovers of the adrenaline and is without a doubt one of the most scenic mountain views you will ever come across. Before some safety features were installed at the site, it’s said that the less experienced hikers went through Koncheto (meaning ‘’little horse’’) by saddling the ridge edge like a horse. At its narrowest point, the ridge is only 40 cm wide, with steep rocks on both sides and although nowadays there are metal ropes attached along the way to keep you safe, it’s still considered a challenging trek. If you do decide to give it a go, keep in mind that the weather changes very quickly – so be well prepared.
A good starting point to Koncheto is Vihren hut which is accessible by car on a paved road 12 kilometres from Bansko. On your way there you could also climb Vihren Peak (the highest peak in the Pirin Mountains) or just pass along the foot of the mountain. The trek from Vihren to Koncheto takes about 4 hours (or 8 if you decide to climb Vihren). The trail from Vihren to Koncheto is marked in red and is easy to follow.
Trekking in Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains): Botev Peak & Raysko Praskalo Waterfall
The Balkan Mountains (Stara Planina) are located in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula. They run for over 557 kilometres and extend throughout the entire length of the country – from the Bulgarian border with Serbia to the Black Sea coast. The highest peak there is in the central part – Peak Botev at 2,376 metres, which makes the mountain range the third highest in the country, after Rila and Pirin. The Central Balkan National Park takes up a huge territory in the Stara Planina mountain. You can easily reach it through the towns of Kalofer, Troyan or Apriltsi.
Botev Peak is a popular hiking destination located within the boundaries of Central Balkan National Park. It stands at the impressive 2376 metres above sea level, making it the tallest peak in Stara Planina. The natural reserve around the peak protects over 72 000 hectares of natural beauty and is full of picturesque spots worth exploring.
Botev Peak can be reached through several routes, most of which are suitable for beginners. If you decide to go from the south you’ll need to pass through the town of Kalofer and the Panitsite area, then through Rai Hut, Raysko praskalo waterfall and the steep Tarzan path. Another way is from Karlovo through Stara reka (literally – “Old river”) reserve, Vasil Levski Hut and Botev shelter. If you approach it from North you’ll need to pass through the Pleven Hut and Botev shelter.
Up for a more challenging trek? The hardest hike to Botev Peak is considered through Severen Dzhendem. If you decide you want to stay for the night there are quite a few huts that offer food and accommodation.
Raiskoto Praskalo Waterfall
Raiskoto Praskalo is the highest waterfall on the entire Balkans. With its impressive 124 metres in height, the site is a favourite spot for many locals and visitors. Raiskoto Praskalo actually means ‘a spray from heaven’ and if you ever get a chance to see it for yourself, you might just think that too. The stunning waterfall is situated right under Botev Peak (2,376 metres), in the central part of the Balkan Mountains. The nearest town is Kalofer, just 11 kilometres to the south and is very easy to reach by car. The landscape around the waterfall is incredibly beautiful and the perfect place to spend a day relaxing and exploring.
The hike to Raiskoto Praskalo takes about 5 hours with some seriously steep sections and it’s not an easy one. There is a mountain hut there called Rai (‘heaven’) about half an hour from the waterfall where you can spend the night and refuel.
Trekking in the Rhodope Mountains: Canyon of the Waterfalls near Smolyan
The Rhodope Mountains occupy a large part of Central South Bulgaria and undoubtedly, some of the most beautiful and picturesque places in the country can be found there. The mountains are great for tourism all year round and are a favourite place for exploration for many tourists and locals. The Rhodope Mountains contain numerous natural wonders including caves, unique rock formations, lush, green meadows, lakes, reserves and panoramic platforms.
Canyon of the Waterfalls, near Smolyan
The Canyon of Waterfalls is situated just near the town of Smolyan and offers over 6 kilometres of picturesque area in the Sredoka district that’s perfect for a family hike. As you arrive into Sredoka, you’ll have to take a walk (1.5 kilometres) to the eco-path sign where the trail begins.
The trek can be completed in 3-4 hours, or an entire day, depending on your pace. The eco-path is very well maintained and there are many areas where you can stop for a picnic or to enjoy the breathtaking views of the canyon. During the summer months you can take a swim in the Elenska River.
Important information: The weather in the highest parts of most Bulgarian mountains can be pretty unpredictable. Always prepare for your hikes carefully – carry warm clothes (even during the summer), water, some food, a hat and sunscreen. Always tell someone where you’re headed and what route you intend to take. Whenever possible, join a group of experienced hikers or local guides. Pay special attention to weather forecasts, especially during the winter months. The highest peaks in the country are covered in snow most of the year.
The mountains of Bulgaria are a true gem full of natural beauty and splendour. They certainly have many wonders to offer so if you ever get a chance to come and explore them for yourself, don’t hesitate to do so. In the meantime, take a look at other amazing things you can see and do in Bulgaria!