Borovets, Bulgaria – August 2016
What’s it like to hike the Seven Lakes of Rila National Park in Bulgaria? In a word, “stunning.”
A few factors brought us to Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains. First was Udaya Entertainment‘s music & yoga festival, but a stronger motivation was a hike we heard about from a friend. The trek to Rila’s Seven Lakes. He said it was epic and not to be missed.
That friend was right. When you visit Bulgaria, don’t miss hiking Rila National Park’s Seven Lakes. Here’s what you need to know.
The Lakes Trek:
Nestled in a pine forest outside the tiny village of Panichishte, a chairlift takes hikers up to just under 2,000 m to the trailheads. Of course, you can snub the lift and hike all the way up, if you have plenty of time and muscle.
From the lift station, trails over rocky mountain passes lead from one stunning glacial lake to the next, each dating from the Ice Age. Each lake is named for its most characteristic feature, like Okoto, “The Eye,” and Babreka, “The Kidney.”
The trek is rated moderate to difficult. At a fast pace, we reached the highest lake, at 2500 m (8200 ft,) Salzata, “The Tear,” in just under three hours. From the mountain above the Tear, you get an unbelievable view of the lake valley below. It seems more like a painting than reality.
On the return, you can backtrack, or opt for taking the alternate path from the top. The latter is longer and, depending on recent rains, may require some water crossings, but it’s well worth it. For those familiar with the Brotherhood, you will pass the spot they consider sacred as well as a remote hut (with toilets and snacks!).
For independent travelers, there are several options. Take a bus from the capital of Sofia, Bulgaria to Sapareva Banya. The small town, famed for thermal springs, is a good base for exploring the area. From there, it’s a short bus ride or taxi to the town of Panichishte, the entry point for the chairlift and trail heads. (It’s possible to join organized single or multi-day tours from Sofia as well).
For those interested in an independent, multi-day trek, Day 1 can be spent exploring the lakes, then overnight in the remote Ivan Vazov Hut, followed by a 7-8 hour, steeply down mountain trek on Day 2 to Rila Monastery, another must-see destination.
What to Know:
We could remind you to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and snacks, but you know that already. The best advice we can give is to stay flexible depending on weather.
As with most mountain regions, the weather here changes quickly (which you will see from our pics). Hiking the lakes in light rain would probably be okay. Anything heavy and you’re looking at a trek up and down slippery rocks with low visibility.
July and August are the best months to visit. However, avoid weekends in August, if at all possible. The trail is crowded and queues for the lift are long (we heard last weekend it took two hours to get on the lift!).
Consider hiring a local guide. (I know, I know). Y’all know we are super independent travelers usually. But the more we travel the more we see the upside to having a guide at times. You get to learn more about the area and gain a local’s perspective. You’re with an expert who knows secret spots and trails you may not find on your own. And, you get solid time with a local to share stories, ask questions, and maybe even share a few cold beverages at the end of the day. Plus, you pump a few dollars directly into the local economy.
Lastly, be aware of closing time for the lift and be sure to hold onto your ticket – you’ll need it on the return too!
Hope you enjoy the view of these pics and it serves as motivation to get out there – somewhere, anywhere – and do some trekking!