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Guide to Hiking in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria

We recently wrote a guide to destinations in Bulgaria that are perfect for rock climbers. This guide mentioned the Skakavitsa Waterfalls, Kostenets, and Malyovitsa Valley — all of which can be found in Rila National Park. Because of this, we decided it could be useful to follow this up with this guide to hiking in the Rila Mountains. This incredible mountainous area is only 65km from Sofia, making it the perfect way to get your dose of nature and wilderness if you’re based in Bulgaria’s beautiful capital city.

A Little Background About Rila Mountain

The reason Rila is such a popular mountain range is immediately apparent as soon as you visit: it’s gorgeous. But many hikers visit because Rila is the highest mountain in Bulgaria. In fact, at 2,925m, Musala Peak is the highest mountain peak on the entire Balkan Peninsula. The Rila Mountain range also has 29 separate peaks that rise above 2,500m, making the entire area a hiker’s dream.

The area is mostly alpine in nature and the mountains are mostly granite. The large glaciers on the mountain range created the legendary Seven Rila Lakes and the variety of relief and traversable terrain is rich and dynamic, making it perfect for more adventurous hikers. However, Rila Mountain is also quite suitable for more relaxed hikes on its high-altitude plateaus, making it accessible to less experienced mountaineers.  In the winter, there is a danger of avalanche, but there are numerous popular snowshoeing routes during the winter and locals are very aware of the safest routes. Local mountain rescue resources are also particularly experienced and competent, so a winter hike is definitely on the cards.

Some Incredible Spots to Look out for in Rila National Park

Rila Monastery

The entire Rila Mountain Range is just too large to explore aimlessly. And you will almost certainly miss out on some gems if you don’t plan ahead. To help you write your Rila Mountain bucket list, here are some highlights to look out for:

–   The Seven Rila Lakes are some of the most popular tourist spots in Bulgaria. These serene lakes and majestic mountains create some of the most jaw-dropping vistas in the world. If you are visiting in the summer months, we would recommend doing this hike during the week in order to avoid weekend crowds. 

–   Rila Monastery is a fascinating place and the most popular landmark in Bulgaria. This Eastern Orthodox monastery is called the Monastery of Saint Ivan of Rila but this gets shortened to Rila Monastery. There’s something very special about its unique architectural style and views of the mountains as far as the eye can see. If you don’t want to miss out on what this UNESCO site has to offer, check out our Rila Monastery Guide.

–   Borovets Ski Resort is perfect skiers and hikers. Sleep in luxury before heading out to explore Bulgaria’s great outdoors.

–   Kalin Dam is the highest dam in the entire Balkin Peninsula, at an altitude of 2,394m. The vistas from here are incredible, with clear views of some of Rila’s most impressive peaks: Malak Kalin (2,664m), Golyam Kalin (2,668m), and Golyam Polich (2,615m).

The Trouble with Camping in the Rila Mountains

Camping and hiking go perfectly well together, but you need to be careful in Rila National Park as camping isn’t permitted just anywhere in Bulgaria’s national parks as most areas are protected. The purpose of this is to preserve the pristine, seemingly untouched beauty of our parks, which is great, but it can make it very difficult for an outsider to plan a camping trip in the Rila Mountains. You have three great options that solve this problem for you:
i)           Opt for a hiking trip planned by locals
ii)          Consider taking a day tour to the Rila Mountains instead
iii)        Stay in charming mountain huts called hizha

Opt for a Rila Mountain hiking trip planned by locals

If you have your heart set on a multi-day hiking and camping trip through the majestic Rila Mountains, then the best option may be to ask a local company with the right connections and local knowledge to organise this for you. Our tailor-made tours of Bulgaria can be anything you want them to be as long as your request is logistically feasible. We have the necessary knowledge and resources to put together self-guided camping and hiking trips through the Rila Mountains, the Rhodope Mountains, the Pirin Mountains, the Balkan Mountain range and more.

Consider a Day Tour in the Rila Mountains

You can, of course, spend several days in the Rila Mountains; there is so much to see and do that you will never get bored. But if you’d like a more intense experience and a comfortable bed at the end of the day, our 7 Rila Lakes Trekking Adventure is a 12-hour experience that leaves Sofia early in the morning and returns in the evening. This option perhaps won’t appeal to people looking for the roughest, wildest adventure possible, but it is one of our most popular tours as guests have the chance to hike around the stunningly beautiful Rila Lakes without embarking on a hiking trip that lasts several days.

Stay in charming mountain huts called hizha

There is a brilliant alternative to camping in Bulgaria that solves the problem imposed by restricting camping in our national parks: we have cozy mountain huts called “hizha” that serve as very reasonably priced hostels. You’ll find hizha scattered around Bulgaria’s mountains and they make hiking, climbing, and any other mountain activities especially comfortable. Camping is great, but a warm meal and a bed with a roof over your head is better! One piece of advice, if you are staying in a hizha, always call ahead to check about availability especially on a weekend.

There’s so much more that we haven’t had time to cover in this guide to hiking in the Rila Mountains, but we hope we’ve given you plenty to get excited about! If you’d like some help planning your trip, take a look at our private and tailor-made Bulgaria tours and get in touch if you have any questions. What are you waiting for? Start planning your big Rila Mountain adventure!