Hiking in Bulgaria: The Seven Lakes in Rila Mountains
Breath steams up in the cool mountain air. Sunshine is reflected from the pure white snow and makes us squint. And smile. On every step up the hill we fall up-to-the-knees in the snowbank, but are slowly approaching the next ridge. Icicles form interesting pieces of art at the edges of the cliffs, and small ice drops decorate the junipers around us. Painted trail marks are hiding under the snow, but high sign pillars every now and then confirm that we are on the right ”path”. Seems that no-one else has chosen this trail recently, and for a moment we wonder if we can have this Rila Mountains hikers paradise just for ourselves today.
Rila Mountain range, situated in southwestern Bulgaria, is the highest in the country. Highest peak is Mt Musala (2925 m) and the area is famous for glacial lakes and hot springs. The Seven Rila Lakes is a group of glacial lakes in northwestern part of Rila Mountains and a popular hiking destination, at least during the summer months. These lakes are situated from 2100 to 2500 elevation meters, and usually frozen from November to June. Our hike there was on the last day of October, and all but the lowest lake already got at least thin ice layer on. Temperature up there was few degrees below zero during the day, but the weather was just perfect for hiking, at least as long as we managed to keep the snow outside of our shoes. 🙂
There are plenty of hiking routes in Rila Mountain range, and also the Seven Lakes can be reached from several starting points. It would be easy to spend at least a week exploring this mountain range with jaw-dropping scenery. We started our 2-days hike by driving through Govedartsi village on northern side of the mountain range towards Vada Mountain hut. The shortest route to Govedartsi was through Borovetsi ski resort, where the winter season seemed to be just getting started, but we had to turn back since the road was too icy and steep for summer tires. But by circling via Samokov we managed to get as close to the hut as 4 km away, along road number 6206. At that point there was a small parking area, from where the narrow, poor-conditioned, partly icy road up would have required a 4×4 jeep.
Our hike to the Seven Rila Lakes (Sedemte Ezera)
To Vada hut for a night
It was already late afternoon when we reached the parking lot, so for the first day the plan was only to walk up to Vada hut. We actually were not even sure if it was open, plan B was to continue to another hut, Lovna, nearby and hope for the best. This first part was easy walk up along the mountain road, just around 4,2 km, 50 minutes and 150 vertical meters to the hut at elevation of 1464 meters.
To our surprise there was no-one else in the hut but the administrator, with whom we naturally didn’t have common language. He showed us the bedrooms upstairs, and informed that the price is 30 levas for us two, so around 7,5 euros per person per night. So we settled in, ordered some lentil soup (1,25 €) and beer (1,5 €) and played chess. Our host focused on keeping the fire up so that also upstairs would warm up a bit, and on smoking, he probably smoked at least a pack of cigarettes during the night.
The night was cold but we managed to get some sleep in our sleeping bags and under thick blankets. We ate some breakfast and waited the temperature to rise before hitting the trails. The bigger backpack was left behind, since the plan was to come back to the hut and to the car in the evening.
From Vada Hut to Rila lakes
It was already 11 am when we left the hut behind, and sun was shining from the blue sky. The landscape with snow-covered spruces looked actually quite the same as in Finland in early spring, excluding the mountains of course. In stead of the official hiking route from the hut we chose to first walk along a forest road and follow a track that was visible in google maps, and ended up climbing up a quite steep and snowy slope. It was kind of a short cut, and at some point we reached one of the marked trails towards the seven lakes.
After around 650 vertical meters climb we reached the first lake, and the track going around them. At that point we were no longer alone, there was plenty of prints and soon we saw other hikers. For a moment we wondered how part of them had made their way up in jeans and ordinary winter shoes, but soon it turned out that most of the people were on a tour and had been brought up to Rila Lakes hut with jeeps. There also is a chair lift station right next to this big hut, but it was not working at the time of our hike.
But yes, back to the lakes. Situated in different altitudes and connected with small streams they are a beautiful sight both from the shores and from the upper slope. When circulating the lakes we were in a bit of a hurry, since we started to worry if we can make it back down before dark. It’s a shame really, could have stayed a lot longer just admiring the view and photographing. We didn’t have enough time to climb up to the two highest lakes, and when we walked past the path going up there, it looked rough due all the snow and ice. It would have been doable with right gear and enough time of course.
Descent back to Vada Hut
At 2349 m altitude we started descending towards the Rila Lakes hut. We rook a short break in this huge mountain chalet, and continued down along the road the jeeps had used to come up. From the hut we also got some company, a super friendly and cute ”mountain rescue” dog, who walked with us all the way down.
The road was frozen and really slippery in some places, both of us fell straight on our backs at least once when rushing down half running. I was very glad when we reached a point were a hiking path leading to Lovna hut separated from the road. The rest of the was mostly easy-to-walk path in the forest, past Lovna hut back to Vada hut, and then back down to our car. Nice timing, it started to get dark already when we changed some clothes in the parking lot.
After over 6 hours, 20 kilometers and 900 vertical meters up, mostly in snowy conditions, we were somewhat tired but happy, it was an excellent hike! Too bad that we had to leave our new furry friend back, after rewarding her “service” with some wholemeal biscuits.
Related post: Hiking in Balkan Mountains in Bulgaria
How to get to Seven Rila Lakes
- Rila mountains are only a 1,5 hours drive away from the capital Sofia, so the hike can be done as a day trip from there either with your own wheels, using a shuttle service or with an organized tour.
- With a car it is easy to reach the mountains and you are free to choose the starting point. There are also bus connections to towns close to the mountains, but ascending the mountain trails often requires long walk along the road first. Hitchhiking is one option of course.
- For those who don’t have time, energy or gear to walk up, the Rila Lakes hut next to the lakes (altitude 2150 m) can be reached with a chair lift from Pionerska hut (1585 m), which can be reached from Sapareva Banya village. There is a bus connection from Sofia to Sapareva.
- If you have more time, we recommend skipping the lift and hiking all the way up. If you have several days, combine the seven lakes with longer hike in the mountains, staying the nights in mountain huts and visiting the Rila Monastery up in the mountains.
- Rila Monastery can also be reached via bus from Sofia via Dubnitsa and Rila village
- Probably the best time for hiking in Rila Mountains is during summer or autumn, hiking in winter time is more difficult and requires good gear due to snow and ice.
General tips for hiking in the mountains
- have a hiking map, even if the trails are well marked
- don’t risk it in the mountains, check the weather forecast beforehand and don’t overestimate your pace
- for emergencies, have the number of mountain rescue with you (as well as a phone of course)
- stay on the marked paths
- don’t leave any trash behind
- hiking boots are needed, water proof ones are the best bet
- carry warm clothes with long sleeves even if the day is warm and sunny
- it’s good to have waterproof jacket or other cover for rain and wind
- sunscreen and a hat help to protect from the sun
- always carry a torch or a headlight
- take plenty of water, even though you can get it from huts and mountain streams
- food with high calorie content is recommended to keep energy levels up
- keep some cash with you, food and other supplies can be bought from mountain huts