Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Full Bloom

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes Bulgaria

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes of Bulgaria turned out to be the perfect ending to our Balkan trip in which we explored Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of Macedonia and Serbia. Concluding our journey with this exceptional hike was more than fitting, since the Rila Mountains are actually the tallest in Bulgaria and in all of the Balkans, with their tallest peak being the Musala at 2,925 meters. As if this wasn’t enough, we were actually treated with a view of crocuses galore leading our path through these fantastic glacial lakes. Read on to find out when and how you can witness this unique nature show:

How to Get There

We approached the Rila Mountains from its north-western side, from the town of Panichishte. Although we were supposed to reach the Rila hut with the help of the chairlift next to our hotel the next morning, it wasn’t functioning. So our hosts actually arranged a high-adrenaline off-road trip with some massive cars which took us up almost all the way to the hut. It was just a short walk from our drop-off point to the start of the hike.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes Bulgaria

After doing some research, I found that the easiest way to approach the Rila Mountains is by car, arriving to Sapareva Banya. If you arrive by bus, it will take you to Dupnitsa, from where you can get to Sapareva Banya either via a second bus or by taxi. If you want to save a few bucks, opt for hiking up to the Rila Hut – a two-hour steep, but manageable trail. If you want to save some time, take the chairlift which will get you to an elevation of 2150 meters and will set you back about 9 euros for the round-trip (5 euros one-way). Note: the chair lift only works during the summer months between 9AM and 4:30 PM!

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Where to Stay

We arrived to the foot of the Rila Mountain the day before our hike was scheduled. We stayed in the Hotel Magnoliya, which had a nice location and some OK rooms. Although we were a group of 50, the hotel staff spent about an hour negotiating with our professors about whether or not they’d open the kitchen for us to have an evening meal (apparently we were the only guests). Maybe the staff where overwhelmed of the sudden appearance of 50 people, or maybe they didn’t have enough people to prep the meals. In the end, they did open their kitchen for us after I already stuffed my face with some leftover crackers, so I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Hotel Magnoliya, Panichishte, Bulgaria

Photo courtesy of Bulgarianski.com

Like I said, this might have been a minor mishap on their end, nevertheless I’d keep my options open and look at all the available hotels in Panachishte before I book a room with them.

When to Go

After I witnessed the scenery which the Rila Mountains have to offer, I’d say that the hike must be awesome and memorable year-round. However, if you’d like to catch the crocuses in full bloom, mid-May towards the end of the month is probably the perfect time for a visit. If you’d like a live update, I’m sure the guys from Hiking Guide Bulgaria will be more than happy to help you out in real time. But if you like flowers and the photographic potential this particular landscape can give you, crocus season is probably the best time for hiking the 7 Rila Lakes trail.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

What to Wear – Gear & Clothes

The weather this time of the year is pretty perfect. If you get a day with sunshine, then it’s not too hot but also not too cold. Yes, there’s still some snow on the ground so you’ll need real hiking boots and maybe even some spats to avoid getting wet. Also, don’t forget your sunglasses, because the snow reflects a pretty strong whiteness if the sun is shining, which can be hard on your eyes.

Always dress in layers, because when the sun is out, you might only need a T-Shirt. But when the clouds start rolling in, you surely won’t regret having a coat or parka with you. Don’t forget to always wear a hat or a bandanna – protecting your head against the strong sun rays is highly important at such altitudes.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes

Once you reach the mountain chalet at the top of the chairlift, you have two options. You can either take the path on the right side of the cabin, or you can go on the one located at the back of the hut. We actually managed to do a round-trip, seeing about 5 lakes by going on the first path and coming back on the second one. Two of the 7 Rila Lakes are located further away, so you’ll need an additional 2-3 hours to get to them and back. Our hike, encompassing 5 lakes, took about 3 hours in an extremely relaxed pace.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

As you proceed on the trail, watch your step. The big, wet rocks are actually a haven for snakes, as you can see on the photo below. I know the vistas are wonderful, but take a look at where you step to avoid any type of injuries caused by snakes.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

The first section of the trail on the right of the mountain chalet might seem a bit difficult at first, because it’s a little steep. But through our hike this was the hardest part, it just keeps getting easier as you go along. At first we admired The Lower Lake, situated at an altitude of 2,095 meters. But as we proceeded on the trail, we couldn’t help but be in awe of all the violet crocuses which served as the perfect foreground for an awesome shot of the lowest lake of the 7.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

I must admit, it was pretty difficult to leave this place and continue on the trail. This was the perfect resting place with the most amazing view and landscape which I will most probably never forget. But after Arpi and I decided to catch up with the group, we saw that our entire path was dotted by these beautiful violet flowers.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

In this particular section, we actually had a pretty hard time making sure not to step on any flowers or disturb them in their natural habitat. It was also very interesting to see such colorful flowers coexist right next to the white snow and the evergreen bushes. The strong rays of the sun actually lit up the place, making the entire mountain’s colors seem more vivid. It was a sight to remember.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

As we continued with our journey, we stumbled across a part where thick ice and snow dominated the area. This particular section is interesting due to the fact that the lake was still so frozen, it was barely visible. The trail was also covered in snow, so every now and then either one or both my feet would sink knee-deep in snow (hence the advice to take spats with you). Learn from my mistake!

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Since there wasn’t too much to see at the frozen lake, our group quickly headed towards the Twin Lake, which was merely half frozen and boasted one of the most impressive backdrops. The tall cliffs which bordered the lake were quite a sight for sore eyes, not to mention the fabulous crocuses, so we actually sat down for the first time during our hike to breathe in our surroundings properly. Our entire group had a nice picnic in front of the lake and we also treated ourselves to a well-deserved bottle of beer to celebrate our victory.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Shortly after our lunch, we got up and said goodbye to my personal favorite picnic spot in Bulgaria. As we slowly left the snowy part, the crocuses once again took over the path leading back to the mountain hut. Even if our eyes got used to them during our hike, we still couldn’t help but photograph them all the way back to the start of our journey.

Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

Once we reached the mountain hut, we sat down for about half an hour as we waited for the second half of our group to catch up with us. Before we got back into the off-road vehicles, we looked around once more to see the lowest lake in all its glory, without any crocuses. Still, the entire area is very picturesque, surprisingly easy to hike through and offers extremely rewarding vistas compared to the effort that is required to get there. It’s a trail that must be on everyone’s bucket list, even if you don’t consider yourself much of a hiker. I personally highly recommend it and really hope I can make it back soon so I can admire the last two of the 7 Rila Lakes, which we didn’t have a chance to see.

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Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria

8 Responses to “Hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Full Bloom

  • Ah ha! Here’s the post I’ve been waiting for with that beautiful picture of the purple flowers and a gorgeous mountain and lake in the background! I so want to do this next time!!

    • Thanks so much for your comment 🙂
      It’s a definite must-see in Bulgaria! If you want to see the flowers in full bloom, mid-May is probably your best bet.

  • Oh oh, I am so terrified of snakes, I can only go there in winter.

    • Nonsense! Look how cute and friendly it was 😉 Totally harmless.
      Maybe it was because he/she was surrounded by a group of 50.

  • Hi! we are planning to visit Bulgaria next month and we are glad we found your article 🙂
    How long does it take in total to get to the top of the mountain to see the seven lakes and come back? Is it 3 hours the whole trip including the chairslift?
    We are on a bit of rush as we are planning to make it on the same day of getting to the airport to depart back home. Thanks!

    • Hello Laura! 🙂
      Unfortunately, when we were there the chairlifts were not working.
      So our tour guide arranged for us to be taken up by off-road cars. All I can say is, it was one hell of a ride and I’ll never forget it.
      I have no idea if the chairlifts will work at that time of the year. We were a big group of 50 and they didn’t even start it for us.
      Nevertheless, I’d advise against going on the day of your departure towards home, because on the mountain you never know what can happen and you can actually miss your flight.
      We spend around 3 hours up on the mountain if I remember correctly (after we were dropped off close to the mountain hut) and we went in a leisurely pace. But it really depends on the weather (it still might snow at that time of the month), so I really can’t say how much it will take you even if the chairlifts work.
      But like I said, I’d definitely put it on a different day.
      Enjoy Bulgaria and the magnificent Rila Mountains 🙂 They’re stunning!

  • Allysha
    1 month ago

    Hello, I was researching on 7 Rila Lakes as we will be in Sofia last week April-first week May; and chanced upon this site .. beautiful photos. May I know when these photos were taken ? Do you think it’s worth it for me to go up during that particular period.. with snow and frozen lakes still? And do you think the purple violet flowers will already be blooming then ? thanks 🙂

    • Hello Allysha!
      We visited the lakes mid-May/second half of the month (toward the 20th if I remember correctly), so the photos were taken then. I think the flowering depends a lot about the current weather situation, which I do not know about. But maybe you can reach out to a mountain hut in the area (or maybe even the hotel I mentioned in the article?) and perhaps they can give you a better answer than I can 🙂
      We actually didn’t aim for the flowers, only the lakes and got double the reward. As you can see, some of the lakes were frozen in that period still and there was a pretty thick layer of snow still on the ground and in my opinion it was still lovely like that 🙂 Let me know if you have any more questions! and enjoy!

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