7 Rila Lakes is possibly one of the most popular daytrips from Sofia, Bulgaria. Bundle it with a visit to the famous Rila Monastery to get a full day of culture and outdoor adventures.
One of the reasons we decided to stay in Bulgaria for a month was because of many opportunities to go hiking in Bulgaria. Together with hikes in Pirin mountains, hiking Seven Rila Lakes were on the top of my list of things to do in Bulgaria. (Btw, in case you haven’t figured out, the name of the hike comes from the fact that there are seven lakes in the region. However there’s only one viewpoint where you can see ALL SEVEN lakes. Read along to find out where.)
Getting to Sapareva Banya, the closest town to 7 Rila Lake trailhead
One weekend we rented a car from Bansko to make the 2.5 hour drive to Sapareva Banya where we spent the night in a guesthouse. Our host didn’t speak a lick of English, but our twin-bed room was clean. The bathroom was the smallest bathroom ever (we could wash our hands and touch all four walls while sitting on the toilet – you get the picture!) The important thing was we had AC! Which was a luxury! Our Airbnb apartment in Bansko, wonderful as it was, got blistering hot so this was a welcome change.
Sapareva Banya itself doesn’t offer much other than a convenient base to explore Rila mountains. We had dinner in one of the few restaurants in the center and spent the rest of the evening Pokemon hunting (even the monsters here weren’t particularly interesting).
The Seven Rila Lakes Hike
In the morning, we said goodbye to our deliciously cool room and drove to Panichiste resort to take the chairlift to the Seven Rila Lakes hike trailhead. We got there just when the chairlift opened, but already the parking lot was filling up. Since it’s a very popular hike, the line for the chairlift can get ridiculously long, especially on summer weekends. So get there early.
There are various huts in Rila National Park where you can spend the night (or more) if you like, but we decided to do the Seven Rila Lakes hike as a day trip. The lakes are located in a cirque, a sort of natural bowl surrounded by peaks and ridges. It took us about 4 hours to complete the hike around the lake-studded cirque. Even though there are trails that take you to the lakes and their shores, we choose to climb and gain the imposing ridgeline that forms the southern part of the cirque.
The ridge provided great vistas over the lakes. It’s the only viewpoint to see ALL SEVEN Rila lakes at once.
How difficult is the hike?
I’d rate the 7 Rila Lakes hike as medium in difficulty level. It has less elevation gain than climbing Vihren and the trail was well trodden. Most people stick closer to the lakes so despite the initial crowd at the trailhead, we met few people on the hike.
Bulgaria is a beautiful country and it offers so much for outdoor lovers. Bulgaria hiking trails are well marked, the skiing is cheap (apparently Bansko is a Europe’s cheap skiing destination – who knew?), and the scenery, as you can see, is gorgeous.
Rila 7 Lake Hike
Getting to Rila from Sofia: Bus from Sofia’s Ovcha Kupel. Last time I checked, because of the time schedule, it was impossible to do the hike (or even the monastery) as a day trip. So your option is either to rent a car, or spend the night in Sapareva Banya.
Chairlift ticket: 15 Lev (return)
Accommodation in Sapareva Banya: Cheap and plenty. Starting at 20 euros.
Only have one day? Take one of the many day tours available from Sofia.