7 Rila Lakes is possibly the most popular daytrip from Sofia, Bulgaria. Bundled with a visit to the famous Rila Monastery, you get a full day of culture and outdoor adventures.
Because of this, together with hikes in Pirin mountains, hiking Rila 7 Lakes was high on my list of things to do in Bulgaria.
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 sit on the toilet, wash our hands, and touch the door at the same time – you get the picture!), and 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. 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).
In the morning, we said goodbye to our deliciously cool room and drove to Panichiste resort to take the chairlift to the 7 Lake 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 see the 7 lakes 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 a 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.
I’d rate the 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. The hiking trails are well marked, the skiing is cheap, 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: 20 euros.
Only have one day? Take one of the many day tours available.