Hiking in Bulgaria

Explore Rila’s glacial lakes, the Rhodope’s mythic caves and Pirin’s 40 peaks.

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The Rila, Pirin and Rhodope mountains that stretch across the southern half of Bulgaria carve the country in two. But while they share a geography of valleys and peaks, each range has a character of its own.

In the south-west, the Rila Mountains combine trails to heart-shaking summits with hut-to-hike hikes past 200 turquoise lakes. It’s here that the highest peak on the Balkan peninsula - Mount Musala (2,925m) - tempts hikers to conquer its heights.

In contrast, in central southern Bulgaria lie the Rhodopes, which cover almost 15,000 square kilometres. The highest peak pales in comparison at 2,191m, but the surprising landscape of karst rocks and caves, as well as the maze of streams that froth from inside the rock, offer a mesmerising, and less strenuous, hiking alternative.

Whichever range you choose, the summer season is the best time to explore on foot, when snow cover is at its lowest and temperatures at their mildest.

Here are some of our favourite spots for hiking in Bulgaria.

Rila Mountains

The Rila Mountains are Bulgaria’s most famous, being home to Mount Musala and the picturesque Seven Rila Lakes. Both of these majestic landscapes can be hiked over several days, staying in mountain huts or wild-camping along the way.

Borovets is a popular starting point to scale Musala’s summit, with two huts along the route to stay in. If you want to test your hiking skills, you can reach the trail that traces Trionite Ridge to the summit of Musala from here. It’s a challenging route that uses safety ropes to help you ascend two peaks over 2,800m before the final push to Musala.

A popular hike around the Seven Rila Lakes takes you from top to bottom. After arriving by cable car, you’ll begin by climbing to Salzata Lake, 2,500m above sea level. From here, you can take in the view over glacial lakes that mark out the onwards journey of your route. You’ll descend 400m in total to reach the lowest lake, Dolnoto Ezero.

Pirin National Park

Around three hours’ drive south of Sofia Airport is Pirin National Park, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983.

Within the national park’s 400 square kilometres, there are 40 peaks over 2,500m to tackle, which are topped with snow throughout the year. With so much choice for high-altitude hikes, many trails are relatively uncrowded, so you’ll appreciate hiking with a friend, group or guide.

If you’re fit and fairly confident, then taking the 8km trail to the summit of Mount Polzehan (2,851m) will reward you with views of 17 turquoise lakes. The lakes are divided into three cirques, which are iconic of this landscape.

Throughout Pirin National Park, towering peaks like Vihren (2,915m) and Kutelo (2,908m) conceal water and nestle into forest. It is this combination of challenging summits and emerald landscapes that sets the area apart.

Rhodope Mountain Range

The Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria are an excellent choice for families, especially if you want to hike scenic trails without strenuous ascents. The average altitude in the range is only 785m and it’s the forests, waterfalls and rock formations that make it so popular.

The trail known as the Eco Path, which starts in Sredoka and is open in the summer months, is a popular route. This 6km, four-hour hike requires you to be fit but not an expert hiker. The trail navigates a unique chain of almost 50 waterfalls, known as the Canyon of Waterfalls, close to the Elenska River.

But the most enchanting draw is the rock formations that litter the land. Often cited as having a mystical feel, there are caves, gorges and rocks to discover, including the Stone Mushrooms and Devil’s Throat Cave. The hike to Chudnite Mostove, a rock phenomenon known as Skalnite Mostove (or The Rock Bridges), so iconic of the Rhodope Mountains, takes five to six hours from Hvoina.

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