Hike the Rila Mountains

Trek glacial lakes, desolate ridges and alpine meadows in the highest range in the Balkans.

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Venture deep into Bulgaria’s Rila Mountains to traverse sunken valleys, 200 glacial lakes and granite peaks.

The Rila range extends over 2,400 square kilometres and is home to some of the Balkan’s highest summits, including Malyovitsa (2,729m), Irechek (2,852m) and the highest, Mount Musala (2,925m).

Many of the mountains are connected by ridges and criss-crossed by hiking trails. The network of routes and seasonal mountain huts make the logistics of conquering summits in the Rila range simpler, but you’ll still need a good level of fitness for the often steep ascents.

Summer is the best time for trekking in order to escape the sub-zero temperatures, which freeze the mountains for much of the year. In August, highs will rarely exceed 10 degrees celsius, cooling the higher you climb.

Create your Rila Mountains adventure with our range of handpicked itineraries and trusted local operators.

The Seven Rila Lakes

Explore the glacial Seven Rila Lakes in Bulgaria’s mountainous south-west, one and a half hours’ drive from Sofia. Each lake lies between 2,100m and 2,500m above sea level, with Salzata Lake the highest and Dolnoto Lake the lowest.

A 6km trail ties the lakes together, accessed by cable car from nearby Panichishte. The cable car will drop you off at the Rila Lakes Hut, where you can stay the night if need be, or get some grub before you set off. Alternatively, you can hike through the Rilas to reach the lakes, camping out in the many mountain huts on the way.

Once you’re on the Seven Rila Lakes trail, the hike past all seven lakes and back will take around four to five hours. Make the highest lake your finishing point to enjoy monumental views back down across the other six.

Mount Musala

With a summit at 2,925m, Mount Musala is the highest peak in the entire Balkan peninsula. Add to that the unrivalled views across the highest peaks in the Rila and Pirin massifs, punctuated by the occasional turquoise lake, and you can see why scaling this summit is so appealing.

A popular, and comparatively easy, four-hour route begins from Yastrebets’ summit, which means you only have to ascend a further 750m to reach Musala’s peak. The hike takes you past the region’s iconic lakes, valleys and cirques, as well as mountain huts (Musala and Icy Lake), before a final, steep ascent to the top.

The three-day trek along Trionite Ridge is a good choice for more experienced hikers. The route is steep and your final ascent to Musala’s summit will be one of three peaks achieved, as the trail tops Irechek (2,852m) and Malka Musala (2,902m) too.

Malyovitsa

Located in the north-west of the Rila Mountains, Malyovitsa lies to the west of Musala with a summit almost as high, at 2,729m. Thanks to the mountain’s pyramid-like faces and steep, rocky ascents, hiking and climbing are top summer attractions, with snowshoeing available in winter.

Wait for the spring melt to clear some snow and you can enjoy a two to three-hour hike to the summit from the Malyovitsa Hut in Govedartsi. Plan a separate route to Strashnoto Lake at the foot of the Kupenite rock formations too, which is also only two to three hours’ trek from the hut.

On your way up or down the mountain, add a cultural excursion to your trip by visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Rila Monastery. Its mesmerising domes and intricate frescoes will rival the mountain views.