Bulgaria,  Hiking

Wear sunscreen, you idiot: hiking the Rila 7 lakes in spring, a cautionary tale.

The next chapter of the Bulgarian tale found us a few kilometers further down the road from Kyustendil, in Sapareva Banya, a town with great access to the Rila National Park. Sapareva Banya, as the name suggests, also has significant geothermal activity which you can both see and smell. For those that enjoy it, you can visit the spa which looks actually pretty nice.


About the Rila Seven Lakes Hike

For us, the main attraction was the “Rila Seven lakes hike”. As the name suggests, it’s a circuit around 7 mountain lakes. It’s a fairly short route of 10km and, thanks to the chairlift, there isn’t much climbing. As it’s at the top of the mountain (2000-2500m above sea level) there are fantastic views. The hike is popular and busy in the summer months. However, at the end of April, we weren’t even sure if it would possible.

The route starts at the top of the seven lakes chair lift, which is about 30 minutes drive up the mountain from Sapareva Banya, in the direction of Panichishte (directions here). Parking was 5 Lev per day and the latest price for the chairlift is 25 Lev per person for a return ride (April 2023). You can obviously walk up and down but it adds a few hours on for each way and it’s not the most interesting hike underneath the chairlift.

Can you hike the Rila 7 Lakes in April?

The short answer is yes – but you probably won’t see any lakes under the snow!

On the 29th April, the roads and the majority of the mountain were free of snow, however, the top was still open for skiing. The hike is a 10km circuit around the top of the mountain. It’s very well marked with stripey poles (which were the exact colours of Steffen’s sweater) and signposts, and also visible on google maps.

At the top, we investigated the situation and resolved that the snow was pretty compact and actually it would be fine to walk in boots and no snow shoes. The weather, forecast to be grey and cloudy, was glorious, and for the first half we had wall-to-wall sunshine. We can confirm that absolutely no lakes are visible under the snow! Despite the lack of lakes, it was a very beautiful hike and definitely nice to experience it with only a few other hikers on the trail. There is a longer route you can do that incorporates a further peak and would have a very beautiful view of all the lakes in the summer. It’s a moderately challenging route in the winter, and would be easy without snow. We completed it in around 2.5 hours.
Sadly none of the mountain huts were open selling anything so we got the chairlift back and drove into town for pizza… With very red faces… Unfortunately the radiant sunshine had caught us by surprise and we hadn’t bothered with sunscreen.

About Sapareva Banya

Sapareva Banya itself is not a massively exciting town. It is has a lovely little 12/13th century church which is worth taking a look at. In terms of facilities, there are smalls shops and a bakery. You won’t find an ATM but restaurants at least take card.

There are plenty of hotels and guesthouses available. We stayed at Guesthouse Dani which is clean, nicely decorated and has a great balcony for 60 BGN (30 EUR) per night. There are a number of restaurants of a good quality which serve the middle-class Bulgarians on skiing trips and the foreign tourists coming through for hiking. We can particularly recommend the restaurant “Corner“; the food and wine were excellent, we tried the best Rakija ever and we ended up making friends with Ivan, the waiter. He embodied the hardworking, gritty, innovative spirit that we find in so many young Balkan people; spoke excellent English, has educated himself on all manner of topics and is determined to succeed.

Thoughts on Rila National Park

Rila National Park somewhere we are super keen to come back to when there’s less snow on the ground. There is a plethora of hiking trails available and many possible multi-day routes. It seems to be well-served with mountain huts. Finding information on routes other than major hikes (like the 7 Lakes) is not that easy, particularly as a lot of it is in Bulgarian. However, you can see the locations of the huts and the trails on hiking apps. It’s definitely one I will re-visit and devote some time to exploring.

Useful Information for Hiking the Rila Seven Lakes

  • Trail guide: available on AllTrails. The route is signposted and marked with poles. You make it longer easily by adding another climb or loop (you can see the possibilities on All Trails) or shorter by not ascending Ezeren peak.
  • Parking: available near the lift for 5 Lev per day. If you really don’t want to pay 5 Lev you can park further away and walk.
  • Lift price: 25 Lev per person. Seems to increase in rise quite regularly because I found 20 Lev online when I looked. Cash only.
  • Facilities: there were a couple of small shops at the bottom of the lift with snacks and drinks but nothing open on top of the mountain.
  • What to wear: at the end of April, we were ok in walking boots and didn’t need snow shoes (we saw a couple of crazy guys just in trainers… their feet must have frozen). However, I’d say any earlier and you would need better equipment. In summer you would be fine in trainers.

A Road Trip through Southern Bulgaria

Check my other Bulgaria Posts for other off-the-beaten track destinations on Southern Bulgaria

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