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The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

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Are you doing the Seven Rila Lakes hike? From how to get there to where to sleep, this post it all about hiking the 7 Rila Lakes in Bulgaria!

seven rila lakes bulgaria

From where I stood I had the beauty of the Rila Lakes before me, their sapphire blue shining brightly in a bed of green.

After walking for about six hours in Bulgaria’s picturesque countryside, it was amazing finally seeing the seven lakes for myself – all the hard work and effort was 100% worth it. After all, this was why I wanted to do the Seven Rila Lakes hike, for gorgeous views like this.

Was the hiking difficult? Yes, it was, but the hardest bit planning the trip beforehand. Don’t worry though, I’ll help you with the logistics and I’ll say this – it’s up there with one of the best hikes I’ve ever done. Hiking in Bulgaria doesn’t get much better than this. 

7 lakes bulgaria
These are the stunning views of the 7 Lakes, Bulgaria

A chance meeting leads to something special

Rewind about 18 hours and I was chatting to a girl Kate over breakfast in a hostel in Sofia. We had your usual breakfast conversation over Nutella on European bread before we were some onto familiar territory – where have you been and where are you going next.

Kate’s eyes lit up as she quickly told me all about her plans to do the 7 Rila Lakes hike, stay overnight in a hut in the middle of nowhere, and then continue onto Rila Monastery. I’d already heard of Rila Monastery but the 7 Lakes was completely new to me. And it sounded exactly like the type of place I’d love. 

Once she had finished, Kate looked at me and said: “You should come too. It’ll be a lot of fun.” Almost nonchalantly, I replied I might just do that.

seven rila lakes map
Planning our route to the Rila Lakes

Planning a trip to the Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

Later that evening I saw Kate again. It was obvious at breakfast we would be hiking together – sometimes these things don’t need to be talked about, they are just assumed – and we were soon planning our trek to the 7 Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery.

When I say “we” were planning, I was listening to Kate tell me all about it as she had already done the research; all I had to do was turn up in the morning.

To be honest with you, planning on getting to the lakes was the hardest part of the trip. We wanted to do it on a budget, but there are a few options for you to choose from. More on that below!

hiking in bulgaria
It was great meeting so many like minded people while hiking in Bulgaria

How to get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia

There are a number of ways of getting to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia.

Directly south from Sofia, the quickest and easiest way is to drive. Usually this will take you around an hour and 45 minutes. Alternatively, you can hire a car for the day or a driver for the day. However, obviously this can be quite expensive, especially if you’re on a backpackers budget. 

I caught public transport which is a little trickier. Here’s the route I followed:

  • The most direct way is catching a bus from Sofia to Sapareva Banya. There is a direct bus that departs every day at 14:00 from “Ovcha kupel” which is the West bus station.
  • The route that gets you in a lot earlier is from the Central bus station in Sofia. Every 60 minutes there is a bus departing to Dupnitsa (tickets cost 2 lev, approximately €1). Then, from Dupnitsa you can take a direct public bus to Sapareva Banya every 30 minutes. I’d really recommend this route as you can leave early in the morning and get going. 
hiking rila mountains
Very happy faces on the Rila 7 Lakes hike

Once I got to Sapareva Banya, I caught a taxi with other hikers to Pionerska (4 lev, approximately €2 per person), which was at the bottom of the mountains. To get to the top of one of the peaks we took the lift to the Seven Rila Lakes (10 lev, approximately €5 for a one-way ticket).

I had never been on a ski lift before, and I have to admit, being rocked back and forth with the girls chatting behind me, I knew I was in for a day to remember.

All around me was the deep, dense forest that has come to define Bulgaria, and as I slowly ascended to the top, the mountains became clearer and clearer, some of which were still snow-capped.

It’s views like this that I absolutely love. 

lift to seven rila lakes
This is the lift to the Seven Rila Lakes

What are the Seven Rila Lakes?

The Seven Rila Lakes is one of the most popular hikes in all of Bulgaria, and with good reason.

As you can probably guess, they are 7 lakes all in close proximity of each other high up in the mountains. In winter, they are frozen over and covered in snow. In summer, once melted, they are a clear emerald green and sapphire blue, and each one is incredibly beautiful.

Each of the 7 lakes has a name so these are the ones you want to tick off:

  1. Salzata  (The Tear) – very clear waters that really show off the colours of the lakes
  2. Okoto (The Eye) – this has a oval shape resembling an eye
  3. Babreka (The Kidney) – this has a crescent shape resembling a kidney
  4. Bliznaka (The Twins) – this is almost two lakes that are connected
  5. Trilistnika (The Trefoil) – this looks like a three-leafed clover
  6. Ribnoto (Fish lake) – this is the shallowest of all the lakes
  7. Dolnoto ezero (The Lower lake) – this is the lowest of all the lakes
hiking in bulgaria rila mountains
The paths are clearly marked while hiking the Rila Mountains

The trek to the top of the 7 Lakes in Bulgaria took about five hours, but I was walking slowly taking it all in and getting to know other hikers along the way.

Once we got to the top of the 7 Rila Lakes hike, we felt so happy like we’d really achieved something. The views were simply stunning. Honestly, it’s hard to describe how beautiful this place is in Europe. 

After seeing the 7 Rila Lakes, the five of us continued hiking the Rila Mountains and summited the highest peak in the area (about 2,800 metres above sea level). While at the top, Ceci decided it was the perfect place to practice some acrobatic yoga and it wasn’t long before she was up in the clouds.

things to do in bulgaria
We felt on top of the world once we got to the top of the mountains

Sleeping at the Rila Lakes

With time pushing on, we picked up our pace and carried on hiking. We were staying in this little hut in the heart of the mountains, the only place around for hours.

The place we were aiming for is called the Ivan Vazov Hut. This is the best place to stay at the very top of the Rila Mountains. It’s really hard finding information on this place but here’s a link for you

By the time we arrived, we had been hiking for seven hours, so it’s safe to say we were all pretty tired but we were so happy too.

It’s hard to describe the hut, but it has obviously become its own little commune with an assortment of people living there. With no hot water and limited electricity, it really is cut away from society. It is just you and the mountains; nothing more, nothing less.

That night we sat around drinking rakia wrapped up in warm woollen blankets. Not before long, one of the guys living there produced a pair of Bulgarian bag pipes. As we followed him outside, there was already someone else playing a set, the dulcet drone drifting over the moors towards the mountains.

Perched against the wall, we were all treated to a performance of Bulgarian folk music. After 10 minutes, someone started singing, illuminated by the full moon overhead.

The five of us looked at each other and smiled. We didn’t need to say a word. After all, this was what travelling was all about; this truly was travelling at its best.

seven lakes bulgaria

How much does the 7 Rila Lakes cost?

The Rila Lakes hike is relatively cheap, especially when it’s one of the best in Bulgaria.

Getting to the start of the trail will cost you around €10/15 (depending on if you catch a taxi from the bus station or not).

The 7 Rila Lakes lift to the hike start point takes 25 minutes and costs:

TicketsAdultsChildren, Seniors, Disabled
Return18 leva (€9)12 leva (€6)
One way10 leva (€5)8 leva (€4)

However, if you want to use the lift multiple times these are the ticket prices:

CardsAdultsChildren, Seniors, Disabled
One day28 leva (€14)20 leva (€10)
Half Day20 leva (€10)17 leva (€9)
Two Days50 leva (€25)36 leva (€18)
Three Days69 leva (€35)50 leva (€25)
Four Days90 leva (€45)65 leva (€33)
Five Days110 leva (€55)79 leva (€40)
Six Days132 leva (€66)95 leva (€48)
Week150 leva (€75)108 leva (€54)

The 7 Rila Lakes lift opening hours are from 9am till 4:30pm. The last lift back is at 4:30pm so make sure you’re on that one otherwise it’s a long walk back!

When is the best time to go?

It depends on what scenery you’re after.

In May, even though the weather is warmer, there is still snow on the mountains which can look really magical.

However, most people say the best time do the Seven Lakes hike is in July/August – this is when I did it and the weather was perfect. All I wore was shorts and a t-shirt for a couple of days. 

best time to visit the rila lakes

Top Tips for hiking the 7 Rila Lakes

  • Wear comfortable shoes – I was hiking for around seven hours which is some serious miles, so it pays to have some comfortable shoes. Ideally hiking boots/shoes, but comfortable trainers are good too.
  • Wear layers – If you’re heading off early in the morning it can be pretty cold but you’ll soon warm up once you’re moving, so it’s a good idea to wear layers to take on and off whenever you get hot and cold.
  • Take food and snacks –  The only place you can buy food is at the ski station at the start of the trail, so make sure you pack enough food for the day. Also, bring snacks like nuts and sweets to give you that little energy boost when you need it.
  • Bring lots of water – The water in the lakes and streams is good enough to drink (especially if you’ve got a water-purifying bottle), but make sure you’ve got a fresh bottle of water with you just in case.

7 Rila Lakes tour from Sofia

Are you looking at hiking the Rila Lakes and Rila Monastery? Are you going to stay in the little hikers hut? Let me know what your plans are in the comment box below!

Travelling around Bulgaria? Then bookmark my guides to seeing the ex-communist headquarters and exploring Shumen to help plan your trip here.

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Hiking Rila Lakes

About the Author

  • Macca Sherifi

    Macca Sherifi is the founder of the multiple award-winning blogs An Adventurous World and the Great British Bucket List. Every month he inspires over 200,000 avid readers to travel the world.

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21 thoughts on “The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria”

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for your post. Do you know if the ski lift up to the top allows for a parent to sit with two kids? All the videos that I’ve seen show two people on the lift, however since it’s a bench I imagine there is room for three across.

  2. Hi! Thanks for the very detailed information, it is very useful! I am planning to go to Rila with my family in August. As I would be coming with kids and an 70-year-old elderly, go hiking is too luxurious for us! If we take a chair lift up to the mountain, is there any place for picnic, and could we have a pilot view of one of the lakes?

    • The good news is you can definitely take the chair lift up the mountain and there are LOTS of places for a picnic. The bad news is you don’t have an arial view of the lakes – these are higher up the mountain. However, very close to the chairlift is a lake you can sit beside and have a picnic, so it’s almost the best of both worlds. I think the kids and the elder person would be able to manage the short walk to the lake. I hope that helps!

  3. Hi Macca,

    Is it possible to get to the point that we can see all seven of the lakes and then go back to catch the chair lift at 4:30 pm?
    Do we really have a hotel on top of Seven Rila Lakes?
    If we wanted to do the day trip and going down via chairlift at 4:30 pm, how do you recommend the hiking to be?


    • Hi Asnan, you can definitely do it all in a day. When I did it, I started fairly late in the day and wanted to add in the overnight hut, so there wasn’t a rush, but it is possible doing it your way. As long as you get on the trails fairly early, then you can still take it at your own pace, get to the 7 lakes, then be back down for that final chairlift. The descent can be quite quick for obvious reasons. I hope that helps with your planning!

  4. Beware of the jeep that brings you to the top to see the lakes. It is very expensive.
    We have been walking for one hour because the car only drove for ten minutes.
    Was impossible to see the lakes. 13 euros each person is really expensive.
    Don’t pay so much. Go walking.

    • I didn’t even know that was an option these days. Thanks very much for letting people know – hopefully everyone will just go hiking!

  5. Hi! I’m planning on doing this hike in August! I was wondering if you were hiking with everything you had, or if you left your big backpack somewhere. Is it worth it to go to Rila Monastery by foot?

    Thanks a lot!

    • I left my backpack in a hostel and just took my day bag with a few things in there. And yes, it’s really worth visiting Rila Monastery by foot – much more magical as opposed to getting there by bus!

  6. Thanks for your blog post. I’m just starting my Bulgaria plan, as I had a sort of last minute change of plans. Your post has definitely inspired me to do the hike! Don’t mind the critics. Anyway, do you know if it’s possible to wild camp on the hike?

    • Good question Michael! I haven’t heard of anyone wild camping on the hike, but I don’t think it would be a problem at all. Once it got to early evening there was hardly anyone else around on the trails, so I’d imagine it would be easy to do and quiet.

    • I try and give a balance between storytelling and giving practical information. I want to inspire people to visit the place as well as giving all the information on how to do it.

    • No no no, it’s much shorter. I think it took me around 4/5 hours (I did run a section of it though as I was full of energy!) It’s pretty much all downhill though, so definitely easier and quicker!

    • And yes, we did! There’s a hotel there which is open all year, or we went to the little hiking hut in the middle of nowhere. It’s called the Ivan Vazov hut (here’s the link – , and even though it’s basic, it’s an amazing experience!

  7. This is great! I’m going to Bulgaria this Friday already and just started doing my research! Really wanna go to the Seven Lakes, but found it to be SO hard to find out about HOW to actually get there! It seems like I’ll have to do many bus changes… Thanks for the useful info!

    • That’s awesome! I’m so glad you’re going to Bulgaria! It’s such an amazing country. Yeah, it’s fairly tricky to get to the Seven Lakes, but not impossible. I stayed at Hostel Mostel in Sofia and they had pretty up to date information, but we still did everything on our own. If you head to the bus station then they’ll definitely be able to point you in the right direction!


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