Bulgaria may only have three national parks, but there are so many hiking routes with jaw-dropping vistas within them that you will need months to see them all. If you are pressed for time, though, here are some of the most scenic routes you can explore by hiking the protected areas of Pirin National Park, Rila National Park and Central Balkan National Park.
Musala is the highest peak in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula, soaring at 2,925 m (9,596 ft). The hiking can range from comparatively easy, if you take the chairlift from Borovets, to a full-day odyssey if you choose some of the more remote mountain chalets as a starting point (such as Granchar Chalet). If you take the lift, it’s only an hour hike to the top, which turns conquering Musala Peak in a doable day trip from Sofia and a pleasant way to add one more feat to your hiker’s record. If you are not a seasoned hiker, don’t attempt to climb the peak in winter.
Malyovitsa is one of the most emblematic peaks in the Rila Mountains because the Central Mountaineering School, the first mountaineering club in Bulgaria, is located at its base. From the moment you start hiking, you will see the majestic peak in front of you almost all the way up. The valley consists of several terraces with vast panoramas and lakes where you can take a break and have a light meal. Once you reach the peak, you can return back to the Central Mountaineering School (the return trip takes around five hours) or continue to Ivan Vazov Chalet. The route is of medium difficulty. Rock climbers can spend a day or two exploring the rock climbing routes near Malyovitsa.
If a foreign tourist can name only one hiking destination in Bulgaria, it is usually the Seven Rila Lakes. These glacial lakes graciously flow into one another, each of them with a different shape and size. Their names reflect their shape or local legends (Eye Lake, Kidney Lake, Twin Lake, etc.). You can hop on a chairlift that will take you to The Seven Lakes Chalet and then hike for 2-3 hours to see all the lakes. The best view from above is from the so-called Lake Peak. If you visit the lakes in mid-August, you will witness the gathering of the White Brotherhood, followers of the Bulgarian spiritual leader and philosopher Beinsa Douno (Peter Deunov), who perform a special dance called paneurhythmy in big circles at sunrise.
Your adrenaline will be pumping once you reach Koncheto Ridge and you look down from the crevices on both sides. This steep ridge’s name means ‘the little horse’ in Bulgarian because hikers used to pass it by ‘mounting’ it before the secure metal ropes were installed. Its rim is no more than 2-3 meters (7-10 feet) wide, with the narrowest parts being a mere 0.5 meters (1.5 feet). The route is considered a milestone in hiking for its difficulty, and it’s a good idea to hire a guide, especially considering the fact that weather changes in a matter of minutes. If you are lucky, you will witness the famous phenomenon here – often the one side of the ridge is coated in clouds, while the other is sunny.
If you are up for a light, pleasant hike, head to Pirin Mountain and its Bezbog Peak that neighbours Bezbog Lake, not far from the ski resort of Bansko. A chairlift will take you to Bezbog Chalet from which it’s an hour and a half of easy walking to the peak. The whole area around the chalet is so beautiful that you will want to spend at least one night here soaking up nature’s beauty. Another easy-level hiking option from the chalet is to go to Popovi Lakes, an hour and a half hiking in one direction.
Raiskoto Praskalo Waterfall, at 124 m (407 ft), is the highest waterfall in the Balkans. Its name means ‘spray from heaven’, and the landscape around it will make you wonder if you’ve really made it to heaven. The route is around five hours long with some seriously steep sections, so it’s a good idea to spend the night at Ray Chalet (literally, Heaven Chalet) at its base instead of rushing to go up and down in a day. A fun fact is that the name of one of the steepest sections of the trails, Dzhendema, means Hell, so locals joke that to reach Heaven you must pass through Hell. Less than three hours’ hiking from the chalet, you will reach the highest peak of Stara Planina (Balkan) Mountain – Botev Peak (2,376 m/7,795 ft).
The Stara Planina (Balkan) Mountains stretch along the center of Bulgaria and divide it into Southern and Northern Bulgaria. Hiking to Kozya Stena Peak gives you the fascinating opportunity to glance at both sides at the same time from a bird’s-eye view. Start from the highest point of Beklemeto Mountain Pass and enjoy a two-hour leisurely walk along the ridge. Climbing the peak will require some effort, and part of it is secured with a metal rope, but the views are worth it. Continue to Kozya Stena Chalet to spend the night. The chalet is quite basic but known for some of the most welcoming chalet-keepers in Bulgaria.