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When it comes to hiking in Sofia, a day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes is the mecca. Locals and visitors alike believe that this is one of the most beautiful places in the entire country of Bulgaria.
I have to say, I agree.
Our day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes really blew me away, and I spent half of it freezing cold in the pouring rain… I can only imagine how gorgeous it is on a good day!
If you want to visit Rila Mountain and see the Seven Rila Lakes for yourself, this is everything you need to know to make it happen!
Important Info You Need to Know
Distance Hiked: 7.1 miles
Elevation Change: 350 m / 1150 ft
Max Altitude: 2500 m / 8200 ft at Otovitsa Ridge
Time Hiking: 4 hours
Total Trip Time: 8 hours
The Pionerska chairlift runs from 9 to 4:30 every day except Monday, when it doesn’t start until noon. It’s also closed on the last Monday of every month. If the chairlift isn’t running, you can hike 2 hours to get to the starting point of the Seven Rila Lakes hike instead, or take a ride from the men offering them in their jeeps (although I’ve read this is actually prohibited in the park to protect the environment, so try to avoid it if possible.)
Where to Stay at the Seven Rila Lakes
For most people, Sofia is the best place to stay near the Seven Rila Lakes because the trek can be done a one-day trip from the city. However, if you’re looking for quieter escape there are multiple lodges on and around the mountain like Lodge Lovna Hut and Lodge Malka Yurt among others.
Personally, I recommend booking your stay in Sofia because you can find cheaper accommodation – Hostel Mostel is one of the most popular in the city and dorms are only $11 per night – and because you can enjoy the restaurants, nightlife, and other tourist sites in Sofia after the trek as well.
Ready to go? Click here to book your stay in Sofia!
View of the first lake at the start of our seven-mile trek
How to Get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia
There are multiple ways to get from Sofia to the Seven Rila Lakes. We went with friends who have a car, but I’ll give the details for every option below.
1. Drive from Sofia to the Seven Rila Lakes
This is definitely the easiest way to get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia. You can drive all the way to the parking lot of the Pionerska chairlift (put “lift to Rila Lakes” in your GPS to find it) which will then take you to the starting point of the hike. The drive to the lakes will be about 60 miles and 1.5 hours each way from Sofia.
2. Shuttle from Sofia to the Seven Rila Lakes
The 7 Rila Lakes Shuttle is your best bet to see them without a car. This service runs every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and the round trip transport costs 25 euros / 50 lev per person. I know it definitely runs June through October, but if you want to take it in April/May you’ll have to check the website and see if it’s available.
3. Bus from Sofia to the Seven Rila Lakes
Going to the Seven Rila Lakes with public transport isn’t easy, but it’s definitely possible. Two students made the trip and share the complete directions here.
The trip starts at the Sofia Central Bus Station and ended up taking them over 3.5 hours to get to the lakes. On top of that, the total cost for the round trip for two people was 74 lev / 38 euro. Based on this price, going to the Seven Rila Lakes by bus doesn’t really make sense financially. When compared to the shuttle service, you will only save 13 lev / 6.50 euro per person (if you are a couple, and even less if you’re alone) but spend an extra two hours on the trip.
Kidney lake – the perfect place to stop for a picnic mid-way through the hike
Best Time to Visit the Seven Rila Lakes
June, July, August, and September are the best months for a day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes. These mountains are at high altitude so don’t forget that the Rila weather and temperature will be very different from Sofia. I hiked to the Otovitsa Ridge (the viewpoint to see all of the lakes) on June 10th and still had to walk through some snow on the way!
If you go in June and September, expect colder temperatures at the Rila lakes and to see some snow on the trails. If you go in July and August you’ll get sunnier and warmer days, but you pay for the good temps by also dealing with crowds. Just decide which one you prefer!
How Much Does it Cost to Visit the Seven Rila Lakes?
Outside of the transport costs detailed above, the only other fee you’ll pay on a day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes is for the chairlift ticket. The price for a round trip ticket on the Pionerska chairlift is 18 lev / 9 euro per person. Otherwise, pack a lunch and enjoy a day out in nature that won’t break the bank!
Hiking on Rila mountain toward the Kidney Lake
Rila Lakes Hiking Route
Our day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes might just be the best thing I did in Sofia during my two-month stay. We arrived at the chairlift around 9:30 am and only had to wait in a short line for 10 minutes before we could board. Already I was layering up with my coat because it was definitely cold! It didn’t help that the sun wasn’t shining either.
The chairlift took about 20 minutes and then we were at the top. From the chalet at the top of the ski lift, it is easy to take the path that leads to the right. We climbed up a steep bank of rocks for 15 minutes and then it flattened out for about an hour until we reached the Kidney Lake, the third one and the halfway point on our hike to the Otovitsa Ridge viewpoint. From here, it was more steep climbs and another hour until we passed the Eye Lake and reached the top.
What’s the view like? Good question! When we got there it was rain and thick fog so I couldn’t see a thing 🙁 However, if you go on a clear day you will get amazing pictures of all seven of the Rila Lakes spread out below you.
We waited for about 15 minutes for a break in the clouds at Otovitsa Ridge before we finally gave up and returned the way we came. This hike is out and back rather than a loop, so it’s easy to follow the same route to get back to the chairlift.
All in all, we started our hike around 10 am and returned to the chairlift at 2 pm. This included a break to eat and multiple photo stops as well.
If you don’t want to climb all the way to the Otovitsa Ridge the Seven Rila Lakes are still worth visiting. Just hike an hour out to the Kidney Lake for a picnic, or even take a walk behind the chalet where it’s flat but you will still get stunning mountain views.
Pionerska chairlift to Rila Mountain
What to Pack for the Seven Rila Lakes Hike
A day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes is best when you’re prepared. Here’s everything I brought with me to make the hike a success!
- A small bag (I use the day pack from my Osprey Farpoint)
- Sturdy and waterproof hiking boots (I always wear Timberland boots)
- A large water bottle
- Extra layers (seriously, it’s cold at high altitude)
- Waterproof coat or umbrella (so you don’t end up soaked like me)
- A packed lunch and snacks
- Sunscreen and sunglasses
- Extra cash
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If you’re into hiking, the Rila Lakes trek needs to go on your Bulgarian bucket list. This day trip can be done by car, by shuttle, or even by bus so there’s no reason to skip it. Escape the city and enjoy an amazing day out in Bulgaria’s beautiful nature with this complete guide to the Seven Rila Lakes.
Ready to go? Click here to book your stay in Sofia!
This is part one in a nine part Sofia Travel Series. Read the rest below!
How to Take a Day Trip to the Seven Rila Lakes [Part 1 – You are here]
Hiking in Sofia: How to Get to Vitosha Mountain [Part 2 – Read me next!]