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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 and 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 guide has everything you need to know to make it happen, including:
- Important hiking stats and facts
- Where to stay at the Seven Rila Lakes
- How to get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia (by car, shuttle, and bus)
- Best time to do the Seven Rila Lakes hike
- Cost of the Seven Rila Lakes hike
- Rila Lakes hiking route
- What to pack for a day trip from Sofia to the Seven Rila Lakes
- And so much more!
So, keep reading to find out exactly how to escape the city and enjoy this Sofia day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes!
Seven Rila Lakes chairlift to the start of the trek
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 actually you shouldn’t do that).
All smiles on the Rila Lakes lift despite the impending weather…
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.
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. Even if you don’t want to complete the whole loop, this is a beautiful place for a walk!
How to Get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia
There are three 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. How to 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 or click here to see it on Google Maps) 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. How to Take a 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. How to Take a 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.
The weather cleared up every now and then to give us pretty views like this. This is the fairly flat part of the hike between the start and the Kidney Lake.
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!
The best view we got of the lakes due to the weather – if you go on a sunny day, you can expect even more expansive views of them from the Otovitsa Ridge
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 Seven Rila Lakes chairlift ticket.
The price for a round trip ticket on the Pionerska chairlift is 18 lev / 9 euro per person.
If you have a car and pack a lunch, the Seven Rila Lakes day trip from Sofia will only cost 9 euros per person – quite a steal. If you decide to take the shuttle, the trip will cost 34 euros per person in total for the transport and the Rila Lakes lift.
Either way, you’ll be enjoying a full day in nature for a pretty good price!
My tip: Even if you’re totally flush for cash, I still recommend packing a lunch because the lodge restaurant looked a little dicey… plus, you’ll want something to eat on the trail anyway and if you don’t bring any food you’ll only be able to eat at the start or the end of your hike.
Stopping for a well-deserved picnic over 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?
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.
Mud, rain, and pure happiness to be out of the city for the day!
What to Pack for the Seven Rila Lakes Hike
A day trip to the Seven Rila Lakes is best when you’re prepared. I recommend bringing a small day pack with:
- Sturdy and waterproof hiking 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
This is the hiking gear I can’t live without:
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|Vibrant All in ONE Travel Mug - Tea Infuser Bottle with 2 Piece Steeper Strainer MESH Filter - Insulated HOT Coffee Thermos - Cold Fruit Infused Water Leak Proof Double Wall Stainless Steel 16.9 oz||Prime||Buy Now|
|Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Water Resistant and Non-Greasy Sunscreen Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 100+, 3 fl. oz||Prime||Buy Now|
|Osprey Packs Farpoint 55 Travel Backpack, Jasper Red, Small/Medium||Prime||Buy Now|
Complete the Seven Rila Lakes Hike With This Guide!
If you’re into hiking, the Rila Lakes trek needs to go on your Bulgarian bucket list.
This guide will walk you through exactly how to get to the Seven Rila Lakes from Sofia, how to take the Rila Lakes lift, how much to budget for the trip, where to walk, what to pack, and everything and anything else you need to know the make the Rila Lakes hike a success.
This day trip from Sofia is one of the city’s highlights and because it can be done by car, by shuttle, or even by bus, 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? Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flights to Sofia and then explore accommodation like unique stays on Airbnb or the top-rated hotels on Booking.com to plan the perfect night, weekend, or long-term stay in the city.
This article is part of the Beyond Sofia Travel Series. Read the rest below:
Or, explore the complete Bulgaria Series for more to see, do, eat, drink, and discover throughout the country.
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➤ I exclusively use Airbnb for savings and security on long-term stays in furnished apartments.
➤ I use Booking.com for short-term stays in hostels and hotels on weekend trips.
➤ Upwork allowed me to take the leap to travel full-time because they make it so easy to find freelance clients in any field.
➤ The Superstar Blogging Travel Writing Course launched my travel writing career and helped me become a contributor at sites like Cincinnati Refined and International Living, and even get published in the Boston Globe.