Hiking Bulgaria's Alluring Seven Rila Lakes

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One of the best places to visit in Bulgaria is the Seven Rila Lakes. Set in gorgeous mountain scenery, the Seven Rila Lakes are a series of seven glacial lakes situated between 2100 and 2500 metres above sea level in the northwestern Rila Mountains.

The Seven Rila Lakes are easily one of the most remarkable natural attractions in the Balkan Peninsula. They not only attract Bulgarian tourists but also visitors from all over the world eager to be enchanted by their sheer beauty.

In this guide to hiking the Seven Rila Lakes, we’ll talk a bit about each of the lakes, the hike, how to get there and the best places to stay.

Andy and Helen stood at the end of the Seven Rila Lakes Trail, Panichishte, Bulgaria
Endless mountain views!
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The Seven Rila Lakes

Each glistening emerald lake is situated slightly higher than the previous. Starting from the highest and coming down you have:

The Tear – crystal-clear water with great visibility.

The Eye – oval-shaped like an eye. It’s the deepest lake in Bulgaria with a depth of 37.5 metres and has an intense blue colour on clear summer days.

The Kidney – shaped like a kidney.

The Twins – is wide at each end and narrow in the middle like an hourglass During really dry times, the lake transforms into two lakes, hence its name.

The Trefoil – has an irregular shape and resembles something like a three-leafed clover.

Fish Lake – the shallowest of the lakes.

Lower Lake – the lowest of the lakes and feeds into the Dzherman River.

Panoramic view over the shimmering Kidney Lake and 3 others at Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria
Kidney Lake, The Twin and The Trefoil

Small streams and waterfalls flow between each of the lakes connecting them all. The Tear, The Eye and The Kidney each drain separately into The Twins. From here, the water flows on to the lower three becoming more powerful as it passes the bottom two and forming the start of the Dzherman River as it flows from Lower Lake.

Hiking the Seven Rila Lakes

If you take the lift from Panichishte to the Rila Lakes Hut, this is where you’ll start the hike. (More on getting to the trailhead later.)

The first lake you’ll reach is Kidney Lake, about a 40-minute walk. The first section is quite a steep uphill but once it plateaus, it’s fairly flat for a while. You’re also rewarded with beautiful views over Lower Lake, Fish Lake, The Trefoil and The Twins. On the way down, you can take a different route and pass these lakes directly.

Helen sat looking out over Lower Lake and the surrounding mountains at Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria
Looking out across Lower Lake

The hike is absolutely stunning! Surrounding you are endless mountain views, shimmering lakes and dense green forest. There are various points along the way you can stop for photos, admire the views or take breaks. 

Seven Rila Lakes Trail, Bulgaria
The beautiful Seven Rila Lakes Trail

Kidney Lake’s shores are a perfect stop for a break before the hike gets a bit harder. From here, the trail becomes steeper and there’s a lot of loose rock so make sure you have good hiking shoes!

Looking out over Kidney Lake and a large grassy area ideal for a break, Bulgaria
Kidney Lake's shores are perfect for a break

This section of the trail will lead you past The Eye’s deep blue waters and after one final steep ascent, The Tear. It should take approximately 1 hour to get to The Tear from Kidney Lake. There are numerous places to stop off for a break with breathtaking views across the other lakes.

This is technically the end of the trail and you’ll be able to see six lakes in front of you and one to the side.

End of the Seven Rila Lakes Trail, Bulgaria, Panichishte
Six of the seven lakes

We had, however, seen photos of all Seven Rila Lakes lined up in front of you and we were adamant on finding this view!

Behind us was a large ridge which we assumed was the spot we wanted so we set off climbing. There wasn’t really a trail so it was a bit more challenging. (It’s also possible we went the wrong way!) However, we made it and the views were definitely worth it!!

Up here, you’ll be treated to an unparalleled view of all seven lakes and behind you, the mountains stretch further than the horizon!

Helen sat on the edge looking out over all Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria, Panichishte
The view of all Seven Rila Lakes up here are definitely worth the hike up!

Most people stop at the end of the trail so it’s also a great way to escape the crowds. By the time we’d made it up this ridge, we could see the end of the trail and people were queuing to get photos!

Walk along the ridge and there’s a bit of a path you can come down that’ll lead you to The Eye. From here, head back towards Kidney Lake but instead of returning to the hut the way you came, there’s a route you can take that’ll lead you past the lower lakes except for Lower Lake. 

You won’t actually walk past Lower Lake as you make your way back to the hut but you can see it from the path. After walking down a rocky hillside you’ll walk through a woodland area where the path flattens out again for a little way. You’ll then see some signs directing you up a hill that’ll lead you back to the chairlift.

Andy stood at Fish Lake's shores, Seven Rila Lakes, Panichishte, Bulgaria
Fish Lake is the last lake you'll walk past on your way back to Seven Rila Lakes Hut

Allow for 5 hours for this hike, especially if you plan on hiking up to the ridge. This is enough time for some breaks, photo stops and general time to appreciate the beauty of where you are.


Getting to the Seven Rila Lakes

Seven Rila Lakes is a popular day hike from Sofia as it’s only an hour and a half away. Although possible to stay in Sofia and hike it in a day, we’d recommend staying in Panichishte or Sapareva Banya as they’re a lot closer.

There are a few options for getting to the trailhead at the Rila Lakes Hut. The first option is to take the chairlift which is about a half an hour drive from Panichishte.

There’s fairly generous parking along the road by the chairlift but arrive early as it gets very busy! The chair takes about 20 minutes and costs 18 BGN (just under 11 USD). It runs from 9am until 4:30pm (12pm – 4:30pm on Mondays).

Andy and Helen sat on the Seven Rila Lakes Chairlift, Bulgaria
Taking the chairlift up to the start of the hike!

The second option is to hike to the Rila Lakes Hut which will take between 1.5 and 2 hours depending on your fitness. If you choose this option, I’d recommend aiming to get the hut for no later than 9am before it gets crowded.

The final option is to be driven up on 4WD’s, however, I don’t think this is completely legal and it’s definitely overpriced!

If you’re visiting from Sofia on a day trip, you can either drive yourself, do a tour or book the shuttle.


Everything Else To Know

What should I take with me?

We’d recommend taking some snacks and a packed lunch with you. There are a couple of food options at the base of the lift but options are limited and the snacks are overpriced. There’s also a restaurant at the Rila Lakes Hut if you’d prefer. Remember to take plenty of water!

The mountain sun can be very strong so wear suncream and take some with you to top up when needed.

The weather in the mountains can be very unpredictable so take layers even if you don’t think you’ll need them. The weather can change drastically very quickly.

Finally, wear proper hiking shoes! In some places, the rocks are quite loose so you need sturdy footwear for your safety and the safety of others.

If you’re hiking in the winter, you’ll need extra equipment and thermals.

When’s the best time to hike the Seven Rila Lakes?

The best weather for hiking the Seven Rila Lakes is from May to September. We hiked at the start of September and it was a pleasant temperature. We walked in t-shirts and had a light jacket when we sat at the top for a break.

July and August are peak season so expect crowds. If you’re able to avoid these months, we’d recommend doing so. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to hiking Bulgaria’s Seven Rila Lakes. If you have any other questions feel free to leave a comment or get in touch. If you’re looking for some more hiking inspiration, check out our dedicated hiking page.

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