During our stay in Novi Pazar we spotted a new trekking idea in the Bulgarian Rila Mountains. The planned route takes three days from Borovets to the Rila Lakes and because of the altitude of 2200 to 2900m stable weather is a must!

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When a three-day window of good weather became apparent, planning and organizing the hike was relatively easy. The trail is easy to follow on mapy.cz and the matching trail map was available for purchase at the bookstore at 2€. We did not find any (reliable) information about the mountain huts along the way. Therefore we decided to take food and tent with us. Our bike equipment is heavier and more voluminous than the trekking stuff in Switzerland and it was difficult to fit it into our backpacks. We saved the space for stove and pot by preparing the dinner (curry risotto with nuts) in advance and filling it into plastic bags… it didn’t look very appetizing 😉

After depositing our bikes and the rest of our luggage in a sports store in Borovets, we started the hike with a first cheat. Instead of marching 10km and 1000Hm on a forest road, we took the cable car. I found this decision a bit difficult at first (David didn’t ;-)), but it was worth it: it’s not every day that you ride in a gondola made in 1980, which has to be transferred and opened manually, but the door never fully closed on the ride. At the top, we were welcomed by an icy wind and immediately had to dress warmly. The hike was very scenic until lunch on the Musala summit but because of the crowds not a touch idyllic.

After the summit this was different. In the afternoon we met at most 10 people. Since camping outside marked areas is prohibited in the national park, we hiked 28km on the first day until late in the evening. Just outside the national park we put up our tent, immediately moved inside because of an ambient temperature of 5° and enjoyed our cold risotto out of the plastic bag 😉

The second day was supposed to be easier with 20km – we thought. Because of swampy terrain, bushes, many boulder passages and photo stops we progressed only slowly. Despite the interesting and beautiful route, we only met two other hikers and a shepherd! Finally, after 10 hours, we arrived at the Malyovitsa hut, where we were allowed to warm ourselves with a soup and camp legally.

Because we underestimated the trail conditions the day before and thunderstorms were predicted for the evening, we started marching shortly after sunrise on the third day. The trail was much traveled and wonderful to hike. We reached the viewpoints over the Rila lakes before the large crowds visiting this beautiful place from the valley. When we arrived at the lowest lakes, dark clouds were building up and we were glad to shorten the long descent with the 2-seat chairlift.

The transport back to Borovets was complicated, as there was no bus connection on most parts of the route. For the first section, we were able to share a cab with two hikers. For the second section, we tried to hitchhike for an hour before someone gave us a ride. For the last stretch to Borovets, we were lucky to catch one of the rare regular buses. In time with opening hours we picked up our equipment at the sports store.

After three wonderful days of hiking, we are now cycling east again. More about our experiences in Serbia and Bulgaria will be reported later.

Trekking in the Rila Mountains

  • Website with useful information: www.bulguides.com
  • Maps: OSM or paper map (RILA, EAN 9789546511263)
  • Accommodation:
    • According to our information, camping is possible at all huts (mostly free of charge).
    • There are various huts and hotels available. Food is “à la carte”, the menu is in Bulgarian. Most of the people speak no/little English.
  • Duration: About 3-5 days, usually from June to September.
  • Difficulty: T3
    • Technically the trail is not demanding, but conditionally it is.
    • The path is well marked
    • With an altitude of 2200m to 2900m it is extremely exposed to the weather. There are few emergency shelters.
    • Allow plenty of time: On the second day, we had an average speed of 2km/h