Rila National Park is the largest national park in Bulgaria spanning an area of 810.46 km2 (312.92 sq mi; 200,270 acres) in the Rila mountain range in the south-west of the country. It was established on 24 February 1992 to protect several ecosystems of national importance. Its altitude varies from 800 m (2,600 ft) near Blagoevgrad to 2,925 m (9,596 ft) at Musala Peak, the highest summit in the Balkan Peninsula. There are 120 glacial lakes, including the prominent Seven Rila Lakes. Many rivers have their source in the national park, including the river that have most water entirely in the Balkans, the Maritsa, and the longest river entirely in Bulgaria, the Iskar.
The national park occupies territory from 4 of the 28 provinces of the country: Sofia, Kyustendil, Blagoevgrad and Pazardzhik. It includes four nature reserves: Parangalitsa, Central Rila Reserve, Ibar and Skakavitsa.
Rila National Park is among the largest and most valuable protected areas in Europe. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the park as Category II. Two of the four nature reserves are included in the UN list of Representative Protected Areas, and four of the nature reserves are included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Programme.
The park falls within the Rodope montane mixed forests terrestrial ecoregion of the Palearctic temperate broadleaf and mixed forest. Forests occupy 534.81 km2 (206.49 sq mi; 132,150 acres) or 66% of the total area. There are approximately 1,400 species of vascular plants, 282 species of mosses and 130 species of freshwater algae. The fauna is represented by 48 species of mammals, 99 species of birds, 20 species of reptiles and amphibia and 5 species of fish, as well as 2,934 species of invertebrates, of which 282 are endemic.
The gateway to Rila National Park is Borovec (1350 m). This town is a famous Bulgarian ski resort. However, there are plenty of options to visit the national park from Sofia. You talk to any of the tourist agencies in the city and plan transport to and from the national park. It might be better to rent a car if you want to spend more than one day in the mountains. The most popular hike is definitely the seven Rila lakes hike. This is where most trips are going.
Getting there by plane
Fly to Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. Information about flights to Sofia can be found on any major airline website. There are plenty of routes in Europe going to Sofia from most larger cities.
Getting there by train
Take the train from Sofia to Kostenec: 74 km (1.15h - 1.55h by train). This will get you close to the national park. From here you will need to go by a local bus or a taxi.
Getting there by bus
You can catch a bus to Samokov and further on to Borovets. Here are plenty of options for accommodation and for starting your hikes in the national park.
When to visit
There is something to do in every season. The most popular months with tourists are during the summer. January, February and March are the best times to visit Bulgaria for snow shoeing and winter walking vacations in the Rila Mountains.
Map of Rila National Park
Image gallery of Rila National Park
Visitor/Information centres in Rila National Park
Most national parks have an associated visitor centre to help visitors. They are usually open most of the year but some close in the off-season. You will often be able to find information on all the activities in the national park. A visit to the visitor centre is often recommended before venturing into the park.
Hiking trails in Rila National Park
Almost all national parks have some opportunities for hiking. You can see some of the more popular trails here. You should get local information for detailed information on all trails of the national park.
Cabins & Shelters
This section lists some of the cabins and shelters for the national park. They can be great places to stay for the experience or as overnight stays on hikes.
Mountains in Rila National Park
This section will list some of the famous peaks in the national park. Be sure to do proper research before venturing on to the high peaks.