Rila Mountain has the highest peak on the Balkans – Musala– 2,925m. It takes the prestigious 6th place in Europe’s “ranking list” after Caucasus, the Alps, Sierra Nevada, the Pyrenees and Etna.
The mountain’s name is of ancient Thracian origin and means “the many-water mountain”. Rila has a typically Alpine outlook – sharp peaks and indented rocky ridges, deep trough-like lowlands, cirques and cirque lakes, vast Alpine pastures and pine woods. The Eastern and the Northwestern parts of the mountain have a particularly Alpine relief. In summertime one can often see big snow-drifts which usually stay until the next snowfall. The snow cover in the high mountain regions remains until the end of June. On Mount Moussala the temperature is above 0°C only four months in the year.
Rila Mountain was once covered in glaciers which had carved large cirques and left behind about 190 beautiful cirque lakes. They are about at an altitude of 2,100-2,800 m above sea level. Among the most famous are The Seven Rila Lakes, the Urdin Lakes, the Moussala Lakes and others. Here one can find the biggest cirque lake on the Balkans – Smradlivoto (212,000 sq m) as well as the deepest one – Okoto (The Eye) (38m). Three big Bulgarian rivers rise in Rila. These are Maritsa, Iskur and Mesta as well as Rilska Reka (Rila River) and others.
The deciduous forest zone in Rila is up to 1,000 m above sea level. It consists of beech trees, ash-trees, hornbeam trees, birch trees and others. The coniferous forest zone is between 900-1,000 and 2,000-2,100m above sea level. It consists of white pines, pitch pines, pines, spruce trees, fir trees and others. The transitional zone is between 2,000-2,300m above sea level and is covered with dwarf knee-pine which is difficult to pass through and is a common species for Rila and Pirin. Even higher up we can find the home of the small-grown mountain savin, known as juniper. Above it there are the vast mountain meadows. Here we can find the Alpine willow-tree, the Alpine rose, the violet crocus, the wood avens and others. At 2,600m above sea level is the high zone which is moss- and lichen-covered.
Among the animals typical for Rila are: roe deer, red deer, chamois, wolf, bear, fox, bearded vulture, black eagle, falcon, hawk and others and in the rivers and lakes there is mountain trout.
The beautiful black and blue lakes, the insurmountable Alpine peaks, the shining sun, the variety of plant life and waters and the crystal-clear air make Rila one of Bulgaria’s most visited mountains.
Rila is of crucial importance for Bulgaria’s economy regarding its water resources (the Belmeken-Sestrimo cascades, the highest Bulgarian dam Kalin (2,400m), the Beli Iskur Dam), its wide variety of forests, its significant possibilities for cattle-breeding, etc. Hard-to-reach and inhospitable in the near past, Rila today is considerably well-adapted for tourism. There are convenient motor roads near all starting points to the mountain. There are a number of chalets, huts, hotels and in some places even hotel complexes built to the tourists’ and winter sports fans’ convenience. There are also paths with the respective marking signs as well as cabin lifts and ski lifts. The highest sport facility in Bulgaria is built near the Belmeken Dam at an altitude of 2,100-2,200m above the sea level.