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Bansko is a small town in the south west of Bulgaria known as a popular ski destination in winter, but in summer its hiking is some of the best in the country.
Being so close to Pirin National Park and still having the infrastructure for ski season such as the gondolas and chairlifts, it makes hiking relatively easy and one of the best things to do in Bansko for the times you can’t ski.
One of the easiest day hikes from a Bansko is to visit some of the glacial formed lakes in the mountains. This hike is about 4 hours return but can be done quicker or you can take your time and visit more of the lakes listed. It is suitable for novice hikers in just some trainers and makes a great day trip from Bansko in summer.
After trying to research some of the hikes in Bansko, I realised there wasn’t that much information online. Although there is a tourist information centre in the town of Bansko, there was no written information in English but I did get some information from one of the ladies there whilst she pointed to one of the maps (that was only in Bulgarian).
Almost all hikes in Bansko start or go through Vihren hut. There are a few different ways of getting to this hut which I’ll run through below.
Getting to Vihren Hut from Bansko
1. Taking the bus
There is a bus that runs from the town to the hut three times per day times per day. For up to date information, contact the tourist information office. It collects people from a variety of stops in the town. At time of writing, it departs the train station around 8.30am, 1.20pm and 5pm, stops at various hotels over the next 10-15 minutes and arrived at Vihren hut 45 minutes later. The bus costs 10Lv (about £4/ $5USD)
To return to the town, the bus departs Vihren hut at 9.30am, 2.20pm and 6pm.
2. Taking the Gondola
The gondola runs from 8am until 4pm and takes about 30 minutes from the town to the gondola station in the mountains. A return ticket costs 30Lv. This will only take you part of the way.
From the gondola, walk past the biathlon shooting range and over the small bridge. Just after the bridge take a left into the trees and follow the path. You’ll first reach Banderitsa Chalet where you can refill water bottles, use the toilet and get a coffee or snack.
Past this small chalet is two options. Following the road the entire way to Vihren hut and you can pass by Baikushev’s pine (The oldest tree in Bulgaria, worth a short detour but don’t be blown away by it) or you can walk down the road to the campsite and follow the path along the river before it joins up with the road a few hundred metres from the hut.
3. Walking from the town
This is the longest and toughest way of getting Vihren Hut is by walking all the way. In summer, the slopes that are normally full of snow and skiers become empty and covered with lush green grass. From the gondola you can walk up the ski slope on the grass to the top gondola station, continuing your route as mentioned above. Walking from Bansko to Vihren Hut will take around 3 hours and is 11km, quite a walk by itself. I’d only recommend doing this walk if you leave early and are already fit enough for what could be 8-10 hours of hiking.
If you have your own car you can drive to Vihren Hut. Get there early as parking can be an issue with many cars parked down the narrow mountain road. Another option would be to take a taxi. Driving from Bansko to Vihren Hut takes 30 minutes.
Starting the hike to the lakes
There are actually a variety of lakes that you can hike to from Vihren Hut.
Ribno Banderishko (Fish Lake) is the first lake you will come to. From Vihren Hut, there is a steep and rocky section that may require some scrambling for the first 20-30 minutes before it levels out. The glacial formed lake can be enjoyed from a few grassy areas around, or if the water level is low enough, cross the river and sit on the other side of the lake where it is often a bit quieter.
Many maps show a path leading from Fish Lake to Frog Lake and Long Lake, however if you followed this you will be scrambling over loose shale and rock over a pass a hundred metres or so above you. I wouldn’t recommend.
You will have to backtrack slightly to rejoin your original path and follow it uphill towards Frog Lake.
Frog Lake is another beautiful small lake to sit around to enjoy the peaceful mountains that tower over you. When I was there is was obviously a popular choice as I saw a few couples and a walking group all around the lake.
Don’t worry, the lake is big enough for everybody to enjoy without feeling like it is too busy.
If these two lakes aren’t enough for you, you can continue onto Long Banderitsa Lake and see the small bodies of water nearby. In my opinion, there isn’t much to see at this lake and the previous ones have nicer areas to sit and relax. However, I would still walk to additional 5-10 minutes from Frog Lake just to tick them all off.
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Heading back to Bansko
Walking back from any of the lakes back to Bansko has a lot more downhill sections that means it shouldn’t take as long as the hike up. According to Strava, from Frog Lake back to the gondola is 7.2km and should take between 90 minutes to 2 hours. The gondola is another 30 minutes back into Bansko if you choose to do this route.
Things to remember
- Although it is a relatively easy hike, normal precautions should be taken.
- Check the weather before you leave. I wouldn’t recommend beginners on this hike if the weather is bad (and you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the views if its cloudy and raining!)
- Take plenty of food and water with you. Some can be bought at the huts you pass, but after Vihren then is nothing until the lakes. Take a picnic to enjoy by the lakes if you have a big enough bag.
- Suncream, sun hat, rain jacket, warm clothes. Just so you’re prepared.
- Let people know where you are going and when you expect to be back. Even if this is just the reception of your accommodation. Accidents can happen.
- There are some amazing photography spots up there so it is well worth taking your camera.
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I would like to consider myself a relatively good hiker and it took me around 2 hours to get to the lakes. I spent 20 minutes having lunch at Fish Lake, hiked up to Frog Lake and spent another 20-30 minutes relaxing there.
Because I’m a bit competitive, I decided to run/ fast hike on the way back to the gondola (also being conscious that the gondola stops running at 4pm) and made it back in just over an hour.
Fortunately I had pretty good weather. It was warm but not too hot. Being in the mountains makes it noticeably cooler than being in the town itself. There were also some clouds to provide shade for some of the hike which was welcome.
If you’re heading to Bansko in summer, I highly recommend taking some time to do some of the hikes in the town. Walking to the lakes from Bansko is certainly easy enough to do, while still providing a physical challenge that will make you feel like you’ve earned that beer when you get back to town!
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.