Rila National Park - the largest national park in Bulgaria, is located about 100 km. south of Sofia, in the central and highest regions of the Rila Mountains. The Park was established on February 24, 1992 to conserve the natural heritage of the Rila Mountains as well as the local traditions, culture, and livelihoods linked with the area. Some of the largest rivers in the Balkan Peninsula originate here. The name Rila is derived from the Thracian word, meaning "lots of water".
Rila National Park is one of the largest and most valuable protected areas in Europe—listed as Category 2 by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The Park and all four of its nature reserves are on the UN List of Representative Protected Areas, part of the World Biospheric Reserves Network under the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Program. Central Rila is the largest nature reserve in Bulgaria, Parangalitsa, designated in 1933, is one of the oldest Bulgarian nature reserves.
Most of Park is covered in thick forests—primarily spruce, white fir and pine. The higher plant species identified thus far, within the park, constitute 38.35% of the higher flora of Bulgaria, 98 are listed in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria. Of the 141 species of medicinal plants, 20 are listed in the Red Data Book, while 8 are protected under the Environmental Protection Act. In addition, Rila National Park is home to 282 species of moss, 233 species of mushrooms and 130 species of freshwater algae.
This part of Rila Mountain is home to 2,934 invertebrate and 172 vertebrate species of the Bulgarian fauna. There are 99 species of nesting birds, of which all but 5 are protected. 121 species are listed in the Red Data Book of Bulgaria, 24 are on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List, 158 are on lists under the Bern Convention.
Rila National Park territory occupies 30% of the entire mountain and includes the highest peak in the Balkan Peninsula: Mussala (2,925 m.). The Park contains large meadows, over 100 peaks rising above 2,000 m, as well as a variety of rock faces, precipices, caves, deep canyons, and waterfalls. Its territory is dotted with about 120 lakes—70 date back from the Ice Age.
Rila National Park offers excellent tourist opportunities. The chalets and network of well-maintained tourist trails within the Park provide convenient accommodation and make hiking in the area easy and attractive. Two major European tourist routes, E4 and E8, cross Rila National Park territory. The Park administration encourages pedestrian tours or hiking trails to limit and mitigate the human impact on the terrain. Specialized routes have been developed and designated within Rila National Park for wildlife enthusiasts, extreme sports athletes, equestrians, and mountain biking enthusiasts.
Along with its diverse natural heritage, Rila National Park is also rich in cultural and historical landmarks, affording excellent opportunities for showcasing local culture and traditions. The hot mineral springs around the Park are an additional tourist draw and provide opportunities for spa resorts and treatment.
The Park contains 178 tourist chalets with a total of 1,500 beds. There are eight principal entry points into the Park. Large events within the Park can only be organized in strict compliance with established ground rules and conditions, and only with the express permission of the Park Directorate. Disposal of solid waste is forbidden throughout the entire Park territory.
The Park Directorate and Bulgarian Tourism Union maintains facility safety, and periodically renews the markings and signs along the tourist routes. Visitor safety is a priority of the Park Directorate. When necessary, the Directorate works with the Mountain Rescue Service.
Pirin National Park encompasses the larger part of the Pirin Mountains. The park was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983, it has an area of about 400 km2 and lies at an altitude from 1,008–2,914 m. Two nature reserves are located within the boundaries of the park, Bayuvi Dupki-Dzhindzhiritsa (one of the oldest in the country) and Yulen. Vihren - the highest summit of Pirin, is located within the park. The Park was created on 8 November 1962.
The huge relief diversity of the park is the reason for the variety of plant species, making it one of the most botanically interesting areas in Bulgaria. About 1300 species of higher plant species can be observed within the park, which constitute more than 30% of all higher plants on the territory of Bulgaria. Besides this, about 300 moss species and a large amount of algae have been determined. Three plant belts are differentiated within the Pirin National Park - a forest, a subalpine and alpine. The park is a home to many endemic and a large quantity of preserved species, such as the Edelweiss, a symbol of Pirin. The total number of preserved species is about 60, whereas 126 are listed in the Bulgarian Red Book of Endangered Species.
About 2090 species and subspecies are to be seen in the park, among them 300 rare species, 214 endemic and 175 relicts, as well as 15 that were included in international endangered species lists. The number of bird species that can be seen in the park is particularly large — about 160. There are 45 terrestrial mammals (including 12 bat species) that inhabit the Pirin National Park. Among them are the Wild Goat, a Balkan endemyte, and the Brown Bear.
There is no other mountain in Bulgaria, which influences in such a powerful and bold way the human eye. The marble giant peaks, the circus abysses and the emerald eyes of the lakes, the stars of the edelweiss, the whisper of the white firs and the song of the rivers make the memory of the Prinin Mountain unforgettable. The Thracians named the mountain Orbelius (The Snow Mountain). Later on, the Slavs named it after their god of storms and thunders – Perun. The main ridge of the mountain goes from northwest to southeast and is about 35 km long. In the north the “Predela” connects the mountain chain with Rila Mountain.
Typical for Pirin Mountain are the Alpine type glacier forms. In the northern part of the mountain, where the basic stone is marble, in the circuses’ beds are formed numerous abysses, caves and pot-holes. In the park there are 50 marble and granite peaks which are 2500 meters above the sea level. Vihren – taking the third place among the highest peaks on the Balkan Peninsula with its 2915 meters, towers above them. From the cliff ridges to the valleys the mountain is furrowed by 35 small and big circuses.
At the foot of the peaks there are more than 180 lakes. Along the karst ridges the vegetation is scarce but there can be seen the wild goat and the rare edelweiss. The lower belt of the mountain comprises of evergreen forests of spruce, silver fir, Scots and pine. They give shelter to deer, stags, wild boars, bears, wolves, Capercaillie and other forest animals. There are numerous nature and historic landmarks in the park, numerous waterfalls and caves.