Central Balkan National Park

Wilderness in Bulgaria with bears, wolves and all European vultures

The Central Balkan National Park in Bulgaria includes mountains, century-old beech forests and numerous waterfalls. It’s also home to bears, wolves, every European vulture and Eastern imperial eagles.

This vas nature reserve contains mountains, ancient beech forests and numerous waterfalls. The locals have a love-hate relationship with this wild and rugged land. The Balkans have something magical, something unfamiliar. This 600-kilometre-long mountain range offers entirely unspoilt wilderness.

‘Clear morning sun’ is what the world Balkan means originally. But it’s actually more wishful thinking on behalf of the locals than a descriptive name: it’s remarkably often shrouded in mist. But this does add to the mystic character of the forest and the rock formations.

The climate is also part of the wilderness, which showcases all the gems of eastern Europe. The part splits Bulgaria right down the middle, from the west to the east. There are villages that seem to have stepped right out of the middle ages. This is Europe’s wild and inhospitable side.

One of the biggest national parks in Europe

The park is 71.669 hectares in size, so around 700 square kilometres of landscape full of mountains, beech forests, waterfalls and steep, rocky cliffs. But there are also many mountain meadows, that are full of flowers and herbs in springtime. The park itself is reasonably young, it wasn’t declared a national park until 1991. But several parts of the area were given protected statuses before then.

The locals have had a love-hate relationship with this area for centuries. The climate and wild animals deemed the region inhospitable. But these factors do offer a perfect place to farm roses, which drew even the earliest French perfume lovers.

These days, the park with its rugged landscape is most popular with nature lovers. There are special trees such as the Pinus peuce and juniper. The myrtifolium rhododendron is the most striking bush here, though the low-growing savin juniper comes pretty close. The great yellow gentian, stemless gentian and edelweiss here are all protected plants. Scientists have found more than 166 medicinal plants in the park.

Wildlife of Central Balkan National Park

A brown bear in Central Balkan National Park. ©Moche Fedor

This part of Bulgaria is home to more than 2.387 kinds of animals, 224 of which are large animals. Seven of those are fish, ten amphibians and fifteen reptiles. From the thirty kinds of bat that live in Europe, eighteen kinds can be found in this park.

It also has a rich variety of birds: around 123 kinds. Bird watchers come specifically for the birds of prey. With this many animals in the park, it’s always possible to meet some of Europe’s many kinds of fauna.

Hiking along the White River

The eco-trail along Byala Reka (meaning White River) is an educational walk of about two hours through a river gorge. Various panels explain the flora and fauna of the area.

It is a good spotfor a picnic, but those who really want to experience the white river should take a refreshing dip in the water. The walk is near the town of Kalofer.

Climbing Botev mountain

The Botev is the highest peak in the park at 2,376 meters. You can climb it via green meadows, steep gorges and various waterfalls. It is a tough climb, but gives an impressive view over the park.

There is a lot of snow in autumn, winter and spring, so the best time is between the beginning of June and the end of August. It's a good way to see the area's different ecosystems, especially if you start in an ancient beech forest.

Hiking to Paradise: Hidja Rai

Hidja Rai means "Paradise" and many hikers find this tour the most beautiful in the park. The tour itself takes about four hours and is well signposted. The path passes, among other things, the famous Botev, which appears several times.

The Paradise Waterfall in Central Balkan National Park. ©Deian Vladov

The walk ends at the Raisko Praskalo (or Paradise Waterfall). At almost 125 meters, this is the highest waterfall in Bulgaria. And you can get very close to the water. Get out early and take into account a possible rain shower.

Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

In the city of Stara Zagora, sick, injured or abandoned animals are cared for and cared for, including the now infamous dancing bears. In the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre you can see how this happens and especially hear the stories behind the animals. You can also work as a volunteer for a few weeks.

Spend the night in a mountain hut

The setting sun, the view and the tranquility act as a calming agent. An overnight stay in a mountain hut is an experience. There are various options, including cabins for only two people. Ask in villages such as Kalofer about the possibilities to stay overnight.

Listen to the Singing Rocks

It is a special event. A rock formation rises above the beech forests that sings when the wind blows. The Bulgarians call it Peeshti Skali or Singing Rocks. And if it's a windy day it's well worth the climb. This part of the park was protected as early as 1979 and is remarkably wild with many animals.

Feast of the Rose

In most cities around this area, The Party of the Rose is held every year on the first Saturday of June. Roses have been cultivated for the perfume industry in this area for decades.

The feast of Karlovo is most famous in which traditional costume, song and dance are everywhere. And all this in a predominant scent of roses.

Horse riding in Central Balkan

Horse riding is still the traditional way to move from A to B here. You can ride around on horseback for a few hours to several days, all with a guide who points out special places, flowers and animals. One of the starting points is the town of Kalofer.

Best time for Central Balkan National Park

Peak season is in July and August, but June is great because of its many flowers and September shows the onset of autumn. And outside of peak season the park is pretty much deserted.