Photograph by Raskoll Pavel Pronin
Name: Pirin National Park
Date Established: 1962 (as Vihren National Park)
Size: 105 square miles (272 square kilometers)
Did You Know?
• Old Forests Pirin is a realm of steep-flanked peaks and ridges soaring to 9,564 feet (2,915 meters), alpine meadows, dozens of glacial lakes, waterfalls, and evergreen stands. Forests cover more than half the park and include the endemic Macedonian pine. Most of these trees are about 140 years old but some individuals have survived for more than 500 years. One famous tree, the Baykuchevata Macedonian pine, is approximately 1,350 years old.
• Ice Age Reminders After thousands of years, the work of glaciers remains evident in Pirin National Park. More than 70 glacial lakes exist, echoes of the last ice age. The carving power of ice is also visible in the deep valleys and cirques that were scoured out of mountainous limestone and granite.
• Rare Species This Balkan mountain range, near the shores of the Aegean, is an unusual ecological refuge for hundreds of rare species and nearly three dozen endemic species—including flora held over from the Balkan Pleistocene that subsequently found refuge on the mountains.
• Animal Life In this relatively isolated locale large animals still roam, including brown bears, jackals, gray wolves, wild boars, deer, and chamois. The 159 recorded bird species here, including eagles, hawks, owls, grouse, and woodpeckers, are a third of all those known in Bulgaria.
• Development Threats Ongoing and often illegal development threatens to compromise the park’s protected nature and has drawn considerable protest both within Bulgaria and beyond its borders.
How to Get There
Drivers can reach the park from the Mesta Valley in the north and the Struma Valley in the south. Bansko, about three hours by car or bus from Sofia, is home to the park's information center. However, the most interesting way to arrive in Pirin National Park is by rail. When weather permits, trains run from Septemvri to Bansko along a scenic, narrow-gauge mountain track.
When to Visit
Snow covers the mountains for half the year or more, but winter finds the town of Bansko bustling with skiers. Most of the park experiences cool and short summers, particularly in the north and at elevation, though the more southern foothills enjoy sub-Mediterranean climate.
How to Visit
Pirin is an outdoor park and its mountains beg to be explored. Hiking, biking, and climbing are popular activities; you can also get a look deep inside Pirin on a caving trip. Anglers enjoy fine fishing in park waters. Huts and chalets are available inside the park for overnight stays.
National Geographic Feature
The race is on to uncover the golden splendors of its Thracian past before sites are looted and developers move in.
2014 Traveler Photo Contest
See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.