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Rhodope Mountains: Your Go-To Guide for the Ultimate Dog-Friendly Adventure 

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Last Updated on 28/03/2024 by Claire Coney

Dog-Friendly Road trip in the Rhodope Mountians Bulgaria.
Our dog-friendly road trip in the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria.

The dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria are a great place to explore. These mountains are the largest range in Bulgaria, covering about 15% of the country’s territory. They offer breathtaking views, ancient sites, and a variety of activities for you and your dogs to enjoy. My husband and I took our dogs Abigail and Charlie to the Rhodope Mountains in the autumn of 2023. We had a pawsome adventure in the majestic mountains, exploring traditional villages and roaming new hiking routes. Here are some of the highlights of our dog-friendly trip in the Rhodope Mountains. 

Smilyan  

Dog walk along the River Arda in Bulgaria
Charlie having fun playing in the River Arda.

Our first stop was Smilyan, a charming village famous for its beans and dairy products. It was a wonderful experience to stay in a Dog-friendly house. Charlie and Abigail had a blast exploring their surroundings. The food was delicious, especially the hearty bean soup and the savoury potato pie. I also loved walking by the Arda River, where Charlie would jump into the water and swim. Abigail preferred to stay dry and watch from the shore. She’s not a fan of wet paws. The River Arda is approximately 290 km long and flows through Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. The green valley and the mountain range were a feast for my eyes. I felt a deep connection with nature as I observed the wildlife in their natural habitat. It was a wonderful experience that filled me with joy and gratitude. 

Rhodope Mountain village of Smilyan in Bulgaria
Views of Smilyan

Smilyan is a village with a rich history and culture. It is one of the oldest settlements in the Rhodope region. You will see traditional Bulgarian houses made of wood and stone. Smilyan is located 15 km from Smolyan and 20 km from the Greek border, at an altitude of 800-850 metres. The river Arda runs through the village, adding to its charm. One of the landmarks of Smilyan is the clock tower, which was built in the Ottoman period as a lookout tower. From its height of 10 metres, you can enjoy a panoramic view of the valley and the dog-friendly Rhodope mountains. 

What is Smilyan Famous For?

Tradional Bulgarian stone house
Smilyan’s stone houses

Smilyan is also famous for its beans, which are celebrated every year in November with a festival. The festival begins with a loud drumming of the tools used to grow the beans. Various activities and competitions follow. You can taste different dishes made with beans and learn about their health benefits. Smilyan is also known for its embroidered slippers. These were once a symbol of the bride’s dowry and a part of the local folk costume. These slippers are colourful and comfortable, and you can buy them as souvenirs or gifts. 

Our van on the peaks of the Rhodope Mountains near Smilyan Bulgaria.
Our van on the peaks of the Rhodope Mountains near Smilyan Bulgaria.

If you visit Smilyan, you can also explore some of its attractions. There’s the Bean Museum, where you can learn more about the history and cultivation of beans; the Milk House, where you can try some delicious dairy products; and the Church of St. Panteleimon, which is a beautiful example of Bulgarian Orthodox architecture. Green hills and forests surround Smilyan. It’s an ideal place to walk or hike with your dog. Smilyan is a popular tourist destination that offers you a peaceful and comfortable vacation in the mountains, where you can experience the hospitality and longevity of its residents. 

Mogilitsa and Agushevi Konaktsi Fortress 

Mogilitsa a Tradation Bulgarian Mountain Village.
Charlie posing in front of the wooden spoon in Mogilitsa

Our next destination was Mogilitsa. It was a 15-minute drive from Smilyan, climbing to 920–950 metres. The village is known for its Rhodope architectural heritage and natural beauty. The old stone houses are perched on a hillside overlooking the river Arda. Austin and I took our dogs for a stroll around the village. We climbed up the steep, narrow street to an observation platform. The views back over Mogilitsa were magnificent. The village of Mogilitsa dates back to 1000 BC. During the Byzantine era, it was a tourist resort where nobles came for hunting and relaxation. It was a safe haven protected by three fortresses. 

Agushevi Konaktsi feudal fortress in Mogilitsa the Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
Agushevi Konaktsi – Guest room

After that, Austin and I visited Agushevi Konaktsi with our dogs. Abigail and Charlie were waiting in the enclosed courtyard while we went inside. Agushevi Konaktsi is the largest residential feudal complex from the Bulgarian National Revival period. It was built in the 19th century by a wealthy Turkish merchant and his three sons. It consists of several buildings, courtyards, and gardens. Agushevi Konaktsi was declared a national cultural monument in December 1964. Nowadays, it is privately owned. I admired the intricate woodcarvings, traditional costumes, frescoes, and furniture that decorated the rooms. After collecting our dogs, Austin and I strolled around the gardens and took photos of the tower. 

Smolyan  

Smolyan, Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria with my dogs
A stroll along Smolyan’s main street with my dogs

Smolyan is a town in the Rhodope Mountains with a rich cultural heritage. It is located 104 km south of Plovdiv and 98 km west of Kardzhali, along the Cherna River Valley. I had fun walking on the main street and checking out the bookstore and the pet shop. Austin and I also found a lovely café in the park where we relaxed and enjoyed coffee under the trees. I admired the architecture of the orthodox church and the mosque in the town. But the most memorable thing for me was a huge tree that was said to be 1000 years old. It was amazing to see such a majestic tree. 

Smolyan 1000 year old trees in the Rhodope Mountains and dog underneath it.
Abigail is under Smolyan’s oldest tree.

There are many attractions you can explore in Smolyan. For example, you can visit the Planetarium, which offers shows about astronomy and space exploration. You can also admire the artworks at the Art Gallery, learn about the local culture and history at the museum, and marvel at the architecture of the Cathedral of St. Vissarion. Nature lovers can also head to the Smolyan Lakes, a cluster of 20 glacial lakes. They offer stunning views of the town and the mountains. You can walk your dog along the lakeside trails or rent a boat to enjoy the water.  

Rudozem  

Rudozem the Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria The main square.
Rudozem – central square

The town of Rudozem is in the Rhodope Mountains of southern Bulgaria, close to the border with Greece. It is situated in a valley where two tributaries of the Arda River, the Elhovo and the Chepino, converge. Mountains and forests that provide timber and other resources encircle the town. The name Rudozem means “land of ore” and reflects the rich mineral deposits in the region. I saw a gravel mine on the banks of the Arda and a cable system that transported mining carts between the hills. 

The town is also home to one of the biggest animal shelters in Bulgaria, run by an English couple who moved to Bulgaria and began saving stray dogs. The shelter cares for more than 1,500 dogs and cats, many of which are looking for new homes. You can visit the shelter and interact with the animals to assist with their daily care. 

Madan  

Dog-Friendly Madan in the Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria - me with my dogs.
A stroll around Madan. I love the dancing fountain

Madan is a town located in the next valley from Rudozem, about 15 km away. It lies 30 km from Smolyan and has an altitude of 700 metres. The town is surrounded by gentle slopes covered with forests. Madan derives its name from the Arabic word for mine. It reflects its fame for its mining industry and mineral resources. 

Madan Mineral Museum is a place where you can see a variety of local minerals, crystals, and fossils. The museum also showcases the rich mining heritage of the region, which goes back to ancient times. You can explore the Mining Museum. It exhibits different kinds of tools, machines, minerals, and artefacts related to mining. Moreover, you can visit some of the old mines and tunnels that are accessible to the public. Madan is also famous for its mineral springs, which are believed to have curative effects. 

Madan's river in the Rhodope Mountians Bulgaria
Madan – River and mosque

Charlie and Abigail were so excited when Austin and I took them to the pet shop. They got a new collar and some yummy treats. I also enjoyed the pretty town square, where a charming fountain was spraying water. Austin and I found a cosy café nearby, where we could relax with a cup of coffee and the dogs could get some cuddles from the friendly staff. 

Zlatograd  

Dog-friendly walk in Zlatograd old town - Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
Austin and Charle on our walk around Zlatograd’s old town.

Before heading off to Greece, we stopped at Zlatograd, a town known for its ethnographic complex and crafts. Austin and I strolled around the town with our dogs, Abigail and Charlie. We walked along the streets near the river and then headed to the park. The park was not dog-friendly, so we headed towards the old town. There, we wandered along the cobbled streets and looked at the traditional old houses. 

Dog in Zaltograd Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
Abigail in Zaltograd.

Zlatograd is a town that preserves its authentic Rhodope character and charm. You can walk along the cobblestone streets. Admire the old houses, shops, workshops, and museums that showcase the traditional crafts and arts of the region. You can also visit the Ethnographic Area Complex. It recreates the atmosphere of a typical Rhodope village from the 19th century. 

The Top 4 Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails in the Rhodope Mountains  

Views of the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria.
Views of the Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria.

The Dog-Friendly Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria are a paradise for nature lovers and dog owners. You and your pup can enjoy many scenic hikes that are dog-friendly and relaxing. Some of the best hikes that I suggest for you and your four-legged companion are: 

1: Dog-Friendly Rhodope Mountains Hiking Trail: Gorna and River Arda 

Dog-friendly Rhodope Montains Hiking trail
Our dog-friendly hike near the Greek border.

From Smilyan, Austin and I took Highway 8683 for a 35-minute drive. We arrived at the village of Gorna where the dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains hiking trail starts. It is a well-signposted, easy-to-follow route that lasts about an hour. We were joined by some locals and their furry friends, who made the walk even more enjoyable. Abigal and Charlie had a blast with their new buddies too. You can find the route directions below: 

Dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains Restuarent Bulgaria
I loved this dog-friendly restaurant hidden in the forest.
  • Park by the playground and follow the small road opposite, heading up the gentle hill. 
  • You will pass a reservoir on the left that is privately owned and used for trout fishing. The view of the village and surrounding mountains is breathtaking. 
  • Keep right behind the reservoir. 
  • The track heads past a farm, some houses, and out of the village. 
  • Go into a wooded copse and across the river Arda before emerging into mountain meadows. 
  • When you reach a small building, you will see the Greek border ahead. 
  • Turn right and follow the woodland track down wooden stairs beside a mountain brook. 
  • Shortly, you will find a quirky restaurant. This makes an ideal stop for a traditional Bulgarian lunch. Austin and I loved this quaint place and it was dog-friendly too. Alternatively, take a backpack with water and lunch and have a picnic in the mountain meadows. 
  • Continue on the track down the hill to return to Gorna, or retrace your steps as we did. 
Views Gorna from the Dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains hiking trail
Views Gorna from the Dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains hiking trail

2: Koshnitsa Fortress and Cave Trail 

Dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains hike Bulgaria
Koshnitsa Fortress

Another place Austin and I visited was Koshnitsa Fortress. It was a 10-minute drive on Highway 8683 from Smilyan. We explored the ruins of an ancient fortress and a cave with Abigail and Charlie. The citadel stands on a marbled peak of 1006 metres. It dates to the 4th century BC and was used by the Thracians, Romans, and Byzantines.

Nowadays, little remains of the fortress, but the view from the observation platform is worth the 35-minute climb. The cave is located under the fortress and has a length of about 300 meters.

Dog-Friendly Hiking in the Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
Abigail on the Koshnitsa Fortress trial.

Austin and I walked through the cave with our dogs, using flashlights to see the stalactites and stalagmites. The cave was cool and humid, which was a nice contrast to the warm weather outside. Park by the roadside hut, where you will pay 4 LV per person to access the walk. The directions for this dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains trail are below. 

Dog-friendhike in the Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
The observation platform at Koshnitsa Fortress. Charlie is on top of the world!
  • Follow the gravel track downhill to the river Arda and cross the wooden bridge. 
  • Turn right at the yellow signpost and continue through grassy fields. 
  • Enter the woods and follow the steep steps up to the cave. There are several rest places on the way up. 
  • After visiting the cave, return to the track for the observation platform. 
  • Retrace your steps to return to your car. 

3: Soskovcheto Nature Reserve and Waterfall Canyon Trail 

Dog by a river in the Rhodope Mountains Bugularia
Charlie by the river on the Waterfall Canyon

One of my favourite hikes was the Waterfall Canyon Trail, which starts west of Smolyan. The loop takes approximately two hours, depending on your pace. The highest peak on the trail is 1800 meters and has a vertical drop of 700 metres. The trail follows the river Elenska and waterfalls. There are rest spots along the way for a picnic, so take a backpack and water. I also suggest that you wear good walking boots as the trail is rough in places.

Our Hike

Austin and I hiked along part of this trail with our dogs, Abigail and Charlie. The route took us along the river and into the nature reserve. We kept Abigail and Charlie on their leads due to the presence of wildlife. The sunshine was warm, and the skies were vivid blue. At first, the walk was along a narrow road. The tarmac had long since been washed away by torrents of rain and was full of deep holes and rocks.

Dog-Friendly Waterfall Canyon in the Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
Me and Abigail climb the steep trail of the waterfall canyon hike.

Ascending into the nature reserve, the road followed the river, and I saw a deer on the mountainside above us. After the old gravel mine, the trail was rough. The stony track weaved up the mountainside and arrived at the waterfall centre. Austin and I paused for a break and to give our dogs some water. Beyond the centre, the trail follows a steep footpath. It follows the river edge and there are slippery boulders.  

Austin stopped to admire a waterfall, while I caught up. Charlie was playing in the shallow water above the cascade. Abigail sat on a rock and watched Charlie splashing in the water. The vertical-sided canyon walls had closed in on the river. My eyes traced the impressive, craggy walls to the sky. Suddenly, I noticed that dark clouds covered the sky. The weather forecast had predicted rain in the late afternoon. But it was mid-morning and the angry clouds swirled around the peaks. Dogs and humans were in a narrow river canyon. I stood for several moments, watching the cloud billow and grow. I knew they were full of pending rain. There was only one sensible decision to be made: abandon the walk and retrace our steps down the now foreboding mountain.

Dogs on a River Hike in the Rhodope Mountians Bulgurias
Abigail watches Charlie play in the river. No wet paws here!

By the time we reached our van, the wind had grown strong. The trees were bending in the wind, and their leaves rustled audibly. There were lightning flashes over the peaks, and rumbles of thunder followed. As I climbed into the cab with my dogs, droplets of rain hit the windscreen. As we headed back into Smolyan, the heavens opened with vengeance. But we were all safe, dry, and warm in our van. Have you ever been glad you made the right choice? 

The Best Waterfalls on the Hike

Waterfall Canyon hike with my dog in the Bulgarian mountains
Austin and Charlie on the stony track of the Waterfall Canyon hike

If you choose to hike the waterfall canyon, there are some impressive waterfalls along the way. You can see Orpheus Waterfall, which is 68 meters high; Snejanka Waterfall, which is 39 metres high; and Devil’s Throat Waterfall, which is 42 metres high. 

4: Eco Trail Neviastata 

Dog-Friendly Eco Trail Neviastata in the Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
Let’s go walk the Eco Trail Neviastata

I had a wonderful hike on the Eco Trail Neviastata, which begins at the St. Panteleimon monastery. The monastery is on the road that connects Smolyan and Pamporovo. The trail is about 1km long and follows a narrow footpath to a stunning rock formation that is popular for climbing. From there, I enjoyed the stunning views of Smolyan and the valley below. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the rock. Auston and I decided to return the same way and have a snack at the cabin near the trailhead. There is also an option to continue on the trail for another 1km to a fortress. We also visited the beautiful monastery and admired its well-maintained courtyard and churches. 

Views from the Eco Trail Neviastata in the Rhodope Mountains.
Views from the Eco Trail Neviastata in the Rhodope Mountains. Smolyan is in the valley below.

These are just some things you can do with your dog in the Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria. There are many more places to see and explore in this beautiful region, where you and your dog can enjoy nature, culture, and adventure. 

Dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains Bulgaria
The Dog-friendly Rhodope Mountains. We loved It! See you next time.

I had a wonderful time in the Rhodope Mountains exploring and hiking with my dogs. I saw some of the most beautiful places in Bulgaria. Learned about its history and culture and had some fun adventures. Austin and I also met some friendly people and animals along the way. If you are looking for a dog-friendly destination that offers something for everyone, I highly recommend visiting the Rhodope Mountains. 

Further Reading About Dog-Friendly Bulgaria 

Explore Dog-Friendly Bulgaria and Balkan Mountains: Unleash the Adventure  

The Best Dog-Friendly Black Sea Coast Attractions in Bulgaria  

Travelling with Your Dog in Bulgaria: The Ultimate Guide 


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