Steneto Strict Nature Reserve, Bulgaria

Steneto Reserve is a part of Central Balkan National Park and also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. In 2017, it was added to the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe World Heritage Site. Steneto includes the best preserved forests in the National Park1 and is the second largest (36 km2, after Dzhendema Reserve) virgin forest in Bulgaria2. Most of the reserve is situated in one large valley including the magnificent Steneto Gorge (photo below). The uppermost slopes are mostly outside the reserve. The elevation ranges from 760 m to 1940 m. The “middle mountain belt” is the most extensive altitudinal zone, where mean annual temperature is 4.8–7.0°C and annual precipitation 800–1300 mm with a May–June maximum3. Slopes vary from gentle to vertical.

Steneto Gorge. Mainly European silver fir (Abies alba), Norway spruce (Picea abies) and European beech (Fagus sylvatica). Also black pine (Pinus nigra, bottom)

The region is one of the richest in Europe in regard to tree species diversity4. The entire national park has more than 50 tree species in its 720 km2. Warm, dry sites of Steneto Reserve may have up to 20 tree species/hectare 1. However, most of Steneto is overwhelmingly dominated by European beech (photo below), mixed with a few other species, most abundant of these being European silver fir, Norway spruce and sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus). The conifers are more abundant in shady ravines (photo above) and near the timberline. Hop hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) is common on sunny cliffs. Beech reaches about 300 years 1.

Beech forest at 1150 m

Large herbivores, particularly roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), were very numerous until 1990 but reintroduced wolf (Canis lupus) and, unfortunately, poaching keep their numbers much lower nowadays3. Cattle graze freely on the meadows bordering the reserve and also stray into some peripheral areas of Steneto.

A few marked trails run through Steneto. Staying overnight is possible in a few huts at the borders of the reserve. Camping is possible around the huts. It is not possible to drive the road to the northern end of Steneto Gorge. For the gorge, it is best to start from the southern side of the mountain range (either a short but steep 1000 m ascent from Karnare or a ski lift ride from Sopot followed by an almost 10 km hike along a relatively level ridge), staying overnight at Dermenka Hut and entering the gorge from the south.



  2. Veen, P. et al. (2010): Virgin forests in Romania and Bulgaria: results of two national inventory projects and their implications for protection. Biodivers Conserv 19:1805–1819.
  3. Sakalian, M. (ed.) 2000: Biological Diversity of the Central Balkan National Park. USAID.
  4. Svenning, J.-C. (2010): Geography, topography, and history affect realized-to-potential tree species richness patterns in Europe. Ecography 33: 1070-1080.