The Carpathian Mountains: The Wildest Side of Europe

The Carpathian Mountains stretch for more than 900 km inside Romania, in the shape of an arch that isolates Transylvania from the rest of the country. Their territory is covered by vast areas of pristine forests, in fact the largest track of unfragmented forests left in Central Europe, and is home to the largest brown bear population in Europe and 45% of the big carnivores’ population of the continent (brown bears, lynx, wolves).

carpathian mountains

Memorable hikes in the Carpathians

In Romania, the Carpathian Mountains are divided into three groups — the Eastern, the Southern, the Western — according to their geographic position, and are bordered by vast areas of plateaus and hills. Each group has distinct landscapes as they developed on various types of rocks: glacial, karstic, structural, and volcanic.

You can choose from hundreds of trails, according to your preferences, fitness level and hiking or climbing experience. You can also go rafting, caving, horseback riding, mountain biking or on specialized tours like photo safaris or wildlife watching.

Uncovering the Romanian Carpathians is truly a unique experience due to their diversity, wilderness and breathtaking landscapes. Moreover, exploring these mountains will give you the chance of traveling to small and remote rural communities with distinct cultures and traditional lifestyles, no longer existent in other parts of Europe.

carpathians romania

Wilder than the rest of the European mountainous chains due to the centuries-old sustainable lifestyle of the surrounding rural communities, this mountainous range faces, however, dramatic changes and menaces like massive illegal deforestation, poaching, pollution and a lack of sound environmental policies for their protection.

The Eastern Carpathians

This is the longest group of the three and you can explore it by foot, bicycle or horse riding. Either way, you’ll have a great time. 

The major protected areas are Calimani National Park, Rodnei Mountains National Park, Ceahlau National Park, Maramures Mountains Nature Park, Cheile Bicazului-Hasmas National Park, Putna Vrancea Nature Park.

Don’t miss the spectacular Bicaz Gorges where you’ll find some of the most difficult rock climbing trails in the country. For short hikes, try Ciucas MountainsRarau Mountains and Creasta Cocosului.

Carpathian moountains

Mountain roads and passes like Transrarau, Prislop, Tihuta, Mestecanis are scenic driving locations.

In the Eastern Carpathians, you’ll find glacial likes like Lala and Buhaescu in Rodnei Mountains, Romania’s only volcanic lake at Sfanta Ana, the largest natural dam lake in Romania — Cuejdel —, plus the biggest artificial lake in the country, Bicaz Lake.

The Southern Carpathians

Also called the Transylvanian Alps for their height and compact structure, this group offers challenging adventures for passionate hikers, climbers and experienced mountain bikers. 

The major protected areas and mountains are Piatra Craiului National Park, Fagaras Mountains, Retezat National Park, Buila-Vanturarita National Park, Cozia National Park, Gradistea Muncelului-Cioclovina Nature Park, Bucegi Mountains, Parang Mountains.

Don’t miss the tour of Piatra Craiului ridge, the longest and highest limestone ridge in the Carpathians, or Fagaras Mountains if you want to reach the highest altitude in the country on Moldoveanu Peak (2,544 meters).

Fagaras Mountains

Explore Retezat National Park, perhaps the most impressive wilderness in the Carpathian Mountains. Here you’ll find more than 80 glacial lakes and tarns, many peaks over 2,000 meters, rare flora and iconic wildlife species.

Take a two days tour in Cozia National Park where you’ll find some of the most breathtaking mountains landscapes. Go for one-day hikes in Bucegi and Iezer Papusa Mountains, and don’t miss the off the beaten track Sureanu Mountains.

Cycle or ride on the longest and highest (over 2,000 meters) mountain roads in the country: Transalpina (148 km), and Transfagarasan (92 km).

The Western Carpathians

The Western group has the lowest altitudes of the Romanian Carpathians, but they more than compensate through their traditional villages, numerous caves and karst formations. The best way to explore this group is by foot, bicycle or horse riding. 

The major protected areas and mountains are Apuseni Mountains Nature Park, Cheile-Nerei Beusnita National Park and Semenic-Cheile Carasului National Park.

Stop in the small and hospitable villages of the Aries Valley to enjoy and relax in the natural and slow rhythm of traditional life.

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Photo by Laurentiu Pop

Visit the largest windmill park South-East Europe, in the village of Eftimie Murgu where locals still use 22 traditional water mills to grind their grains.

If you like caves you’re in the right place because in Apuseni you’ll find more than 400 caves, gorges and karts formations like Cetatile Ponorului from the Padis plateau.

Explore the Wind Cave (47 km), the longest cave in the country, the Bear’s Cave, Meziad Cave and Scarisoara Cave where you’ll see the biggest underground glacier in Romania and the second largest in Europe.

Sustainable tourism is one of the few viable options for preserving the wilderness of the Carpathian Mountains, giving local communities alternative sources of revenue. Next time you go hiking, keep in mind that your behavior makes things better or worse. Use only local accommodations, don’t hunt or scare wild animals, don’t litter and always keep to the marked trail.

About the author

Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer, focusing on sustainable tourism practices and destinations. You can find Diana Condrea on Twitter and Google+

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