Calimani National Park: Hiking Across Volcanic Wilderness

Diana Condrea
Diana Condrea
Diana is a tourism consultant, tour guide, travel writer and amateur photographer. You can find Diana on LinkedIn

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Ever wondered how it would be to walk on the traces of a volcano? Well, a hike in Calimani National Park from the Eastern Carpathians will give you a stunning answer. The perfect place if you enjoy adventure, hiking and solitary wilderness, the vast area of Calimani Mountains has long trails, dense forests with sunny clearings and wild horses grazing carefree, panoramic views and a tremendous volcanic landscape.

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Hiking in Calimani National Park

Volcanic origin and forests all around

The volcanic origin of present Calimani National Park left singular and amazing traces in this area, including the largest inactive caldera in Europe, about 10 km large and 800 meters deep, and the weirdly shaped rocks from the ‘12 Apostles’. Calimani are also among the youngest mountains in Romania, covering an area of around 2,000 square kilometers between Transylvania and Moldavia, with a maximum altitude of 2,103 meters on Pietrosul Calimani.

Calimani National Park

Wild horses, Calimani National Park

Beech, spruce and coniferous forests cover the largest part of the mountains, up to the alpine meadows where shepherds set camp in summer months. Dense juniper bushes are a common sight at high altitudes. The large carnivores roam the forests of the park, but deer, martens, foxes, and birds like the capercaillie and the grouse are also present.

The most important natural attractions of the park include the geological formations ’12 Apostles’, the nature reserve ‘Iezerul Calimanului’, the waterfalls Tihu and Bauca and the ridge trail across Pietrosul Calimani from where you’ll have great views over the caldera.

Hiking trails

The horseback riding trips organized by the guides of the national park are a great option to explore Calimani Mountains, but if hiking is still your favorite way, you’ll have one of the best experiences in the Carpathians. More isolated and less visited, these mountains have few, but long and challenging trails that require an excellent condition, hiking experience and plenty of endurance. Be sure to have a map and plenty of water as streams are a rare presence at higher altitudes.

Calimani National Park

Forests all around, Calimani National Park

One of the shortest itineraries is to the geological formation the ‘12 Apostles’, around 3 hours, starting from the village Neagra Sarului and following the red dot sign. The trail continues up to altitudes above 2,000 meters before returning to the village, a long and strenuous 20 hours hike.

You can find here the map of all hiking trails from Calimani National Park.

Calimani National Park

Plateau, Calimani National Park

Unfortunately, its wilderness hikes aren’t the only feature that makes Calimani a mountain like no other in the Carpathian range. This is also the place where one of the most complex and disastrous ecological experiments of the communist regime happened, the sulfur mine exploitation from Calimani Mountains.

Ecological disaster

Nature protection was surely never present on the top communist agenda that focused on achieving maximum economic development at any social or environmental costs. The expansion of the industry, based on real or imaginary facts, was the engine envisaged to lead communist Romania to unprecedented economic power and therefore international importance.

The industrialization irreversibly damaged natural areas like the Calimani Mountains that were believed to have huge sulfur deposits, badly needed to boost the industry.

Calimani National Park

View of the disaster left behind

A cement road was built into the mountain and a small town with apartments, offices, cinema and a huge cafeteria appeared in the lush green forest to host the thousands of workers that took part in the mining activities. The exploitation officially opened in 1969 and although it didn’t produce, not even by far, enough to cover its costs, it continued to function until 1997 when it was shut down for good.

It left behind immense dumps of waste rocks, the workers’ ‘ghost town’, a high level of pollution and a permanent scar on the mountain peak it decapitated, Neagoiu Romanesc.

Calimani National Park

Cleaning up the exploitation

The sulfur mine exploitation from Calimani National Park remains one of the biggest ecological disasters in Romania. The mining activities led to the physical destruction of a mountain, highly damaged 300 hectares of land, polluted heavily the waters and the soil and ultimately became a major threat to the health of the exploitation workers and the locals from the foothill of the mountains.

It also destroyed a unique geological phenomenon in the world, the volcano-karst from the caves of Luana, and left behind huge dumps of waste rocks and an immense precipice in the heart of the mountain.

The ecological restoration of the land started, stopped and then started again in the last couple of years. Still, it will take many years and huge financial efforts to alleviate the environmental disaster. Its dramatic sight is a strong reminder of past mistakes that hopefully won’t be repeated elsewhere.

Travel tips

The trails are long and it’s better to pack your camping equipment if you decide to go for the highest peaks.

There are few accommodation opportunities, the weather station from Retitis Peak is one of them.

There are few water sources in Calimani National Park. Be sure to take enough water with you.

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Discover the hiking routes from the Carpathians with this great guidebook The Mountains of Romania.

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