The Carpathian Mountains are Europe’s last true wilderness. Spanning across Central and Eastern Europe, the Carpathian range is home to vast swaths of ancient forests and sweeping meadows, as well as hundreds of plant and wildlife species. In Romania, the Carpathians stretch for more than 900km across the historic region of Transylvania.
Known worldwide as the land of vampires, Transylvania has a lot more to offer than myths about bloodsucking beasts. Charming medieval villages, some of which have remained unchanged for the last few centuries, are scattered across the region, fringed by the impressive peaks of the Carpathians. Transylvania also boasts over 100 castles and fortresses, including the famous Bran Castle (or Dracula’s Castle) and the stunning Peles Castle.
If you want to experience Transylvania beyond the main sights and the Dracula myths, you’re going to need a sturdy pair of hiking boots, good binoculars and a can of bear pepper spray.
Here’s what you need to know about hiking in Transylvania.
Make sure you pack these 10 essential items for your hiking trip.
Best time to go hiking in Transylvania
The best time for mountain hiking in Transylvania is from June to September. While summers in Romania can be pretty hot, many people head to mountain resorts for the cooler temperatures.
Being a mountainous region, Transylvania experiences a few violent thunderstorms in the summer months, so checking the weather forecast is an absolute must if you’re hiking without a guide.
If you’re planning to go on strenuous day hikes through the mountains, spring and autumn are the right seasons for it. For wildlife-watching, head to Transylvania in late spring. The mountains are still blanketed in snow in March and April, but it’s not too cold for hiking if you wrap up well.
Where to stay
For an authentic Transylvanian experience, base yourself in a rural village or traditional town.
You’ll find many family-run pensiuni (guesthouses) around Transylvania’s national parks, especially in the town of Zarnesti, which is the main gateway to the Piatra Craiului National Park in the Southern Carpathians. Brasov is another great base for exploring Transylvania.
Recommendation: We stayed at Pensiunea Mosorel in Zarnesti, a small guesthouse with cozy rooms, spectacular views of the Carpathians and delicious homemade food (and brandy!).
Best hiking spots in Transylvania
There are six main national parks in Transylvania, but the best one for hiking and wildlife-watching is Piatra Craiului. This 15,000-hectare park in the Southern Carpathians is characterized by a jagged limestone ridge that stretches for 15 miles and reaches a height of 6,560 feet. Piatra Craiului is also home to over 120 species of birds, including the rare golden eagle, and some 270 butterfly species.
While there are dozens of hiking trails to choose from, here are some of the most scenic places in Piatra Craiului.
1. Magura Village
Located at an altitude of 1,000m above sea level, this peaceful Transylvanian village offers some easy hiking with staggering views of alpine meadows. Many villagers live on traditional, small-scale farming, with livestock breeding and cheese-making being their main source of income. Magura only became accessible by car in recent years, but you’ll still find more horse-drawn carts than vehicles in the village.
If you want to learn more about a way of life that no longer exists in other parts of Europe, you should definitely spend a day exploring the village of Magura and its idyllic surroundings.
2. Breghina Valley
This rolling landscape, skirted with vast expanses of coniferous forests, offers a pleasant hike through typical Romanian countryside. The trail starts from Libearty Bear Sanctuary and continues along Roma settlements, cutting through plunging valleys where shepherds bring their flocks to graze.
3. Zarnesti Gorges
Rising to a height of 100 feet on both sides, these gorges in Piatra Craiului are a strict nature reserve due to their rich flora and birdlife. A series of caves dot the cliffs, and in summer a clear-water stream runs along the gorge. These gorges are also a great place for spotting the fascinating Wallcreeper – a bird that climbs up steep rock faces looking for insects.
The trail through the gorges leads up to a large alpine meadow, where you might find a few traditional shepherd camps set up under the watchful gaze of the looming mountains.
4. Barsa Valley
This huge expanse of undisturbed forests has a high concentration of wildlife, including bears, wolves and lynx. There are no human settlements at all in this part of the park, making it one of the remotest areas in the Carpathians.
The Barsa Valley was the core place for an important wildlife research program, known as the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project, which worked towards the conservation of large carnivores in the Southern Carpathian Mountains and promoted eco-tourism in the region.
There are around 6,000 brown bears and 3,000 wolves living in the Carpathian Mountains. Besides possible encounters with big predators, there are other dangers you need to watch out for, including complete disorientation and sudden weather changes.
Also, try to avoid getting close to shepherd dogs, as they are normally very aggressive towards intruders. They are, after all, trained to chase away large predators.
Hiring an experienced mountain guide is the best way to ensure your safety when hiking through the Carpathians. It is also a great way to learn more about wildlife and rural traditions in the area.
Recommendation: Our guide was Dan Marin, owner of Transylvanian Wolf. Dan is a leading wildlife guide in Transylvania. He was also one of the researchers involved in the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project.
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