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The Carpathian Mountains - National Parks

A Practical Guide to the Carpathian Mountains

Romania is a part of Europe that often gets overlooked by holidaymakers despite being able to deliver truly experiences. For those seeking a different kind of adventure, Romania is a country of sprawling national parks, magnificent wildlife and diverse ecosystems. In the Carpathian Mountains it’s possible to experience some of the most unique forests, grasslands, gorges, cave systems, lakes and wildflower meadows anywhere in the world. The Carpathian’s network of national parks includes protected UNESCO sites, such as the Danube Delta, Europe’s largest wetland.

Each of the Carpathian National Parks has something different to offer to nature lovers and adventure seekers. In a single trip, you can stroll through high altitude meadows filled with vibrant wildflowers, trek across frozen lakes, ride horses or bikes along mountainous trails, climb towering rock formations, watch gold eagles in their natural habitat and even get close to 15,000 year old fossils. That’s not to mention the fun you can have tasting the regional wines and brandies.

Highlights and tips of the Carpathian Mountains

If you’re planning a visit to Romania and would like to experience its natural beauty, we recommend the following destinations and activities:

The Oas-Harghita

Is the longest volcanic mountain chain in Europe and one of the most celebrated natural landscapes in Romania.

The Scarisoara Glacier

In the Bihor mountain range of Romania is the second largest subterranean glacier in Europe. It is thought to be more than 3,500 years old with a total volume of around 2,650,000 cubic feet. Visitors can find it southwest of Cluj Napoca, the country’s unofficial ‘capital city.’

The Danube Delta

Is a perfect place to observe some of the country’s 300 bird species. Here, you’re likely to spot pelicans, ibises, egrets and lots more.

The Rarau Mountain

Are home to a series of remarkable rock formations called the Pietrele Doamnei. If you’ve got a head for heights, they can be scaled for a truly epic Romanian adventure.

The Rarau Mountain

Are home to a series of remarkable rock formations called the Pietrele Doamnei. If you’ve got a head for heights, they can be scaled for a truly epic Romanian adventure.

The Vanatori-Neamt National Park

Offers an experience to remember in the form of wild wolf tracking and watching. These majestic creatures share the region with ancient birch and oak forests, as well as bears and bison.

The Calimani National Park

Has the largest volcanic caldera in the country and visitors can tour its impressive craters and towering rock formations.

Fagaras Mountains

For those who like to challenge themselves, there’s the option to take a day long hike across the Fagaras mountain range. It is among the longest continuous mountain traverses on the continent and includes three of Romania’s tallest peaks in Vistea Mare, Negoiu and Moldoveanu.

Animal lovers will find plenty to do and see on a trip to Romania and its mountainous Carpathian region. The mountain range and surrounding areas are home to more than 400 species of large and small mammals such as the shy and retiring Carpathian chamois and the European brown bear.

Romania’s national parks offer visitors lots of opportunities to observe wild animals in their natural, unspoiled habitats. They are vital for conservation and provide a safe haven for hundreds of rare and unusual flora and fauna.

These protected areas also play an important role in the preservation of local histories and traditions, particularly when it comes to storytelling, arts and crafts, architecture and archaeology.

To ensure these species and local customs remain protected, some areas of Carpathian national parks are more strictly managed than others.

Though almost all areas are open to visitors provided the terrain permits them, these sections have restrictions on activities like camping, water sports, mountain biking and ‘adventure hobbies like rock climbing. In a few areas, the number of visitors per day is also limited.

National Parks in Romania

National Parks

Nature Parks

The Apuseni National Park

Where to Go and What to See

The Apuseni national park is known around the world for its ancient cave systems which are home to a number of rare plants and animals. It is often referred to as a ‘caver’s paradise’ because intrepid adventurers get the chance to explore landscapes once roamed by prehistoric man and caverns that now teem with bats and other interesting species.

Plus, its limestone formations are some of the most fascinating in Europe. Most of Apuseni national park sits on limestone and it is the reason why the area is dotted with impressive natural structures. With underground rivers, dramatic mountain ridges and Ice Age fossils to keep your camera busy, there’s certainly no getting bored here.

Part of the reason Apuseni is such a uniquely shaped landscape is because of its karst topology. It is shaped and supported by an array of soft, soluble rocks such as limestone, gypsum and dolomite which explains its many sinkholes, caves and underground drainage systems. If you have a keen interest in geology, there’s nowhere else like it in the world.

It should be noted the Apuseni cave system is unlike the region’s Scarisoara Glacier and Bear’s Cave national parks both of which can be trekked by amateur explorers.

At Apuseni, the landscapes remain largely untouched by human hands; hiking and climbing here haven’t changed much in a hundred years. These are not tourist friendly caves with prepared experiences but wild, rugged and difficult routes.
Despite this, there is a surprising number of dwellings and settlements to be seen by those who choose to go up instead of underground. The Apuseni mountain range rises beyond 3800ft in some areas and includes some of the highest altitude homes (on the Ocoale-Scarisoara plateau) in the country though they can be moved to avoid extreme weather or follow food sources.
One of the best places to experience authentic Romanian culture and local traditions is the Aries Valley. It is home to the villages of Garda, Arieseni and Albac which contain Motzi settlements. The Motzi people are known for carving exceptionally beautiful musical instruments, furniture and homes with wood sourced from the Carpathian forests. Visitors to the Aries Valley can stop, pause and take a moment to truly relax because life is still simple here. The people of the valley live simply and are lauded for their wisdom, serenity and artisanal skills

Scarisoara Glacier – A national monument located 4 miles north Garda de Sus, sheltering the second largest underground glacier on the continent. The 3,500-year-old ice cave features spectacular icy stalactites and stalagmites.


Bear’s Cave, also known as Pestera Ursilor, is another region of the Apuseni National Park and an easier landscape to explore than its intricate cave system. Don’t be discouraged by a fearsome sounding name – the area is so called due to the many bear skeletons discovered here in the seventies – because Bear’s Cave is suitable for amateur explorers.
The upper section stretches almost 300 miles and is open to visitors. Access to the second larger level is limited to scientific researchers only. You’ll find some of the most amazing stalactites and stalagmites on the planet in the accessible sections of Bear’s Cave. Scientists think the oldest of these could be a staggering 22,000 years.

You can also make time to check out the truly stunning of Ponor Fortresses and the breathtaking limestone formations of Cetatile Ponorului which have been a protected national monument since the fifties. Don’t forget to put the Flowers’ Glade (Poiana Florilor) and the Galbenei Gorges (Cheile Calbenei) on your to do list as well.
As far as wildlife is concerned, the Apuseni national park is where you’ll find many of Romania’s rare bats, bears, elk, goats and alpine birds.

Flora and Fauna
The main attraction of the Apuseni Mountains is the cave fauna. As far as wildlife is concerned, the Apuseni national park is the place where you’ll find many of Romania’s rare bats, bears, elk, goats and alpine birds.
  • Close by Atraction:  The city of Cluj-Napoca, Alba Iulia, Oradea, Turda Gorges Natural Reservation
  • For more information about the trains and the train schedules, please access the following link: https://www.cfrcalatori.ro/
Western Carpathians (Alba, Bihor and Cluj Counties)
More than 200 caves (including Bears’ Cave in Chiscau and the Scarisoara Glacier) and the predominant karst formations.
187,000 acres
Caves, Deep valleys and gorges, Karst landscapes, Rocky steep walls, Underground watercourses.
Caving, Cross-country skiing, Hiking, Mountain biking, Rock climbing, Skiing, Wildlife and bird watching.

Cheile Bicazului (Bicazului Gorges) – Hasmas

Where to Go and What to See

Known affectionately as ‘bicaz,’ the Bicazului Gorges are home to an area famous for its incredible limestone cliffs which reach heights of more than 100ft.

There is an alpine driving road here that offers nature loving visitors some of the most spectacular views to be found anywhere in the world.

The Bicazului Gorges national park is a big hit with fans of both fishing and kayaking as it includes the Red Lake (Lacul Rosu). This natural feature was created in 1837 as the consequence of a huge regional landslide.

Walking and biking trails surround the Red Lake; some are very short, and others take visitors on an epic day long trips. The area around the waterway is ideal for fishing and taking in the mountain air.
The Bicazului Gorges park is home to brown bears, lynxes, lizards, red deer, pine martens, beech martens, woodpeckers, owls, golden eagles, ravens and many more species. There is certainly no shortage of opportunities to wildlife watching in this part of Romania.

Cheile Bicazului (Bicazului Gorges) – the most spectacular road pass in Romania.

Lacul Rosu (the Red Lake) – formed by the natural damming of the waters of the Bicaz stream. 

Cheile Sugaului (Sugaului Gorges) – the area, under legal protection since 1971, together with the entire limestone Munticelu Massif, represents an exquisite natural site, a true natural outdoor museum.

Piatra Singuratica (Singuratica Peak) – one of the seven wonders of Transylvania

Flora and Fauna

The Bicazului Gorges park is home to brown bears, lynxes, lizards, red deer, pine martens, beech martens, woodpeckers, owls, golden eagles, ravens and many more species. There is certainly no shortage of opportunities to wildlife watching in this part of Romania.

  • Close by Atraction: The town of Suceava, the painted monasteries of Bucovina (most known: Voronet, Putna, Sucevita), t
  • he famous hand-made pottery center at Corund.

  • For more information about the trains and the train schedules, please access the following link: https://www.cfrcalatori.ro/
Eastern Carpathian’s (Harghita and Neamt Counties)
The impressive Bicaz Gorges and Lacu Rosu (Red Lake)
17,000 acres
Gorges, Jurassic limestone walls.
Fishing, Hiking, Kayaking, Rock climbing, Wildlife and bird watching

Calimani National Park

Where to Go and What to See

The Calimani National Park is arguably the most dramatic region of the country because it includes the largest inactive volcano caldera in Romania and the tallest peak in the country, Pietrosu, which rises to 6896ft.

Geologists are spoilt for choice here; the region’s volcanic nature means it is filled with craters, striking rock formations, expansive plateaus and unique plant species. Visitors should be sure not to miss the so-called Twelve Apostles (Cei 12 Apostoli), a series of visually striking and dramatic geological formations.

There is beauty everywhere you look in the Calimani National Park, whether it’s at ancient volcanic craters, sprawling pine and juniper forests, soaring clifftops or rare plants. As well as providing a home to animals like the black grouse, wolf, wild boar, lynx, tree marten, elk and roe deer, the region also boasts rare alpine leeks, anemones and mountainous flowers.

The delicate Rose Bay flower also flourishes here due to the volcanic nature of the soil.

Flora and Fauna

There is beauty everywhere you look in the Calimani National Park, whether it’s at ancient volcanic craters, sprawling pine and juniper forests, soaring clifftops or rare plants. As well as providing a home to animals like the black grouse, wolf, wild boar, lynx, tree marten, elk and roe deer, the region also boasts rare alpine leeks, anemones and mountainous flowers. The delicate Rose Bay flower also flourishes here due to the volcanic nature of the soil. 

  • Close by Atraction: Rodnei Mountains National Park. The glacier lakes, waterfalls, volcanic mountains, caves and the geological reserve Creasta Cocosului in the Viseu Valley.
  • For more information about the trains and the train schedules, please access the following link: https://www.cfrcalatori.ro/
Northern side of Eastern Carpathians (Bistrita – Nasaud, Harghita, Mures and Suceava counties)
The volcanic plateau dominated by the Calimani caldera and the abundance of Swiss stone pine and juniper trees that shelter the endangered black grouse.

64,000 acres

Massive eruptive rocks, Craters of old volcanoes,
Swiss stone pine and juniper tree forests.

Cross-country skiing, Hiking, Mountain biking,
Horseback riding, Skiing, Wildlife and birds watching.

Ceahlau National Park

Where to Go and What to See

The Ceahlau National Park is dominated by its majestic peak, the Ceahlau Mountain. This alpine region is rich with ecological diversity and contains more than 2,000 species of flowers and other wildlife. There are also numerous dam lakes and watercourses providing opportunities for adventure sports, fishing and relaxing.
There are multiple waterfalls here each naturally carved out of the region’s characteristic limestone rock. They include the Dochia, Cusma Dorobantului and the Duruitoarea which attract thousands of tourists every year. The Ceahlau national park is bordered to the south by the Bicaz River and by the Bistrita River to the east.
If you are planning a visit here, it’s worth taking some time to research the old Romanian legends about the area. For instance, the locals say the Dochia rock formations are the petrified sheep of an elderly woman who was turned to ice (and later stone) after she removed all nine of her waistcoats while ascending Ceahlau Mountain.
There are, of course, lots of interesting plants and animals to appreciate in the Ceahlau National Park just as there are in all of Romania’s protected regions. In fact, there are 90 species of bird here alone. They include the piciorul schiop and the capercaillie, large birds with elaborate mating rituals. The so called wallcreeper bird is one of the rarest bird species in the park and can only be seen by those with patience and persistence. It hides its nests high up in crevices formed by alpine cliffs.
The Ceahlau National Park also contains foxes, wolves, lynxes, black goats, pine martens, brown bears and more.

The rock formations Dochia and Cusma Dorobantului – the locals say the Dochia rock formations are the petrified sheep of an elderly woman who was turned to ice (and later stone) after she removed all nine of her waistcoats while ascending Ceahlau Mountain.

Cascada Duruitoarea (Duruitoarea Waterfall)

The Ocolasul Plateau – you will find here the highest peak in the Ceahlau Mountains, the Great Ocolasul Peak (6256 feet).

Flora and Fauna

There are, of course, lots of interesting plants and animals to appreciate in the Ceahlau national park just as there are in all of Romania’s protected regions. In fact, there are 90 species of bird here alone. They include the piciorul schiop and the capercaillie, large birds with elaborate mating rituals. The so called wallcreeper bird is one of the rarest bird species in the park and can only be seen by those with patience and persistence. It hides its nests high up in crevices formed by alpine cliffs.
The Ceahlau national park also contains foxes, wolves, lynxes, black goats, pine martens, brown bears and more.

  • Close by Atraction: The Bicaz Gorges – Hasmas National Park, The monasteries around Targu Neamt (Neamt, Agapia)
  • For more information about the trains and the train schedules, please access the following link: https://www.cfrcalatori.ro/

Northern side of Eastern Carpathians (Neamt county)

Its legends and significance in the history of the Dacians, the ancestors of the Romanian people. Ceahlau was considered to be the sacred mountain of Zalmoxis, the ancient deity of the Dacians.

19,523 acres

Numerous mountain peaks, Ridges, Basal rocks
(limestone and conglomerates placed on
crystalline bedrock.

Cross-country skiing, Hiking, Wildlife and birds
watching.

Piatra Craiului National Park

Where to Go and What to See

Bordered by glacial lakes, the Piatra Craiului National Park contains the tallest and longest limestone mountain ridge in Romania. It is over 6500 ft high and more than fifteen miles in length. Small wonder that this alpine range is considered one of the most visually arresting landscapes in the Carpathian region.
It is not for the fainthearted, however. The legendary north-south hiking trail is a challenging slog which is unsuitable for amateur hikers. If you have the experience and the adventurousness though, there’s nothing to match it. It takes two days to complete the trail in its entirety so make you leave plenty of time for this trip.
Most hiking trips begin at Curmatura to the northeast or at Plaiul Foii in the northwest and follow a vertigo inducing trail along the spine of the ridge range. Once keen hikers have conquered the peaks, they are led downwards to a series of magnificent karst landscapes defined by deep gorges, underground caves, pitted slopes, tranquil waterways and authentic Romanian settlements.
Here you’ll find the villages of Ciocanu, Magura, Sirnea and Pestera, destinations which provide hikers with another interesting adventure whether they’re embarking on a ridge hike or completing one. If you want to learn about local customs and traditions, settlements like these are the best way to do it.
We’ve saved the best till last where flora and fauna are concerned because Piatra Craiului National Park is the richest ecological environment in Romania. In this park alone, there are 220 species of lichen, 100 species of moss, 1100 of superior plants, 300 species of fungus, 110 species of bird and 270 species of butterfly. It is quite remarkable to think a third of the superior plant species in the country is found right here.
The animal species which call the park home include wild boars, roe deer, pine martens, red squirrels, many species of bat, wolves, brown bears, lynxes, Ural owls, woodpeckers, alpine swifts and more. It is difficult to overestimate the diversity present in this particular corner of Romania. If you are a wildlife fan, the chance to take a trip here is not to be missed.

Flora and Fauna

We’ve saved the best till last where flora and fauna are concerned because Piatra Craiului National Park is the richest ecological environment in Romania. In this park alone, there are 220 species of lichen, 100 species of moss, 1100 of superior plants, 300 species of fungus, 110 species of bird and 270 species of butterfly. It is quite remarkable to think a third of the superior plant species in the country is found right here.

The animal species which call the park home include wild boars, roe deer, pine martens, red squirrels, many species of bat, wolves, brown bears, lynxes, Ural owls, woodpeckers, alpine swifts and more. It is difficult to overestimate the diversity present in this particular corner of Romania. If you are a wildlife fan, the chance to take a trip here is not to be missed.

  • Close by Atraction: The medieval old town of Brasov, Fagaras Fortress, Rasnov Fortress, Sinca Noua Horseriding Center
  • For more information about the trains and the train schedules, please access the following link: https://www.cfrcalatori.ro/

Southern Carpathians (Arges and Brasov counties)

The most spectacular ridge in the Carpathian Mountains. The backdrop scenes filmed here for the movie Cold Mountain

91,000 acres

Caves, Meadows, Rocky steep walls, Spruce forests.

Caving, Hiking, Horseback riding, Horse carriage / sled strolls, Rock climbing, Wildlife and bird watching.

Retezat National Park

Where to Go and What to See

Retezat National Park has the status of protected natural area by a national and international interest. The Retezat National Park in Romania was in 1979 recognized as a Reservation of the Biosphere.

Regarding the historical and geographical aspects, the Retezat National Park is located in the Hateg Lands, which are considered the cradle of the Romanian peoples and the Romanian language.

Hiking in Retezat National Park you may well lose your breath, not from the climb, but from the breathtaking views of nature at her wildest. Peaks of differing heights, many topping the 8028 feet mark (such as Peleaga Peak), provide hikers with plenty of challenges.

Travellers willing to tackle them will have their efforts well rewarded. Local communities and cultural sights from around the Retezat National park area add a special value to that of the landscape and the biodiversity inside the Retezat National Park.

Flora and Fauna
  • With almost 80 glacial lakes, 58 being permanent lakes, Retezat Mountain Mass holds almost 40% of the glacial lakes that exist in Romania. The Retezat Lakes, filled by the melted snow from the crests, offer dream-like views. Retezat National Park was chosen by the New 7 Wonders Foundation as a great challenge for becoming one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
    Over one third of the Romanian flora can be found in the Retezat Mountains and the National Park. The flora of the Retezat National Park consists of approximately 1190 plant species, of which 130 have the “endangered” or “vulnerable” status. High meadows within the Retezat National Park create a haven for rare alpine flora.
    Wildlife enthusiasts will find in Retezat National Park many species of animals, including chamois, red and roe deer, wild boar, bear, wolf, and fox, and may come across lynx tracks. Retezat National Park was included in the Important Bird Areas Network. Butterflies are abundant in Retezat, in number and species, and specialists designated two Prime Butterfly Areas here.
  • Close by attractions:The city of Alba Iulia,Castelul Corvinilor (Huniad Castle) in Hunedoara, The Dacian Fortresses of the Orastie Mountains

Southern Carpathians (Hunedoara county)

Its more than 80 glacial lakes, including the
largest – Bucura (8.8 ha./22 acres), and the
deepest – Zanoaga (29 m/92ft) in the country
– The highest number (over 20) of mountain peaks over 2,000m/6,560 ft. in Romania
– Being the oldest Romanian national park – established in 1935

94,000 acres

Alpine and sub-alpine meadows, Deep ravines and ice-scoured parable synclines, Dwarf-pine formations, Glacial lakes.

Camping, Cross country skiing, Hiking / walking / trekking, Mountain biking, Rock climbing, Wildlife and bird watching.

General Information
Tourist info
Getting around Romania by train

Train schedules: To check the latest train schedules for domestic routes please visit the website of the Romanian Railways: www.cfrcalatori.ro

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