While Romania hadn’t initially been at the top of our travel list, it only took a few shots of hikers in the rugged and impressively beautiful Carpathian Mountains to convince us we needed to go. This massive mountain range carves its way through Eastern Europe, winding through Poland, Czech Republic (or now I’m supposed to use Czechia, but haven’t quite gotten used to it), Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia. The Southern Carpathians feature the longest and highest limestone ridge in Romania and are densely covered in old-growth spruce forests. We stayed in Brașov, just a short drive away from Piatra Craiului National Park that encompasses a stretch of these mountains. After our trek through the Piatra Craiului mountains, hiking in Romania became one of our most memorable travel experiences this year.
Where to Stay
We found Brașov to be a great home base to explore this part of Transylvania. It’s close to these mountains and the town itself is incredibly charming. Plus, we lucked out with an amazing Airbnb overlooking one of the main pedestrian streets of the historic old town.
When to Hike
Depending on the type of hiking or climbing, it can be all year round. For our one-day trek in early September, the weather was ideal. Sunny, with just a hint of crispness in the air. These mountain ranges are popular for climbers and scramblers in the winter, when you can go off trail as the snow cover protects the foliage beneath.
Trail: Blue stripe trail up to Cabana Curmătura and yellow stripe trail down in Piatra Craiului National Park.
Difficulty: Medium. There are steep areas on both the uphill and downhill sections of this trail.
Time: Approximately 6 hours
Water availability: There is one fountain at the top of the trail right outside the Cabana Curmătura mountain lodge. I did see people refilling water bottles, but I didn’t personally drink the water. When we hiked, the lodge was open serving hot food and bottled water.
Getting to the trail
We stopped in the town closest to the mountains, Zărnești, where you’ll share the road with horse drawn carts. In town, we picked up park passes (5 lei for 7 days) from the Piatra Craiului National Park Visitor Center at 150 Toplita Street (opens at 9am).
You can also purchase tickets at the blue ticket automats at Zărnești post office (Str. Tiberiu Spirchez no. 12A). If you don’t want to bother with purchasing a park pass at a physical location, you can pay through text message with Orange and Vodaphone. Send a text message to one of the numbers below based on the number of people in your party with the text “CRAI DA.” If the text is received, you will be charged and receive a text message with a confirmation code. 1352: price of 2 euro + TVA/1 person, 1353 – price of 3 euro + TVA/2 persons, 7465 – price of 5 euro +TVA/4 persons, 7466 – price of 6 euro + TVA/5 persons, 7467 – price of 7 euro + TVA/6 persons, 7468 – price of 8 euro + TVA/7 persons, 7469 – price of 9 euro + TVA/8 persons.
After getting all the information we needed, we headed to the trailhead about 10 minutes past the town.
Picking a hike…there’s an app for that
While we saw some amazing pictures online, we had no idea what trail they were from or how to get there. As much information there is on the internet these days, it’s always amazing how much of it is not very helpful. Which is why we stopped at the visitor center. We picked up a handy map, and even better, found out there is an app called Munţii Noştri for the Park. It’s pretty basic but includes exactly what we needed: a map of all of the trails with a little GPS dot to mark our location.
After downloading the Munţii Noştri app, we then downloaded the trail maps for Piatra Craiului National Park.
Most of the hikes are listed as multi day treks, and as we were only planning on hiking for the day, we decided to do the back half of two hikes. With reference to the map below, we parked near the number 10, went up the blue stripe trail, hit our peak at the Cabana Curmătura mountain lodge and went down the yellow stripe trail. This created a loop and lead us back right near where we parked our car.
And we’re off
We started off on the blue stripe trail, walking in a wide canyon between two huge limestone rock formations. With so many crevices and caves, it’s easy to let your imagination run away with thoughts of vampires, werewolves, or even your favorite evil wizard lurking inside the craggy rock face.
The steepness of the next section of the trail made up for the flat, easy walk we started with. We entered the heavily wooded forest and went straight up. I was busy mushroom spotting with so many different varieties thriving on the dark forest floor. We found mushrooms in bright yellow, ones with dark purple flat tops, hundreds of little fungi growing out of tree trunks, mushrooms with the tallest, skinniest stems, and my favorite, large red mushrooms with white spots.
When we emerged from the woods, we found ourselves in a wide open grass area, buzzing with dragonflies. It felt like breaking out into an off-key (my only key) rendition of “the hills are alive” would’ve been totally appropriate. We realized we were hiking up a ski slope, and at the top, we found a mountain lodge.
Lunch with a view
We may have packed a lunch, but the large bread bowls full of traditional Romanian bean and pork soup and apple cake from the Cabana Curmătura mountain lodge looked too good to turn down. We snagged a table outside with an amazing view and enjoyed the rest before heading back down. [For information and hours, the Cabana Curmătura hut recommends you call Reta at +40.745.454184]
From here, you can head up the mountain another 30 minutes (so about an hour round trip) for what we were told is an even better panoramic view. We thought we might cut it close on daylight, so we decided to head down the yellow and white trail.
If you are planning on doing a multi-day trek, there is reasonably priced accommodation at the lodge or camping spots right out front. With the amazing views from this point, the delicious food at the lodge and access to water, I couldn’t imagine a better spot to pitch my tent.
Cows and sheep and sheepdogs, oh my!
This trail cuts through another open area, this time used for cows and sheep to happily graze. As we walked along the path, cows plodded past on the way to a wooden water trough. Sheep were frantically ripping at the grass, seemingly trying to consume as much as possible as their shepherd began to ring them in. The hills were literally alive. This goes down as one of the coolest hiking experiences of my life.
After we took so many pictures of cows and sheep that our memory cards were full (seriously, we acted like we’d never seen sheep before. In the wild!), we headed down into the woods and a few hours later we were back at our car.
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