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By: Laurentiu Artugyan
Romania is a country situated in the South-Eastern part of Europe. This country has many natural spots that are extremely important for scientists and for natural preservation. Due to this, many national and natural parks were established, with the aim to protect landforms, biodiversity and landscapes, but also to promote ecotourism in these protected areas.
These national and natural parks are among the most visited areas in Romania by nature lovers and trekkers. This article introduces some of the most attractive sights that you may discover while visiting 5 of these national parks.
Brief Introduction of the Romanian National Parks
Nowadays Romania has 13 national parks. These protected areas are spread along the country and most of them are situated in mountainous regions. These 13 National Parks are mostly under the governance of ROMSILVA and several NGOs. ROMSILVA is the public administration that manages all the state forests and all the national parks through the National Agency for Protected Areas.
The first National Park in Romania is Retezat and it was established in 1935. Piatra Craiului is the second National Park, founded in 1938. These 13 national parks are along the Carpathians Mountains arc and also in the Măcin Mountains, which is the oldest mountainous area in Romania, dating back to the Hercynian period.
Besides Retezat National Park and Piatra Craiului National Park, the other 11 national parks established in Romania include: Buila-Vânturarița National Park, Călimani National Park, Ceahlău Național Park, Bicaz Gorges-Hășmaș National Park, Nera Gorges-Beușnița National Park, Cozia National Park, Cerna Valley-Domogled National Park, Jiu Defile National Park, Măcin Mountains National Park and Semenic-Caraș Gorges National Park. Down below you will discover 15 sights that are among the most attractive inside of 5 of these national parks.
15 Sights to Visit in 5 Romanian National Parks
Retezat National Park
Situated in the Southern Carpathians, Retezat National Park is among the most visited protected areas in Romania. This protected area is well-known for those more than 80 glacial lakes that can be seen here.
Mostly covered by glacial landforms, Retezat National Parks covers mostly Retezat Mountains and part of Godeanu Mountains. Besides the glacial landforms, here you can also find landforms developed on limestone in the Southern part of this protected area, into the region called ”The Small Retezat”, which is actually part of Godeanu Mountains.
Let’s find out which are the most attractive sights in Retezat National Park. This national park has plenty of market trails and paths, all of them being very well maintained.
1. Bucura Lake
Retezat Mountains host the largest glacial lake in Romania, namely Bucura Lake. Situated in a glacial caldera at 2,040 meters altitude, Bucura has a surface of 8.90 hectares and is one of the major attractions for trekkers and mountaineers who visit Retezat National Park.
In order to reach Bucura Lake you may choose various marked trails. The shortest and easiest one is from Poiana Pelegii, but the road up to this place is recommended for 4×4 cars and only after checking the road conditions with the National Park administration.
At Bucura Lake there is a Mountaineering Rescue Point during summer season and you may also camp here if you choose to spend many days in the Retezat Mountains. During the peak season the camping place at Bucura Lake is very crowded and there is like a small nomad village. Moreover, Bucura Lake is a great point to start many trails to other great sights in Retezat, such as glacial lakes, ridges and peaks.
2. Zănoaga Lake
Besides hosting the largest glacial lake in Romania, Retezat Mountains host also the deepest glacial lake, namely Zănoaga Lake. This lake was formed during the glacial period and it is situated in a very picturesque glacial caldera. If Bucura Lake is usually an overcrowded spot in the Retezat National Park, Zănoaga is situated far from the busiest trails.
Here at Zănoaga Lake you can experience a silent and peaceful place to spend one day or few days. Camping is allowed near Zănoaga Lake and also you may use the mountain hut that is by this lake. In order to visit this amazing glacial lake, tourists may choose various trails. One of them starts at Bucura Lake, but there are also trails that start at Gura Apelor Dam or at Gura Zlata.
3. Peleaga Peak
The highest peak in the Retezat National Park is Peleaga having an altitude of 2,509 meters. Because we speak about the highest peak in this mountain range, Peleaga is among the sights that you shouldn’t miss while visiting this protected area. Peleaga Peak offers spectacular views.
From this peak you may admire the entire mountain massif during clear days. Moreover, you can have perspective towards Hațeg Depression and towards Jiu Valley.
Peleaga Peak offers great views to Bucura Lake, but also to other glacial lakes that are on each valley. To reach Peleaga Peak there are many trails available. The shortest one starts at Bucura Lake, if you choose to camp there. Other trails start in Poiana Pelegii, but you can reach this peak even if you want to have a longer trek and start in the Northern part of the national park entry.
4. Retezat Peak
Even if it is not the highest peak in the Retezat Mountains, Retezat Peak is one of those sights that you don’t want to miss while visiting this national park. Having the altitude of 2,482 meters, Retezat Peak provides a great view towards the entire mountain ranges, peaks and valleys. The name of this peak means in Romanian “cut” because seen from a distance it seems like being cut.
Moreover, there are many fairy tales and legends related to Retezat Peak. Based on its great view and based on the legends related to this peak, Retezat is one of the most important sights in the Retezat National Park. For those who want to go hiking and reach Retezat Peak, there are various trails. These marked paths start at Râușor, Cârnic or Pietrele Chalet, but there are also trails starting at Bucura Lake.
5. Iorgovanu Stone Peak
In the Southern part of Retezat National Park we get into a totally different world, a world formed on limestones. Due to this, the entire landscape changes its aspect and we meet a world formed between glacial activity and limestones. Iorgovanu Stone Peak is the most attractive sight in this part of the national park. With an altitude of 2,014 meters, Iorvoganu Stone Peak (Piatra Iorvoganului in Romanian language) is a great place to admire the entire massif of Retezat.
From this peak you may have an overview towards all the ranges and peaks in the central part of Retezat. Moreover, you may admire other mountain ranges such as Parâng Mountains or Vâlcan Mountains. But the most important is that you will have the possibility to observe how the landforms differ from the central part of Retezat Mountains.
Reaching Iorvoganu Stone Peak is possible in many ways. You may choose to go hiking from Bucura Lake up to this peak or you may choose the shortest trail that starts in the Eastern Jiu Valley, more exactly at the place called “Câmpușel”, which is also a place where you may camp.
Nera Gorges – Beușnița National Park
This national park is located in the South-West of Romania and it hosts many landforms developed on limestone. It covers lower mountains and there are many small caves formed all over these mountains. Moreover, many waterfalls can be seen while hiking into Nera Gorges – Beușnița National Park. Let’s discover three of the most attractive sights in this national park.
6. Beușnița Waterfalls
Beușnița Waterfalls is one of the most attractive sights in this protected area. These waterfalls are formed on calcareous tufa. During the spring and during the winter the entire waterfall has the aspect of a bride’s veil. If you want to see the waterfall with plenty of water, then the best period is between April and June.
Otherwise, the waterfall may be dry and you may admire only the limestone and the calcareous tufa, with very small water dropping on the waterfall. But even so, for those who love to discover nature, the waterfall may be attractive even during the dry season.
Besides the biggest waterfall that is the first one that you may reach while following the marked trail, there are other smaller waterfalls above. During the dry season you may climb and admire those smaller waterfalls. In order to arrive at Beușnița Waterfalls you should reach Potoc village and Potoc Bridge. From the bridge you may start walking.
If you want a shorter trail, then you can arrive by car up to Bei Valley Camping Area and from there you start by foot following the marked trail. This path will drive you to Ochiu Bei Lake, which is actually a karstic spring that never freezes and from there you have about 30 minutes more to walk in order to reach Beușnița Waterfall.
7. Nera Gorges
Nera Gorges are considered among the longest gorges in Romania due to its 22 km long. Along the entire length of these gorges you can go trekking and discover picturesque and wild places.
Nera Gorges starts at Șopotu Nou village and ends at Sasca Română village. In order to visit the entire sector of these gorges, you will have to pass various suspended bridges and you will have to cross the water also. Due to this, it is important to choose to visit Nera Gorges during the dry season or in the autumn months. Nera is a great river for rafting between April and June.
8. Devil’s Lake
At the middle distance in the Nera Gorges nature lovers can discover a fascinant karstic lake, which is unique in Romania. Devil’s Lake was formed after the collapse of the ceiling of a cave and nowadays it is a karstic lake. It has great turquoise waters and many legends are related to this lake.
These legends speak about a lake that never ends, but after measurements the lake has a depth that varies between 9 and 12 meters, depending on the season. Another fact that is interesting about this lake is that the waters come from the Nera River, based on the infiltrations into the limestone rock. Devil’s Lake may be reached while crossing the entire sector of Nera Gorges, but also by following the marked path that starts at the end of Cărbunari village.
Semenic – Caraș Gorges National Park
North to Nera Gorges – Beușnița National Park is another protected area that offers plenty of wild spots, deep forests, large caves and spectacular landscapes. This is Semenic – Caraș Gorges National Park. Here you may discover the highest peak in Banat Mountains, called Piatra Goznei (1,447 meters altitude), but also the biggest caves in Banat region and few wild gorges.
9. Caraș Gorges
Caraș Gorges are among the most visited natural attractions in Banat Mountains. Carved by the Caraș River, these gorges are splitted in two sectors: the first sector is the touristic one and it starts in Carașova, a small village, and ends in the Prolaz Meadow; the second sector is called “Wild Caraș Gorges” because it has a path only for the first few hundreds of meters and then you go deep into wilderness.
Caraș Gorges impresses due to vertical limestone walls, numerous caves and many endemic plants. Furthermore, there are the remains of a Medieval Fortress, which provides a perfect 180 degree viewpoint above the Caraș Gorges. In order to reach this fortress, you may follow the trail that starts in Prolaz Meadow.
10. Comarnic Cave
From Caraș Gorges you may arrive at the entrance of Comarnic Cave, the most visited and best known cave in Banat Mountains. This cave is formed along the homonymous river and it has two entrances.
There are three levels into the cave, namely the dry level, the semi-active level and the active one. All these levels of the cave may be visited with special equipment and together with professional speleologists.
On the other hand, the touristic sector of the cave is about 800 meters where visitors can discover great speleothems, cave bear bones, amazing limestone dams, but also walls with a mix of limestone and silex. The cave is open for visitors between May and September.
Out of this period, you need to contact the National Park Administration in order to be able to visit the cave. Comarnic cave has as touristic amenities only few ropes and it doesn’t have artificial light since it is a protected area.
11. Buhui Lake
A special sight in the Semenic – Caraș Gorges National Park is Buhui Lake. This lake was built in 1904 in order to provide water supply for Anina town, which is about 4 km from this lake.
The fact that makes this lake an important place to visit is that it is located in the middle of the forest, being a great place to relax and to enjoy the silence of nature. Besides this, Buhui Lake is the first lake built in Romania on limestones.
Since limestone represents a very permeable rock, it is a proof of mastery of those times to cover the bottom of the lake with clay in order to collect the water coming from several creeks.
To arrive at Buhui Lake you may follow the road from Anina town or you can use several marked trails that connect Buhui Lake with Nera Gorges – Beușnița National Park, like the path of European Long Distance Trail E3.
12. Buhui Cave
Approximately at 2 km from Buhui Lake you may discover a fantastic cave, namely Buhui Cave. It is a wild cave without any tourist amenities and it is a speleological reserve.
It is the cave with the longest underground river, Buhui Creek. It has four entrances and to the exit point of the water from the cave is a dam built at the end of the 19th century. The dam was built to transport water from the cave to Anina town.
The adduction tunnel is still used nowadays and it may be seen in the left wall of the cave (based on the creek flowing direction). The cave is spectacular because you need special equipment to visit it since it is an active cave and you should traverse through water the entire cave. Moreover, you need to contact the speleological NGO to visit the cave, since it is a natural reserve.
Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park
Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park is situated along the Cerna River and it also includes Băile Herculane, a spa-town dating back to the Roman period. This national park includes two mountain ranges, namely Cerna Mountains and Mehedinți Mountains.
Due to the karstic terrain, many vertical shafts and caves are along these mountains. The highest altitudes are around 1,700 meters, but the landscapes are amazing.
13. Domogled Peak
One of the sights that hikers should put on their lists when they arrive in Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park is Domogled Peak. Even if this peak has only 1,105 meters altitude, in order to reach it you have to overcome an important difference in altitude.
The starting points that are in Băile Herculane have an altitude of 170 meters, so there is an altitude difference of about 900 meters up and 1800 meters for a two way path.
From Domogled Peak you may admire a wide range of peaks from the Mehedinți Mountains, but also you can discover the endemic species of the Black Pine of Banat. The karstic terrain is spectacular because you will pass through tight and small gorges sectors if you choose certain marked paths. There are 4 trails that start in the spa-town and lead you to Domogled Peak.
14. Isolated villages in Cerna Mountains
If you arrive in Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park, your to-do-list should include also the isolated villages in the Cerna Mountains.
There are few hamlets and isolated houses spread on several slopes on these mountains. The fact that makes these villages unique is given by the wooden stairs that are used even in these modern times to climb up in the village. The only road that arrives in these villages is a dirty road and it goes around many kilometers.
Moreover, this road is inaccessible during the winter season, meaning from November to March. Due to this, those few people who are still living nowadays in these villages are using these wooden stairs to go down into the town and to come back home.
There is also a small school in the village and during the winter season, those people live mostly isolated from the rest of the world.
The isolated villages in the Cerna Mountains include Scărișoara, Ineleț and Dobraia. In order to visit these isolated villages and to climb the wooden stairs, you must stop on the National Road 67D at the bridge called „Puntea lui Stoian” (meaning Stoian’s bridge).
Piatra Craiului National Park
15. Piatra Craiului Mountains Range
Piatra Craiului Mountains Range is unique in Romania because it is a range formed on limestone and it has the aspect of a sharp blade. Due to its geological aspect, there are no lakes and also the springs are found only at the forest limit.
The sharp blade aspect is extremely spectacular for those who love hiking on very thin paths and who love adrenaline while being on the margin of steep slopes.
The trails that bring you up to the highest peaks in the Piatra Craiului Mountains start in Zărnești, a small town near Brașov, but also in Plaiu Foii, which is a meadow with many accommodations that connect Piatra Craiului Mountains with Făgăraș Mountains range.
Besides the spectacular terrain, Piatra Craiului has also an endemic flower, namely Garofita Pietrei Craiului (Dianthus callizonus). Also many Edelweiss flowers can be seen in this national park. Black goats are very often seen on the most inaccesibles steeps.
So there are plenty of reasons for which you shouldn’t miss Piatra Craiului National Park while visiting Romania.
These are 15 of the most attractive sights in 5 of the Romanian National Parks. Put them on your list if you choose to visit Romania. You can enjoy these nature spots on your own or you can contact a geotour guide who will provide you details regarding the landscape and landforms that you discover into these protected areas.
Laurentiu is a freelancer – geographer, geoguide, content writer, blogger, life coach and cartographer. He posts about his travel experiences and life experiences at laurentiuartugyan.com.