One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Romania was to hike. When my dad and I originally picked the location for our next trip, it was simply because we had never been to Romania before and it had mountains. Romania is dominated by the gorgeous tree-covered Carpathian mountains that cover over 600 miles of terrain in the shape of an arch through the heart of Romania. In fact, over 30% of Romania is mountainous affording tons of opportunities to hike, bike, ski, climb, cave, horseback ride or simply just enjoy the beauty and peace of one’s surroundings.
Oddly enough, I had first learned about Romania’s impressive landscape as well as it rich culture and history from the Romanian summer staff at a resort I used to go to in Northern Minnesota. I remember asking them where they were from and when they said Romania, I instantly asked if there were mountains. When they told me, “Yes, of course there are mountains! The Carpathians!” I was instantly intrigued and Romania was moved up on my travel wish list.
Several years later the opportunity to go to Romania became a reality. We would go for a week in July. Unfortunately our time in country would be too short to do a week-long hike journeying hut to hut over the high peaks of the Carpathian Mountains. Instead, we would have to settle on a one-day hike because sadly that was all that we would have time for. I was disappointed but in my opinion it was better than nothing.
We had only five full days on the ground in Romania and a lot of things to see. We had spent a day in Bucharest and then headed south to the charming town of Brasov for the remainder of our trip. It was an excellent choice because it is beautiful and centrally located to numerous hiking trails as well as castles and towns to visit.
Figuring out what hike to do was extremely challenging. I read the Lonely Planet and searched online before we left for the trip but soon became completely overwhelmed. There were way too many amazing hikes and most of the good ones were multi-day treks. We decided to wing it and just ask at the local tourist office in town when we reached Brasov.
When we arrived at our hotel and checked in, we discovered that one of the employees at the front desk, John, was also a mountain climber and tour operator on his off days. After inquiring about the best day hikes in town and talking with the tourist office, we found an intriguing day hike to do yet wanted a local guide. John would be perfect and he just so happened to have the next day off of work. He agreed to take us and we were thrilled. Judging by how much we had already been lost in Romania and how the hiking map was all in Romanian, we didn’t want to take the chance of going by ourselves. We would later find out that it was fairly easy to find our way around but having a local guide along to tell us all about Romania made it highly worth it.
We set off at half past seven the next morning with a freshly packed lunch from the hotel. Unfortunately my dad had woken up with a nasty cold and fever certainly picked up from our international flight two days before. Yet we had already made the plan to hike and he was determined and stubborn enough to do it.
It was roughly a thirty minute drive southeast of Brasov to the base of the Piatra Mare Mountains where we would pick up the trail to the Canionul Sapte Scari or “The Seven Ladders Canyon”. I’m glad we had John with us as we clearly would have missed the pull off onto the trail. There was a sign but it was a bit unexpected.
Once at the trailhead, we followed it along a beautiful forest and creek until we reached the park entrance. I had to admit I was a little spooked about the bears. We have bears in Northern Minnesota and I’ve seen one the size of a small VW bug outside the window once but never hiking on the trail. I was still nervous despite the fact that John had carried a handful of firecrackers and matches with him to scare them away in the rare event we saw one.
The weather was temperamental that morning with a high chance of rain. That together with my dad’s constant sniffles, runny nose and fever wasn’t making our chance of an enjoyable hike great. Yet John had a wealth of information on the politics, history and culture of Romania. Like almost all Romanians we met during our short stay, he was warm, welcoming and a delight to be around.
After about a half an hour, we reached the park office and the canyon. Many people come here to relax, picnic and enjoy the zip-line park through the trees. After paying a small fee, you can rent a helmet and gear to zip-line or else continue on to the hike.
The first thing you have to conquer is the seven ladders that lead you up and over the canyon. Despite my love of hiking and climbing, I confess to having a strong fear of heights. Climbing and holding on to the wet railing of the seven ladders was enough to make me nervous. But I tried not to panic and definitely did not look down. I grasped the handles with clenched hands and carefully pulled my way up not letting go until I was safely on the next ramp. It was nerve-wracking but not the worst thing I’ve ever done.
I admit, I did not like the ladders one bit. We decided to take the longer way back on the way down in order to avoid the ladders. Here is a slideshow of the last six ladders. Ladder seven was by far the steepest and the worst. I not once looked down.
Once over the ladders, I was relieved. The rest of the hike up to the hut was relatively easy except for my poor dad who was growing sicker by the minute. Then it started to rain making it even a little bit worse for him. At least it was lovely in the lush, green forest.
John told us that the Carpathian Mountains are divided into three major ranges: the Eastern (Oriental) Carpathians, the Southern Carpathians (also known as the Transylvanian Alps), and the Western Carpathians. There are hundreds of hikes throughout these mountains and many are serviced by huts where you can spend the night and have a hot meal. If only we had more time!
Finally, we neared a clearing and realized that we had to be close. John had to turn back since he had to work the night shift at the hotel. Despite my dad’s miserable cold, he continued on. That’s my dad. He never quits even if the challenge is tough. Although it is definitely an admirable trait, I felt terrible that he was feeling so awful.
As we approached the hut, we were greeted by a beautiful white Pyrenees looking for some handouts. He reminded me of the puppy I’d left behind at home with my family. I didn’t give him any of my sandwich but did take his photograph. I couldn’t resist.
You can spend the night at the hut and continue on throughout the mountains. We had our sandwich and then headed back down the mountain before it began to pour rain. Too bad it wasn’t clearer as I’d have loved to get a view.
We found the trail and continued downward for two hours until to my dad’s relief we were back at the car. His head was pounding and we both knew it was time to find a pharmacy for some medication. He didn’t want to spend his entire time in Romania in bed sick.
It was too pretty to not stop and take a few quick photos. This would be it for my attempt to hike in Romania. But it was certainly enough to inspire me to come on back. It is a beautiful place!
If you go:
I found the Romanian Tourism office in the town of Brasov to be very helpful. You can also check out their website for some basic information.