Top 5 National Parks in Romania: Exploring The Wildest Natural Parks

Romania’s national parks are a treasure trove of natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and breathtaking landscapes. It’s why the country is known as Europe’s last wilderness reserve. From the mysterious caves of Apuseni Natural Park to the dramatic ridges of Piatra Craiului, each park offers a unique glimpse into the country’s rich ecological and cultural tapestry.

Whether it’s birdwatching in the vast Danube Delta or exploring the wild and inaccessible Retezat National Park, these parks will impress nature enthusiasts with their beauty and natural attractions. And the best part? You’ll meet few tourists along the way and most of the time it will just be you and Mother Earth on the trail.

So let’s see what are the most popular national parks in Romania and what they have to offer!

1. Apuseni Natural Park

Apuseni Natural Park

The first natural park on the list is Apuseni Natural Park, located in the Western Carpathians and covering almost 187,000 acres. The park is known for its picturesque landscapes of mountain villages alternating with completing wild areas, its impressive number of caves and small grottas (308 to be precise), and rocky valleys.

The park has unique flora, but the fauna will impress you the most, so expect to see bears, black goats and owls during your trip. If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter the spotted eagle.

Apuseni Natural Park is also famous for how its cave is home to rare species of bats, such as the dwarf bat. Hence, some of the best cave attractions to check on your list consist of the following:

  • Scarisoara Glacier can be found in the Garda de Sus village; here you’ll find one of the largest underground glaciers in Europe, featuring age-old stalactites and stalagmites;
  • The Bear’s Cave located in Chiscau village was named after mine workers found the bear skeletons of a species that went extinct 15,000 years ago
  • The Ponor Gorges sits in the Padis Area where a 35m high rocky wall splits open in a curious way opening up a vast tunnel network

If you’re into hiking, there are lots of trails to choose from in Apuseni National Park. One of the most accessible routes takes about two hours of walking, starting from Boga village and ending at Bulbuci waterfall. However, other challenging trails of approximately 13 hours are also available. If you start from the Stana de Vale resort and end up at the Curcubata Mare peak you’ll be rewarded with what some say are the best views in the area.

There are several ways to access Apuseni Park. First, you can fly or take a train to Cluj, Oradea or Sibiu, the closest big cities. From there you can either take a car or a guided tour into the park or go by train to Beius or Suncuius if starting from Oradea or Cluj.

2. Piatra Craiului National Park

Piatra Craiului National Park

Piatra Craiului National Park is located right in the center of the Romanian Carpathians, near the popular tourist city of Brasov. It stands proudly on the Piatra Craiului Massif with its 28-km limestone ridge that almost scratches the sky.

The park consists of many steep peaks, limestone cliffs and alpine hollows. Due to rock erosion, unique formations resulted around which red deer, wild boars and bears live. Dacian beech forests and sub-arctic scrubs are unique in the area.

Popular hotspots here include:

  • Zarnesti Gorges, a famous rock climbing destination but also a marvelous entrance to the park;
  • the highest peak in the park, La Om at 2,235 meters altitude; to get here you’ll have to cross part of the fantastic limestone ridge which will be an experience in and of itself
  • The hiking trail from Zarnesti Gorges to Curmatura Chalet will take you to the only cabin in the mountains at 1,470m altitude where you can enjoy some breathtaking views

Despite the beauty of this park, most hiking trails are suitable only for experienced hikers or those with a medium fitness level willing to challenge themselves. The rocky paths can be pretty challenging to complete, especially if the weather is not on your side.

But even if hiking is not your strength, you can still go for a wonderful walk in the picturesque villages of Magura, Pestera, Sirnea and Ciocanu, known for their traditional lifestyle. And then the famous Bran Castle aka Dracula Castle is nearby too.

Since it’s close to Brasov, you can reach the park by car effortlessly in about one hour. There are some buses or shuttles to Zarnesti, the smallest town at the base of the park, but you must check the local schedule and ensure you also have a way back home.

3. The Danube Delta

The Danube Delta is the world’s third-largest biodiversity reservation and the second most significant delta in Europe. The Romanian national park is home to more than 350 bird species that make use of the rich plant diversity within the canals, lakes and vegetation the delta offers.

The natural setting here is quite different too. To visit the Delta you need to rent a boat or go on shared boat trips because there’s no other way to navigate its vast canals. Popular activities in the Delta include birdwatching, fishing, kayaking or simply relaxing and admiring nature’s beauty. This place is also a hotspot for wildlife photographers who will have plenty of opportunities to fulfill their passion.

The best things to do in the Danube Delta include:

  • visiting Mila 23 village, the original fishermen’s village where you can see the old ways of sustainable fishing and, obviously, the catch of the day, deliciously cooked;
  • going for a walk in Letea Forest after crossing sand dunes – you read that right! The climate conditions here create an unusual area where sand dunes form; in one section water covers the sand and then a species of sub-tropical trees grow here
  • the canals and lakes are great for kayaking and canoeing, especially over sunset

Besides birdwatching, you should get a taste of the local cuisine. Next to grilled fish, locals specialize in all sorts of slow-cooked fish stews you’ve never tasted before, served with polenta and garlic sauce.

The closest city to the Danube Delta is Tulcea which is a 4h drive from Bucharest. Once you get to Tulcea the only way to explore the Delta is by renting a boat whose driver is experienced enough to navigate the canals. You’ll need at least two full days to explore the region thoroughly as boats travel slowly to protect the environment and birds.

4. The Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park

Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park

The Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park is the largest national park in Romania. It’s part of the Retezat Godeanu mountain range in the South-Western part of the country. The park has numerous nature reserves filled with rare or endemic species. You’ll also have the chance to explore fascinating sinkholes, pit caves and waterfalls that shelter wild vegetation and animals.

This Romanian national park is also famous for its opportunities for extreme adventures, especially rock climbing and white water rafting. Here are a few extra sights you shouldn’t miss while visiting:

  • The Moraru Peak is the highest point at 2,279 meters and offers breathtaking views of the park; the hike to the top is a medium-challenging one, but worth it;
  • Vânturatoarea Waterfall is one of the most famous in Romania for its majestic drop;
  • Scarisoara and Inelet villages are truly isolated: no roads, electricity, shops or state services; spread across the hills, they can be accessed only by climbing ladders propped on stone walls; this is the best place to disconnect and experience village life as it used to be a century ago

The best hiking area is along the Cerna River, a wide valley with over 30 hiking routes for amateur and experienced hikers. Due to its high tourist potential, there are lots of accommodation options nearby in small guesthouses offering B&Bs, so you don’t have to worry about that.

The closest city to Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park is Timisoara, only 2,5 hours by car. The city has a long history and an impressive multicultural identity, which is why it became the European Capital of Culture in 2023.

5. Retezat National Park

Retezat National Park

Located in Hunedoara County, the Retezat National Park is the oldest in Romania and presents a vast biodiverse ecosystem with ancient forests, glacier lakes and over 1,000 butterfly species. The biosphere reservation is also home to numerous animal species, with wolves, brown bears and wild boars frequently sighted in the park. Birds are also abundant, such as the Eurasian eagle-owl and golden eagles.

Besides its very wild character, the park is also one of the most difficult to access and navigate. There are few accommodation options, which limits the amount of time you can spend hiking. That’s why camping is the preferred ‘place to stay’ in Retezat Park and there are designated areas for this such as Pietrele Chatel, Bucura Lake, Zanoaga Lake and a few more. Since it’s a protected area, starting a fire or picking flowers or plants isn’t allowed.

The wild character and low accessibility means only experienced hikers venture into this park, and that’s what makes it even more attractive. Top sights include:

  • Bucura Lake is the largest glacier lake in the country and a great place to set up camp and start the journey towards the highest peaks in the park, Peleaga at 2,509 meters;
  • The “Small Retezat” is a gorgeous limestone area with many caves and sinkholes, so you may be able to hike between the terraced valleys that take you to lakes and waterfalls;
  • The Twins reservation is used for scientific activities and can be visited only with authorization, but there are two hiking paths you can take nearby the reservation;

Hiking in Retezat National Park is generally strenuous, so you need proper equipment and prepare for intense walking hours. The first hiking tour is called the Red Triangle and can be completed in about eight hours, starting from Gura Zlata, reaching Zanoaga Lake and finishing at Bucura Lake. The next most popular trail is called the Blue Cross and starts from Gura Apei Lake and you should expect around nine hours for this trail.

Timisoara is the closest city to the Retezat National Park, but you can also get here by car from Bucuresti, Sibiu or Cluj Napoca. There are three entry points into the park via the small towns of Cavnic, Hateg and Petrosani.

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