A beginner’s guide for hiking in the mountains near Sibiu
Table of contents:
- Where to hike near Sibiu
- What are the most popular trails
- When to hike
- Should I rent a moutain guide
- How is the weather
- Possible hazards
Where to hike
There are 3 mountain groups near Sibiu, all of them belonging to the Carpathian mountains: Fagaras mountains, Cindrel Mountains and Lotrului Mountains. Fagaras mountains are starting from Brasov county, and are ending in Sibiu county. They are continued by Lotrului and Cindrel Mountains, being separated from the latter by Olt River.
The Fagaras Mountains are the highest mountains in Romania, the main ridge frequently exceeding 2000 – 2300 meters. In Sibiu county, we meet 2 peaks over 2500m: Negoiu Peak – 2535 m (the second highest peak in Romania after Moldoveanu, 2544, which is also located in the Fagaras Mountains, but in Arges County) and the Vanatoarea lui Buteanu peak, 2507 m. This one is the only peak of over 2500 meters that can be reached after an ascent of only 2 hours, which starts at Balea Lac, on Transfagarasan.
The limits of Făgăraș Mountains, in Sibiu County, are the Olt gorge, in the est, the Arpașului Mare valley in the east and the main ridge, in the south. Below 1650 meters the relief is dominated by forests, and above this altitude, we meet alpine meadows with juniper islands sharp rocky peaks. The slopes are steep, the distance from the main ridge to the Transylvanian plateau being between 10 to 15 kilometres. The main ridge has parts where it is very narrow, sometimes being as wide as the hiking path, these routes are not indicated for hikers with fear of heights.
In the sector from Sibiu County of the Fagaras Mountains, we can find numerous glacial basins where glacial lakes were formed: Avrig, Călțun, Doamnei, Bâlea, Podrăgel and Podragu. The terraces under the lakes, traversed by a dense hydrographic network, are creating spectacular waterfalls, like Moașa, Șerbota or Bâlea waterfalls.
There are a few chalets in the high area of the Fagaras mountains, where mountaineers can spend the night or stop to regain their strength: Barcaciu, Negoiu, Balea and Podragu.
2. Cindrel Mountains
The Cindrel Mountains are the only ones that are located almost entirely in Sibiu county. They are delimited to the east by the Fagaras Mountains, to the south by the Lotrului Mountains and to the west by the Sureanu Mountains. The surface occupied by the Cindrel mountains has a triangular shape, which is opening like a fan and descends from west to northeast as a far to the Sibiu depression. The peaks are not rocky, but wide and covered by alpine meadows. For this reason, the area of the Cindrel Mountains is suitable for shepherding, which has made the villages at its foot to be recognized by their pastoral and economical culture, still preserved today.
The highest peak is Cindrel Peak (2244 m), which gives the name of the mountain group. In its immediate vicinity, there are several other peaks over 2000 meters, the rest of the peaks ranging from 1000 m, towards the exterior of the mountain group to 1700 meters, on the main ridge. In the Cindrel Mountains, we meet only 2 glacial lakes, due to the lower height of the mountains, instead at its foot, there are several artificial lakes, which appeared as a result of hydro-technical projects. For example, the first power plant in nowadays Romania was built in Sadu, in 1895, at the foot of the Cindrel and Lotru mountains. Due to the relatively slight slopes, we do not find waterfalls in Cindrel, although there is a rich network of water streams which shaped the mountain landscape.
In the Cindrel mountains, there is also the mountain resort Paltinis, located at 1440 meters altitude. The resort offers the possibility to practice skiing and snowboarding in winter, and in summer, it is the starting point to many hiking or mountain biking trails.
3. Lotrului Mountains
The Lotrului Mountains are located south of the Cindrel Mountains, having an elongated shape on the east-west direction, with 2 main peaks converging to the west. On the territory of Sibiu county there is a northern ridge, separated from the Cindrel mountains by the Sadului valley and the Frumoasa valley. Between the 2 valleys, the connection is made with the Cindrel mountains through the Steflesti saddle, which links the Cindrel Peak with the Steflesti Peak, the highest in the Lotrului Mountains, with the 2242 m. They resemble with the Cindrel mountains, the mountain ridges being covered by wide alpine meadows, which can be reached by climbing the steep slopes covered by forest.
What are the most popular trails
The trails in Fagaras mountains (in Sibiu county)
Some of the most popular trails are the ones starting from Balea Lake. They have the advantage that you can get there by car, the mountaineers reaching 2000 meters without any effort. From there start many routes, shorter:
- to Vanatoarea lui Buteanu Peak,
- to the Paltinul peak (2399 m), through Capra saddle
- or from Balea Waterfall cable car station (1250 m) to Balea Waterfall (1550 m). From the same cable car station there is a longer trail leading to Balea Lake, along (and above) Transfagarasan road.
or longer, on the ridge route, either to Negoiu Peak or to Moldoveanu Peak.
The access routes to the Fagaras ridge are also very popular, starting from the foot of the mountains and climbing either on the valleys or on the shoulder of the mountain. Due to the difference in altitude and the length of the route, they are recommended for mountaineers with a good physical condition:
- to Suru Peak (2281 m), either on the Moasa valley (the waterfalls on Moasa valley can be seen on this route, but in the other hand it involves many steep slopes) or on the shoulder of the mountain, a longer route through the forest, but with an easier slope. In both cases it starts from an altitude of 500 – 600 meters, depending on the chosen option. Mountaineers can stop at Cabana Suru, where they can dine or spend the night if they want to continue the ascent to the ridge the next day.
- to Scara Peak (2306 m), through Barcaciu Chalet (1500 m), on the trail that starts near Avrig, from Poiana Neamtului Chalet. The trail follows the shoulder of the mountain to Cabana Barcaciu, and from there it continues to the main ridge, to the Scara or Puha peaks.
- to the Negoiu peak (2535 m), from Porumbacul de Sus. Here, in order to shorten the distance covered on foot, an off-road vehicle can be used, which can cross the foresty road up to an altitude of 1000 meters. From this point, one can hike on the trail to Cabana Negoiu (1500 meters). Before reaching the Chalet, a short detour can be made on a secondary route to the Serbota Waterfall. From Cabana Negoiu, one can choose the route directly to the Negoiu Peak, through Cleopatra’s saddle, or through the Serbota Peak and then follow the ridge route to the Negoiu Peak.
The trails in Cindrel mountains
The mountain trails in the Cindrel mountains are also recommended for less experienced mountaineers with an average physical condition. There are many mountain trails in the Cindrel Mountains, and due to the easier slopes, many of these trails are suitable for mountain biking.
The most popular trails are those that start from Paltinis, due to the fact that it already starts at 1400 meters altitude. One of the most popular is the route starting in Paltinis, to the Batrana saddle (1850 m) through the Gaujoara glade. In Batrana saddle there are several options to continue the route. One can climb the Surdu peak ( 1962 m) or the Batrana peak (1910) m from where magnificent views of the Cindrel, Lotrului, Fagaras mountains or Transylvanian Plateau can be seen. For those with a better physical condition, there is the option to continue to the Cindrel peak, but this route needs to be very well planned (10 hours in total from Paltinis to Cindrel peak and back), to be able to return to Paltinis before dark (a variant being to spend the night in the Canaia refuge).
Another popular hiking route starts from Cisnadie or Cisnadioara (at 550 m) and ascends through the forest to the Magura peak (1304 m). It is a relatively easy route (there are some parts with steep slopes though), but the view from the top is worth the effort. At a 360 degree panorama one can see Sibiu, Cisnadie, the Transylvanian plateau, the Olt river, the Fagaras and Lotrului Mountains, Sadu Valley and the rest of the Cindrel mountains. From Magura peak, there other trails leading to either Rau Sadului or Rasinari villages, or a longer route (minimum 10 hours) leading to Paltinis.
Another popular route is the one that starts from the village of Sibiel at 600 m altitude, (30 minutes from Sibiu) and goes up to the ruins of the Salgo fortress (1085 m). From there it continues through pastures, through the former summer hamlet of the inhabitants of Sibiel (Poiana Godea). From there, a wonderful landscape opens to the peaks of the Cindrel mountains and those of the Fagaras mountains, in the background.
The trails in Lotrului mountains
The most popular routes from Sibiu in the Lotrului mountains are those that start towards Prejba Peak (1744 m) from Sadului valley (650 m). The endurance mountaineers can try to cross the northern ridge of the Lotru mountains, starting from the village of Talmacel. It is also possible to connect in a longer itinerary, Cindrel Peak with the highest peak in the Lotru Mountains, Steflesti Peak (2242 m).
When to hike
Most routes are open all year round, with the mention that the routes in the high area of the Fagaras Mountains are recommended only to the most experienced climbers, some of the routes being closed due to the danger of avalanches. On the other hand, the routes from the Cindrel and Lotrului mountains, as well as the low altitude routes from the Fagaras mountains are open all year round, with the mention that in winter, specific equipment is needed.
At over 1500 meters, the first snow can appear in October-November, and in spring the snow lasts, depending on the season, until May. In June, at altitudes above 2000 meters, it is not uncommon to find patches of snow. Also in June, on the green slopes begins to appear the show of colours of wildflowers, which continues all summer until September. One of the most beautiful flowers in the Romanian Carpathians is the rhododendron, which covers the high slopes of the mountains in a pink blanket in June-July. From mid-October to November, the deciduous forests of the Carpathians begin to change their colours from shades of green to shades of brown – gold – amber.
From July to October, alpine pastures are inhabited by flocks of sheep, which is a great opportunity to photograph and observe the way of life of shepherds..
Should I hire a mountain guide for hiking in the Carpathian mountains near Sibiu?
It depends. First of all, on the level of experience of each one. Experienced mountaineers can easily handle the hiking trails in Sibiu County. In winter, however, in the high area of the Fagaras mountains, it is recommended to use a local mountain guide, who knows the dangers that can occur on the route.
Less experienced mountaineers should hire a mountain guide, especially in the Fagaras Mountains, which can be very dangerous due to the trails that pass by precipices or cross very steep slopes.
In the Cindrel or Lotrului mountains, the dangers are lower, but inexperienced tourists should not venture alone on long mountain trails or with a large difference in altitude.
How is the weather
We have already mentioned that hiking in the Carpathian mountains near Sibiu is possible all year round. Regardless of the season, checking the weather forecast before going hiking is more than necessary.
There is no certain season with bad weather, just as there is no season with only beautiful weather, although most mountaineers choose to go hiking during the summer, especially for warmer temperatures. But in summer, especially in June-July, there are high chances of rain in the afternoon, and statistically, in August-September are the lowest amounts of precipitation. We say statistically because, in practice, the weather no longer corresponds to any pattern.
Therefore, when planning a hike in the Fagaras, Cindrel or Lotrului mountains, always consider a plan B, in case the weather forecast is not favourable. Thus, if storms, strong winds, rains or blizzards in the winter are announced on the high ridges, the route can be adapted to avoid these areas. Weather applications are becoming more precise and can help in the decision to change the initially planned route.
Regarding the average temperatures and precipitation values in the Carpathians mountains, we think that the following graph will give you an idea about the monthly data (source – meteoblue.com)
- The data were recorded at a weather station in the Carpathian Mountains, at an altitude of 2500 m.
- The first diagram shows the average, the maximum (red) and the minimum (blue) temperatures. Extreme values are represented by + and * characters. Two-thirds of observed temperatures lie within the coloured temperature range.
- The second diagram shows the precipitation amount (in mm) and the range of monthly means in two-thirds of the years.
- The third diagram shows the number of days per month with precipitation and the two-thirds variation within the bars.
- The last diagram shows the observed daily mean wind speed and the two-thirds range of weekly means.
- Weather. Prepare your trip with careful attention to the weather. If bad weather is forecast, it is better to look for an alternative route or cancel the hike. Strong winds, freezing temperatures, storms, heavy rains, fog should be a red flag for any trip. In winter, it often happens to have avalanches in the Fagaras Mountains. Ask about the danger of avalanches from the Salvamont (Mountain Rescue Departament) before starting hiking on Fagaras during winter.
- The trail. Do meticulous research of the route beforehand. Use GPS-based applications that can tell you the distance and altitude difference in advance. Upload the map on your smartphone or sport watch. Find out about possible dangers related to the route: boulder falls, steep slopes, exposed slopes. Also, find out about the presence of water sources or chalets on the route. Read about the route from other hikers who have already waked on that route. Prepare yourself with the appropriate gear and bring enough food and water.
- Brown bears. In the Carpathian Mountains, there is an important population of brown bears. They generally do not attack people, but there are certain conditions that make them aggressive. For example, they may behave aggressively if they are surprised (normally when they sense humans, they walk away). That is why the basic rule is to make noise when you walk through the forest, near a noisy mountain river or in areas with dense vegetation, where the bear cannot see or hear you from a distance. Talk loudly or you can put small bells on your backpack to announce your presence.
- Vipers have been reported in the Carpathian Mountains, although not in large numbers. Like bears, vipers move away when they sense humans approaching, becoming aggressive only when they are surprised or when we step on them. To reduce the risk of being bitten by a viper, the rule is to use trekking poles to touch the tall grass and scare away any vipers that have not felt your presence.
- Shepherd dogs. The chances of meeting a sheep flock in the summer are very high in the Carpathian mountains. In general, shepherd dogs are not aggressive, especially since they are used to tourists on hiking routes. They can become aggressive when you approach the sheepfold, and then it is important to ask the shepherds to call their dogs back. It also happens that the shepherd dogs come to the tourists when they stopped to eat a sandwich. But in these cases, they are only attracted by food, not being aggressive. As a general rule, if your walking direction converges on a flock of sheep, look for the shepherd dog (they are always nearby) and tell the shepherd to call them if they become aggressive.
To avoid all those hazards, and to fully enjoy you hiking tour in the Carpathian mountains, please have a look at our hiking trips here. We can help you with an customised itinerary, depending on your physical shape and experience.