We took a day trip from Brasov to go hiking in Piatra Craiului National Park. We caught the 9am train from Brasov to Zarnesti, a small town on the edge of the National Park. The train departs every two hours and costs roughly $1 per person. The train shuttles between Brasov and Zarnesti every hour and the journey takes 45 minutes.
Zarnesti’s train station is on the edge of town, which meant we had to walk all the way through Zarnesti to reach the National Park. We stopped in at the visitor’s center, mostly because I had to pee and the train station did not have a bathroom, but also to pick up a trail map since the internet actually provided very little information about how to go hiking in the park.
The woman at the visitor center advised us that the trail loop we wanted to do started several kilometers down the highway, but we could take a taxi for about $4. Obviously Joe and I were not going to take a taxi, because as I’ve mentioned before, we’d rather add two hours to a hike than to pay money, so we started walking that way.
We decided to try hitchhiking because we heard Romania is a really easy place to hitch, so we walked along the highway to a good pickup spot, one after all the other turnoff streets so everyone driving past was going through the National Park. As we were walking to the spot we wanted to post up at, we heard cars driving up behind us so we’d turn around and stick our thumbs out. Several cars passed without stopping, the drivers pointing straight ahead or doing a circle with their fingers, meaning they were not going very far or were only driving in this area. After four or five cars passed, we saw a car coming so we stuck out our thumbs. This car was going so slow that I couldn’t tell if they were slowing down for us or just having trouble making it up the hill. Finally the car arrived and actually stopped for us, and inside were two Roma guys. We showed them our trail map and pointed to the trailhead, and they nodded and took off. We passed many of the fellow hikers who had come in on the same train as us and were walking to the trailhead, so I was feeling pretty smug that we had thought to hitchhike. I soon started feeling very uneasy. The driver and his passenger spoke no English, which we are used to, but the driver kept saying something to the passenger and pointing to his glove compartment. I had all sorts of paranoid visions of them pulling over on this deserted mountain road and mugging us with some glove compartment knife. The driver talked on his cell phone the whole time, meanwhile swerving violently on bald tires to avoid potholes. Finally we reached the yellow trailhead of one end of the loop, and although we were actually trying to get to the blue trailhead a bit further up the road, I took the opportunity to jump out of the car while I could. Joe gave the guys a couple lei, which is about 50 cents, since in Romania it’s customary to pay a bit of gas money to drivers who pick you up. The drive was not very long at all, and we could have actually walked it very easily, no need for a taxi at all, so the guys probably thought we were super lazy to hitchhike for five minutes. I read later that the standard payment for hitchhiking is 5 lei per 100 kilometers, which meant we grossly overpaid. Oh well. I was happy we made it.
Once the guys drove off, very slowly of course, we kept walking a little bit up the road to reach the blue trailhead. The first part of the hike is a really easy paved incline through a narrow gorge. After an hour or so through the gorge, we came to a fork in the trail where we needed to start hiking straight up the mountain.
This part of the hike was a bit difficult, as the trail had been carved straight into the roots of the trees and the incline was very steep. We finally reached the top of the steepest part of the hike and entered a beautiful forest. We took several breaks to admire the trees, moss, and look down to see just how high we climbed in a short amount of time.
After walking through the forest for another half hour or so, we came to a clearing with a gorgeous view of mountains, rolling hills, and pine trees. We followed the trail down into some trees where there was still snow and ice on the ground. We came to a valley where the trail disappeared, so we hiked around in the middle of a meadow. We were heading to a lodge at the top of the mountain so unfortunately we had to hike up a steep incline again. Once we reached the lodge we had an awesome view of more snow capped mountains and forests of pine trees.
We took the yellow trail back down and found out that it must be the popular trail. We saw no one on the blue trail and many people on the yellow trail, some going back down the same way after hiking up, which seems a bit boring to me. I’d rather hike down a different way just to see something different.
The yellow trail was amazing, though, because as we were hiking down we were facing the mountain range the whole time. We had sweeping views of hills and mountains so our hike down maybe even took longer than the hike up because I kept stopping to take pictures.
The bottom of the yellow trail was quite steep and had lots of switchbacks but no real view to speak of, so I believe we made the right decision to hike up the blue trail through the gorge and then down the yellow trail. From the yellow trailhead we had to go back through Zarnesti to catch the train back to Brasov. Since we knew it wasn’t a very long way, we decided to just walk rather than try hitchhiking again. We got to the train station around 3:30pm, missing the 3:00 train. The next train did not come until 5:00pm so we hung out at the train station and watched our fellow hikers trickle in over the next hour and a half. We got back to Brasov around 6:00pm and rewarded ourselves for a full day of strenuous hiking with chimney cakes, which are cone shaped cinnamon sugar donuts filled with ice cream. The hike in Piatra Craiului was one of the most challenging and beautiful we have ever done, and the whole experience, from the train to the hitchhiking, to the epic views, will be one I remember forever.