Apuseni Natural Park
Located in western Romania, in the northwestern part of the Apuseni Mountains (Western Carpathians), the Apuseni Natural Park was established in 2004. Spanning over an area of over 75,000 hectares, the Park is delimited by the Codru-Moma Moutains in southwest, the Bihorului Mountains in the south, the Vladeasa Massif in the north, the Padurea Craiului Mountains in the northwest, and the Gilau Mountains in the east.
The area is filled with remarkable natural formations formed over millennia by the corrosion of the soft limestone that makes up the Apuseni mountains, creating countless caves, gorges, and canyons.
The Apuseni Natural Park is an area of rich fauna, including many rare and endangered species such as the chamois or the western capercailzie, and equally impressive flora, including the mountain fritillary and the quaking aspen.
The park is a classic example of karst terrain – over 400 caves, sink holes, gorges, canyons, and groundwater systems pepper the landscape, providing endless opportunities of exploration.
Several spectacular areas within the parks have a special conservation status, including the Padis Plateau, the Sighistel-Chiscau area, and the Vartop area.
The Padis area is the main tourist destination of the Apuseni Natural Park and is home to a host of impressive natural attractions, some unique in the country. Crossing the park, the spectacular Galbenei Valley is a narrow river that cuts through the limestone rock to form hundred meters deep gorges, countless waterfalls, and many caves.
The Focul Viu (Living Fire) Cave hides the largest subterranean glacier in the country, as well as a great number of ice columns and rock formations. The Cetatile Ponorului karst complex comprises of 14 underground lakes, and three huge sinkholes formed in a heavily forested depression. The Groapa de la Barsa depression, part of the complex, with its many caves and a suspended karst lake, is one of the most inaccessible places in the whole Apuseni.
The Vartop-Arieseni area, located on the county border between Bihor and Alba, at 116 kilometers from Oradea, has become in recent years a fledgling mountain resort, thanks to the presence of two ski runs and the great conditions for practicing paragliding. Vartop is also a great starting point for climbing the highest peak in the area, Curcubata Mare, at 1849 meters. The thunderous Varciorog Waterfall, 15 meters tall, and the magnificent Groapa Ruginoasa (Rusty Hole) chasm, so named after the color of its rocks, are two of the interesting natural formations accessible from the Vartop area.
The Sighistel-Chiscau area, in the eastern part of the Apuseni Natural Park is a cave explorer’s paradise – no fewer than 160 caves of different sizes and depths are found on a surface of 1.5 square kilometers. Among the most impressive are the Magura Cave, filled with spectacular rock formations and 750 meters long Coliboaia.
Bears’ Cave – one of the best known tourist attractions in Romania, the Bear’s Cave offers visitors a trip back in the mist of times. The name of the cave comes from the many fossils of cave bears that dwelled there until approximately 17,000 years ago. The Bear’s Cave was accidentally discovered in 1975 and has been since 1978 open for visitation. The cavern, comprised of several galleries, such as the Bones’ Gallery and the Candle’s Gallery, can be visited with children thanks to the illumination and the overpasses set up throughout it.
In the area
The city of Cluj Napoca is located in the nearby of Apuseni Natural Park. Dotted with historical buildings, museums, churches and cathedrals, is the ideal place to go for a day trip, while in the area.
How to get there: The Apuseni Mountains National Park can be reached from the national road that connects Cluj Napoca with Oradea, which passes through its northern outskirts. A rugged mountain road crosses the park from the villages of Pietroasa to Rachitele.