In mythical Transylvania, not too far from the famed Bran Castle that inspired the story of Dracula, Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor (Zărneşti Gorges) is a popular tourist attraction in central Romania. It’s also one of the country’s most popular climbing destinations, especially in summer.
The gorges sit next to the picturesque mountain town of Zărneşti, within the Piatra Craiului National Park, in the Carpathian Mountains. There are a bunch of climbing sectors along the gorges and, although pretty close to one another, each one is different. All in all, what truly stands out about climbing in Zărneşti Gorges is the high density of top-notch – some might even say world-class – climbing routes.
So, if you’re a climber traveling to Braşov, in central Romania, climbing in Zărneşti Gorges is a definite must. You’ll find aesthetic lines, great diversity, and some very challenging routes as well. So read on and find out all you need to plan an epic climbing trip in Zărneşti.
In this article
An introduction to Zărneşti Gorges (Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor)
In the rugged Carpathians, Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor stand at the foothills of the Piatra Craiului Mountains, which are among the most spectacular in Romania.
Smaller than most mountains in the Carpathians, yet much more complex than many of the larger ones, the Piatra Craiului Mountains are an imposing kingdom of limestone, with spectacular karst features, steep alpine valleys, and lush green pastures. They have the longest and highest limestone ridge in the country, narrow and jagged, like the back of a dinosaur, 25 kilometers long.
Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor literally means the “Precipices of Zărneşti”. They take their name after the sheer limestone walls that seem to almost close in at times. And of course, they are located close to the town of Zărneşti.
They are about 6 km long, at an elevation of over 1,000 meters. A river runs through the gorges. In summer, it usually runs underground.
You can get to the entrance to the gorges by car, where you’ll find a barrier. Cars are not allowed inside the gorges.
Zărneşti Gorges are on top of the list of places to visit among tourists in the area. Because they’re very easy to reach, you’ll see a lot of tourists here, especially in weekends and summer months.
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Between May 1 and October 31, you must pay a visiting fee if you enter the Piatra Craiului National Park. It is 10 RON (approx. 2 EUR) per person for 7 days. You can either buy the tickets online here, from the ticket vending machine in front of the post office in the center of Zărneşti, or from the rangers that usually greet tourists on the gravel road to the Zărneşti Gorges.
Climbing in Zărneşti Gorges (Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor)
There are well over 100 sport climbing routes in Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor, with potential for more. In the last years, new lines have been bolted, as well as impressive extensions on the upper parts of the walls. Many of these routes still await their first ascent.
You’ll find routes of all grades and varied climbing. This particular destination may not be that big, but it sure is one of the most complex, with so many different styles across a short distance.
Slabs, vertical faces, and slightly overhanging walls. Short and bouldery, long and pumpy. Puzzling cruxes, delicate and technical climbing on sheer vertical walls, small crimps, powerful moves, and other surprises. Routes of all grades. There are also some multi-pitch routes in the gorges, equipped with old pitons.
Climbing sectors in Zărneşti Gorges
About 5 minutes after entering the gorges, you’ll reach the first sport climbing routes in Zărneşti Gorges.
The first majestic, vertical, gray wall on the left is home to some challenging lines, including one of the most aesthetic 8b/8b+ routes in Romania – Meteor. This is Arcadei (The Arch) sector. A little further up, on the right, above the river bed, you’ll find Surplomba (The Overhang) sector with short and bouldery overhanging routes, most of them in the 7c+ to 8a range.
Photo by Szidonia Lorincz
The biggest climbing sector in Zărneşti Gorges is La Refugiu (The Shelter), which gets its name from the mountain rescue hut built where the gorges widen a bit, under a large limestone wall. There are quite a few routes here in the 6b to 7a range, from 20 meters long to almost 40 meters, making this sector excellent if you wish to get acquainted with the area and get some mileage. There are a couple of easier routes too, excellent for beginners. Some of the easier routes are a bit polished.
On the upper part of this wall, you’ll find some newly bolted extensions that go all the way up to the top of the cliff, from 7b+ to 8b and harder. There are unclimbed routes here, still. Any first ascent fans interested?
In between these, as well as further up on the valley, there are other sectors scattered around, each with its own personality – from short and powerful to long and pumpy, technical vertical faces to slight overhangs.
After heavy rain, most of the sectors can get wet. Some routes, such as the ones at Surplomba (The Overhang) sector may stay wet for longer. On the other hand, the routes at La Refugiu (The Shelter) sector are protected from rain and most of them stay dry even after heavy rainfall.
You can find the climbing topo for Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor inside the printed guidebook for climbing in Romania at the crags near Braşov. Unfortunately, this is an older edition that has yet to be updated with the newly bolted routes. You can order it online or buy it from the climbing gym in Braşov. Some mountain equipment stores in Braşov sell it, too.
Website thecrag.com also has information on the area.
It’s fairly easy to get by without a guidebook, too. In the gorges, on the side of the road, there are information display boards next to each sector that have a small climbing topo. The information for some sectors may not be updated, though.
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Best time to climb in Zărneşti Gorges (Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor)
Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor is mainly a summer climbing destination, from May till October.
The gorges hardly get any sun and almost all the routes are in shade all day. There’s usually a light breeze coming down from the mountain that makes the whole atmosphere cooler inside the gorges.
What to pack
If you can, bring your entire climbing gear. There are no places to rent climbing gear in Zărneşti and there are currently no outdoor stores in town. Should you need anything, the city of Braşov has quite a few outdoor/climbing stores, a big rock climbing gym with outdoor shop, and a Decathlon store.
There are routes around 15 meters tall, like the ones at the Surplomba (The Overhang) sector, and there are others that are 40+ meters tall. So, the length of rope you bring really depends on what you wish to climb. Luckily, many of the longer routes have two or three pitches, so you can lower from anchor to anchor. Also bring 20+ quickdraws.
Make sure you bring warm clothes. It can get pretty cool inside the gorges, even in the midst of summer.
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Zărneşti is about 28 kilometers from Braşov, one of the main tourist attractions in Romania. Zărneşti Gorges are located about 7 kilometers from the town of Zărneşti, on an unpaved, forestry road.
You can fly into Bucharest Henri Coandă International Airport (OTP) and from there you can either rent a car or travel via public transport.
If you opt for public transport, take a train from Bucharest to Braşov (~2-3 hours). From Braşov, take another train to Zărneşti (~40 minutes). From Zărneşti, you can get to Prăpăstiile Zărneştilor on foot, on the gravel road. Depending on where you’re staying in Zărneşti, it may take 1 ½ to 2 hours to get there. You can also take a taxi to the barrier at the entrance of the gorges.
Where to stay
Zărneşti is a touristic town with lots of guesthouses that you can easily find on booking.com, as well as Airbnbs. There are guesthouses and rustic cabins on the 12-kilometer-long Bârsa Valley, outside Zărneşti, under the rocky western slopes of the Piatra Craiului Mountains.
Wild camping is not allowed within the Piatra Craiului National Park outside the designated campgrounds. So, if you plan to camp, make sure you know where to do it. Otherwise, you risk getting a fine.
On the gravel road to Zărneşti Gorges, there’s the Botorog Campground – location here. It’s free to stay there. There are a few benches and you can also build small campfires. About 200 meters from the campground you’ll find the well-known Botorog Fountain (Fântâna lui Botorog) with exceptionally good drinking water. There’s a river next to the campground, with crystal clear water that stays freezing cold even in summer. This is a great base camp if you plan to climb in Zărneşti Gorges.
If you travel by camper van, you can park near the Botorog Campground or in the parking spaces on the valley leading to the gorges.
There’s another campground on the Bârsa Valley for RVs, camper vans, and tents, about 6 kilometers from Zărneşti – location here. This campground is also free of charge and campfires are allowed.
There are a few campsites with facilities near Plaiul Foii Chalet, some 12 kilometers from Zărneşti, that offer places for tents, RVs, and camper vans for a fee.
Building a fire outside the designated camping places is not allowed.
Rest days in Zărneşti usually involve some sort of outdoor activity or visiting nearby historical sites. You can go hiking or cycling in the Piatra Craiului Mountains. You can have lunch with a view at Curmătura Chalet, the emblematic mountain hut of the Piatra Craiului Mountains. Or you can go to the mountain villages of Măgura and Peştera.
You might even consider visiting the bear sanctuary in Zărneşti, the world’s biggest brown bear sanctuary. Located just outside of town, it is home to 100+ bears rescued from captivity. You can see most of these bears on a guided tour. This is not a zoo but a shelter for these animals, so get ready for a truly unique experience.
While you’re in the area, why not give Bran Castle a visit? Or see the medieval citadel in Râşnov? And of course, you simply must go for a stroll through the historical center of Braşov, with its narrow and winding streets, iconic buildings, and medieval architecture. While here, you have a traditional Romanian meal at one of the many restaurants in the city center.
*Tiny disclosure: this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission to help fund my climbing trips.
**Cover photo by Szidonia Lorincz