Hiking in the Rodna Mountains

If the Carpathians are wild, the Rodna Mountains (Munţii Rodnei in Romanian) are truly wild. In the mountains around Braşov, the Fagaraş for example, you will meet plenty of people and find many a cabana – but in the Rodna, you will have to be completely self-sufficient. There are no cabanas except for a (temporarily closed) inn at the Setref Pass in the west, Hanul Pintea, and a cabana at the easternmost end of the ridge, Cabana Rotunda. So pack your tent, food and water, and let’s go…

The Rodna Mountains are a 57 km long mountain range in the north of the county of Maramureş. The only range that is closer to the border with the Ukraine is the Muntii Maramureşului (more later). A visit to the Rodna Mountains can be combined with a visit to the beautiful countryside of Maramureş (Breb, for example) or a ride on the Mocaniţa in Viseu de Sus; a beautiful old little steam train that takes you up the Vaşer Valley.

How to get there

Either take a train or bus from Sighetu Marmaţiei to Săcel or Dealu Ştefăniţei, or take train to either of these places from Cluj-Napoca. From there, either walk or hitchhike up to the Setref Pass (on the border between the counties of Maramureş and Bistriţa-Năsăud). From here, you can hike across the main ridge (red stripe) to the easternmost end (Rotunda Pass) in five to six days.

Day Stages

From the Setref Pass, the red stripe trail departs east. However, there are two paths. The bottom one is the more obvious but this is the wrong path! It will only take you down into the valley. Deceptively, it is marked with a red stripe signpost. You need to take the path that departs from behind the Hanul Tentea inn (i.e. slightly to the south). From here, follow the red stripe trail up to La Jgheaburi, where you will find a cowboy and his cows and horses, as well as water. You can either camp here or continue to Pasul Pietrii (there is a shelter but it’s leaky and there is no water, so make sure you get water at La Jgheaburi or 1 km after). Please note that you are not allowed to camp everywhere in the Rodna Mountains; please stick to the designated camping spots. You will find these on the Dimap map.

On day two, the red stripe train takes you from Pasul Pietrii to Rebra Lake. You will pass plenty of springs on this rather pleasant and easy walk. If you feel like you have tons of energy left, pitch your tent at Rebra Lake and hike up to Buhaescu Mare Peak and on to Pietrosul Peak; at 2303 m this is the highest summit in the Rodna Mountains. From here, you can also exit to the town of Borşa, which is an excellent base to rest and also a great alternative starting point if you don’t want to walk the whole length of the ridge. I can recommend staying at Borşa Turism, a mini campsite at the foot of the Pietrosul.

From Rebra Lake, the red stripe trail departs southeast, up the ridge to Obârsia-Rebri Peak. Again, don’t take the obvious cart track – this will take you down into the valley (although the signpost again suggests that this is what you should do). After the Obârsia-Rebri saddle, you can opt for an easy route (left) or stay on the ridge (right). If you opt for the latter, please make sure you turn left (north) from Repede Peak! The red stripe trail is hardly visible here but it’s there and will take you down to Saua între Izvoare. This makes an excellent camping spot, although you can also continue for another 8 km or so to just beyond Lacul Cailor (the Horses’ Lake).

It is on day four that things get tricky. There is a really rocky, craggy stretch of ridge between Omului Peak and Ineu Peak (the second highest peak of the Rodnei at 2279 m). This is a tricky section. If you don’t feel up to it, please head down into the valley on the right and come back up again when you get to the two little lakes. However, it is definitely worth trying if you feel you are experienced enough. This is my favourite section of the Rodna Mountains; the further in you get the quieter and more pristine it gets. Also, you will be rewarded by getting to camp at Lala Mica Lake which is a great spot in the shade of Ineu Peak. To get there, walk down (or past) Ineu Peak and turn left onto the blue circle trail (there is an arrow and the word ‘Lala’ painted on a rock).

If you left early and are still full of beans, you can also choose to continue on the red stripe route, over one more peak (Ineuţ, 2222 m), after which you will make a steady but tricky descent down a rocky slope, down to around 1700 m. After that, it’s easy: you just walk down the path that takes you to Rotunda Pass (some 8-10 km). You can either camp there or walk/hitchhike down to the main no. 18 road, from where you can hitchhike or bus it to the west (Borşa) or to the east (Suceava).

Things you need to think about

As said, you’ll need to be self-sufficient when hiking in the Rodna Mountains. Ask yourself if you are prepared to sleep in a tent and carry all your own food and water for five days. If the answer is ‘yes’, than make sure you are well-prepared. I recommend bringing a water filter (I am very happy with the Sawyer mini) and plenty of warm, wind- and rainproof clothes. When I went in July, it was terribly windy and cold on the ridge; temperatures dropped to 10 ℃ in daytime and probably around zero at night. So don’t forget your thermal layer…

Mobile reception is very limited in the Rodna Mountains. However, do save the Salvamont (mountain rescue) number in your phone. It’s +40725826668. And although I love hiking on my own myself, do bring a friend if you haven’t done this before.

Something else you’ll want to think about is sheepdogs. A lot of people worry about bears, but really, bears are shy. You probably won’t get to see them (although I did see some bear prints just past La Jgheaburi). Just make sure you make some noise so that you don’t scare them (buy a bear bell or fill a coke tin with stones and attach it to your backpack). But sheepdogs are the real threat. They are very ferocious and more often than not, they aren’t trained. The most important thing to remember is: Never Run. When they bark at you and follow you, just stop in your tracks, face them and wait until they back off. If they don’t and keep charging at you, try throwing stones. However, I prefer to use my ultrasonic dog chaser. This should keep them at some distance. However, the Never Run principle still applies. Don’t turn yourself into prey.

Well, I hope that didn’t put you off. Time to get ready to prepare for a great hike! The Rodna is definitely one of the most beautiful and pristine ranges in the Romanian Carpathians. So if you truly want to camp wild, this is a great option. Drum bun! 

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