Apuseni (Western Transylvanian Mountains)

Apuseni (Western Transylvanian Mountains)

Page Type Page Type: Area/Range
Location Lat/Lon: 46.44117°N / 22.68986°E
Activities Activities: Hiking, Trad Climbing, Sport Climbing, Toprope, Scrambling, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
Additional Information Elevation: 6066 ft / 1849 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Munţii Apuseni (Romanian)   Erdélyi-szigethegység (Hungarian) 
Bridge #4 area
Walls of Turda/Torda Gorge - by M. Istvan

Between the vast plains of Pannonia to the west and the basin of Transylvania (Land beyond the Forest, coined in the Middle Ages) sits a remarkable bulk of medium-height mountains nearing 1850m a.s.l. in elevation. In shape, this mountain group resembles the palm of a hand approximately a hundred kilometers across, spreading its five fingers ("Western Hills") westerly and northerly. Romanian people call it Munţii Apuseni, which means the Western Mountains or the Mountains of the Setting Sun. Hungarian people used to call them the Island Mountains of East Hungary, but today refer to them as Erdélyi-szigethegység, i.e. the Island Mountains of Transylvania. Among the other - surely confusing - names for these mountains are: the Western Carpathians (for Slovaks, Poles and Czechs this stands for what we - on SP - call the Northwestern Carpathians) and the Bihor Mountains (this is the name of the highest subgroup). On the south, the Western Transylvanian Mountains are bounded by the the valley of the Mureş/Maros River (and the Southern Carpathians beyond it). To the north, the Western Transylvanian Mountains extend as far as the Someş/Szamos River. The location of the mountains against the Carpathian arc as well as the map showing their breakdown into particular mountain groups can be studied here

High Central Massifs

Bihor Mountains
Bihor/Bihar Mts from ENE

The highest mountains rise in the central part of Munţii Apuseni/Erdélyi-szigethegység. This heart of the Western Transylvanian Mountains can be divided into three major mountain groups, whose highest summits exceed 1800m in elevation: the Vlădeasa/Vlegyásza in the north, the Bihor/Bihar in the south and the Gilău/Gyalu in the east. 

The valley of Drăgan with Buteasa (1792 m)
Vladeasa Mts
Curcubăta Mare / Nagy-Bihar
Great Bihor
Şesul Craiului-Scăriţa-Belioara


These mountains - composed of crystalline rocks - feature long, gentle slopes and rounded tops. The scenery is a blend of coniferous forests and mountain pastures and is rather monotonous, despite being charming. A rather small - compared to other Carpathian ranges - number of big predators, such as the bear, wolf and lynx live there. 

Mountain Group Highest Summit Elevation in Meters Description





Vladeasa Mountains





Please see the Vlădeasa page.



Bihor Mountains

Cucurbăta Mare

Bihorul Mare


Great Bihor


The main attractions of the Bihor are located in the northern chunk of the mountains, around the sources of the Aries River. South of the Vladeasa lies the limestone plateau of Padis, often called the kingdom of the Carpathian karst, which is regarded as part of the Bihor Mountains. East of Padis, north of the village of Arieşeni/Lepus sits another, smaller karst plateau which boasts Scărişoara/Aranyosfői Cave, holding loads of ice. Several kilometers in the opposite direction from Arieseni, south of the Aries River stands the highest mountain of all in the Western Transylvanian Mountains, Cucurbăta Mare/Nagy-Bihar (Great Bihor) with a tall transmitter mast on the summit.

Munţii Gilău


Gilau Mountains

Muntele Mare


1826 Between the Aries River in the south, the Vladeasa massif in the west and the city of Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvár to the north-east. Most of these mountains looks like a plateau with rolling hills on top: gentle, long slopes, endless mosaic of pastures and vast spruce forests, surprisingly steep valleys. In geologic terms, the axis of the mountains is a granite batholith. As elsewhere, the granite core is surrounded by metamorphic rocks such as schists. Both the geology and the relief are monotonous since the elevation was not enough for the Pleistocene glaciers to develop. In the east, however, there are patches of spectacular limestone karst relief, such as Scărita-Belioara/Bélavár, west of the Turda Gorge (please see next chapter). In fact, the area around that gorge also lies within the eastern reaches of the Gilau, although it is usually classified as part of the Trascău/Torockó Mountains.) Pastoralism, transhumance, traditional wooden architecture and lifestyles are still alive throughout the Gilau - these mountains are a huge theater showing what most of the Carpathians looked like until the last decades of the twentieth century.


Between the three major crystalline massifs stretches a limestone plateau named Padis (Padiş/Pádis), packed with the classic forms of karst relief and usually classified as part of the Bihor Mountains. The karst landscapes extend northward into the Vladeasa Mountains and easterly along the Arieş/Aranyos River as far as the Turda Gorge (Cheile Turzii/Tordai-hasadék) on the outskirts of the Transylvanian Basin. But the karst west of the historic town of Turda/Torda - despite being located north of the Aries River - is traditionally believed to be part of the Trascău/Torockó Mountains.

Eminenciás-vízesés / Cascada Evantai
Scărişoara ice cave
Scărişoara ice cave
Cosul Boului cave
Scărita-Belioara Nature Reserve


Gorges & Crags of the South-East

Between the middle course of the Maros River and the Aries/Aranyos, its tributary which rises in the heart of the Western Transylvanian Mountains, sits a mountainous land whose main features are limestone gorges and crags in the east and rich deposits of metals, including gold, toward the west.
Mountain Group Highest Summmit Elevation in Meters Description

Munţii Trascău


Trascau Mountains



1369 These mountains are formed of limestone and stretch across the watersheds of the northwestern tributaries of the Maros River between the towns of Alba Iulia/Gyulafehérvár in the south and Turda/Torda in the north. The most attractive and most frequented are the following spots along with their immediate surroundings: the Turda Gorge (Cheile Turzii/Tordai-hasadék), the Rock of the Szeklers (Piatra Secului/Székelykő), the Râmeţ/Remete (Eremite's) Gorge and Intregalde/Havasgáld.

Munţii Metaliferi


Transylvanian Ore Mountains



1437 The southernmost range of the mountains of western Transylvania - the Ore Mountains - is rich in metals, which have been mined for millennia and were one of the incentives that prompted the Romans to occupy Dacia in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The Ore Mountains are extremely interesting to the geologist since - within a fairly small area - they hold three major lithologic components which form the three distinct belts characteristic of the Northwestern Carpathians: flysch, crystalline core with attached limestone and volcanic rocks. This translates into interesting geomorphology.


The rock of the Szekely
Szeklers' Rock
Turnul Ascutit
Turda area
In the Ramet Gorges
Eremite's Gorge
Craciunesti main  wall
Ore Mountains

Western Hills

In the west and north-west, the central massifs are surrounded by several groups of low mountains whose geological composition does not differ much from that of the higher ranges of the Western Transylvanian Mountains: mostly old crystalline rocks and several large areas of Mesozoic limestone; of the latter the Royal Forest stands out, looking like a lower version of the Padis Plateau.

Mountain Group Highest Summit Elevation in Meters Description

Munţii Zarandului


Zarand Mts



836 These mountains run west from the Transylvanian Ore Mountains, north of the Mureş/Maros River, constituting the southwest corner of the Western Transylvanian Mountains. Composed mostly of Paleozoic crystalline rocks, they are covered by broad-leaved woodland.

Munţii Codru-Moma


Codru-Moma Mountains

Vf. Plesu


1112 West of the Bihor Mountains, between the Crişul Alb (White)/Fehér Körös River in the south and the Crişul Negru (Black)/Fekete-Körös to the north, this group of mountains is made up of the Codru (north) and the Moma (south) - crystalline rocks and limestone. The elevation of these mountains above the adjacent lowlands is up to 800m, which does give them mountainous looks.

Pădurea Craiului


Royal Forest



1027 The name of these mountains comes from the fact that for several centuries they were the hunting ground of the kings of Hungary. It is this silva beyond which Transylvania lies (please see the first line of the Overview). The Royal Forest, mostly of limestone, rises slowly from the Great Hungarian Plain in the west to gradually gain elevation toward the Vladeasa Mountains in the east. The Royal Forest’s highest summit is located near its eastern boundary, which is delineated by the Iad/Jád River. The area contains a large number of interesting caves.

Munţii Şes/Plopiş


Ses Mountains

Măgura Mare


918 North of the Rapid Criş/Körös. The mountains run from NW to SE and look like typical Central European foothills: rolling hills, fields and pastures, serene villages and little towns, castle ruins, patches of deciduous and mixed woodland.

Munţii Meseş


Meses Mountains

Măgura Priei

Perjei Magura

996 The easterly extension of the Ses Mountains, the Meses run from SW to NE, i.e. at a right angle to the Ses Mountains. Formed of ancient gneiss but also young flysh and sandstone, including a little "rock city" called Grădină Zmeilor/Sárkányok kertje (Dragon's Garden).


View of Magura Priei from Plopis Pass
Mesesh Mts
Unguru Mare Cave, Apuseni Mountains
Royal Forest
Northeast view from the summit
Mesesh Mts

Rock Climbing

Rock climbing in the Western Transylvanian Mountains is all about limestone. The major climbing areas are located in the South-East, especially in the gorges of the Trascau Mountains, of which the Turda Gorge is a mecca for the Transylvanian rock climbers. In the Ore Mountains, the gorge of Crăciuneşti/Krecsunesd lures most of the climbers.

Tureni Gorge
Turda area
On Top
Ore Mountains
Cheile Turzii - Turnul Ascutit
Turda Gorge
Climber in Urias Wall
Turda Gorge

Historic Landscapes

To understand the man-made features of Transylvania's landscapes, especially the architecture of its towns and villages sitting at lower elevations, including the outskirts of the Western Transylvanian Mountains, one has to to bear in mind that for about a thousand years - from the 10th century A.D. up to the 1st World War - the country was multinational as well as being either the east part of the kingdom of Hungary or a principality ruled by Hungarian princes. But the people who built Transylvania's greatest towns were the "Saxon" settlers who came from the overpopulated lands which are today western Germany. While the Hungarians, Hungarian-speaking Szeklers and Saxons thrived in the lower lying areas and the towns, most of the mountains and rural areas were populated by Romanian people (then called Vlachs). They assimilated the remainders of the older settlers, such as Slavs. In ethnographic terms, the heart of Munţii Apuseni/Erdélyi-szigethegység is the homeland of a distinct group of highlanders known as the Moţi people.

Romanian trek
Hiker's Paradise
Toroczkó from the top of Székelykő
Hiker's Paradise in Transylvania
"The land hides salt and precious metals of all kind in surprising abundance. From the iron which shields life to the gold that corrupts it. Innumerable thermal and mineral springs flow from earth's bosom, creeks and rivers beautify and water the land everywhere. On sunny slopes the grape glows and the sumptuous fruit tree blooms. Wheat fields wave in the valleys, wild animals roam the forests, domesticated animals are in abundance. This is the land of Transylvania and should the people lack something, it's mostly their own fault." G. D. Teutsch, History of the Transylvanian Saxons, Kronstadt (today's Braşov) 1858
"...in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching..." John II Sigismund Zápolya, Edict of Torda, 1568

Getting There

Nearest airports:
Signposts at Stâna de Vale resort
By rail:
Vladeasa / Kalota-havas
By road:
  • Romania's highways and roads
  • If you drive from Budapest, the best solution is to head for Oradea/Nagyvárad, then - after crossing the border - continue along E60 (DN1).
  • Practical tips to help you drive across Romania.
  • Public transport between Romania's cities is well developed, in contrast to the local bus networks. Hitchiking is commonplace, the (little) fare is not usually asked for but is supposed to be handed.
  • One of the most convenient ways of getting to as well as getting to know the heart of the Western Transylvanian Mountains - from the city of Cluj or the towns south of it, such as Turda - is a journey by car/bus/bike up the valley of the Aries River
This dirtroad is an alternative way to approach to Căţeilor


Photo by yxygan

Maps & Guidebooks


online map on freemap.sk


Red Tape, Camping, Accommodation

There is virtually no red tape except for the area of the Apuseni Nature Park and the few other nature reserves. One's own tent and sleeping bag is the perfect solution. Also, there will be numerous cozy guesthouses like these as well as an occasional mountain hut in the most popular areas.
turzii hut
Canton Glăvoi
View of the Şaua Vârtop ski resort

Select External Links

Photo by karpaterna



Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.