Căpăţânii Mountains

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Căpăţânii Mountains
Created On: Nov 18, 2017
Last Edited On: Apr 13, 2018


Munţii Căpăţânii   Kapacina-hegység (H)

NB Both writers of this page have had tense encounters with sheepdogs in the Romanian Carpathians, but only once has each of us been bitten by a sheepdog – both incidents took place in the Căpățânii Mountains. Those dogs have to be fierce as they have to cope with bears and wolves.

The Căpățânii Mountains are an east-west trending range that is part of the Parâng group and spans about 40 km between the Făgăraş and the Cozia mountains in the east, beyond the Olt River, and the Parâng Mountains in the west. The north boundary of the Căpățânii is formed by the Latorița and Lotru rivers, which separate the Căpățânii from the Latorița range (usually regarded as part of the Parâng Mountains) and the Lotru mountains. In the west, the main ridge of the Căpățânii is divided from the main ridge of the Parâng by the pass named Curmătura Oltețului at 1615 m. The southern frontier of the Căpățânii is the subcarpathian zone and the Polovragi-Horezu depression.

The main ridge of the Căpățânii, formed of metamorphic rocks, mainly crystalline schists, is rather gentle and grassy like the other ranges in the Parâng group except the Parâng Mountains. The rolling summits, long lateral ridges which trend south, timberline at 1800 m or less (as it has often been lowered by man) are conducive to intensive pastoral activity.

The highest segment of the Căpăţânii
The highest part of the Căpățânii seen from the Târnovu massif

Despite this and the fact that the Căpățânii is one of the lowest ranges in the Parâng group, it is the second most interesting range in the group (after the Parâng Mountains), owing to large areas formed of limestone and dolomite, whose most spectacular sections are the Buila-Vânturariţa massif at 1885 m in the southeast and a smaller ridge of Târnovu (1880 m) in the northwest. Calcareous rocks breeding karst landforms also occur in the southwest corner of the Căpăţânii, between Olteţ and Horezu creeks (Olteţ canyon, Polovragi cave, Taraia and Cerna ravines). The northeast corner of the Căpățânii is an inhospitable maze of relatively low, but complicated in terms of geology (gneiss, conglomerate, limestone, marl) and morphology, heavily forested mountains - similar to the Cozia Mountains across the Olt River, but wilder and less visited - whose highpoint is Narăţu at 1509m. Since 2017, its most valuable cluster of pristine woodland encompassing Lotrişor creek is on UNESCO's World Natural Heritage List as part of Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe.

The main ridge of the Căpăţânii Mountains rises in the east, just below where the Lotru River empties into the Olt, to the summit of Foarfeca (824 m), then Sturii lui Pavel (1380m) and Narăţu (1509 m). Then the ridge turns southwest to Sturii Olaneştilor (1415 m) to soon curve back north. From Vf.lui Stan (1450 m) the main ridge runs west via the following summits: Folea (1647 m), Gera (1886 m), Vf.Preota (1954 m), Ionaşcu (1979 m), Zmeuret (1938 m), Văleanu (1847 m), Cocora (1895 m), Ursu (2124 m), Coşana (2041 m), Căpăţâna (2097 m), Funicelu (1948 m) and Beleoaia (2036 m). There the main ridge veers north towards its highpoint, i.e. Nedeia (2130 m), from which it runs northwest, skirting the summits of Negovanu (2064 m), Turcinu (1963 m) and Boul (1913 m) to finally end after approximately 75 km at Curmătura Olteţului in the west. Slight traces of Pleistocene glacial activity can be found in the highest segment, especially around the summit of Ursu.

A south-north transect of the Căpăţânii would reveal an asymmetric structure – the lateral ridges (called plaiuri by the locals) branching off the main ridge to run north are steeper and shorter (max. 9 km) than the southern branches (max. 15 km). For the hiker, the most important is the ridge which runs southeast from Govora (1958m, south of the town of Malaia) via Lespezi and Scânteia summits, thus linking the main ridge of the Căpăţânii Mountains with the Buila-Vânturariţa massif.

Corşor spur
Nedeia at 2130 m (left), Beleoaia at 2036 m (center-right) and the Corşor Ridge

North of the main ridge, about an hour's walk-up southwest from the village of Malaia, sits one of the tallest waterfalls in all of the Carpathians, Cascada Scoruşu/lui Ciucă, whose height is estimated to be between 80 and 100 meters.

Scorusu waterfall
Scoruşu/lui Ciucă Falls


The table below lists the highest and some other important summits except the Buila-Vânturariţa massif.

Elevation in meters
A few words about
The pyramid-shaped highpoint guarding the valley of Repedea, formed of crystalline schists. In the western part of the main ridge. Horizontal tracks traverse its sides and there is a red dot trail to its summit. 
The second highest peak. A cliffy north face and and a small cirque on the east side of the mountain. Perhaps the best vantage point in the range. In the central part of the main ridge. A red stripe traverse.
This mountain, to some resembling a skull, gave the name to the entire range. A partly wooded north side, grassy south slopes, crooked woodland on the west side. In the central section. A red stripe traverse.
A dome decorated with a necklet of tiny chutes. From the namesake saddle extends a ridge that connects the main ridge with the Târnovu massif. In the western part, about 2 km northwest of Nedeia. A red stripe traverse of the southern side, a blue stripe traverse of the western side.
The highest summit of Zmeuret massif, south of the village of Malaia. In the eastern segment. A red stripe traverse.
A rounded summit around 2 km northeast of Ionaşcu. A red stripe traverse.
Rounded massif with Coasta Lacurilor lateral ridge stretching towards the south. In the western section. Red/blue stripes, a yellow cross traverse.
The first summit of a namesake massif when seen from the west. In the eastern part. A red and blue stripe traverse.
Piatra Târnovului
An impressive limestone crag with cliffs, couloirs, chimneys and caverns. A great viewpoint and a nature reserve. In the southwestern tip of the Târnovu massif, opposite the highest summit of the Căpăţânii. A red dot trail to its top, a blue striped traverse of its south side.
Târnovu Mare
A perfect illustration of human impact on the Carpathian flora: The gentle slope has been converted into a pasture while woodland has survived on the steep, craggy side. This mountain, with a limestone crag at its top, sits in the central part of the Târnovu massif. A red dot trail to the summit, a blue striped traverse of the southern side.

Interesting Sites

The table below lists the most attractive natural and cultural sites (nature reserves, waterfalls, caves, canyons, rock formations, lakes, glades and monasteries) in the Căpăţânii Mountains that sit away from their highest summits.

NamePhotoStatusShort description
Mănăstirea Horezu
UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site 
The monastery of Horezu is the most important monastic site in Walachia. The authenticity of the architecture, paintings, carved stone and wooden decorations in Horezu makes this exquisite cultural heritage site the epitome of the Brancovenesc style. Restored during the communist period, Horezu Monastery is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Romania. Truly unique in the southeastern Europe, the monastic ensamble of Hurezi best illustrates the features of the traditional post-Byzantine art. About 4 km northeast of its namesake village.
UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site
Since 2017 part of Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe. Different beech forest communities, pure and mixed with high degree of naturalness and remarkable presence of pure sessile oak covering an area of over 1000 ha, whose elevation varies from 300 to 1500 m. It consists of early Jurassic formations (breccias and sandstones). Warmer climate than in the rest of the Southern Carpathians supports special tree species composition. Steep rocky slopes of the Olt defile are natural barriers which contribute to the protection of this site against anthropogenic disturbances. Located entirely in the strictly preserved zone of Cozia NP. Approximate boundaries: Basarab-Lotrisor gorges-Vf.Narat-Vf.Sturii Olanestilor. Through the center of the area winds a path marked with red stripes.
Cascada Scoruşu
One of the major attractions of the Căpăţânii as well as one of the grandest waterfalls in all of the Carpathians. Its height is estimated to be 80 to 100 meters (its width varies between 3 and 7 m). Located near Bucureasa canyon, about 3 km south of Mălaia village. A brand new trail waymarked with red dots starts from Mălaia reservoir.
Casa de Piatra
Literally the House of Rock, it is one of the most impressive karst features in the Căpăţânii. Unfortunately, this natural limestone arch is hidden in the woodland of the Buila–Vânturariţa massif, half a kilometer northwest of Pătrunsa hermitage. Yellow dots plus an unmarked path.
Cheile Cheii
The Cheia Gorge is one of the deepest and wildest of its kind in Romania. Also known as the Recea Gorge, it is about one kilometer long, 300 meters deep and – at its narrowest place – just two meters wide. Most of the time, the river is merely a brook which cascades over limestone boulders, until at some point (Sorbul Mare) it disappears into a swallow hole to resurge several hundred meters away. The gorge can be traversed via a narrow path called Brâna Caprelor (Goat Trail), closed in winter, with an exposed passage elevated about 200 m above the bottom of the canyon. In the northeast part of the Buila–Vânturariţa massif, blue triangles.
Poiana Târsa
A deserted and wild mountain glade with almost two-meter tall lush vegetation in the heart of the Narăţu massif. An important spring of water is located about 100 meters north of the glade. Accessible via red dots (well marked) or blue crosses (very old marks, hard to spot).
Mânăstirea Frăsinei
Historical Monument
A hermitage was built here in 1710. Between 1787-1848 it was abandoned and a monastery was founded in 1863. The Great Church was painted by a Transylvanian painter Misu Pop. The strictest monastic practices are observed here. Women are not allowed to enter. In the southeast chunk of the mountains, about five kilometers north of Băile Olaneşti.
Lacul Balota
At 1200 m, near the Luncavăţ canyon, a convenient campground. The legend has it that a treasure of outlaws is hidden at the bottom of this man-made reservoir. Accessible via a red cross trail from Vaideeni village.
Peştera Liliecilor
This cave was first investigated in 1929, three access points, only one open to a public. Inside is Ovidenia church which is partly carved in stone. Layers of bat excrement are up to 2 m thick. Situated in the Bistriţa Gorge, about 1 km north of a namesake monastery. An interpretive trail marked with blue triangles.
Cheile Olteţului
Nature Reserve
Established in 1982 and declared a Site of Community Importance in 2000. The Oltet river has carved a canyon in a limestone band on a length of approximately 2 km. The area teems with karst formations. In the southwestern part of the Căpăţânii, about 1 km north of Polovragi village, blue triangles/red dots.
Poiana de Piatra
A romantic glade surrounded by picturesque karst paradise, one of the most wonderful nooks in all of the Carpathians. In the central part of the Buila-Vânturariţa massif, red triangles.
Schitul Pătrunsa
Sacred Site
Founded in 1740. The legend has it that the mother of Bishop Clement of Râmnic, who founded Pătrunsa monastery, found shelter in this place when trying to escape the Turkish invaders. It is located in the eastern foothills of the Buila-Vânturariţa massif, about 5 km north of Pietreni village. Red triangles plus blue crosses.
Pietrele Stroieştilor
An interesting formation of vertical lapies located by a yellow cross/blue stripe trail, a stone's throw from Căşăria refuge.
Cascada Lotrişor
A man-made, 30 meters tall cascade located in its namesake gorge. Accessible via red dots.
Peştera Polovragi
Nature Reserve
This cave is a former meander of the Olteţ located about 25 m above its current riverbed at 670 m. It is carved in Jurassic limestone and consists of 11 km long galleries, of which about 700 m are accessible with a guide. Polovragi cave has optimal conditions with a constant temperature of 9 degrees Celsius and 90 % humidity. As for the specific formations, columns, curtains and coralloids are worth mentioning as well as non-calcareous forms, e.g. Leopard's skin. Each distinct formation has a name corresponding to its shape. A former hermitage is marked with a symbol of death from the 19th century. The legend has it that Zamolxis lived in this cave after the defeat of the Dacians by the Romans. Owing to the fact that Polovragi cave is home to approximately 300 bats, it is closed to the public during hibernation period (December to March). Situated 300 m north of the mouth of the Olteţ canyon. Accessible via blue triangles.
Cheile Cernei
Calcareous pinnacles on a length of about 2 km. A cross carved into a cliffy wall called Piatra Crucii. A rock formation named Piatra Cernei with Sfinxul Cernei outcrop. Moara Dracilor falls and Cheişoara cascade. A needle called Piatra Colţului that resembles a tusk. In the southwestern corner of the mountains, about 6 km north of Cerna village. A blue cross trail.
Poiana Scărişoara
One out of eight designated campsites in the Buila-Vânturariţa National Park. There is also a shelter with a nearby spring. In the southeastern sector of the mountains, about 4 km north of Pietreni village. Red triangles or yellow dots from Bărbăteşti.
Schitul Pahomie
Founded in 1520, named after a prince who became a monk. According to legend, he and his companions, of whom Sava the Outlaw was the most prominent, found salvation here when trying to escape from Mihnea the Bad. Pahomie's monastery is a unique, historic place in Romania as it played an extraordinary role in bringing together the Christian faith and the anti-communist armed resistance for almost a decade in the mountains of Oltenia. The fame this place enjoys is due mostly to Iosafat, a monk who spent 45 years of solitary life at Pahomie until his tragic end in 1987. In the southeastern sector of the mountains, about a dozen km northwest of Cheia village. A red cross trail.
Nature Reserve
Also known as Bacea, encompasses an area of 10 ha at elevations from 650 to 950 m. It protects peculiar landforms formed of conglomerate that are home to rare species of flora. In the Olăneştilor massif, about a dozen km northwest of Băile Olăneşti resort. Yellow stripes plus an unmarked path.
Lacul Marginea
Sits at the edge of a spur trending south from the Ursu massif. Red triangles from Vaideeni or blue crosses from Tănăseşti.
Peştera Urşilor
This cave, approx. 400 m long, has an impressive portal, which is 35 m tall and 20 m wide. The cave is made up of the main and several smaller galleries. Fossils of the cave bear and traces of humans from the Neolitic period have been found here. Located about 50 m above the bottom of the Bistriţa Gorges in the southwest part of the Buila-Vânturariţa. Blue triangles from Bistriţa village plus an unmarked path (railing-assisted scramble).
Cheile Bistriţei
This wonderful, about 1.5 km long canyon belongs in the narrowest ravines carved in limestone in Romania - at its narrowest place it is only 4 m wide. In the southwest part of the Buila-Vânturariţa. Blue triangles from Bistriţa village.
Poiana Târnovu Mic
A convenient site to pitch a tent. In the SW part of the Târnovu massif. Blue stripes/dots from Ciunget.
Mânăstirea Alina-Maria
Sitting at the highest elevation of all sacred sites (1700 m), consecrated in autumn 2014, it has 32 photovoltaic panels with a capacity of 8 kW. In the center of a lateral ridge trending south from Ursu massif, about 2 km south of Vf. lui Roman. Red triangles from Vaideeni.
Pietrele Goale
Formed of conglomerate. In the center of the Narăţ massif, on the edge of Poiana Târsa. Red dots/blue crosses from Brezoi.
Cascada Moara Dracilor
About 5 meters tall. In the Cerna Canyon, about 6 km north of its namesake village. Blue crosses from Cerna village.
Peştera Arnăuţilor
Nature Reserve
A 150 m wide cave with a huge entrance (24x15 m, free entry), easily seen from the bottom of the valley. In the northernmost tip of the Buila-Vânturariţa, on the right bank of the Olăneşti Canyon. Yellow stripes/tringles from Băile Olăneşti resort.
Cheile Mânzului
Also known as Cheile Olăneşti, Cheile Folea, Valea Rea or Cheile Râului Sec, this canyon is two kilometers long and boasts spectacular limestone formations with vertical walls, caves and a cascade. In the northermost tip of the Buila-Vânturariţa. Yellow stripes/tringles from Băile Olăneşti resort.
Poiana lui Pavel
A superb vantage point, which affords fine views of the Cozia massif with clusters of primeval beech forests (a World Natural Heritage Site). In the center of the Narăţ massif. Red dots from the Olt defile.
Mănăstirea Polovragi
A convent founded in 1505. The temple is built in the Byzantine style. Its murals were painted by renowned masters of the Brancoveanu school from Horezu. In the southwest part of the mountains, at the mouth of the Oltet Canyon, about one km north of its namesake village.
Muntele Basarab
Formed of limestone and conglomerate with an admixture of gneiss and sandstone, the massif towers above the Olt defile (Turnu Reservoir). In the east reaches of the mountains (Olaneştilor massif).
Padurea Polovragi
Nature Reserve
Protects mighty chestnut trees on an area of 10 ha. In the southwest part of the mountains, at the mouth of the Olteţ Canyon. Red dots from Polovragi village.
Cheile Lotrişor
A gorgeous ravine separating the Narăţ and the Olaneştilor massifs. Carved in gneiss and conglomerate, it is around five kilometers long. In the easternmost part of the mountains. Red dots from the Olt defile.
Mănăstirea Bistriţa
Dates back to 1490. The present, neo-gothic church has generous dimensions similar to a cathedral with a huge tower. In the southwest corner of the Buila-Vânturariţa massif. Blue triangles from its namesake village.
Just a picturesque tarn
In the eastern part of the mountains, near Folea summit. Yellow triangles (hard to spot).
Cheile Luncavăţului
In the central part, about an hour's walk up from Balota Lake. Red dots.

Camping & Red Tape

You can pitch your tent virtually anywhere except the Buila-Vânturariţa National Park, where several campgrounds have been designated. Some of the best, free camping sites (both designated and wild) can be found in the table in the above chapter. In the mountains there are also some unmanned refuges and a couple of mountain huts.

RefugeElevation (meters)PhotoDistance from nearest source of water Capacity (persons)Location/Access
Cabana Cheia
In the upper part of a namesake canyon, blue triangles or yellow stripes from Cheia village, red triangles from Zmeuret massif.
50 m to the south
In the central segment of the mountains, about 3 km from the summit of Ursu, stove and firewood, red triangles from Vaideeni or Curmatura Piatra Roşie. 
10 m
In the western part, about 2 km S of Funicel massif, stove and firewood, yellow cross from Funicelu saddle (about an hour's walk from the main ridge), blue stripes from Vaideeni, red dots from Balota lake.
100 m
In the eastern section, about 1 km E from Gera summit, red stripes from Valea lui Stan or Zmeuret massif.
150 m to the south
In the central part of the Buila-Vânturariţa massif, on the main ridge trail (red dots), yellow dots from Patrunsa, blue crosses from Barbatesti, reconstructed in 2009.
Piscul cu brazi
200 m
In the northern sector of the Buila-Vânturariţa massif, about 2 km NW of its highpoint, red triangles from Pietreni village or Cheia canyon, reconstructed in 2011.

Maps & Guidebooks


  • An interesting online map can be studied here

  • An older map, with contours can be found online e.g. on karpaty.travel.pl

  • A 2012 guidebook by Gheorghe Ploaie can be purchased here

  • According to Gheorghe Ploaie's blog, both printed documents can be obtained for FREE at the Office of Vaideeni Commune.

The owner of this page happened to be given a map of the mountains at the foot of Funicelu summit. Thanks!

Getting There

Lotru-Olt confluence
Lotru empties into Olt
The easiest access to the Căpățânii Mountains is from the east, where a major railway line and road E81 run along the gorge of the Olt River which splits the Southern Carpathians meridionally. However, the easternmost part of the Căpățânii is a heavily forested maze of medium-height ridges, usually omitted by hikers. The most convenient entry into the heart of the mountains is from the north, from road 7A running west from the town of Brezoi at the northeast corner of the Căpățânii up the valley of the Lotru River. To hike the main ridge one may prefer the pass of Curmătura Olteţului as a start point. The pass, which forms the east end of the Căpățânii, is crossed by the Transalpina (road 67C) and – as elsewhere in the mountains of Romania – you are quite likely to hitch a ride there. At the south foot of the mountains runs road 67, but that is about twenty air kilometers from the main ridge.

Lonesome wandererLukZem in 2015
Female viperwith his female viper :)
Towards Nedeia, Căpăţînii Mtsyatsek in 1978
Beech Life in Romania& his Rosalias :)

Weather & Rescue

Weather forecast for the highpoint

Mountain rescue


A tribute to the Căpăţânii Mountains after my three consecutive visits to this diverse area.

By LukZem