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 the Turda/Torda Gorge - photo 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 The Bihor/Bihar in autumn, the highest summit at 1849m (mast) on the right. Shot by LukZem from across the River Arieş/Aranyos (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. 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. 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.

Mountain Group
Elevation in Meters
Highest Peak



Vladeasa Mountains




Between the plateau of Padis in the south and the Crişul Repede/Sebes-Körös (Rapid Criş/Körös) River in the north. On the east, the mountains are bounded by the Huedin/Bánffyhunyad Basin, while their west boundary is formed by the Iad/Jád River, beyond which the mountains known as the Royal Forest sit. Delineated in such a way the Vladeasa Mountains resemble a horseshoe along whose axis the Drăgan/Dregán River runs northerly to empty into the Rapid Criş/Körös. (The gorge of the latter carries a highway and railway line Budapest-Cluj/Kolozsvár.) On the other hand, the Vladeasa Mountains can also be classified as the north half of a larger mountain region, namely the Bihor-Vladeasa. The western part of the Vladeasa, west of the Dragan River, is much lower, does not exceed 1500m in elevation and is not often visited by hikers. The second highest peak in the Vladeasa, Buteasa/Bocsásza, reaches 1792m, boasts interesting scenery (blockfields, dwarf pine, no man-made structures, vast spruce woodland around) and faces the highest massif of all in the Western Transylvanian Mountains - the Bihor proper - across the Padis Plateau to the south. The Vladeasa Mountains do not differ much from the other two mountain groups that make up the massive bulk of the Western Transylvanian Mountains' central part, hovever, the basic geologic component of the Vladeasa is volcanic rocks, mainly rhyolites and dacites, whereas the other massifs are formed of much older, granitoid or metamorphic rocks.



Bihor Mountains


Cucurbăta Mare/Bihorul Mare


Great Bihor

Bears Cave, Apuseni Mountains
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 (Big Bihor) with a tall transmitter mast on the summit.

Munţii Gilău


Gilau Mountains


Muntele Mare


Between the Aries River in the south, the Vladeasa massif in the west and the city of Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvár to the north-east. Except for the patches of spectatucalar karst relief along the Aries River - such as Belioara/Bélavára (as a matter of fact, also the area around the Turda Gorge - see next chapter - lies within the lower (eastern) slopes of the Gilau although it is usually classified as part of the Trascău/Torockó Mountains) - these mountains look 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, which runs from north to south where the highest massif sits, 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. Pastoralism, transhumance, traditional wooden architecture and lifestyles are still alive here - these mountains are a huge theater showing what most of the Carpathians looked like until the last decades of the past century.




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
Elevation in Meters
Highest Summit

Munţii Trascău


Trascau Mountains




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




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.


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
Elevation in Meters
Highest Summit

Munţii Zarandului


Zarand Mts




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


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




Unguru Mare Cave, Apuseni Mountains
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


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

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

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 (excellent SP page by mibu) is a mecca for the Transylvanian rock climbers. In the Ore Mountains, the gorge of Crăciuneşti/Krecsunesd lures most of the climbers. A new climbing topo website (under development) that shows many climbing venues and routes of the area (mostly from its western part) is: www.8climb.ro 

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


"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
Photo by LukZem
By rail:
Vladeasa / Kalota-havas
From highway between Oradea and Cluj - photo by SzaniUherkovich
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 SzaniUherkovich


Photo by yxygan

Maps & Guidebooks

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



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.