A perfect way to explore everything that Transylvania has to offer is to hop on a bike and explore those hard to get places. Hiking is also an option that will open up lots of possibilities – and we’re talking about both in today’s article.
This complete guide to biking and hiking in Transylvania was initially part of the “Living in a village in Transylvania” article, but I decided to create a separate one just for this topic as it applies for those visiting for a little while, too.
We’re talking about first hand experience here, as the text below was sent over by Angela from the UK. She spent an entire summer, together with her husband, in Transylvania and was kind enough to share the experience.
So even though Romania is not the most bike-friendly place in the world, you will see that there’s a special charm that biking (and hiking) have when you want to explore the hidden gems in the Transylvania region in Romania.
Biking & Hiking adventures in Transylvania, Romania
Biking and hiking in the Transylvanian countryside is wonderful.
Pristine, ancient forests. Rolling hills with open views stretching for kilometers. Plateaus of grass hidden between the hills. Limestone gorges.
Ancient trees, wild flowers, birds singing, and occasional sightings of wild animals such as fox, boar, and deer. And almost no people anywhere.
There’s a wonderful network of trails which have been clearly signposted and marked in just the last few years throughout the Transylvanian hills and forests.
The network of trails in the region between Sighișoara and Agnita are the most clearly marked and have trailhead signposts, but the whole Transylvanian region even outside that zone has trails of some type or other which you can follow.
Check out the image below to learn more about hiking routes on the hills in the region:
In some places, the trails take you along small roads and dirt paths for cars, and in a few areas the trails follow logging paths cut decades before, but most of the trails run through undeveloped areas of forests, hills, empty plateaus and grassland, and even a few cornfields.
At the start of each trail of the network are wonderfully detailed signs in Romanian and English describing the course of the trail, its difficulty and elevation, and the flora and fauna you’ll see along the way.
Along the trails themselves are markings – shapes such as crosses and diamonds in red and blue colors painted onto trees and rocks – in order to help you find your way.
A few trails were tricky to follow in some areas and we had to do a bit of reconnaissance to find the path, but by and large the trails of the network are clear and you won’t get lost.
(Editor’s note: this is similar to the way up to the Vanturatoarea waterfall in Baile Herculane – another great place to visit if you happen to spend more time in Romania).
The trails of the network are great for hiking by foot, but you can also very happily ride bikes on them.
You’ll have to walk your bike in places: some hills are very steep, some of the paths through forests are too rocky for bike tires, at a few points in the woods you have to climb over big fallen trees.
And for a few days after a rainstorm, some parts of the trails, especially in sections of the forest where the sun doesn’t reach, turn into a muddy sludge which you’ll have to walk around. But that’s all part of the fun. Biking the trails really is a pleasure.
You’re not just limited to the network of marked trails. There are many loose, informal trails you can follow: shepherds’ routes, old logging tracks, walking paths cut by generations of villagers.
You can really get far with these paths. With only a few exceptions, we found that there generally is some trail or path between any two adjacent villages, even if there is no road for cars.
You might have to climb steep hills or cut through dense forest, but we found that locals were very often able to guide us to obscure paths that make passage possible even in areas that seem impassable.
And if you’re very determined and knowledgeable, you can go straight into the nature on no trail at all and just make your own way.
We found the distances perfect for day-trips by bicycle. Most of the trails take 2-5 hours by bike.
They usually connect from one trail to another, so you can combine several shorter trails into a longer journey. The trails are quite easy to access, as they mostly start and end in villages or just off the main roads.
There are no stores on the trails themselves – it’s pristine nature, after all! – but you can buy basic supplies in the mini-markets in the villages.
Many of the villages also have public water wells where you can fill up your bottles (for free). We usually brought food with us and had a picnic on the top of panoramic hills or in the open grassy plateaus.
The hills and forests are surprisingly empty of people. The most people we ever saw was a total of 8 hikers and bikers over a 4-hour period, and that was when we were on a trail which was easily accessible from a city, and it was a weekend in the peak summer season.
In a few remote areas, we occasionally came across local villagers working deep in the forests: shepherds, loggers, once in a while someone with a basket gathering mushrooms and other forageable products.
Otherwise, we almost never saw anyone on the trails or in the forests and hills.
Biking through the forests and hills took us into neighborhoods of villages which we would have otherwise never seen.
It was often quite a surprise to come across a cluster of old, traditional houses in a very remote, inaccessible area where we wouldn’t have expected any human residences.
But it was just as much a surprise for the locals to see a pair of foreigners pop out of the forest and appear in their neighborhood!
Every time it happened – and we ended up stumbling upon quite a few of these remote, road-less little neighborhoods scattered among the rolling hills – the villagers immediately invited us for food and drink.
We start our bike trips early in the morning, so these encounters were often at 8:00 a.m., but the villagers wake even earlier and somehow always managed to prepare an impromptu feast with hot drinks and jam and cheese and fruit stacked on a table only minutes after meeting us.
The flora and fauna in the Transylvanian countryside is a joy to explore. In the forests and hills, you’ll see tall, old trees which are incredible – lots of beech trees with pockets of ash, maple, oak, and elm among others – and hundreds of species of plants and flowers, many of which are no longer found anywhere else in Europe.
Many types of butterflies flit around and quite often alighted on our bikes and rode with us for a few minutes.
If you enjoy picking your own food from the wild, you can find mushrooms, flowers for tea, and berries.
Wild deer, foxes, and boar roam throughout the area; we saw several in our treks. In water ponds dotting the area you’ll find frogs and leeches.
The forests reverberate throughout the morning with the songs of many species of birds.
The birds can be sometimes be hard to see, but if you’re lucky, you can find among others woodpeckers, owls, larks, nutcrackers, and firecrests in the trees. Several times we saw hunting birds such as eagles in the skies.
Wild bears, wolves, and lynx live in the forests, but based on what local villagers told us as well as our own experience, it’s rare that you’ll see them during daytime hikes. But these animals are at the heart of a political fight in Romania.
Currently, they are protected from hunting. Romania previously allowed trophy hunting, but in a victory for environmental activists, the government began a ban starting in 2016.
The ban is controversial in the area we lived. On the one hand, supporters argue that the numbers of these wild animals was dwindling, and the ban has helped lead to a growth in their population.
On the other hand, most villagers we knew see the ban as a ruling which urban environmental elites imposed on rural areas about which they know nothing.
The bears and wolves have killed the cows, sheep, and pigs of the villagers for centuries, and – at least according to the anecdotal views of the villagers – the attacks have increased since the 2016 hunting ban.
Very occasionally, bears have even killed a person as well, mostly when the human tries to defend his livestock animals from the attacks. You can read more about the danger of bears in Romania here.
So the hunting is seen as a way to cull the animal population and defend the villagers’ livestock.
Additionally, the hunting was a source of income for the rural villagers: when hunting was legal, it was mostly foreigners who did the hunting, and they spent big money to kill the animals.
There have been many attempts by the rural areas to reinstate legal hunting, including a law which almost passed in 2019, but for now the ban is still in effect and hunting remains illegal.
Because of this, it’s possible that their numbers will continue to increase. So although it’s unlikely you’ll come across them, it’s still best to be aware if you’re in the forests.
Hopping on a bike or just go for a hike are great ways for you to experience the real, raw Romania (or Rawmania, as I like to call it). There are plenty of routes available for both beginners and more experienced outdoors enthusiasts, and they’re all really enjoyable.
So even though visiting a larger city like Cluj Napoca, in the heart of Transylvania, is probably the best thing for most travelers out there, you shouldn’t say no if the option to go for a hike comes up.