Natural Heritage of Gorj County
Gorj County is among the last wild destinations of Europe, with pristine and diverse landscapes, a variety of natural wonders, a wealth of plant and animal species. From the alpine heights of the Carpathians in the north to the rolling hills and valleys in the south, Gorj reveals the endless beauty of nature.
The northern part of Gorj County is occupied by the peaks and slopes of the Carpathian Mountains. Divided by river valleys that descend into the southern hills, the mountains offer endless attractions and experiences, from the wildest and tallest peaks to the gentler ranges covered in forests. The unique and splendid landscapes, deep forests teeming with wildlife, the winter sports opportunities or fascinating hiking paths make the Carpathians an amazing destination.
Caves and Gorges
Gorj County is blessed with a multitude of extraordinary natural wonders, one of the best destinations in Romania for exploring wild caves and gorges or experiencing the thrill of adventure. Although only two of the caves are arranged for tourists, there are hundreds more to explore for professionals and enthusiasts. Apart from the Jiu Defile, the county offers dozens of other smaller gorges and canyons, some of them with unique natural features, like the Sohodol, Oltet or Corcoaia Gorges.
Forests and Wildlife
Some of the last wilderness areas of central Europe can be found in Romania and Gorj County is such a destination. Although not what it used to be in the past, the land is still forested, with large areas included in national or natural parks. The diversity and importance of the vegetal and animal species is astounding. Inside the territory of Gorj County travelers can find rare or extinct wildlife species, unique ecosystems and countless opportunities for inspiring discoveries.
Protected Natural Areas
The stupendous natural beauty of Gorj County is protected inside national parks and other protected areas. From old forests to rare floral species and from mysterious caves to idyllic valleys, there are countless natural destinations to amaze and inspire travelers. All of the protected areas of Gorj have something special or unique to offer, but most of all, preserve the unspoiled natural diversity. Most of these areas can be explored with ease through charming pathways and trails.
AND RÂNCA SKI RESORT
The majestic mountains of Parâng reveal themselves to the traveler in their entire splendor and without any secrets… Seemingly floating over the clouds and forests of northeastern Gorj, they draw you in with their dizzying heights. Different from other mountains that have to be discovered along hidden paths or valleys, Parâng proudly guards the surrounding areas and reveals its barren ridges from afar, like a dare launched at the adventurers of the world. Wild and massive, Parâng Mountains are truly impressive at first sight, yet people have conquered them a long time ago, carving paths and roads toward their heart. A fascinating destination in all seasons, these mountains draw visitors with the serene beauty of their alpine landscapes, the stunning glacial lakes that mirror the sky in the middle of the wilderness, the extreme diversity of their plant and animal life, as well as the ancestral sheepherding traditions that are still beautifully preserved in these lands. The stone giant that has always watched over Gorj County is a place surrounded by ancestral legends and myths. According to some, this is the peak where Prometheus was chained, while others claim that the god of the Dacian civilization Zalmoxis used to call these mountains his home.
A complex and fascinating destination, the ridges of Parâng appear as a fortress above the wooded valleys below. The main ridge gathers the highest peaks from east to west along the northern border of Gorj County. One of the most fascinating hiking routes of the Carpathians follows the crest of Parâng. The highest peaks of Parâng Mountains resemble the towers of a fortress, protecting impressive glacial valleys and lakes. The highest peak is called Parângu Mare (2519 meter) and is surrounded by 25 other majestic peaks that surpass 2000 meters. The views from the main ridge are truly picturesque, with wild valleys and dense forests, lonely sheepfolds and idyllic lakes. The biodiversity of this area is also impressive, with some endemic or relict species of plants, as well as protected wolf, bear, lynx or mountain goat habitats, while the alpine pastures feature an extreme diversity of floral species. These mountains can be explored along one of the most beautiful mountain roads in Europe, the Transalpina, which crosses the ridges in a breathtaking rollercoaster route. It can also be discovered along many hiking paths that reach its wild heart, revealing almost surreal landscapes.
The most famous and popular hiking route follows the main ridge along its highest peaks. It is about 40 km long and can be trekked both ways, although usually travelers choose the shorter hikes up to Parângu Mare peak or towards the Gâlcescu Lake. There are many other lakes in the high glacial valleys on the northern side of the ridge, a splendid string of blue or green jewels that embellish the already wild and beautiful scenery. Other hiking paths ascend from the southern, western or northern valleys towards the ridge. Travelers who love hiking or winter sports can choose to stay in the enchanting mountain resort of Rânca, located along the Transalpina Mountain Road, about 18 km north of the town of Novaci, at an altitude of approximately 1700 meters. It has a large number of hotels, lodges, villas and guesthouses, some of them also including restaurants, as well as several ski slopes. The newest one is located in the northern part of the resort, descending along the conical peak of Păpușa and having a chairlift system, while the others are shorter and of lower difficulty. The resort of Rânca is also a summer destination, travelers choosing it as a base for hiking, para-gliding, mountain bike and more.
There’s always something special about driving through the high roads in the mountains, and the Carpathians of Romania have plenty of fascinating journeys to offer. Boasting the highest altitude for a road in the country, the Transalpina, also known as the “King’s Road”, truly is one of the most exciting and unforgettable experiences Romania has to offer. With seemingly endless twisting bends and a rollercoaster of abrupt ascents and descents, this stunning road over the mountains unravels scenic landscapes and epic emotions. It evokes the raw thrill of exploration and discovery, by crossing ridges and valleys, while sometimes touching the clouds. The Transalpina is among the most beautiful and memorable high mountain roads in Europe. The road crosses the Carpathian Mountains, connecting the historical regions of Transylvania and Wallachia. More precisely, it links the towns of Novaci in Gorj County to Sebeș in Alba County. Representing an ancient sheepherding trail, it wasn’t paved until the First World War, considered strategically important. It is also known as the “King’s Road”, as it was inaugurated by king Carol II of Romania, after being redeveloped in 1939.
Starting from the south, the road begins in the town of Novaci, famous for its sheepherding tradition. It begins to ascend quickly and in a series of tight turns and bends that require some driving skills. After about 18 km, it reaches the mountain resort of Rânca, extremely popular for winter sports. This is also the best place for tourist services like food and accommodation for those who wish to stay longer in these splendid mountains. Leaving Rânca behind, the most stunning and exciting part of the journey begins. The road starts ascending abruptly towards the Păpușa Mountain Peak, reaching its highest altitude in Urdele Pass, as 2132 meters. Panoramas open up everywhere, with deep glacial valleys and distant wooded ridges, with flocks of sheep or playful donkeys that welcome travelers along the way. Nevertheless, drivers should not become mesmerized by the immense beauty of the landscape, as this section of the road is truly challenging. Crossing several high alpine ridges, it begins to descend again towards the Lotru River Valley. Here, the road intersects another one that crosses the mountains from east to west. There are many wonders and magnificent landscapes waiting beyond this point.
First, the road follows the lush valley of Lotru River for a little while, the peaks of the mountains surrounding you from all sides. It then starts to ascend again, firstly peacefully between the dense pine forests, but quickly begins to twist as it reaches the heights of these mountains. Transalpina Mountain Road truly is an existential experience, more than just a feast for the eyes. Travelers get to feel the grand design of nature and the spirit of the wilderness during a trip along this special route. The lake of Oașa is an essential stopover, an artificial lake created by a large concrete dam, surrounded by marvelous landscapes and the starting point for several hiking routes. The monastery of Oașa can also be found on the other side of the lake, a spiritual oasis in the middle of nature. Further along towards the end of the journey, another smaller artificial lake is Tău Bistra, a new exceptional opportunity for photographs and panoramas. Descending further a few kilometers, the views begin to widen and the first villages start to gather along the valley. The end of the road is officially in the small town of Sebes, having traveled about 135 kilometers that stirred countless emotions.
One of the most exciting and charming trips in the county of Gorj can be experienced along the idyllic valley of Oltet river, north of the Polovragi village. The valley that separates two mountain ranges is home to unbelievable treasures, uniquely beautiful landscapes that remain imprinted into your soul. The Oltet River usually flows peacefully, following an open valley for the most part, except a small region before it exits the mountains. That is where the Oltet Gorges appear, a unique and wild place with the river cutting a path through the mountains along millions of years. The narrowest canyon in Europe is somewhat claustrophobic at times, with the rocks closing in over the river and the road, transforming the trip into an adventure. Still in the canyon, a large entrance leads to the mysterious cave of Polovragi, with its fascinating legends. Silent guardian over the gate between the mountains, the beautiful and peaceful monastery of Polovragi is a place of silent meditation and awe. The Oltet Valley truly is a magical place, its landscapes changing with the seasons and offering unique sensations of amazement facing the natural splendor of the world. The gorges of Oltet River have been created along a narrow limestone region between two mountain ranges, right where it leaves the mountains behind. Although less than two kilometers long, these unbelievable gorges are truly spectacular and wild, with a wealth of unique geological and biodiversity features. Their special character comes from the narrow canyon formed between the mountains, with a gap of only four to five meters, the minimum being under a meter which makes it the narrowest canyon in Europe. Along the gorges, there are also small waterfalls, underground flooded tunnels and cave entrances, the most important being the Polovragi Cave. The gorges of Oltet are a protected natural area, with hundreds of rare plants and animals.
The Polovragi Cave offers its visitors a mesmerizing journey into the depths of Earth, but also into its fascinating myths and legends. It is believed that the cave was once the home of Zamolxis, the supreme god of the Dacians, ancestors present-day Romanians. The Oltet River has created this unique labyrinth of galleries and tunnels on multiple levels, most inaccessible to visitors and some still hidden. Nature has created here an extraordinary universe of cave formations and spectacular elements. A short but intense visit, exploring the cave of Polovragi offers a multitude of discoveries and sensations, from the incredible geological characteristics to the legends and even some supernatural phenomena. The cave is located just north of the Polovragi Village and a few hundred meters from the entrance into the Olteț Gorges. The total length of its galleries is around 10 km, while the tourist route just explores under 1 km.
For thousands of years, the small river of Galbenu has pierced through the limestone rocks of the mountains, creating a small area with spectacular landscapes and sights. The magical Muierii Cave is located just north of the Baia de Fier Village, inside an imposing ridge on the right side of the river. It is one of the most important caves in the country and was the first one to be electrified between 1963 and 1978. The tourist gallery runs for about 1 km and along the way, travelers can explore the unique and magical environment created beneath the Earth. This cave has been known known from prehistorical times, being a refuge for both humans and cave bears. A human cranium discovered inside the cave is estimated to be about 35.000 years old and influenced the whole human migration theory. Even during recent times, people from the villages used the cave for protection during times of peril. The tourist route passes through large galleries with impressive speleological formations, as well as extremely narrow tunnels, offering an exciting experience.
The beloved Jiu River is considered the backbone of Gorj County, dividing it in two equal halves. But before it gracefully passes next to the Table of Silence in Târgu Jiu and reaches the plains, the river has to battle the Carpathian Mountains and through this eternal struggle has created one of the most beautiful and spectacular defiles in Romania. The wild and winding path created by the river between the mountains of Parâng and Vâlcan is known as the Jiu Defile and together with the surrounding ridges has been designated as a national park to protect and conserve its unique features. Once, this passage through the Carpathians was a dangerous adventure, but today anyone can explore this wild and magnificent place. The defile itself is about 30 km long, between the settlements of Bumbești-Jiu (Gorj County) and Livezeni (Hunedoara County). A major road and a railway pass through Jiu Defile, both of them offering the opportunity for amazing travel experiences. There is an almost endless succession of bends that drivers have to navigate, while the trains pass through 39 tunnels and over many high bridges. The main feature of the Jiu Defile is its impressive wilderness, being described as the most spectacular valley of the Carpathians. The river is always struggling between the rocks and never has a moment of peace, while the wooded ridges rise for hundreds of meters on each side.
The valley changes with each season and reveals hidden sides of its raw beauty to those who venture to cross or explore it. The wild character of the defile, as well as the rich and rare species of plants and animals that inhabit the mountain ridges have determined the creation of the Jiu Defile National Park back in 2005. With over 90% of the park surface in Gorj County, it includes 10 protected natural habitats, with a total of over 1100 species. Of these, there are 203 protected species of flora and fauna, including 28 rare species and 11 endemic species, some of them extremely important at a scientific level. Among the large animals that inhabit the park, there are brown bears, lynxes, wolves, deer, badgers, chamois and more. Inside the park, there are also several natural reserves, including the Lainici Sphinx, the Rafaila Rocks and several protected forest areas. This is also one of the last regions in Romania that has large areas of virgin forests, that have disappeared elsewhere in Europe. There are no human settlements inside the park, except for the monastery of Lainici and some remote hermitages. Travelers can explore the park through several hiking paths that reach vantage points to admire the spectacular defile and to discover its unique biodiversity.
The gentle ridges of Vâlcan Mountains rise like the backs of long sleeping dragons between the charming river valleys of western Gorj County. These mountains filled with old stories and ancient paths lie between the valleys of Jiu and Motru rivers, slowly descending from the north towards the southern hills where beautiful settlements have appeared along the centuries. The Vâlcan Mountains are accessible and welcoming, unlike the stronghold of Parâng, with its wooded ridges between large and long valleys. Their altitude varies between 600 and 1900 meters, with several remote steep ridges that jut out and make for excellent tourist destinations, such as the mountains of Oslea, Arcanu, Piatra Boroștenilor, Cioclovina, Straja). Apart from the superb and spectacular ridges, one of the main attractions of these mountains are the dense charming valleys, most of which can be explored easily upwards towards their springs. Some of these valleys (Sohodol, Șușița, Suseni, Bistrița, Tismana) also feature amazing attractions like gorges, canyons and waterfalls, while there are also hidden valleys that still preserve their untouched and wild character. There are also plenty of protected natural areas, the biodiversity of the area being extremely rich and interesting.
The Sohodol Gorges are a land apart, a unique space trapped in time that charms and amazes each time; no matter how many times one enters its fascinating universe. The first steps in this spectacular place always stir deep emotions and the valley of Sohodol reveals its treasures right from the first meters, with vertical limestone walls that reach up to the sky and reverberate the sound of the river passing by. And the river Sohodol is quite capricious, having carved its way through the mountains for thousands of years, while it created a unique and magnificent landscape, entering under the rocks and re-emerging elsewhere through unknown tunnels. At the first signs of draught, the river becomes unseen, while during the heavy rains, it reappears with raging torrents. Although the parts that truly impress are the gorges, split into several sections, the entire valley is an extraordinary natural space, an open-air geological laboratory with a rich bio-diversity.
Sohodol Gorges are among the most spectacular in Romania, incredibly beautiful and wild, with countless unique geological phenomena and fascinating landscapes. The gorges can be found north of the village Runcu, about 20 km north-west from the city of Targu Jiu. A small road follows the valley high into the mountains, paved for the first five kilometers, but decent even further. The treasures of this valley are revealed along the river, following its course back into the higher mountains. The river was once flowing through a huge underground tunnel, but in time this tunnel collapsed, creating what we can see today on the surface. The whole valley is filled with splendid places, canyon sections, caves, small waterfalls and solitary rocks. In a place the river passes through a small tunnel like a portal, isolating a limestone column, while in another, the river has created several breaches while it passes through a small cave. From the same spot, looking looking up towards the high slopes, a rocky arch can be seen, probably the remnants of an old tunnel. The road continues upriver for kilometers, alternating sections of narrow canyons with large meadows. There are also many hidden side valleys that can be explored by those more daring, one of the most spectacular being Gropul Sec and Gropul cu Apă, with fascinating natural tunnels and amazing waterfalls, like the Toaia Dracilor Waterfall (Devil’s Cauldron).
There is only one old road that crosses the mountains of Vâlcan into the county of Hunedoara. Known as the Roman Road, it is currently being modernized and will soon allow anyone to discover the hidden beauty of the higher mountain landscapes. It is over two millennia old, being used by the Roman troops when they invaded Dacia, as well as in the year 1600 when Michael the Brave crossed the Carpathians to unite the Romanian Principalities for the first time. This event is marked by a beautiful monument located in a beautiful high meadow known as Poiana lui Mihai.
Oslea Mountain is an imposing and massive ridge that is located to the northwest of Vâlcan mountains and Gorj County. Surrounded by other mountains and quite challenging to conquer, the unique shape and remoteness of this mountain makes it extremely fascinating. The steep and long ridge has a maximum altitude of 1.946 meters and can be explored from the northern and western valleys, offering stunning panoramas in all directions. Oslea is a complex nature reserve, with unique geological features and rare floral species, including a rare orchid and spurge olive.
One of the most beautiful and spectacular valleys of Gorj County can be explored along the Șușița River, easily reachable from Târgu Jiu through the village of Vaidei (Stănești). Following the road north through the village is extremely pleasant during spring and autumn, when travelers can witness the inspiring mix of wild nature and rural atmosphere. A few hundred meters from the end of the paved road, travelers can already hear the roaring sound of the massive Vaidei Waterfall, located behind a small hydrological station. There are other small waterfalls that can be discovered by following the valley upwards, as well as mesmerizing landscapes and other hidden natural marvels.
Among the lesser known mountain valleys in Gorj County, Suseni Valley is truly special, mostly unspoiled by human activities, apart from the small road that follows the river upstream. While during the dry summer months, the river is only a small stream, sometimes even completely disappearing, the spring or fall rainy periods completely change the valley. The river becomes a powerful torrent, with other springs appearing on the side slopes, passing over mossy rocks and creating small enchanting waterfalls. The Suseni Valley can be found about ten kilometers north of Targu Jiu, north of the Suseni village.
Among the serene valleys descending from the mountains of Gorj county, the valley of Bistrița river is among the most enchanting. It features splendid natural elements, three separate gorge sectors, two artifficial lakes, waterfalls and other marvels. Located north of the Gureni village and ascending into the mountains, the valley starts with the several short sectors with gorges, where the river becomes wilder. Higher up, following the rather poorly paved road, travelers can reach the two small lakes, Vâja and Clocotiș, created as part of a larger hydro-electrical system. Another attraction point along the valley is the Devil’s Waterfall, located upstream from the last lake.
Another beautiful valley of the Carpathians in Gorj County is created by the Motru River, between the mountains of Vâlcan and Mehedinți. Along the way, charming landscapes can be discovered, with both wild natural areas and traditional villages. North of the Piatra Cloșani ridge, there is the artificial lake of Valea Mare, while to the south travelers can explore the side valley of Motru Sec, with interesting karst formations and enchanting scenery. From the lake, the valley can be further explored on foot, up to the springs of the river in the Oslea Mountain, with magnificent landscapes that can be admired.
Domogled Cerna Valley
One of the most remote and wild areas of Gorj County can be found in the northwestern part, included in the Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park. Comprised of territories from three counties and several mountain groups, this fascinating place features exceptionally beautiful and spectacular landscapes, as well as a rich biodiversity. A magical and untouched natural destination, the national park can be explored along the valley of the Cerna River, with many hiking paths that reveal hidden treasures. There is an endless variety of fascinating landscapes, with deep valleys and alpine meadows, small creeks and high peaks. The park is also famous for its overwhelming and rich biodiversity, with over 1100 species of superior plants, including the endemic Banat black pine species. Another unique feature of Domogled – Cerna Valley is the unique diversity of butterflies that can be admired throughout the park, with about 2000 different species. Travelers will also find many interesting places to discover, including the iconic Piatra Cloșani Mountain, the enchanting Valea lui Iovan artificial lake, the stunning Corcoaia Canyon, the small ridges known as Ciucevele Cernei, as well as many caves and gorges.
The imposing rocky ridge of the solitary Godeanu Mountains can often be seen even from Târgu Jiu, although they are located in the northwestern extremity of the county. Surrounded by other mountains and remote valleys, this unique wilderness area is truly spectacular. There is a hiking path along the alpine ridge of Godeanu, with breathtaking panoramas towards other Carpathian Mountains. The mean height of the peaks is between 2200 and 2200 meters, with the highest one reaching 2229 meters. Godeanu Mountains are massive and wild, featuring glacial valleys, alpine meadows and dense forests at lower altitudes.
An isolated high ridge, this place is a wild destination, with fascinating limestone formations, including several caves. The maximum height is 1421 meters and there is a hiking path ascending towards the main ridge, although it is a difficult adventure. The panorama from above is truly spectacular, with all the surrounding mountains and valleys being visible in clear days. Piatra Cloșanilor is a complex natural protected area, with its isolated and massive aspect, as well as the numerous and rare species of plants and animals. The mountain also includes several amazing caves, the most famous being Cloșani Cave that unfortunately is reserved for scientific purposes.
Valea lui Iovan Lake
The splendid lake known as Valea lui Iovan or simply Iovanu is located along the Cerna Valley, being surrounded by wooded mountains, with a small settlement a few kilometers to the south. The access is quite difficult and this increases the wilderness of the whole area. The lake has a surface of almost 300 ha, being one of the largest and deepest in the whole country. There is a national road following the river, yet the portion north of the Cerna Sat village and around the lake is unpaved and challenging for regular vehicles.
There is a legend that on these lands there was once a mighty hero named Iovan Iorgovan and that he fought a dragon like creature. Where he slayed the dragon, its torments created the small canyon of Corcoaia. This hidden natural treasure is a magical destination, a unique landscape feature that truly impresses travelers. The canyon has a semi-tunnel hanging about 10-15 meters above the water, while the rocky walls above rise to 100 meters. Below the tunnel, the peaceful river has created a series of splendid geological features. The small canyon is located just north of the Cerna Sat river on the Cerna Valley, with easy access from the road.
Biodiversity of Gorj County
The county of Gorj features an exceptionally rich and unique biodiversity, mainly preserved through the extensive areas organized as national parks or natural protected areas. Gorj has a wide variety of landscapes, from high mountains to low hills and valleys, much of its area being covered by forests. There is an abundance of animal species that inhabit the land of Gorj, starting with large carnivores like brown bears, wolves, foxes and lynxes, as well as large mammals that usually inhabit the mountain forests, including deer and chamois among others. The impressive rich diversity of the vegetal species is also a great highlight of Gorj County, with many rare or endemic species. The complexity of the pastures and grasslands has been widely recognized as some of the richest in Europe.