Autumn hike in Cheile Zănoagei

Last update: April 1, 2024 in Guest Trip Stories
Autumn hike in Cheile Zănoagei
@ Natureflip

It was the end of September and the summer was still lingering on. A perfect day for a short Saturday hike. As we later discovered, many thought the same.

Our destination for the day was Zănoaga Gorge (Cheile Zănoagei) in the middle of Bucegi Natural Park, a short but spectacular defile created by the river Ialomița and stretching out to Scropoasa Lake, deep into the mountain.

We took the route E85 (or DN1, as commonly known in Romania) to Sinaia. Arm yourself with patience if you do this trip on a weekend as the road passes through Prahova Valley, a much appreciated tourist destination. The traffic will most likely be challenging, with serious congestions. Once you leave E85 for local route 71 at Sinaia, you truly enter the nature’s kingdom. The road soon gets narrower, winding through beautiful pine and deciduous forests with intact foliage even at the end of September. As we advanced to higher altitudes, the scenery was fully monopolised by imposing pine trees more than 20m high which then, as we approached the plateau, gave way to massive ravines, first on the right and then on the left of the road - one of the most stunning views of the Bucegi mountains.

Our advice is to use a GPS app all the way as the road signs are not always precise or visible, and you might just miss the exits. Set the destination to Salvamont Zănoaga (it’s the HQ of the Mountain Rescue team and the entering point to Zănoaga Gorge). The trail being part of Bucegi protected reserve, you’ll have to pay a 2 euro / 10 lei fee at the ranger at the entrance on the path or online at (click on ‘Tickets’ on upper right).

The trail is easy to medium and is marked by a blue cross. When we made this trip (in September 2023), the entrance to the hiking trail was blocked by the construction of a small bridge to ease the access over a portion of land that gets inundated from time to time, so we first had to circle de permanent camping - also located at the entrance to the trail.

Once on the path prepare to be awestruck. The scenery is stunning from the beginning; the narrow gorge is impressive at every step, as if nature made a deliberate effort to put every piece into its place in order to produce perfect harmony.

The path on the first part of the trail; follow the blue cross mark - here on the upper left © Natureflip

The gorge was formed by the sharp erosion of limestone deposits by the river Ialomița, creating walls of up to 200m (660ft) high, although the flow of the river in this area is quite reduced. You will also notice lapies and coves on the way, the result of the same erosion process.

The path unfolds in rapid ups and downs and takes you - with the help of two hanging bridges - on both slopes of the gorge. Make sure you are well equipped with hiking boots with good gripping soles as the humidity, kept at high levels by the narrow walls, makes the rocks on the path wet and slippery. Stay on the marked path, the river banks are quite abrupt!

This high humidity also contributes to the creation of a luxuriant vegetation – the fresh smell of plants together with the trees, shrubs and moss patches literally embrace you. Don’t forget to take a pair of trekking poles with you, they proved to be useful on the rocky path…and to have a lot of patience if you decide to do the hike on a weekend, when the trail is jam-packed with hikers of all ages.

© Natureflip
© Natureflip
On the trail that crosses the gorge © Natureflip

The gorge is only 2km (1.25miles) long and the path goes straight through with no exiting points but if, from time to time, you feel like you lost direction because of an apparently missing marking, do not hesitate to open your GPS app - it will help you get back on track.

As we advanced inside the defile the path slowly took us to lower altitude, until the space suddenly opened up and we found ourselves on the shores of the locally famous Scropoasa Lake. The lake is actually a reservoir build in 1929 for the production of hydroelectric power. Today, it is more of a leisure attraction, and what will strike you from the very beginning is the breath-taking emerald colour of the water.

The stunning colour of Lake Scropoasa © Natureflip

Follow the path shaded by trees and embraced by rich vegetation until you get to a small bridge. You cannot miss it, it will surely be taken over by a small crowd capturing with their cameras a very romantic-looking old wooden construction, perfectly framed by the steep walls of the surrounding mountains.

But what looks like the house of some elfish creature is actually the old gate of the dam controlling the water levels of the lake (sorry to break the spell, it’s just engineering). Even so, do not miss the chance to take a couple of pictures - the whole scene, combining the unique colour of the water, the dozens of autumnal shades of the trees’ foliage and the mountain on the background, makes everything look like a fairy-tale. Plus, it’s quite trendy to have a photo of this place on your social media account. (DO NOT disregard the danger signs or the chains blocking the access to the banks, as some do for the sake of a selfie, it really is hazardous to leave the path!).

© Natureflip

At the end of the path that follows the shores of the lake you’ll find the entrance to Orzei Gorge. The trail that goes through this gorge is not marked and the rangers strongly advise against crossing the defile as it is very deep, narrow and has a high risk of rock falls.

It was the time to go back and we took the same path, until we got to the end of the lake. Here we decided to turn right to also mark the Seven Springs Waterfall (Cascada Şapte Izvoare) on our bucket list (it’s only a 500m / 1 650ft walk). The water of the fall is famous for its purity, apparently because it is filtered by a silver sediment found deep inside the mountain before it bursts out from the mountain’s wall. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to taste this remarkable water on the spot, you will have to buy it bottled from a supermarket…

Seven Springs Waterfall © Natureflip

After we completely recharged our batteries in this amazing location, we were surprised to realize we got back to the car faster than we came, following the same trail, although this time the path consistently went up. We hit the road back home not only energized but with our lungs filled with fresh air and our minds reset, serene and mesmerized, after an experience which offered us the chance to fully connect with nature.

Final remarks: give yourself at least 4 hours for the hike alone (the drive to and from Zănoaga not included, consider the fact that it might also take several hours depending on the traffic; and the train is not an option, you have no other possibility to access this location than by car). Make sure you leave home by light, as the road is made of sharply zigzagging serpentines, dangerous at night.