We now set off to uncover one of lesser known areas of the country, lost within the mysterious mountains of southwestern Romania. Following the Cerna River along its enchanting valley, we discover an almost surreal beauty everywhere, from the picturesque black pines clinging to the craggy ridges above, to the thousands of butterflies roaming the vibrant pastures. The national park protects an incredible diversity of natural wonders, with just a few remote hamlets scattered over the lower slopes of the mountains!
The Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park stretches along the valley of Cerna River and over the neighboring mountains of Godeanu, Vâlcan, Mehedinți and Cerna. It is a complex and bewildering destination, combining high mountain peaks, narrow canyons, limestone ridges, artificial lakes, endless forests, unknown caves, a rich biodiversity and isolated villages. There are three main ways to reach the national park, with a road coming from the south (DN 67D) and following the valley halfway, then continuing eastwards through the mountains towards Târgu Jiu. There is also a road (DN 67A) through the northern part of the park, although it is currently in a very bad shape. The destination offers a wide range of attractions and activities, beginning with an impressive number of hiking trails that explore the wilderness and uncover the hidden treasures of the park. Some of the most fascinating sights we can discover here include the Valea lui Iovan Lake, Corcoaiei Gorges, Piatra Cloșani Mountain, the Upper Meadows, Vânturătoarea Waterfall, the village of Ineleț and many more.
We can begin exploring the national park of Domogled – Cerna Valley from the south, the north or halfway through, with each new adventure revealing other marvels. The northern part is dominated by the high peaks of the Godeanu Mountains, featuring a majestic ridge that often rises over 2000 meters. These are some of the most isolated mountains of Romania, with few trails and human presence. Nevertheless, the most adventurous can challenge the main ridge trail for a chance to admire some spectacular panoramas of the valley below and other mountains beyond. There are also several beautiful glacial valleys and lakes, alpine meadows and dense forests that we can discover along a few other hiking paths. On the other side of the valley, the park also includes a small area of Vâlcan Mountains, with several steep and sharp limestone ridges rising along the river below. These isolated ridges are known locally as Ciucevele Cernei and create a unique landscape. Other interesting sights we can explore in the wild northern part of the park include the short yet spectacular Cernișoara Gorges or the springs of the river, known as Izbucul Cernei and famous for its rich debit. Several kilometers to the south, we can also admire the impressive lake of Valea lui Iovan, one of the biggest artificial lakes in Romania, with a total surface of almost 3 sq. km. and a depth of over 100 meters. Chained between the densely wooded slopes of the mountains, the lake creates a magnificent natural scenery in the surrounding wilderness.
Further south, we encounter the Mehedinți Mountains stretching along the left side of the valley for about 50 km, featuring unique landscapes and geological features. With relatively low heights and pretty fragmented, they are crossed by a network of exceptional tourist paths. A few kilometers south of the Valea lui Iovan Lake and just north of the Cerna-Sat village, we can first stop to explore the short but spectacular Corcoaiei Gorges. They were created inside a limestone ridge by the river and has some amazing features, including a semi tunnel that follows the gorges several meters above the serene emerald water below. Over the ridge on another valley in Gorj County, the isolated and wild Piatra Cloșani Mountain stands out in the surrounding landscape, including many interesting karst formations.
About 75% of the park is covered by forests, most of them made of several species of beech, yet the true star is the Black Pine of Banat that can be spotted on the highest barren ridges. A rare and strange element, it is a tertiary relict that grows extremely slow and is prone to forest fires!
Further south in the Mehedinți Mountains, we can discover the most fascinating destinations of these mountains hidden behind the ridges. Locally known as crovuri or Upper Meadows, these look like flat cauldrons surrounded by limestone ridges and clint fields. They are actually sinkholes and the most beautiful include Crovul Mare, Poiana Beletina, Crovul Medved, Poienile Porcului and more. We can actually reach them by following several trails from the valley below, the most interesting passing through Fueroaga Tâmnei, Țesna Gorges and Fueroaga Ploștinei. There are a few waterfalls, gorges and caves along the way, with several other routes exploring the heights of these amazing mountains. On their southern edge, the landscape is dominated by the Domogled Massif, a higher ridge with unique features.
On the right side of the valley and south of Godeanu Mountains, we can explore the Cerna Mountains, with heights that go from 1500-1800 in the north, to just about 500 meters in their southern edge. There is also a main ridge trail, as well as several others ascending from the Cerna Valley, especially in its southern part. One of these hiking paths connects a few isolated villages like Ineleț, Scărișoara, Cracu Mare, Prisăcina and Dobraia, spread through the high meadows and forests of these mountains. Discovering these remote and enchanting villages, we can uncover an authentic part of Romania that is usually hidden from the world, as well as some breathtaking panoramas. Before the Prisaca Lake created on the Cerna River, another hiking path ascends towards the impressive Vânturătoarea Waterfall, with its 40 meters height and fine mist that sometimes creates small rainbows. The path goes behind the waterfall and continues to climb towards the ridges above. A trail goes along the right shore of the lake and reaches another small and charming waterfall.
After a few kilometers, the main road reaches an area with thermal springs right next to the river, known as 7 Hot Springs. From there, we can start two other hiking paths that climb into the mountains. The southern limit of the Domogled – Cerna Valley National Park is close to the town and resort of Băile Herculane, continuing along the mountain ridges around. From Băile Herculane, there are many other hiking trails exploring the mountains, reaching interesting sights. An important feature of the park is the impressive diversity of vegetation, with over 1100 species of plants discovered, some of them extremely rare and protected. The remarkable Black Pine of Banat is an endemic species that grows exclusively on high rocky ridges and creates a truly astonishing scenery. The wildlife diversity is equally rich, with rare species like horned vipers, scorpions, bats, wolves, lynx, bears and countless birds. Nevertheless, the most fascinating inhabitants of the park are the millions of butterflies, with almost 1500 species enlivening the surreal atmosphere of mountain meadows.
ACCOMMODATION IN DOMOGLED – CERNA VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
9.5 Rating from 402 Reviews!
Located in Băile Herculane, this new and modern hotel with amazing architecture offers spacious and fully-equipped rooms, a restaurant, shared lounge, bar and outdoor terrace!
9.3 Rating from 128 Reviews!
This superb guesthouse is located along the Cerna Valley north of Prisaca Lake, with several hiking trails starting nearby. It features amazing rooms, restaurant, bar, lounge and garden!
9.7 Rating from 214 Reviews!
Located in the middle of the Cerna Valley with idyllic surrounding nature, this guesthouse is close to the Ineleț mountain village. It offers high quality and comfortable accommodation!