Romania is a country of incredible landscapes. And Turda Gorge is certainly one of the most striking of all — though it seems relatively unknown to many travellers. It wasn’t until I was doing some photo location research that we learned of the place. Blown away by the Tolkien-esque scene, we had to check it out. Hiking Turda Gorge became a priority; and as it turns out, it’s far more than just a pretty picture.
Cheile Turzii, as it’s known in Romanian, is a natural reserve roughly 40 kilometres south of Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania’s capital city. When compared to the dramatic mountains elsewhere in Romania, the terrain around Cluj is rather uneventful. Long expanses of soft, rolling hills make up the countryside.
Yet only a few minutes from the town of Turda is a staggering limestone canyon, begging to be explored. Over thousands of years, erosion has carved through the earth here and the result is an adventurers paradise.
Hiking Turda Gorge
Unlike some of the more intense, multi-day hikes found in Romania, hiking Turda Gorge is relatively easy for the average person. There are several routes to choose from, ranging in distance and difficulty. The easiest of all is to simply walk through the bottom of the gorge itself.
Follow the cool path that follows a tranquil stream, flanked by precipitous stone walls. Several small bridges and steel cables in certain spots make any sketchy areas passable by almost any able-bodied person. The hike from one end to the other takes roughly 1 1/2 hours; more or less depending on how much you take in the scenery.
Over the Top for Spectacular Views
Hiking over the top is where things get a little more challenging. As we had planned several activities during our visit, we chose the shortest route over the west side of the gorge and returned through the canyon floor. According to the posted signs, the distance is 6 km and should take 4 1/2 hours. I’m not sure how accurate the distance is, but the timing, including the return walk along the stream, was close to the posted time of 4 1/2 hours.
The hike itself was wonderful. The first half had a relatively steady climb through light bush along a well-marked trail. Nearing the top of the gorge, the trees opened up to breathtaking views — or maybe I was just out of breath from the climb. Either way, from the top, one can overlook the surrounding countryside in almost every direction and see for miles. The view is worth every sweaty step.
Over the top of the west ridge, we encountered a herd of water buffalo grazing in a meadow. The path cut straight through them, so we approached with caution. Most of the females and calves backed away, but one large bull stood his ground and faced us. He didn’t appear aggressive, though it was clear he wasn’t planning on letting us through. Not to disturb them further, we simply cut around the meadow through some rather thorny bushes and carried on our way.
Down to the Valley
The walk down was much more direct. A large portion of it was steep, straight dirt run through some trees. This was the most challenging part of the entire hike, as the loose dirt made for a slippery descent. Once at the bottom, we exited the trees and found ourselves standing before the view that first piqued our interest in Turda Gorge.
We sat in the grass and relaxed in the late-morning sun. And just as I began setting up my camera gear, a flock of sheep wandered into the valley from behind. As they wobbled awkwardly by — as sheep do —they made their way to drink from the flowing creek. It couldn’t have been a more perfect scene.
Once we regained some energy, we continued onward through the gorge. I would highly recommend following this method. That is, climbing over the top first, and returning through the canyon. The climb isn’t too strenuous early in the day, but I imagine it gets far more difficult in the afternoon heat. Relaxing in the cool shade of the gorge is a perfect way to end the hike.
Other Activities at Turda Gorge
For those seeking a little more excitement, Turda Gorge is a great place for many activities. When we were taking in the spectacular views from the top, we saw several people paragliding high above the canyon. As well, the east side of the gorge is one of the top rock climbing spots in Romania. We watched for quite some time as one individual made their way up the dizzying rock face.
When we arrived back at the main parking lot, several mountain bikers were gearing up as well. And finally, the frequent scream of those flying down the massive zip-line could be heard overhead.
Otherwise, for those who just want to relax in a beautiful setting, there is tons of room to lay in the grass and enjoy a picnic. And if you forgot the basket, no worries; there are food carts selling delicious Romanian snacks!
How to Get to Turda Gorge from Cluj
As we quite often mention, our favourite way to get around Romania is by renting a car and having the freedom to explore at your leisure. Turda Gorge would make a great addition to our Romanian road trip itinerary!
Otherwise, to get to Turda Gorge from Cluj, simply take one of the regular buses from Cluj to Turda. From here, take another bus to the town of Cheia, and walk or hitchhike the remaining few kilometres to the gorge. Alternatively, you can hire a taxi to take you the full journey from Turda to the gorge.
As well, several tour operators based in Cluj offer day trips that include a visit to Turda Gorge and Salina Turda — the fascinating salt mine-turned amusement park!