There is not a single trail across the Carpathians at some parts the main ridge is obvious (Făgăraș) while in other sections a hiker can choose from different mountain ranges.
Some have already tried to chart Via Carpatica or The Carpathian Divide Trail but these plans are materializing slowly and have not been completed. Meanwhile handful of people are walking across the whole range every year. From the conversations I have had, most of them would love to keep Carpathian thru-hiking as it is without an official trail in place. The reasons are simple: 1) charting an “official route” invites sports(wo)men who feel the need to compete and bend everything to their achievement not respecting the fragile nature and relationship with the locals; 2) while charting a route means taking responsibility towards nature, local communities and hikers, it also takes some responsibility from the hikers and invites less experienced characters; 3) official route enables comparison but takes away uniqueness of the individual experience; 4) the official routes are usually someone’s business projects, the less commerce we see at the expense of the mountains and the locals, the better.
I planned my own trail the way it connected ranges that have place in my memory. I also tried to avoid civilization as much as possible, only once I left the planned trail to get supplies. It started at Pálava – the westernmost point of the range, where Carpathians collide with much older Hercynian platform. Through Slovakia I followed footsteps of Svetozár Krno, Ľuboš Calpaš and Pavel Mach who traversed the Arc in 1984. Unlike most other hikers, I did not finish in Orșova, but reached the Danube in Coronini walking extra 100 km to the west. As there are Czech settlements in the area, it made the magic of hearing my mother tongue at both ends of the Carpathian journey.
Map of the thru-hike
- the trail in gpx format based on my smartwatch treklog, most of the detours, searches for water etc. are erased, added are 40 km across Parâng I unfortunately missed
- water sources coordinates collected along the trail
- shelters – it is always good to know if there is some dry place across the hill
- comprehensive database of POIs for hiking in Slovakia can be found here (in Slovakian), e.g. campsites, shelters and chalets or water springs (here as of April 2020)
- other points of interest (hiking advice, bear areas, shopping, electricity..)
- planned itinerary of my journey not followed in reality, but some may find it useful
- and of course, see the blog from the journey or look at map sources links
Download instructions: based on several feedbacks the download does not work by clicking the link in some browsers (Chrome, Safari). In this case, right-click the link and choose the save-as or download option. Based on your online safety settings you might receive a warning that the file is not secure. The reason is the browser/antivirus cannot see inside the zip files containing gpx. Here is an alternative link to a Google Drive folder.
Pages of (reference to) other hikers who walked across the whole Carpathian mountain range:
- VI-IX 1980 Andrzej Wielocha, Piotr Kurowski, Jerzy Montusiewicz, Zdzisław Pecul, Wiesław Tomaszewski, PL
- VI-VIII 1984 Svetozár Krno, Ľuboš Calpaš & Pavel Mach, SK
- XII 1995-V 1996 + V-IX 2004 József Mályi, H
- 2004 + 2013 Łukasz Supergan, PL
- 2011 Simon Dubois, F (link to his trail)
- VI-IX 2013 Piotr Baranowski, PL
- V-XI 2015 Viktorie Hlaváčková, CZ
- VII-X 2015 Andrei Dumitrescu & Vlad Spiru of the SKV tourist club, RO
- summer 2015 + XII 2017- III 2018 Weronika Łukaszewska & Sławomir Sanocki, PL
- V-IX 2017, Dominik Księski, PL (link to pictures)
- VII-IX 2017 Lina Hallebratt, S (link to her blog)
- 2019 Jean-Marc Souchon, F
- IV-VIII 2019 Michał Kulanek, PL (link to his trail)
- VI-VIII 2021 Ewa Chwalko, PL
- VI-IX 2021 Bohdan Oslavskyj, UA (link to his trail)
- VII-X 2021 Jiří Chemlon Glonek & Marek Štencl, CZ (link to their trail)
- VII-X 2021 Petr Jankovič, SK
I must note that “walk across Carpathians” can mean different things depending on the trail and philosophy you choose so I would be very cautious making any comparisons. Weather plays significant role while on the hike. Starting and finishing points differ. Some walk highest peaks only, some also walk valleys or lower ridges. Some avoid civilization, some pay for accommodation in mountain chalets and villages or make detours to cities. Some have support teams, some depend on local resources. Some walk fast, some slow. Some collect thousands of Euros for their journey, some set their survival limit to 1€ a day. Some sell their experience, some keep it for themselves; I decided to make these webpages to inspire others to fall in love with the Carpathians.
If I was asked to set rules for what “Carpathian thru-hike” means, I would say: 1) walking at least 2000 km touching all the Carpathian countries in a single trek, 2) walking highest ridges or the ones connecting them, 3) at least two thirds of overnights without touch with civilization (i.e. also out of mountain chalets), 4) no support teams.
If you want to hike all the highest mountain ranges in the Carpathians without special equipment for snow conditions both timing and direction matter. The Romanian part of the thru-hike is definitely more demanding than the Slovakian and/or Polish. That is why many hikers rather start from the Danube in Romania. In this case you need to take into account that in early June there are still snow patches in Godeanu and Retezat mountains and you might not be able to cross Făgăraş till the end of June. Safe date to start from this direction is mid-June.
In case of the start from the Danube in Slovakia (or like in my case the westernmost Pálava range) the timing depends on the route: 1) if walking north from Vysoké Tatry through Poland, the start is possible as early as April. 2) Nízké Tatry are passable from early June so mid-May start is OK. 3) If you want to cross Vysoké Tatry the situation is similar to Făgăraş – mid June can be considered safe start, however, the considerable difference is that camping is not allowed in Vysoké Tatry so you are obliged to stick to mountain chalets.
Expect below zero temperatures overnight at both end of the arc in the second half of September. The first snow definitely comes before the beginning of October to the highest peaks but it should enable passing. The mountains in Romania become deserted once the shepherds descend with their herds to the valleys in September (in one dry year I experienced deserted shepherd’s houses at the end of August in the Banat mountains). The same applies to early June before the fresh grass grows. The advantage is you can use shepherds’ houses for overnights then.
Your experience from the thru-hike will be highly impacted by weather. The very same ranges can be experienced as muddy or dry in the same week in different years. There is no general advice regarding the weather, however, expect not more than half of your hiking days without a thunderstorm or a shower.
I am grateful to my friend Horaţiu Popa – a keen tourist from Cluj for tips regarding Northern Romania, updates on snow conditions in Făgăraș and help with the support parcel. Joachim Bungert for his superb Quo Vadis software I used for planning and processing maps, POIs and the final version of the trail.