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Carpathian Mountains

The Carpathian Mountains is the main mountain system in Central Europe, consisting of many interconnected ranges. Its main feature is rich biodiversity: It includes the largest bear population on the continent, as well as the largest wild forest areas. On a par with the Alps, it is also the most multicultural European mountain region, located in eight countries, mainly in Romania and Slovakia. This huge arc is also the third-longest in Europe of about 1,500 km (930 mi). There are 25923 named mountains in the Carpathian Mountains. The highest and the most prominent mountain is Gerlachovský štít (2,654 m / 8,707 ft) in the Tatra Mountains, its main subrange, in Slovakia.

Carpathian Mountains


As in the case of the Alps and other European ranges, the name Carpathian comes from the Carpi people or Carpiani, or Carps, a large tribe that inhabited the Kingdom of Dacia (mostly eastern part of modern Romania) from about 140 to 318 AD.

In turn, this word, derived from the Proto Indo-European root 'skerp' can mean 'mountain', 'rock', or 'rugged', 'sharp', 'harrow', and the like, or a mixture of these meanings. For example, the closest analog in modern Polish is the word 'skarpa', which means a 'sharp cliff' or other kinds of vertical terrain.

Carpathian Mountains, Ukraine

Carpathians are often called in abbreviated form: the Carpathians or the Carpaths (Carpates).

The name of the mountain system in local languages—Slovak, Romanian, Ukrainian and others—is very similar and if you add them up you get Karpaty (Карпати).


Along with the Alps, the Carpathian Mountains are the most interesting mountain system in Europe in terms of geography.

The Carpates extend in a huge arc or rather a horseshoe, or an almost perfect question mark in a northwest-southeast direction through eight central and southeastern European countries. These are the Czech Republic (about 3% of the territory), Slovakia (about 21%), Poland (10%), Hungary (1%), Ukraine (10%), Romania (50%), and Serbia (5%). A small part of the Carpathians is also located in northeastern Austria (1%) where they meet the Northern Lower Austria Alps, part of the Eastern Alps, from which they are separated by the great Danube River.

Carpathian Mountains, villa

As can be seen, the main country for the Carpathian mountain range is Romania, so it is firstly and clearly associated with the Carpathians and vice versa. Take, for example, Transylvania, the Romanian region—a home of the famous Count Dracula. The Carpathians is the location of this one of the most horrific and at the same time incredibly popular story.

The second most important country in the Carpaths is Slovakia. It not only occupies 1/5 of the range but hosts its highest mountains. Here is situated the highest and the most prominent peak of the Carpathians, Gerlachovský štít (2,654 m / 8,707 ft), in the Tatra Mountains, the main subrange of the mountain system.

The range is also the third-longest (1,500 km / 930 mi) in Europe after the 2,500 km (1,600 mi) long Ural Mountains in Russia, separating Europe and Asia, and the 1,700 km (1,100 mi) long Scandinavian Mountains, stretching all along Norway but also partly in western Sweden and northwestern Finland.

Balea Lake and Transfagarasan road, Romanian Carpathians

Balea Lake and Transfagarasan road, Romanian Carpathians

The Carpathians' width varies between 12 and 500 km (7 and 311 mi). So, after the Alps, it is the second-most extensive mountain system in Europe, covering an area of 190,000 sq km (73,000 sq mi).

The geographic boundaries of the mountain range can be defined by several major plains, as well as by some of the mountain ranges that surround it on all sides:

  • To the northwest of the Carpathians are the Sudeten Mountains or the Sudetes, the Bohemian Ranges covering mostly the Czech Republic, and the Northern Lower Austria Alps of the Eastern Alps in Austria, as already became clear, and to the north is the Galician Plain in Poland.
  • To the east is the Podolian Upland and more flat areas in Ukraine.
  • To the south is the Danubian Plain in Romania, which is separated from the Dinaric Alps, covering almost the entire Balkan Peninsula, to the southwest of the Carpates, by the Balkan Mountains — the continuation of the southern part of the Carpathians, which are the main subrange of the larger Bulgarian Ranges covering the country of Bulgaria.
  • In the west and southwest, the Carpathian Mountains wrap around or Pannonian Plain or Pannonian Basin of the Danube River in Hungary (Pannonia was one of the easternmost provinces of the Roman Empire), which included two additional parts: the Great Hungarian Plain in the heart of the Carpathian horseshoe; and the Little Hungarian Plain north of the former, which are divided by the Transdanubian Mountains.

Sambetei Valley in Fagaras mountains, Romania

Sambetei Valley in Fagaras mountains, Romania

Getting to the Carpathian Mountains

The Carpathians are simple and easy to reach from other parts of Europe and other countries of the world. The largest cities with international airports are located on the borders of the mountain range: Vienna (Austria), Bratislava (Slovakia), and Budapest (Hungary) in the northwest, and Belgrade (Serbia) and Bucharest (Romania) in the south. Warsaw (Poland) and Kyiv (Ukraine) are farther east and north.

Then follow local rail and bus transportation, depending on the chosen country. For example, in Slovakia, as the highest Carpathian country, these are Železničná spoločnosť Slovensko and Slovak Lines, and in Romania, the largest Carpathian country, these are CFR Calatori and Autogari. There are also all-European Eurail and Rail Europe, and Flixbus.

Road Transfagarash, Ridge Fagaras, Romania

Road Transfagarash, Ridge Fagaras


The Carpathians formed around the same time as the Alps during the Alpine orogeny about 65 million years ago in the Mesozoic geological epoch. However, given their maximum height of only 2,654 m (8,707 ft), unlike the Alps, there are no large glaciers. The slopes are more gentle without impressive walls, cliffs, canyons, and the like

As for the nature of the rocks, their highest part, the Tatra Mountains, consists mostly of various crystalline shales such as schist and others. Two other major geological zones of the Carpathians are marine sedimentary rocks and mountains of volcanic origin, which makes this region one of the most seismically dangerous in southeastern Europe.

Tatras - Gerlach peak at sunrise, Carpathian Mountains

Tatras - Gerlachovský štítat sunrise

Carpathian Mountains

The Carpathian Mountains is a huge system of more than five dozen closely spaced individual mountain ranges, which makes its classification rather complicated and confusing. I'll try to help you figure it out.

First of all, there are three major parts of the Carpaths with the following corresponding countries in each of them:

  • Western Carpathians: eastern Austria, southern Czechia, southern Poland, central Slovakia
  • Eastern Carpathians: southern Poland, eastern Slovakia, western Ukraine, northern Romania
  • Southern Carpathians: central, southwestern, and northwestern Romania, eastern Serbia

Further, the first two of these, which are the largest and most complete, are divided into two more parts each: Outer Western Carpathians and Inner Western Carpathians; and Outer Eastern Carpathians and Inner Eastern Carpathians, respectively, where 'outer' and 'inner' refer to the location of mountains on this or that side of the boundary of the great Carpathian arc.

Moving on, Southern Carpathians are generally smaller than the other two parts and, as the name suggests, occupy the southernmost part of the Carpathians, which is equal to the north of Romania.

summer, Carpathian Mountains

In addition, the Carpathian Mountains have three other smaller parts around the Southern Carpathians, the exact location of which is easy to guess from their names:

  • Western Romanian Carpathians, including the Apuseni Mountains as its main notable subrange in western Romania
  • Transylvanian Plateau or Transylvanian Mountains in central Romania—but don't confuse them with the Transylvanian Alps—the highest mountains to the south, so the region is divided between two ranges
  • Serbian Carpathians in eastern Serbia

Finally, there is also the Outer Subcarpathia, which lay outside the arc of the entire system and is usually listed as part of the individual parts of the Carpathian Mountains.

As I said, the further inner classification of the Carpathians is rather confusing: each of these eight large groups is divided into dozens of smaller ones, which in turn are divided over and over again, so I will limit myself to the main mountain ranges and groups in each of them.

Spectacular Danube Gorges, between Serbia and Romania, Carpathian Mountains

Spectacular Danube Gorges, between Serbia and Romania

Western Carpathians

The main mountain range in the Western Carpathians is the High Tatras, the main subrange of the wider Eastern Tatras of the Tatra Mountains, which, in turn, is the main subrange of the Inner Western Carpathians and the entire Carpathian mountain system. The reason is simple: High Tatras is home to the highest and the most prominent mountain of the Carpathians, Gerlachovský štít (2,654 m / 8,707 ft). On the administrative map, it is the region of Prešov in northern Slovakia.

Tatras - Gerlach peak at sunrise, Carpathian Mountains

Gerlachovský štít

Expectedly, all the next peaks in the top 10 of the highest mountains in the Carpathians are also in the High Tatras and are named with the ending 'štít', which means 'shield' in Slovak.

Important: In the Inner Western Carpathians, there is also a separate Low Tatras mountain range, which are not part of the Tatra Mountains, but simply borrow their name, being lower in elevation and located further south in central Slovakia.

Mountain lake in National Park High Tatra. Strbske pleso, Slovakia

Mountain lake in National Park High Tatra. Strbske pleso, Slovakia

Another small but noteworthy mountain range of the system in the same Inner Western Carpathians is the Little Carpathians, which extend directly from the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, to the main massif of the High Tatras in the southwest-northeast direction.

One more surprise about Little Carpathians is that its westernmost point, Hundsheimer Berg (481 m / 1,578 ft), is the highest peak of the namesake Hundsheimer Berge range of the larger Devín Carpathians in Lower Austria. In other words, a tiny part of the Carpathians in a country known as Alpine.

It is also important to note that the Transdanubian Mountains lying to the south of the Inner Western Carpathians and to the west of the Inner Eastern Carpathians, and which separate the Great Hungarian Plain and the Little Hungarian Plain are not part of the Carpathians, but are a separate small mountain range.

Eastern Carpathians

The main mountain range in the Eastern Carpathians, divided between Ukraine and Romania, is the Beskides Range or the Beskid Mountains within the Outer Eastern Carpathians, which is divided into Central Beskides or Low Beskides, and Eastern Beskides. The latter in turn are commonly divided into Wooded Beskids and Polonynian Beskids. The Eastern Beskides hosts the highest peak of this part of the Carpathians, Hoverla, at 2,061 m (6,762 ft), located in Ukraine.

Hoverla, Ukraine,Eastern Carpathians


Southern Carpathians

The main mountain range in the most extensive part of the southern Romanian Carpathian mountains, also known as the Transylvanian Alps, is the Făgăraş Range. The main thing to know about this part of the mountain system, besides the fact that it is the birthplace of Dracula, is that all the other four of the five Ultra-peaks of the Carpathians after Gerlachovský štít are gathered here, namely: Parângul Mare (2519 m / ft), Moldoveanu (2,544 m / 8,346 ft), Peleaga (2,509 m / 8,231 ft), and Pietrosul Rodnei (2,303 m / 7,555 ft). Moldoveanu is also the highest mountain in Romania.

Moldoveanu peak, Southern Carpathians

Moldoveanu peak

Well, we have dealt with the Carpathians in general.

The highest peaks in the remaining three of the eight major parts of the mountain system are the following:

  • Western Romanian Carpathians: Bihor Peak (1,849 m / 6,066 ft) in the Apuseni Mountains
  • Transylvanian Plateau: represented by peaks up to 500 m (1,640 ft) in north-western Romania
  • Serbian Carpathians: Šiljak (1,560 m / 5,119 ft) in eastern Serbia, 200 km (124 mi) of Belgrad

Bihor Mountain ridge , Romanian

In total there are 25,923 named mountains in the Carpathians, including the next highest peaks in each of the three remaining countries that share this mountain system, which I have not yet had time to name:

  • Czech Republic: Lysá hora (1,323 m / 4,341 ft) in the Moravian-Silesian Beskids range
  • Poland: Rysy (2,503 m / 8,211 ft) in the same Tatra Mountains
  • Hungary: Kékes (1,014 m / 3,327 ft) the Mátra Range, part of the North Hungarian Mountains

Rysy, Poland


An important final note: Except for the Czech Republic (Sněžka (1,603 m / 5,259 ft) in the Silesian Ridge in the Krkonoše Mountains) and Serbia (Midžor (2,169 m / 7,116 ft) in the Balkan Mountains), all the Carpathians peaks mentioned right above are also the highest in the respective countries.

Best Hikes in the Carpathian Mountains

Given the vast area of the Carpathian Mountains, I will focus on the highest northern part of this mountain system or the High Tatras, but also the neighboring Low Tatras, as well as Little Carpathians to the west of them, naming the main hiking areas and marked trails.

High Tatras Hikes

So the main hiking area in the High Tatras and the entire Carpathians mountain system is the eponymous Tatra National Park between Slovakia and Poland, which is the first transboundary park of such a kind in Europe and a UNESCO biosphere reserve, due to the variety of local flora and fauna, similar to the alpine.

The main trail of the park is the relatively short Popradské Pleso route around Popradské Lake in the center of the small “lake district” in High Tatras, the main attraction of the trail, which is 9.6 km (6 mi). You will also ascend to two natural lookout points in the form of Solisko (2,412 m / 7,913 ft) and Ostrva (1,984 m / 6,509 ft) mountains to look at the pearl of High Tatras from above, as well as many other lakes around.

Tatra National Park

Tatra National Park

Low Tatras Hikes

The neighboring Low Tatras mountain range is also the Low Tatras National Park of the same name, which is inferior in popularity to the higher Tatras, but nevertheless finds its fans of outdoor activities, among which are mostly locals. I will remind you also that this is a separate range, which is not part of the Tatra Mountains.

The main trail of the park with the self-speaking name is Low Tatras Ridgeline, which crosses the entire mountain range. The length of the trail is 97 km (60 miles). It starts in the town of Donovaly and ends in the town of Télgárt, but of course, you can take the individual central sections of the trail as well.

Low Tatras National Park

Low Tatras National Park

Little Carpathians Hikes

The Little Carpathians range is not a national park but one of the 14 protected landscape areas in Slovakia, created from six separate nature reserves back in 1976. The three highest peaks of the mountain range are Záruby (768 m / 2,520 ft), Vysoká (754 m / 2,474 ft), and Vápenná (752 m / 2,467 ft).

The area’s main trail leads to a slightly smaller but no lesser-known peak, Devínska Kobyla (514 m / 1,686 ft) in the Devín Carpathians subrange, which is the westernmost point of the range just slightly north of Bratislava, and thus the main attraction for locals and tourists alike. There is a 4 km (2.4 mi) long trail leading up to the summit with a futuristic lookout point.

Zaruby mountain, Slovakia

Romanian Carpathians Hikes

An alternative to the northern part of the Carpathians is the less high but much more expansive southern part of the system in Romania, where I was able to count 10 national parks located literally along the entire mountain arc. But going back to the "largest bear population in all of Europe", take into consideration that they are paramount when hiking in the country. So take all precautions that are related to protecting you from bear and other mammals encounters.

Anyway, here’s their list of the parks from north to south for the brave ones:

Rodna mountains, Romania, Europe

Rodna Mountains National Park

Carpathian Mountains Ski Resorts

For skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, there are more than 400 ski resorts in the Carpathian Mountains, which are located throughout the range. It is also one of the main areas for skiing in Central Europe.

The largest ski resort in the Carpathian Mountains is Jasna Low Tatras (Jasná Nízke Tatry) in Slovakia with more than 45 km (30 mi) of slopes and more than 18 ski lifts.

Other major areas for skiing in the Carpathian Mountains include the following in descending order of size. But most of them are small ski resorts with just about 10–15 km (6–9 mi) of slopes:

  • Szczyrk Mountain Resort in Poland
  • Straja in Romania
  • Pylypets in Ukraine
  • Sinaia in Romania
  • Białka Tatrzańska in Poland
  • Kasprowy Wierch in Poland
  • Vrátna in Slovakia
  • Poiană Brașov in Romania
  • Kubínska hoľa in Slovakia
  • Șureanu in Romania
  • Ruzomberok Skipark in Slovakia
  • Veľká Rača in Slovakia
  • Trostyan Mountain in Ukraine
  • Tatranská Lomnica in Slovakia
  • Donovaly (Park Snow) in Slovakia
  • Dwie Doliny in Poland
  • Muntele Mic in Romania
  • Dragobrat in Ukraine
  • Šachtičky in Slovakia
  • Sucha Dolina in Poland

Szczyrk Mountain Resort in Poland

Check the Carpathian Mountains ski resorts map on the larger Europe ski resorts map in the World Mountain Lifts section of the site. It includes information about open ski lifts / slopes in the Carpathian Mountains in real-time with opening dates and hours. There are also year-round cable cars, funiculars, cog railways, aerial tramways, and all other types of mountain lifts.

Tourist Information

When traveling in the Carpathian Mountains, visit one of the official tourist offices of the region, which can be found for sure in the capitals and the largest cities in the respective countries. To find them, use the official tourist sites of these countries:

Carpathian Mountains landscape


As in the Alps, in the Carpathian Mountains you can find all three most common types of accommodation during hiking and other outdoor activities: mountain huts, bivouacs, and campsites, which offer a similar format of lodging (a place in the common room for 2–20 people plus meals and showers) and include (or not) similar services such as bar, wifi and so on.

For example, in the Polish part of the Tatra National Park (remember, the park is cross-border) are at least eight mountain huts. Note: here they are called 'shelters', which means bivouac in the Alps. Another important thing is that most of the shelters do not accept credit cards, so bring cash with you (in local currency, of course). So here they are:

  • Chocholowska Shelter, 121 beds
  • Hala Ornak Shelter, 55 beds
  • Hala Kondratowa Shelter, 20 beds
  • Kalatowki Shelter Mountain Hotel, 84 beds
  • Murowaniec Shelter, 100 beds
  • Schronisko Górskie Shelter, 67 beds
  • Morskie Oko Shelter, 35 beds
  • Roztoka Shelter, 75 beds

Chocholowska Valley, Carpathian Mountains landscape

More: You can visit all eight shelters and stay in 3 or 4 of them on a popular hut-to-hut hiking route through the Polish part of the Tatra National Park of 44.3 km (28 mi). It corresponds to the Zakopane region. To learn more about this region, check Zakopane.pl.

In general, the system of lodging in the Carpathians, including the number and quality of huts, is more developed in the northern part and less in the eastern and southern. In other words, the closer it is to the Alps with its centuries-old culture of mountain hospitality, the better for the hiker. On the other hand, in the Ukrainian, Romanian, and Serbian parts of the Carpathians, you will find more differences and local features in terms of accommodation and in general, which will provide an even more authentic experience of both hiking and travel.

Wild camping is also more common in these parts of the Carpathians, but again, given their wilder nature (bears and other mammals), be really prepared to meet them. One time I saw two small bears at a great distance while hiking in my homeland Karelia, Finland, but assuming a larger mama bear was nearby, I didn't couldn't fall asleep all night in my tent.

In some national parks and on their borders in towns, you can also find cottages, hotels, B&Bs, apartments, and more.

Cities and Resorts

The main cities and resorts within the Carpathian Mountains are (again, from northwest to southeast) Nitra, Trenčín, Prešov, and Košice in Slovakia; Brno and Ostrava in Czechia; Bielsko-Biała, Kraków, and Nowy Sącz in Poland; Budapest, Miskolc, and Nyíregyháza in Hungary; Uzhhorod, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Chernivtsi in Ukraine; Cluj-Napoca, Timișoara, Brașov, and Râmnicu Vâlcea in Romania; and Kragujevac and Niš in Serbia.

Carpathian Mountains City of Nitra, Slovakia

Hence any of these towns will be a great starting point for your Carpathian hikes. As a rule, to get to them from the larger towns you need about half a day.

The answer to the main question of the entire guide "Where is Dracula's Castle" is Bran Castle in the namesake town of Bran, about 25 km (16 mi) southwest of the city of Brașov. However, the main character of the novel of the same name by Bram Stoker was placed there later specifically for promotional purposes. But in fact, the actual residence of Vlad III or Vlad the Impaler, on the basis of which the famous literary character was created, is unknown.

Bran Castle, Romania

Bran Castle, Romania

Anyway, the castle, in which various other rulers of the region sat, looks really impressive, and should be visited. Today it is a modern art museum and also an open-air museum around it with smaller, traditional Romanian buildings and other constructions showing the peculiarities of the local way of life.

Much less people traveling to the Carpathian Mountains know that on the opposite side of the range, in Slovakia, there is an equally impressive walled castle on a hill, the Spiš Castle, near the towns of Spišské Podhradie and Žehra in the Spiš region. It is one of the largest castles in all of Central Europe and the UNESCO World Heritage Site named Levoča, Spišský Hrad and the Associated Cultural Monuments. So this place is a great alternative to Dracula's Castle.

Spiš Castle, Slovakia

Spiš Castle, Slovakia

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