Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park, diversity and splendour

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park includes the hydrographical basin of the Cerna River, from the confluence with the river Belareca, near Băile Herculane, up to the Jiu-Cerna Pass.

General data about the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park:

• It is the second largest park in the country, after the Danube Delta, with a surface of 61.211 ha.

• Includes sections located between the Cerna Valley and the peaks of the main three mountains: Godeanu, Cernei and Mehedinţi.

• The park stretches on the surface of 3 counties: Gorj, Caraş-Severin and Mehedinţi.

• It was established in 1990. Initially, a reserve was established in 1932, the Mount Domogled Nature Reserve of Flora and Scenery, the oldest in Romania.

2 Natura 2000 sites overlap over The Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park:

• Domogled- Valea Cernei – flora and bird protected area and

• Domogled- Valea Cernei – site of community importance.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

The Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park was established to protect:

• the species of unique plants and animals, due to sub-Mediterranean influences

• the diversity of the landscape of the Cerna Valley (limestone slopes, sinkholes, limestone pavements, caves, gorges, canyons).

75% of the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park is covered by forests. The dominant species is the beech, but the symbol of the park is the black pine of Banat.

The black pine of Banat is an endemic species that grows in the Cerna Canyon (90%). We can scarcely find it in the Porţile de Fier Natural Park and the Mehedinţi Plateau.

The vegetation of the park is very diverse, from plants specific to small altitudes and sub-Mediterranean areas to species specific to alpine areas (mountain pines and alpine meadows with rhododendron in the Godeanu Mountains).

The Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park extends from an altitude of 168 m, in Baile Herculane up to an altitude of 2254 metres. Thus, the average annual temperatures differ, from almost 11 degrees in the area Heculane to 0 degrees in the Godeanu Mountains.

The Mediterranean and oceanic warm and humid air, penetrating from the west and south-west, causes temperature values higher than in the rest of the country.

Thus, spring comes earlier in the Cerna Basin. Due also to the penetration of warm air currents, hikers will see in the high areas, a direct switch of vegetation from the beech forests to the alpine ones. The pine forests are much rarer here than in other mountain areas.

The Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park flora includes both endemic and Mediterranean species (10% of Mediterranean species). On the limestone cliffs grows the yellow lily of Banat, a species of primrose, carnations, as well as rare Balkan and Mediterranean species, such as the birthwort and the loose silky-bent. There are also species placed under strict protection such as: the iris, the yellow crocus, the sweet pea, the globe flower, and the rhododendron.

In the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park there are 45% (almost 1500) of the butterflies species in Romania.

You can see here reptiles, among which the protected species are found mainly in the lower areas of the park. The most common are: the common viper and the horned viper, the Euscorpius carpathicus, the turtle, the Aesculapian snake (nonvenomous) the firefly of Banat, the Mediterranean banded centipede (a large centipede, 12-15cm).

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

The Cerna River, called by the Romans Tierna, is 84 km long, from the source to its outfall, the Danube. Here, on a short area, Cerna is part of the Portile de Fier Natural Park. The Cerna springs are located under the Paltina Peak (2070 m) in the Godeanu Mountains. Up to the confluence with the Izbucul Cernei, located 10 km downstream, the valley is called Cernișoara.

Immediately after the Izbucul Cernei, the river waters are collected in a large reservoir, Iovanu Lake. Here the waters go through a tunnel to the hydroelectric power plant Tismana on the Motru River.

The main tributaries of the Cerna River are those of the right side, up to 10 km long: Balmez, Olanul, Craiova, Iauna, Topenia, Jute, Prisăcina, Bedina and Vânturătoarea. Prisăcina and Bedina have created spectacular gorges, accessible only to experienced tourists.

The Vânturătoarea Waterfall, formed by the stream Vânturătoarea is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country. It is about 80m high and you can go down on it with canyoning equipment. In its vicinity you can find many climbing trails. That is why you will meet here many climbers.

The tourist trail goes behind the water “curtain”, under the overhanging wall.

The main tributary of Cerna is Belareca, to the west of the Culmea Cernei. On this valley you can find one of the 11 reserves of the park, the Belareca Reserve.

The tributaries from the left side of the Mehedinţi Mountains are much shorter. They are up to 4 km long and with fluctuating low flows. Nevertheless, they have created spectacular canyons and waterfalls accessible only with canyoning equipment: Râmnuța, Țăsna, Bobot, Cociu – Roșeț.

The Cociu (Roșeț) waterfall is considered by some the greatest waterfall in the country – 120 m. During summer, the valley dries up, so if you are interested in canyoning, come during spring.

There is only one village in the park – the Cerna Village (less than 100 inhabitants) and 12 hamlets: Prisăcina, Poiana Lungă, Taţu, Ineleţ, Cracu Mare, Cracu Teilor, Scărişoara, Gura Iuţii, Stepan, Bedina, Dobraia, Slătinic. They are inhabited by about 65 families. The houses are prevalent on the hidden terraces above the first row of the walls bordering the Cerna Valley. They give a special charm to the area, taming the wild landscape.

As the park extends both in the area of Oltenia and Banat, it enhances the cultural value of the site. You can see differences in the traditions and habits of the residents of the 2 slopes of the Cerna River.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

The hamlets located on the right slope belong to the Bogâltin Commune, which is beyond the Cerna Mountains ridge. The few inhabitants of the left slope of the valley, from Oltenia, belong to the villages of Isverna, Godeanu, Obârşia which are beyond the Mehedinţi Mountains.

The nature reserves include almost 21% of the park. From the largest to the smallest, the 11 nature reserves are: Coronini-Bedina, Domogled, Piatra Cloşanilor, Belareca, Iauna-Craiova, Ciucevele Cernei, Valea Ţesna, Vârful lui Stan, Cheile Corcoaiei, Peştera Martel, Peştera lui Ion Bârzoni.

The Băile Herculane area. Coming from Baia de Arama, five kilometres before the resort Băile Herculane, you can see the accumulation Prisacina Lake (Seven Springs).

Entering the oldest resort in the country, you will be impressed by the calcareous white slopes on which the black pine of Banat grows, with its “umbrella”-like crown.

On the left side of the Cerna Valley is located the Domogled Nature Reserve, with unique flora and fauna. It is the most well-known and visited reserve of the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park. In the limestone massif Domogled, there is also a theme trail with nine information boards. These will reveal the sub-Mediterranean species encountered on the trail.

On the right side of the Cerna Valley lies the Coronini-Bedina Reserve, the largest in the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park. Here there is a thematic route “On the trail of the Empress Elisabeth”, (known as Sissi). In love with the sights and sounds of the area, the empress Sissi came here six times.

Walking on the trails in the area of Baile Herculane, through the beech forests, or among the limestone cliffs, you will discover the vegetation diversity, from the black pine of Banat to the wild lilac, the Turkish hazel, the Oriental hornbeam, the manna ash, the chestnut tree, the ivy creeper etc.

The trails on both slopes, most of them very accessible to tourists offer spectacular lookouts towards Baile Herculane and the Cerna Valley.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

Another unique element of the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park is the thermal caves, singular in Romania. Here thermo-mineral waters or 55 degrees temperature vapours come to the surface. Worth mentioning are:

Grota cu Aburi (The Steam Cave). The cave has a length of only 14 m and can be visited by tourists following the blue triangle trail. Inside, the climate is “tropical”, due to the hot vapours, up to 55 degrees C, released by the water of a thermal sulphurous spring.

The Adam’s Cave – you can find here the largest guano deposits of the Romanian caves, accumulated over time from several species of bats.

Due to the limestone relief, the endokarst is well developed, in the Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park. You can find here about 900 caves, the majority being of small dimensions.

In order to protect them, some were closed and were declared reserves: Peştera Martel, Peştera lui Ion Bârzoni and Peştera Cloşani. Pestera Cloșani, one of the most beautiful caves in the country, is part of the Piatra Cloșanilor Reserve.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

In addition to the decorated thermal water pools in Băile Herculane, you can also find thermal water springs at the Șapte Izvoare Calde (Seven Hot Springs) or at the upstream end of the resort, next to the Roman Hotel. The water of two of the thermal springs reaches about 40 degrees.

As there is no fee to enter the pools at 7 Izvoare (about 4 km from Herculane) they are quite crowded. Take into account that the conditions are, however, rudimentary.

Piatra Cloşanilor appears as an isolated massif of the Mehedinţi Mountains, surrounded by wooded ridges located at a much lower altitude. Actually, Piatra Cloşanilor belongs to the Motru Basin and is made up of 2 limestone massifs: Piatra Mare (1421 m) and Piatra Mică (1163 m).

On the Piatra Cloşanilor you have a lookout of the Godeanu Mountains, where 2000 m rounded peaks prevail. The Cernei Mountains appear as a sequel of the Godeanu Mountains.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park Piatra Closanilor

From the Piatra Cloşanilor, the Mehedinţi Mountains continue a little to the north-east, with heights ranging from 1000-1200 m.

The Mehedinților Ridge continues with the Vâlcan Mountains Ridge, until under the Oslea Peak. The Sarba Peak (1742 m), under the Oslea Peak is the top where the park boundary goes down to the Jiu-Cerna Pass (1450 m).

Through the Jiu-Cerna Pass goes the unpaved road DN 66 that connects the Jiului de Vest Valley to the Cernei Valley. Here, under the Godeanu Mountains Ridge, parallel with the Mehedinti Mountains Ridge, in the Cernișoarei Meadow, you will find the Ciucevele Cerna Reserve.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

View under the Oslea Mount to the first steep cliff from the Jiu-Cerna Pass, towards the Godeanu Mountains and in the background towards Iovanu Lake.

Due to the isolation and lack of markings this part of the National Park is one of the wildest in the country. Ciucevele Cernei is seen as a series of steep small limestone ridges, covered by woods. They dominate the Cernișoarei Valley and then Cernei Valley with a cumulative elevation gain of 400-500 m, being fragmented by narrow valleys and wild gorges.

Worth mentioning: Ciuceava Neagră, Ciuceava Prihodu Mare, Ciuceava Cracu Frasinului, Ciuceava Chicerii, Ciuceava Văcăriei, Ciuceava lui Drăgan.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

The spring with the highest flow rate in Romania comes out here, Izbucul Cernei. It has an average flow of 1.5-2 cubic meters per second, flow rate which varies depending on the season and rainfall.

Izbucul Cernei also gathers underground a part of the waters of the Jiul de Vest Basin. Both the waters from the Soarbele Valley and the Scorotei Valley (Retezatul Mic) are directed to the Izbucul Cernei. It is located at an altitude of 710 m below the Ciuceava Chicerii. At 200 m, Izbucul Cernei meets the waters of the Cernișoarei River, forming Cerna.

Ciucevele (the local name for these cliffs in the north of Oltenia) are referred to, downstream of Cerna-Village, as geanțuri (Geanţul Schitului, Geanţul Râmnuţelor, Geanţul Glodului, Geanţul Hermănului).

Next to another steep cliff, Geanțul Corcoaiei, a little upstream of Cerna-Village, there is another geomorphological reserve: Cheile Corcoaiei Reserve. Although not long, up to 300 m, the gorges are spectacular due to the “tunnel” dug by the waters at the base of over 100 m high walls. This proves the deepening in stages of the gorges.

Beyond the steep cliff ridge and the Arșasca Valley accompanied by the paved road crossing the Cernei Valley at Baia de Aramă, you will see another mark of the Mehedinti Mountains, Vârful lui Stan (1.466 m). Vârful lui Stan Reserve includes spectacular exokarst formations: the limestone pavements.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park
The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

Poienile de Sus ale Cernei seen from the Vârful lui Stan

The Poienile de Sus ale Cernei goes up to the area of the Pietrele Albe Peak.

They are a series of deep karst depressions, some with a very smooth bottom between 2 rows of calcareous rocky ridges with many limestone pavements. They are quite unique in the Romania karst landscape. These karst depressions are referred to by the locals as crovuri.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park
The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

Under the Varful lui Stan you can find the Crovul (Glade) Beletina which continues with Crovul Mare, a sinkhole deeper than 100 m, followed by the Porcului Glade, Crovul Medved and the Ploștinioarele Glade.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

Beyond the Upper Glades there is the well-known Valea Țăsna Reserve which include the Țăsnei Gorges and Canyon.

The gorges are easy to cross following the tourist markings and carries on for about 1.5 km. In the upstream end of the gorges there is a functional water mill, Moara Dracilor (The Devils¢ Mill). Near the mill we find the first waterfall (of the six) of the canyon. From the Tasnei Gorges you have a breath-taking view on the Arjanei Peak, an emblematic peak of the Cernei Valley.

The Arjana Peak (1512 m) is characterized by the steep calcareous cliffs which stand out against the rounded peaks of the Cernei Mountains. It sits at the end of several 1500 – 1800 m peaks, between the Olanului Valley and the Bedinei Valley. On the ridges descending from the main ridge of the Cernei Mountains you can admire the isolated hamlets which can be reached only by foot.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park arjana peak
The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

In the upstream part of the Cernei Mountains, in the area of the tributaries Iauna and Craiova lies the Iauna-Craiova Reserve. This preserves an ancient beech forest with 90 to 130 year old trees.

There are 34 tourist marked trails in the Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park. At the same time, the Cernei Valley is an area for practicing extreme sports: climbing, canyoning, rafting, caving.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

Many walls, close to the road, allow practicing climbing, over 500 climbing trails being set up. The large number of canyons located in a small area (Vânturătoarea, Drăstănic, Ţesna, Bobot, Râmnuţa, Cociu (Roşeţu), Zgăul Vintilanilor) enables canyoning activities. The National School of Canyoning takes place in the same area.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

During springtime, on certain sections of the Cerna you can practice rafting, the difficulty degree being quite high.

The Domogled – Valea Cernei National Park has a visiting fee.

  • It can be paid at the headquarters of the Administration of the Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park in Baile Herculane
  •  can be collected in the field by the park personnel
  •  can be paid via SMS at 7473 with the text: Domogled1 (provides access for 1 person, for a 30 days period, 1 Euro + VAT)

Access in the Domogled-Valea Cernei National Park:

the easiest access is from the Băile Herculane resort, where there are many possibilities of accommodation.

The park is crossed by the road Băile Herculane – Jiu Cerna Pass – Câmpusel. To cross this road, take into account:

◦ The road is paved from Herculane up to the intersection with the Arșasca Valley (DN 67D – 31km). Here you must turn left, towards the Cerna Village. Continuing on the paved road, you cross the Mehedinţi Mountains to get to Baia de Aramă.

◦ The unpaved road, towards the Cerna Village (DN 66A) runs simultaneously with the river Cerna, and is accessible by small car up to the Iovanu Dam. Then, the road goes around the lake, being sometimes impassable due to landslides that block the road. After Izbucul Cernei the road leaves the valley and climbs to the Jiu-Cerna Pass. This section is accessible only by jeep or bike.

◦ The distance between the Jiu Cerna Pass to the intersection with DN 67D is 59km.

The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park
map The Domogled - Valea Cernei National Park

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