Hiking to Heroes’ Cross on Caraiman Peak
The Heroes’ Cross is huge steel cross, measuring over 28 meters high and 16 meters wide. It sits on top of the Caraiman Mountains, overlooking the town of Bușteni. This cross is the tallest summited cross in the world, sitting at an altitude of 2,291 meters. It is a memorial for the victims of World War I, and construction was completed in 1928.
You can see the cross from everywhere in Bușteni, depending on how foggy it is. We knew we wanted to do this hike before we arrived in Bușteni, but it was rather difficult to find information online. We ended up being quite lucky, as on our first day at our Airbnb, there was a guy from South Africa who was doing the hike. We were excited to talk to him when he returned so we could hear how the hike went and get some pointers for our trip. He left around 11 am, and said he would be back around 4pm. It was pouring rain, and looked quite terrible outside. The one thing we had read about was that you should only attempt the hike in good weather, so we were a little confused as to why he was going in the pouring rain, but it was his last day in town so he wanted to give it a go.
He ended up only getting home around 8pm, and had said the hike was quite intense. It was a lot further and more challenging than he thought, and he estimated he hiked close to 28km. He also said there were numerous sections that were straight up, where he needed to use chains to rock climb his was up to the top. He described sheer drop offs, where if you slipped you would fall 1000 meters down, and he said the pathways were very narrow, muddy and slippery. As he told us about his day hiking he seemed almost stunned that he had made it home, which definitely made us a bit nervous. We decided we should head into the next town over, Sinaia, to talk to someone at the tourist information centre to try to get more details on the hike.
The next day we headed to the tourist information centre, where we were able to get more detailed information about hiking in the area. There was a huge map of the area posted, in the center and a guide showed us the best route to the cross. He highly recommended we take the cable car up, and hike the red cross pathway. All in all it looked like it would only be about 5km, which didn’t seem like very much to us, but the guide had made the hike up seem very dangerous and difficult, and after hearing the story from our Airbnb friend, we had decided we would plan to take the cable car. We also ended up buying a map, so at least we would have it to reference during our hike. The guide also gave us advice about the cable car. He said that it is always super busy, and only takes a limited number of people each hour. He said that if we wanted to get on the first lift at 9am, we should plan to be there for 7am. We thought this was crazy, but we were happy for his tip and planned to be there early on the day of our hike.
The forecast for our two weeks in Bușteni didn’t look too great. The best day to hike looked like it would be the next day, so we thought we would take advantage of the one nice day. We got to the cable car for 7:30 am, and there were already close to 20 people in line. Apparently the guide wasn’t kidding! At least it was a nice morning, and not raining, so we drank some coffee and waited for the cable car to open. We were hiking with our travel buddies Arpad and Jess, so the four of us chatted as we passed the time. It was crazy to see the line growing and growing as the time went by. By around 8:30, the line was almost around the building and we couldn’t see the end anymore! It seemed crazy to us! It was also a Saturday, so we knew it may be busier with people visiting over the weekend. But we really didn’t believe the guide when he told us it would get so busy. The cross is one reason it gets busy, but there are also a few popular rock formations close to the cable car at the top. Many people visit these with their family or people who are visiting the area from out of town, as they are well known and easy to walk to. Plus just the ride up in the cable car makes it a fun outing!
Once 9 am rolled around they opened the doors and let the first group of people in. We didn’t make the first car up, but we only needed to wait another 15 minutes before heading into the building. We had read online that the cost for the cable car would be $7 CAD one way, $10 CAD two ways. We had talk about hiking down the mountain, once we were up there and could evaluate the level of difficulty, but we agreed to buy round trip tickets just in case we wanted to take the cable car down. For the extra $3 it seemed like a no-brainer. However, when we got to the cashier to buy our tickets, the total came to $25 a person! We were quite surprised by this, and thought it was really expensive. We paused for a couple of seconds, but then Arpad said “Well, we’ve waited this long!” and he was totally right. The price sucked, but we weren’t going to turn around now. We bought our tickets and headed on the cable car.
The ride up was pretty intense. Some fog had rolled around the mountains, and once we got halfway up, it was as though we were travelling through the clouds. It was so cool! The cable car is quite old, so it made the ride a little dicey, especially when it passed by the support towers. It felt like it jumped from one section to the next!
When we got off the lift, we were happy to be at the top and starting our hike. We were following the red cross pathway, which was well marked as soon as we got out of the cable car building. It didn’t show a kilometer distance to the cross, but it said it was 1 hour away. The scenery at the top of the mountain took our breath away. There were almost no trees in sight - it was all an open, rocky, hilly meadow. The clouds were hanging really low as well, which made everything look quite eerie and mysterious. It was pretty cool! Most people were heading to the rock formations, so we basically had the pathway to the cross all to ourselves. We took our time walking to the cross, taking lots of pictures and enjoying the view. It wasn’t a difficult walk. It was a steady uphill climb, but not very challenging. There was a small chain section, but it was only around one small part and you almost didn’t need to use the chains to make your way around the rocky section.
The clouds really started to come in once we had left the flatter portion of the hike and turned around the front side of the mountain. The clouds were so low, we were literally walking through them! When we would take pictures, we could only see a few feet in front of us. It was really a ton of fun. The clouds were so thick and low that we couldn’t even see the cross that was 150 meters in front of us. Every once in a while the windy would blow the clouds and we would get a great view, but 20 seconds later the clouds would come back.
We got to the cross and it was clear enough for us to take pictures of the cross, but we couldn’t see down into the town of Bușteni. One of the best views of the hike is the view you get of Bușteni, so we decided to wait a little while to see if it cleared up. In the mean time, we explored around the cross, took fun pictures of us near the edges, and watched the crazy clouds build up around us. Because it was so cloudy, we couldn’t see over the edge to see how high we were standing or sitting when we were posing. It made it a lot easier to be daring, and we’re sure we wouldn’t have posed the same way if we had a clear view of a 1000 meter drop!
We had a quick lunch and after 40 minutes of waiting we still did not have a view of the town. We were pretty disappointed that we didn’t get a view of Bușteni from the cross, but at the same time, the fog and clouds made the hike unlike anything we have experienced before! During our lunch break we met another hiker who was waiting out the clouds, and he had taken a different pathway from the cable car to the cross. We had heard the second pathway was very dangerous, the information centre guide had basically told us not to attempt it because it was so dangerous, so we didn’t really consider it. However, our hike to the cross was pretty easy and we wanted different views for the hike back, so we decided to try the other, more challenging, blue circle route (note, the markers on the path are blue circles, but when we looked on our map after our hike we either couldn’t find the path on the map, or it was marked with a red circle).
The blue circle hike turned out to be so much more exciting, and we probably stopped every 100 meters to take pictures, pose on cool ledges, and really take in the eerie views. Every once in a while the clouds would blow away slightly, but we never had a view all the way down. Again, it was probably a good thing, as we could never see the sheer drop offs that were just a few feet beside us. But we felt safe the whole time, and it definitely wasn’t as dangerous as the tour guide made it sound.
There was a chain section that was longer than the one we had on our first red cross route, but again it seemed liked it was there to assist you, and you could pass the section without the chains, so it wasn’t as difficult as other chain sections we have encountered on other hikes.
After about an hour we reached a beautiful waterfall near Cabana Caraiman. There are a bunch of cabanas spread out on the Bucegi Mountain range, very similar to what we found in Austria and Italy. There are various multiple day hikes you can do, spending time resting in the cabanas. We sat down and had a little snack and debated whether we should continue hiking down, all the way down to Bușteni, or if we should take the cable car back. We were 50/50. We wanted to hike down, but again we heard it was a very steep and challenging route. We were very unsure about what we would have to deal with, and Arpad and Jess didn’t have hiking shoes, so it could have been a bit more challenging than we wanted. We also spent $50 CAD per couple to take the cable car up, so the other part of us felt like we should get our monies worth and take the cable car back down. We ultimately decided to take the cable car back. By doing that we could also pass by Babele and the Sphinx - two famous rock formations.
We took our time heading back up to the cable car. The cable car building is right where the paths to the formations start. It was only about a 30-minute walk from Cabana Caraiman, so not too far.
We passed the cable car and made our way to the first rock formation, about 300 meters away from the cable car building. It was incredibly disappointing. It was packed full with tourists, and the rock formations were behind a fence, so it didn’t look natural at all. We saw the Babele formation, and all four of us had the same “this is it?!?” reaction. We just didn’t understand what all the hype was about, especially due to the great hike we were just on. By then the clouds were looking a bit dark, so we decided to skip the Sphinx formation and head to the cable car to make our way home. If it was anything like our ride up, we would likely need to wait in line before we could get on a car.
Sure enough, we waited about an hour before we were able to get on. The ride down was definitely scarier than the ride up! When the cable car went on the first decline, a few of us let out a little eek. The cable car is quite old, so you don’t feel overly confident while riding in it – especially as it passes by the tall support towers. But in the end we made it down safely.
Our thoughts on the hike were a little mixed. We loved the feeling of walking through the clouds, being in the low clouds and fog gave the hike such a unique and eerie feeling. However, we were a little bitter about the cost of the cable car. We also only hiked an estimated 7km, which isn’t very far and not quite what we had in mind. It seems like the hike up from Bușteni to Cabana Caraiman is about 10 km (at least from the map we were reading) so 27km would have been a bit too aggressive for what we wanted to do. It would have been ideal to hike one way and take the cable car the other way, so that we could hike a little longer.
We were in Bușteni for another 12 days after this hike, and every day after we could see the cross perfectly at some point throughout the day. We regretted not staying at the cross a little longer to get the views of Bușteni. We thought about going back up, hiking our way up, but ultimately we never did it again. Mainly because our hike was really fun, and it was cool to experience it the way we did. We couldn’t find many details at all online about the hike up, which also made us a little hesitant, since the two people we talked to both emphasized how dangerous and difficult it was. However, after doing the part of the hike we did, we all questioned the guidance we received.
If you are in Bușteni we would definitely recommend a visit to Heroes’ Cross – it was a great way to spend the day. Depending on your level of fitness, we would recommend hiking at least one direction. I think all four of us regret not hiking either up or down the mountain. Make sure you visit either the visitor centre in Sinaia, or the little Park Centre right where the Bușteni Cable Car building is. At the Park Centre you can get a hiking map of the area in English for a small entrance fee into the information centre.