Every adventurer has volcanoes in some shape or form on their bucket list, am I right? Trekking volcanoes is a thrilling venture and can be quite memorable! Though, for clarification, active volcanoes are not necessarily erupting volcanoes. Active volcanoes are geothermally active that have the potential to erupt in the future. How do you tell if a volcano is active? Geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles are some of the easiest features of geothermal activity to recognize. Does this mean that there are no erupting volcanoes on this list? Of course not! Though most countries close off their volcanoes when they are erupting or considered to be a potential risk. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t see lava flows or pools if you are willing to seek them out. But take the right precautions, volcanoes can be powerfully destructive.
With 130 active volcanoes in Iceland, it’s no surprise that several erupt fairly regularly. In fact, since the Middle Ages, a third of all the lava on Earth has erupted right here. With so many options of volcanoes to trek in the land of fire and ice, we recommend visiting the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in South-Iceland. This quintessential stratovolcano dominates the skyline and is full of dynamic energy. You might remember when North European air traffic was disrupted by clouds of ash in 2010? Or when Hollywood’s Walter of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ” was saved from the ash cloud by a local man in a jeep? That was Eyjafjallajökull. When you visit, hike sections of the Fimmvörðuháls trail, a renowned route for its spectacular views. Slide down the ice on the way back and also visit the nearby Lava Center. It’s fire.
Erta Ale, Ethiopia
If its nickname the “Gateway to hell” doesn’t sound inviting, that’s because Etra Ale is anything but. Located in the Danakil Depression, the closest city Dallol, is the hottest inhabited place on Earth. Inhabited by the Afar people, the dangerous valley can heat up to 45°C (113°F) during the summer. The only months where it is cool enough to hike the volcano are from Oct-Feb. But don’t think that the heat is the thing that will kill you in this far-flung Ethiopian locale. As tourists have been kidnapped and held hostage in the past, hikers are now only allowed to hike with a military escort. Make sure you find a reputable tour operator as it’s important that you are prepared to face this “smoking mountain”. Gas masks are required to protect your lungs from the noxious gases emitted from the lava pools and camels are requisite to carry up your water and supplies. But wait, did you say lava pool? Here’s the reason why some people risk it all -Ethiopia’s most active volcano is home to one of just 6 lava lakes on the planet. From the crater, you can see the world’s only permanent lava pool: an angry open sore (60×100 m) in the earth’s crust. From the crater rim, it seems you are looking into the face of the sun where glowing red fissures open up to the searing white-hot magma. If you are looking for the ultimate volcanic experience this basaltic shield volcano might be it. However, due to the ongoing armed conflict, we recommend taking this trek at a later date.
Mount Etna, Italy
One of the world’s most active volcanoes, Etna erupted more than 50 times in 2021. Named one of the “volcanoes of the decade” by volcanologists, Etna literally translates to “I burn”. Counterintuitively, it’s rumored to be one of the safest volcanoes in the world due to its slow lava flows. During its eruptions, the top of the volcano is closed to visitors but you can still explore the lower parts of the massive volcano. At 3327 meters, it’s a giant that overlooks the region with expansive slopes perfect for hiking and exploring lava tubes during the summer. From November to March, you can ski on Mt Etna at one of its several resorts or, alternatively, go Nordic (cross country) skiing around the volcano. After a long day of sightseeing, wind down with a regional glass of wine. The rich soil created by the volcano’s ash makes sumptuous wines that can be experienced in the region’s wineries or, uniquely, on a railtour.
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, Costa Rica
Costa Rica takes safety seriously and prevents tourists from approaching their most eruptive ash-spewing volcanoes. However, you can currently visit Rincon de la Vieja, a majestic composite volcano that rises 6,286 feet (1,916 meters) high and spreads nine miles (15 km) wide. The volcanic activity around this volcano includes steaming fumaroles (vents emitting volcanic gases), boiling mud pots, mineral springs, and geysers. Spend the day exploring the area’s exotic tropical forest to see incredible nature and wildlife. The wildlife of Rincon de la Vieja National Park includes hundreds of bird species and many mammals, including white-faced, howler, and spider monkeys, armadillos, pumas, and sloths!
Kelimutu, Moni, Flores Island, Indonesia
Nicknamed “volcanic mood rings” the three summit crater lakes of Kelimutu are known for their unique color-changing phenomenon. They can vary from milky-white to black, to blood red, green or turquoise. The locals believed the color changing was due to the changing moods of their spirit ancestors. Each lake corresponded to where young, old, or bad souls would go. Though today it is believed that the colors of the lakes are due to chemical reactions, it is still one of the most magical destinations in Indonesia. The best way to enjoy one of Indonesia’s most beautiful places is to go during Indonesia’s dry season (July/August) and to make the journey to the summit at sunrise. This volcano is not much of a trek if you decide to get a ride to the parking lot, from there it’s an easy 20 minutes to see Indonesia’s famous color-changing gems. As Indonesia has the most volcanoes out of all the countries in the world if you are looking for a longer volcano trek you can certainly find one here!
Alaska’s Valley Of Thousand Smokes
Though no longer an active volcano, the Valley of Thousand Smokes is a site of unique interest to any volcano fanatic. Katmai National Park is the aftermath of the Novarupta eruption of 1912, the largest eruption of the 20th century (by volume). The eruption filled the 40 sq mi valley with 700 ft of ash and soon after burst open with cracks and fissures. At temperatures as high as 2000 degrees, any moisture was vaporized creating the ‘thousand’ fumaroles the valley was named for. Though the fumaroles are long gone, it still remains a barren ash landscape unlike anywhere else in the world. The stark landscape paired with the occasional wolf or bear encounter makes for a dramatic visit.
It’s no surprise that a country known for the ‘Avenue of Volcanoes’ has one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. Cotopaxi is one of Ecuador’s 27 active volcanoes and among the highest in the world. From its summit, you can peer into the crater to spot fumaroles and, looking to the horizon, see the Amazon rainforest as well as neighboring volcanoes. After taking the 2-day trek to the summit, consider rewarding yourself with a soak in the thermal springs of the nearby town of Banos. Other amazing volcanoes to trek in the Avenue of Volcanoes include Chimborazo and Tungurahua.
Mauna Loa & Kilauea, Hawaii
Hawai’i wouldn’t exist without the volcanic activity that has created the island chain. Of the five volcanoes that formed the islands, two are still active on the youngest island: Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano in the world and it spreads across half of the Big Island (Hawai’i). Though it only stands 13,448 ft above sea level, it extends 42,000 ft beneath the ocean and seafloor. It measures ¾ of a mile taller than Everest when measured from its true base at the bottom of the Hawaiian trough. This giant shares Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with its smaller counterpart Kilauea. Kilauea volcano is also one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is currently erupting. On September 29, 2021, an eruption in the Halemaʻumaʻu crater vaporized the lake of water that filled the crater replacing it with lava. Since then it has continued to erupt as the lava fountains slowly fill the crater. If you are in Hawaii when lava is visible, you simply must go to see it! In the meantime, check out these summit webcams of Kilauea’s lava pool. To see its fiery red glow, it is best viewed at the Kilauea’s overlook during sunrise or sunset!
Fun fact: There is another island currently in formation, named the ‘Loihi Seamount’ that will rise out of the ocean in the next 100,000 years.
Mt Rainier, Washington, USA
Located along the ring of fire, Mt Rainier is one of the most beautiful volcanoes in the States. Though this active volcano hasn’t erupted in over a hundred years, it is a stunning reminder of the volcanic forces at work underneath our feet. It is the tallest mountain in both Washington and the Cascade Range. The mountain’s glaciers can be seen from hundreds of miles away and when spotted against Seattle’s skyline it is truly something to behold. However, the best way to enjoy this spectacular giant is by hiking Mt Rainier National Park. Whether you’re looking for glacier hiking and a summit attempt, abandoned fire lookouts, and reflecting pools, or to simply stroll the skyline trail spotting quarreling marmots, Mt Rainier is sure to impress.
We hope you enjoyed exploring the world’s most explosive geographic features with us! These incredible shows of our Earth’s power are truly something that needs to be experienced for oneself. Let us know in the comments below, where do you dream of trekking active volcanoes? Thank you for being part of our Tourist Link Community (we all need a little TLC ;). Please vaxx up when you get the opportunity and, as always, happy travels!