This Bucket List Hike To Europe's Tallest Active Volcano Is A Thrill-Seeker's Paradise

Many people have bucket list items that involve travel. One person might be desperate to see the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. Someone else has always wanted to see Kyoto, Japan. Some brave souls even dream of climbing Mt. Everest. However, if volcanoes are your thing, there is one spot you must visit. We're not talking about Mt. Vesuvius, which blew up in 79 C.E. or witnessing the Kīlauea volcano's lava lake in Hawaii. If you want the perfect volcano hiking experience, Mt. Etna in Sicily is your ideal destination. 


A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2013, Mt. Etna formed around 35,000 years ago and is still active. In fact, it's the most active volcano in Europe and one of the most active in the entire world. It's more than 2 miles high and 93 miles around the base. On the east side of the island, Mt. Etna is set close to Taormina and Catania, and it has four craters at the summit. The ancient Greeks believed that the Cyclopes, a one-eyed creature mentioned in Homer's "Odyssey," lived on Mt. Etna as well as the god Vulcan and Typhon, a 100-headed monster. Today, you can hike there and possibly spot flowing lava, something most people will never see. 

Hiking to Mt. Etna and how to get there

To get to the hike, you have to drive (though some tours will pick you up) to a spot on the south side of the volcano called Rifugio Sapienza, where there is a parking lot (around $6.50) and visitor center. (A bus also departs from Stazione Centrale in Catania at 8:15 a.m., but you'll get there too late for tours, which we'll get to.)


From here, you'll catch the Funivia cable car — which costs around $55 for ages 11 and up and $33 for ages 5-10 — to go a bit higher, as it takes you from 1.2 miles up to 1.6 miles. Tours are also offered on-site but note that the cable car and tours, as well as hiking, can be canceled if there are bad conditions. There have been more than 130 eruptions since 1800, as this volcano is very active. You can also hike up straight from Rifugio Sapienza if you like instead of taking the cable car.

When you get off, you'll be at a place called Mountain Hut at 8,200-feet, which has bathrooms, a small cafe for snacks (though bring water and extra food), and a warm jacket rental for around $4 as it gets cold up there. The hike isn't a very long one, and you can do it yourself from the hut (or the first cable car station) to the 1.74-mile mark, but you can only go higher than that with a guide.


What to bring and tours you can take on Mt. Etna

Mt. Etna can be cold even when it's warm below, and there's snow in the winter. Bring water, sunglasses, a hat, hiking boots, sunscreen, and a waterproof/windproof jacket, as well as any of the other best gear choices for hiking on vacation. You're also going to be high enough that you may experience altitude sickness on this hike, so it is important to understand how to react and be prepared to go back down if you feel ill.


If you want a tour, there are some offered by Go Etna that give you a 4x4 excursion, a hike at the lava flows, a visit to a lava cave, and even a wine and olive oil tasting at the Cantina wine cellar on the volcano's slope. (The fertile volcanic soil is wonderful for grape growing.) Some of the hiking tours include trekking poles and a helmet and can cost upwards of $200 if you want a hotel pick-up. However, if you don't want to hike at all, you can take a once-in-a-lifetime helicopter tour over the top.