Mount Etna on Sicily is Europe’s most hard working volcano, and it’s in a constant state of excitement. There’s always some activity going on around the slopes of Etna, the largest volcano in Italy. When it’s calm, you can do many beautiful walks in this area, including the Etna summit hike.
Most active volcano in Europe
Often it’s just quietly steaming away, sometimes even producing pretty smoke rings. But when it erupts, Etna can cough up large rivers of lava, fissure fountains, strombolian fireworks, fuming ash clouds and everything inbetween from its various craters.
There are four main craters in the summit area: the central Voragine, Bocca Nuova and Northeast craters, and the Southeast craters a bit further down the slope. Especially the Voragine and Southeast craters have been shooting up lava fountains of nearly 1000 metres tall (!!) in the last decade.
Mount Etna is even more active than any of the volcanoes in Iceland.
Etna looming behind the historical town of Taormina, on the northeast coast of Sicily.
In 2011 Etna went through a particular active phase, with nearly 20 outbursts within one year. I went to see it in October that year, and it was vigorously steaming from all its top craters. It was a fascinating sight, but unfortunately it also meant that the Etna summit hike or a walk along the crater rim was out of the question.
Just over a week later, it went off again in one of its many spectacular paroxysms.
About to go off… just over a week later!
Mount Etna summit hike
On another trip to Sicily I did a longer walk around the Etna summit area. One moment it was clear and sunny, and the next moment swirls of mist would appear out of nowhere. Sometimes you couldn’t even see more than a few metres ahead.
And then the fog suddenly lifted, to reveal a breathtaking view into one of the gaping Southeast craters near the top.
View into the Southeast crater.
How to get to Mount Etna
Etna cable car
For the Etna summit hike you can take a cable car from Rifugio Sapienza, nestled between two craters on an old lava field at the altitude of 1923 metres. Rifugio Sapienza is about 20 kilometres north of Nicolosi on the south flank of Etna.
The summit hike starts from the cable car terminal at 2500 metres. You can walk around in the immediate vicinity and nearby craters by yourself, but you can only go up to the summit area above 2800 metres with a guide. Tickets are available from cable car operator Funivia dell’ Etna. The guided tour includes the return cable car trip, a 4WD bus from the summit station to the crater area and a 60 minutes guided walk.
Daytrips and sunset tours
You can also book various daytours from the coastal resort towns and from Catania. On my first visit I went with a sunset tour from Giardini-Naxos, which offered various stops, short walks and great views from different lookout points.
Trees between the lava fields on the southern slopes of Etna.
One of the Southeast craters in the summit area.
Varying heights of Etna
Apparently the exact altitude of Mount Etna has to be recalculated on a regular basis. It varies with volcanic activity and changes constantly with so many outbursts… The general consensis is around 3357 metres – give or take a few more.
The Bocca Nuova and Voragine summit craters.
Natural high! @ the Etna Southeast Crater.
Mount Etna area map
This handy interactive map shows the locations in the pictures above and around the Etna summit area. You can also zoom in for more details of the walking tracks.
Mountains & Volcanoes – Mount Etna, Sicily
This article was originally published as a NaturePic Challenge: pictures of epic nature with a specific theme, and places that will trigger a natural high.
(c) Nancy Claus – Wilderness Coffee & Natural High
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Last update: 23 September 2023
First published: 24 February 2017
The gravelly slopes of Mount Etna.
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Recent Etna activity
Meanwhile, Etna is still going at it. See the steaming slopes, spectacular eruptions and lava flows from the Voragine crater in this video. And it continues to produce lava fountains on a regular basis throughout the 2020’s!
More to explore & discover
Ode to the mountains – The magic of Mount Taranaki
Stromboli – The ancient lighthouse of the Mediterranean
Island hopping on the Aeolian Islands – A volcanic archipelago
El Hierro – A volcanic hotspot underneath the sea
Hawaii – Volcanic fields of fire