Tips and Advice for Hiking Mount Etna in Sicily

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on May 9, 2024.

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If you are planning to spend any amount of time in eastern Sicily, the presence of Mount Etna looms large. From Catania to Taormina and further, the volcano is visible from great distances.

Naturally, if you're like us, you'll want to head up it to get a closer look. For those who are the most adventurous, perhaps even take a hike on an old lava flow.

This is what we did during our journey up Mount Etna, and while you can see quite a surreal and barren landscape here, you'll do well to plan ahead before tackling any trails. Hiking on a volcano is unlike anything we've ever done!

What You Can See When Hiking Mount Etna

Mount Etna Hike

If you are making the trip up Mount Etna, you likely have one thing in mind- seeing the old lava flows from the volcano.

When high up on the mountain at the end of the road, you'll get just that. The scenery quickly changes from a lush, green forest to a barren landscape that makes you feel like you are on the moon as opposed to Sicily. 

Mount Etna

What is interesting on Mount Etna is that the lava flows are intermittent. You will be hiking a long on the rugged volcanic soil, then come across a patch of grass, or a tree that was seemingly spared from the last eruption (which, if the signage is correct, the lava flow we walked on was likely from an eruption in 2002). In fact, the parking area also doubles as the starting point for an Etna ski slope in the winter months!

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Yes, it is a bit weird, but also makes the volcano incredibly fascinating.

Etna Crater

When hiking up from the visitor parking area (without a tour higher up on the mountain), the most we were able to hike to were a few craters likely from past eruptions. Some of these were quite small and deep (with roping to ensure you don't get too close and fall in) and others quite massive. It is truly a surreal spot you need to see to believe.

I've now traveled up Mount Etna two times now, and one other element I was always hoping to see was a good view out into the ocean; however, both times I was unable to do so- thick clouds below obstructed any potential view. That said, I would hazard a guess that the visitor parking areas are in a slight depression in the volcano too, so odds are likely limited that there are views on a clear day anyway (although I'd be happy to be wrong here)!

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In either case, while most visitors to Mount Enta should go for a hike to get the full experience, we also would be remiss if we didn't point out here that hiking on a volcano comes with some serious challenges, and only the most sure hikers should approach this one beyond the paved parking area.

Tips for Hiking Mount Etna

Gear for Mount Etna

When it comes to hiking on Mount Etna, we have to admit that climbing a literal volcano is a bit different than any other hike we've ever been on. As such, you really need to go into this one prepared.

First, it is worth noting that there are two kinds of hikes you can do on Mount Etna. The first would be through limited trails that depart from the parking areas mid-slope, and the second would be organized tours that use specialized off-road vehicles to go further up the volcano. In the former you're likely on your own, and the latter with a tour.

When going off on your own on Mount Etna, you should have a map downloaded to your phone before departing for the day. While there are some trail markers, these are quite limited. In fact, for most of the hike we did there were no blazes or any signage whatsoever (at least once we got about a kilometer from the parking area), and we had to find a bit more well-trodden paths that synced up nicely with our GPS position on AllTrails- yes, it is kind of like that.

The trails themselves on Mount Etna are, naturally, rocky. Volcanic rock is not the most pleasant to walk on as it is rugged, sharp at times, and can be quite loose. We took a shortcut through a lava field from the parking lot to get to a more defined portion of the trail and admittedly had some fun times getting sure footing on these rocks. Hiking shoes are a must here without exception.

Looking into an Etna Crater

Weather is also another concern on Mount Etna as the forecast can change in an instant due to the high altitude microclimate. On our day of hiking, for example, the region had heavy rains on the radar from morning to early evening. But we decided to go up the mountain anyway knowing that higher elevations are often different, and the hiking area ended up being above the cloud line and sunny. That said, the winds were excessive, and by the time we reached the endpoint of our particular hike, it was so windy that we could not even stand up.

Couple that with the loose volcanic rocks we had previously mentioned, and the hike not only became a challenge, but dangerous, too. As such, we had to turn around and called it a day while still seeing most of the trail we set out to explore.

This is just one of many unique weather instances you could expect to see on Mount Etna, with rain, wind, intense sun, and more all being potential issues to plan around. All this goes to say that you should plan for the forecast for higher on the mountain to be different than in the nearby towns, because it very well could be!

  • Note that the parking areas at Mount Etna are also typically paid. An on-site attendant takes cash payments, and in 2024 our parking was about 3 Euro- so have some change ready.

When in Doubt, Take a Tour

Views from Mount Etna Sicily

Normally we'd end our hiking tips articles here and tell you to go out and have fun, but Mount Etna is a different beast. While we didn't have too many troubles apart from the winds, we can see how hiking here is not for those who are inexperienced- volcanos are quite an interesting place where it is easy to get hurt, lost, or worse.

Couple that with the fact that you can only go so far up the mountain via the hiking trails, depending on your interests, experience level, and available time it may be best to organize a guided hike, summit tour, or another experience altogether to get the most out of your Etna experience. Hiking solo, while fun for us, was something we only took on because we only had a couple hours of time free and could not make a tour work.

For everyone else, especially those who have more flexibility in their schedules than we did, we'd recommend checking out tour options available via your hotel, the on-site companies in the parking area, or, if planning well in advance, with online tour companies. This will ensure you can get the most out of Mount Etna while also having the security of being with a group and/or guide- going solo really is something we'd only recommend for the most experienced hikers who are well prepared with gear and a GPS assisted map.

That said, even if you do not hike, you'll do well to make the detour to drive up to the parking area to see Mount Etna a bit closer. It is wild seeing how the landscape changes as you go up the mountain, and it isn't until you get to the highest parking areas that you are quite literally in the midst of a past lava flow, and is something you really need to see to get a full appreciation for the power of the volcano!

Have you gone on a hike on Mount Etna? Did you go with a tour or solo? Comment below to share your experience!

About Jeremy

Jeremy from Living the Dream

About the Author: Jeremy is a full-time travel writer based in Pittsburgh and primary author of this site. He has been to 70+ countries on five continents and seeks out new food, adventure activities, and off-the-beaten-path experiences wherever he travels.

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