For those who want to feel the heat of the Earth’s fiery heart and to see something that most people only dream of, volcano tourism is the answer. Visiting an active volcano is the ultimate way to experience the unbridled power of our planet, as well as the danger and allure of its most unpredictable features. Not only are volcanoes visually stunning, they have also shaped and continue to shape the landscapes and lives of millions of people around the world.
Whether you want to peer into a crater, hike through otherworldly volcanic scapes or experience crisp mountain beauty, these six active volcanoes are sure to pique your inner travel daredevil.
Mount Ngauruhoe, New Zealand
One of the most thrilling destinations for hikers and volcano enthusiasts is Mount Ngauruhoe in New Zealand. This majestic peak stood in for Mount Doom during the filming of Lord of the Rings, and it is easy to see why. Mount Ngauruhoe stands at 7,516 feet above sea level, dramatized by its symmetrical cone shape and dark, rugged appearance — though it is snow-capped for much of the year.
Mount Ngauruhoe is not only a sight to behold, but also a challenge to conquer. You can climb up to its summit, but this is not for the faint-hearted. The ascent is steep, rocky and slippery, and it takes about three hours to reach the top.
As such, most travelers opt to see the volcano from a distance on the lengthy, but popular Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a 12-mile hike that takes you through some of the most stunning landscapes in New Zealand. You will see emerald lakes, steaming vents and other volcanic wonders that make you feel like you are on another planet.
Though Ngauruhoe’s last eruption was in 1977, it is New Zealand’s most active volcano — it erupted 45 times in the 20th century alone. Travelers should always check the volcano activity forecast before planning a trip to this Kiwi attraction.
To see bubbling lava juxtaposed with tropic serenity, visit Hawaii’s Kīlauea. One of the five volcanoes that compose the big island of Hawaii, 300,000-year-old Kīlauea is well-known for erupting almost continuously since 1983.
Kīlauea is famous for Halema‘uma‘u Crater, the area’s center of volcanic activity and mythic home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes. The crater’s 500-foot-deep lava lake is best seen from a safe distance at the Jaggar Museum overlook or from a helicopter tour that flies over the crater. Halema‘uma‘u is especially beautiful — and intimidating — at night, when travelers can enjoy the lava’s orange glow from the safety of the overlook.
Lucky travelers may also witness lava flowing from Kīlauea’s rift zones, which are fissures that extend from the caldera to the East and Southwest. When the lava flows reach the ocean, they create spectacular plumes of steam and gas. You can view the lava flows from designated viewing areas on land, or from a boat or a plane. However, be aware that lava viewing is unpredictable and depends on the weather, the eruption rate and the safety conditions.
In 2010, Iceland’s mighty Eyjafjallajökull became famous for its massive eruption that disrupted air travel across Europe for weeks. However, the glacier-covered volcano is one of the island’s most-visited destinations and offers many opportunities for exploration.
If you want to see Eyjafjallajökull up close, you can join a guided hiking or mountaineering tour that will take you to the volcano’s crater or 5,466-foot summit. The hike can take anywhere from eight to 12 hours, depending on route and pace. You will be rewarded with spectacular views of the glacier, the lava fields, the surrounding mountains and the ocean.
There are plenty of milder ways to enjoy Eyjafjallajökull, though, and to appreciate its impact on Iceland. Travelers can admire the waterfall of Seljalandsfoss, which is fed by the meltwater of the volcano’s glacier. They can also visit the Eyjafjallajökull Visitor Centre, which tells the story of the 2010 eruption and its effects on the local people and the environment. Visitors can also explore the Thórsmörk Valley, which is a lush oasis between Eyjafjallajökull and another volcano, Katla.
Mount Fuji, Japan
Adventurers and leisure lovers alike should try to see Mount Fuji for its cool, crisp beauty. Standing at 12,388 feet, it is Japan’s highest and most iconic mountain — and also an active volcano that last erupted in 1707. Situated about two hours Southwest of Tokyo, Mount Fuji is a popular destination for both sightseeing and climbing. It offers stunning views of Japanese wilderness nature and signature profile that has inspired countless artists and poets.
If you want to climb Mount Fuji, you should plan your trip during the official climbing season from early July to early September, when the trails are open and weather is mild. Sunrise climbs are popular: many visitors opt to hike the peak in the darkness of the wee hours of the day to experience dawn atop it. As for volcanic activity, travelers can expect to see some lava flows depending on their chosen trail.
The terrain of the ascent is not difficult to conquer. Rather, the ease of the climb causes climbers to ascend too quickly and risk experiencing altitude sickness. For the best experience, climbers should pace themselves and take frequent breaks on this five to six hour climb.
If you prefer to enjoy Mount Fuji from a distance, you can visit one of Fuji’s Five Lakes at the northern foot of the mountain, where you can boat, fish and hike. You can also visit Hakone, a famous hot spring resort with views of Mount Fuji from various spots.
Mount Etna, Italy
One of the best places to witness volcanic activity is Mount Etna, the highest and most active volcano in Europe. Called Mongibello or “beautiful mountain” by locals, Mount Etna lies on the East coast of Italian island Sicily. Its 11,000-foot silhouette dominates sightlines in the port city of Catania.
Visitors can expect stunning sights on Etna, including spidery lava flows met by lush vineyards on the mountain’s foothills. Throughout its millennia of eruptive history, Etna has remained in a near-constant state of activity, last erupting in May 2023. In 2013, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site for its “exceptional level of volcanic activity” and scientific and cultural significance.
Visiting Mount Etna is not only possible, but also relatively easy. When conditions are safe, travelers can explore the volcano by hiking, taking a cable car or riding a shuttle bus. You can even hike to the summit, where you can see the four main craters and enjoy a breathtaking view of the island and the sea. This climb is usually accessible from April to September, depending on snowfall.
Looming distantly over Quito, Ecuador, Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest-elevated active volcanoes. Cotopaxi stuns with its snow-covered cone and hulking 19,000-foot altitude. It is part of the Andes mountain range and belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire, a zone of intense seismic and volcanic activity.
Because summitting the volcano takes at least two days and requires a permit, most travelers opt to appreciate from other vantage points in Cotopaxi National Park. Visitors can hike, bike or drive by lagoons and through high-altitude grasslands alongside mountain flora and fauna.
Though Cotopaxi has remained dormant since some activity in 2016, one can never rule out the possibility of an eruption. With this particular volcano, smoke and ash are not the problem — rather, it is the glacier atop the volcano that could melt and cause tremendous mudslides. Visitors should always refer to a volcanic activity monitor before planning an excursion to Cotopaxi.