Presiding over Arenal Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal), Arenal volcano is a spectacular sight, and one of Costa Rica's top attractions. In good news for adventurers, the park has several excellent trails, as revealed in our guide to the best Arenal volcano hikes. In extra good news, there are trails to suit all abilities and fitness levels.
Located 14km west of La Fortuna, Arenal volcano is Costa Rica’s youngest stratovolcano — that’s the technical term for a steep, conical volcano created by the eruption of thick lava flows.
What this spectacular natural attraction lacks in longevity is more than compensated for by the fact that Arenal volcano hikes are richly rewarding for trekkers and wildlife-watchers alike.
With varied trails running through the national park, and skirting its boundaries, you’ll be hard pushed to plan which of the best Arenal volcano hikes to try first.
For more tips, read our full guide to visiting Arenal volcano.
Arenal Volcano National Park itself contains a few of Costa Rica's best hikes, all accessed from the ranger station at the main park entrance.
These include the Peninsula Trail — a flat, well-maintained path that leads to a 12-metre observation tower that overlooks the volcano, with Lake Arenal in the distance.
At just 1.3 km, and being flat, it’s an easy-going, accessible walk that takes thirty minutes at most. And, though short, you’re likely to see wildlife along the way. Oropendolas, tanagers, and agoutis are particularly common.
From the observation tower, you can continue to the tip of the peninsula. Here a raised lakeside platform offers serene, scenic views. Don't be temtpted to enter the lake, though — crocodiles inhabit its waters.
Keen on travelling here? Our expert-curated, customisable Tropical Costa Rica trip and our Beaches and Volcanoes trip both include Arenal volcano.
Though presenting different vistas and terrain, like the Peninsula Trail, the Los Heliconias trail in Arenal Volcano National Park offers an easy introduction to hiking in the area. At 1km, it’s the park’s shortest path, with the trailhead located near the restrooms.
Los Heliconias offers a flat route through vegetation that’s grown after the 1968 eruption. The narrow path is framed by a hedge of tall grass. Known as “brave cane”, and related to sugar cane, this rises up to twenty feet.
Though short, you can expect to see plenty of birds as you walk, with dazzling Montezuma oropendolas and white-throated magpie jays often seen in the tree nears the trailhead.
All that considered, if you’re less mobile, or travelling with children, Los Heliconias is definitely one of the very best Arenal volcano hikes.
Travel tip: if you're keen to eplore more national parks, make sure to read our guide to Costa Rica's national parks.
Offering epic views of Arenal volcano’s majestic cone (subject to cloud conditions), the Las Coladas hike is one of the best Arenal volcano hikes for lovers of magnificent vistas. It's also especially recommended for those interested in geology — how often do you get to walk on a lava field?
Little wonder then, that Las Coladas is also the most popular trail in Arenal Volcano National Park. Also known as the lava flow trail, it's a pretty straightforward — but immensely rewarding — 2km hike that leads to a 1992 lava flow.
Being the park’s most popular trail, the path is well-maintained, and mostly flat. After walking between towering cane for around 1km, you’ll reach the junction and sign for the El Ceibo trail (more on that below).
Keep walking to reach the first of two volcano viewing points, where a set of stairs takes you to a prime position. Surrounded by lava fields, replete with a lava staicase, you get to walk on the old flow — just be aware that the rocks are jagged.
A further 200m on from the first observation point, a second one offers an even better view of Arenal volcano, plus a distant peek at Lake Arenal.
Tip from our local expert: Aside from offering awe-inspiring volcano views, and the opportunity to hike through lava fields, the Las Coladas trail delivers fascinating glimpses of local flora and fauna. For example, you might see orchids bursting between the black rocks.
Traversing a 1.5km circuit off the Las Coladas Trail, the El Ceibo Trail is best visited on your way back from the former’s lava fields.
Taking you deeper into the forest, this lush loop leads to the trail’s namesake — an enormous ceibo tree — through a landscape of knotted trees and tangled vines, with dense canopy coverage overhead.
Usually less walked than the Las Coladas trail, El Ceibo is a great place to spot the birds and monkeys you’ll hear calling through the forest. Expect to see hummingbirds, curassows and toucans, among many other species.
After around 1km you’ll come to the awe-inspiring ceipo tree — still standing tall after over 400 years, and after escaping multiple eruptions. Look out for the colony of bats that roost on the tree before continuing along the circuit to re-join the main route.
Note that while the El Ceipo hike is flat and eminently rewarding, sections can be muddy, even in the dry season. Just wear the right footwear to enjoy an easy, back-to-nature experience.
Costa Rica tip: our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip.
Tropical, tranquil, and delivering fabulous volcano views and top wildlife-watching experiences, Reserva Mirador El Silencio is less visited than the trails within Arenal Volcano National Park.
As such, visiting this privately-owned nature reserve comes highly recommended if you like to take your time on trails, and prefer to avoid bigger crowds.
Just 5km north of the national park entrance, it boasts several trails that lead through lush primary forest to a lookout at the foot of Arenal volcano. In addition, a side trail takes you over lava flow.
While the reserve’s lushness might have you feeling like you’re exploring a wild, undiscovered forest, steeper sections of the trails have been made more accessible by wooden boards, with footbridges aiding a creek crossing. All of which means the trails here make for an easy-to-moderate hiking experience.
Though do-able in 2-3 hours, most folks opt to linger longer, following different trails and taking time to enjoy the tranquillity and wildlife. All that considered, Reserva Mirador El Silencio delivers some of the best Arenal volcano hikes.
Expert Tip: need some relaxing after a long hike? Make sure the check the best Hot Springs in and around Arenal
Whatever you decide, some safety tips are worth bearing in mind while hiking the area. Though it's been quiet since 2010, with no lava or explosions and only the occasional release of gas, Arenal volcano is still technically active.
So, you should never veer from trails or guided tours (check the best tours around Arenal), and don’t attempt to hike anywhere near the crater. Lethal gases, ballistic boulders and molten rock can appear or change direction without warning
Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.
Not keen on planning? Browse our customisable Costa Rica itineraries, or talk to our Costa Rica experts.
Header image: Arenal volcano, Arenal National Park, Costa Rica © Shutterstock
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her