Early one morning in July 1968, an unassuming green mountain in northern Costa Rica suddenly awoke and became the legendary Arenal Volcano. If you are visiting the town of La Fortuna, you’ll be able to see the now ashy gray peak of Arenal from many different spots. One place of particular interest is the 1968 Trail. This series of hiking trails brings you through forested areas and across some of the historic lava fields that buried much of the surrounding jungle during the dramatic eruptions of 1968. In this post, we’ll give you all the details you need to plan your visit.
Location and Access
Arenal Volcano is located 3-4 hours from the main airport in San Jose and about the same distance from the smaller international airport in Liberia. The closest major tourist town is La Fortuna. Access to the 1968 Trail is about 25 minutes from downtown La Fortuna on the western side of the volcano. There is a dirt road off Route 142 and about 1.25 km (3/4 of a mile) down that road, just before Arenal Volcano National Park, you will find the visitors center and parking area. The property is marked with a big sign on the left so you can’t miss it. Admission is $10.
Tip: The dirt road getting to the 1968 Trail is flat and a little bumpy, but 4-wheel drive is not necessary. If you need a car, rent one from Adobe in downtown La Fortuna and make sure to use our Discount Page to save some money.
The Trails at Arenal 1968
The big draw of the Arenal 1968 Trails are the fairly close views of Arenal Volcano. These views give you a look at the old lava flows, now hardened into rock, coming down the slope of the volcano and into the valley. On the edge of the lava field are also a lot of different sized volcanic boulders scattered around. It’s crazy to think about, but these rocks were shot through the air from the volcano’s eruptions at speeds of up to 2,000 km (1,200 miles) per hour. One large rock even left a sizable crater that you can see on the trail. To get to these features, there are a couple of ways to go.
Here is a link to the trail map.
The Bosque 1968 Trail – This trail (the Forest Trail) sets out through some fields and into the thick forest before climbing up to the lava fields and viewpoint. Along the way, it passes Lago Los Patos or Duck Lake, which is about 22 meters (72 feet) deep and was formed when the eruptions took place. This trail is 4.7 km (3 miles) long and is a moderate-to-difficult hike since the terrain has some steep portions as well as lots of roots and rocks. It’s well worth it though if you are looking for birds and other wildlife, since there is a lot hiding in the shade of the forest and around the small lake.
The Colada 1968 Trail – Another way to reach the viewpoint and lava fields is to take the Colada Trail. This is a slightly shorter trail at 4 km (2.4 miles) and is strenuous at times but not as difficult as the Bosque Trail. Colada translates to wash or flow, and this trail is so named because it has the best views of the 1968 flows and the volcano.
Note: All hiking trails around Arenal Volcano are limited to areas surrounding the base for safety reasons. Although there hasn’t been any major activity from the volcano since 2010, it is still considered active and is known to release toxic gases and hot steam near the summit.
What You’ll See
No matter which trail you take, the good news is that you will end up at the same viewpoints since both trails overlap in the middle. From the highest point, at the Lava Flow Summit, you can normally get a spectacular view of Arenal Volcano. Unfortunately, it became clouded over right as we arrived but we were still able to see parts of it as we hiked.
Tip: It’s not uncommon for the top of the volcano to be clouded over, especially during the rainy season (which is when we did the hike). Our best advice is to allow flexibility in your schedule and plan your hike for the first clear day. Read our post about Weather in Costa Rica to do some longer term trip planning.
During our visit, we hiked the Bosque Trail since our good friend Harris, a serious hiker, was with us. We all really enjoyed this trail, mostly because of the flora and fauna that we spotted, but also because it was a great workout. Some of the things we saw were lots of birds, including the Magpie Jay, Tropical King Bird, Montezuma Oropendola, Thick-billed Seed Finch, and an Anhinga in the small lake. We also saw some cool insects like butterflies, leaf-cutter ants, gigantic blue bumble bees, and this crazy beetle.
Near the lava flow and volcano viewing area, we also took in a nice view of Lake Arenal to the west. This is Costa Rica’s largest lake but wasn’t always that way. In 1979, Costa Rica’s electric company built a new hydroelectric dam that tripled the lake’s size. In the process, two towns (Arenal and Tronadora) were relocated to higher ground. To this day, remnants of those old roads and buildings are still at the bottom of the lake.
The 1968 Trail is an amazing place to hike and learn more about the mighty Arenal Volcano’s ferocious history. Imagine what it was like that historic day back in 1968 when a mountain literally blew its top and released its fury on the nearby jungle and farms. Altogether, 73 people lost their lives in the tragic eruptions reminding us that Mother Nature rules all.
Have you hiked the 1968 Trails near Arenal Volcano? Let us know what you thought in the comments below (Email subscribers click here to post your comment online).
Looking for more to do in the area? Check out these posts:
- La Fortuna: What to Expect from Costa Rica’s Most Popular Destination – There is so much to see and do around La Fortuna and that’s why most tourists stop here at least for a few nights. Read this post for our hotel, restaurant, and activity recommendations.
- Hiking in Arenal National Park – Located right next to the 1968 Trail, this national park has many of the same features including lava flows, volcanic rocks, and a nice view of Lake Arenal.
- Cerro Chato Volcano Hike – Many people don’t realize that the tree-covered hill next to Arenal is also a volcano. This is one of the most challenging hikes in the area and brings you to the top of the dormant Cerro Chato where you can swim in a green crater lake.