Arenal 1968 Trail: Hiking Historic Lava Fields

Last Updated: March 13, 2023

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 get a close up of Arenal’s now ashy gray peak from many different spots. One place of particular interest is the Arenal 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 to Arenal 1968. 

Arenal Volcano : Hiking the 1968 Trail | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Location and Access

Arenal Volcano is located about 3 hours from the main airport in San Jose and about the same distance from the smaller international airport in Liberia. The closest major destination is La Fortuna

Access to the 1968 Trail is about 25 minutes from La Fortuna on the western side of the volcano. From the downtown, you take Route 142 west towards Lake Arenal and then a left onto the dirt road leading to Arenal Volcano National Park and El Castillo. About 1.25 km (3/4 of a mile) down the road, you will find the visitors’ center and parking area for the 1968 Trail. The property is marked with a big sign on the left so you can’t miss it.

Admission is $25 per person for a self-guided visit. 

Tip: The dirt road getting to the 1968 Trail is flat and bumpy, but a 4-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary. If you need a car, rent one from Adobe Rent a Car 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 Trail is 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 into the air during 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.

Arenal Volcano : Hiking the 1968 Trail | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

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 since 2010, the volcano is still considered active and is known to release toxic gases and hot steam near the summit.

Arenal Volcano : Hiking the 1968 Trail | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Volcanic boulders on the trail. After nearly 40 years, the jungle is starting to take root once again.

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.

Arenal Volcano : Hiking the 1968 Trail | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
View of Arenal Volcano from the Lava Flow Summit. Clouded over but still intimidating.

Tip: It’s not uncommon for the top of the volcano to be clouded over due to local weather conditions. The Arenal area has slightly different weather patterns so it is generally the most rainy during the dry season on the Pacific slope (December to April). Many people say that the best times to see the volcano are September and October. We have found from many visits to Arenal that it really just depends, and conditions can change from one minute to the next.

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.

Arenal Volcano: Hiking the1968 Trail | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

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.

Arenal Volcano: Hiking the1968 Trail | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Lake Arenal, Costa Rica’s largest 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.

Last Updated: March 13, 2023

Have you hiked the 1968 Trails near Arenal Volcano? Let us know what you thought in the comments below.

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 visitors 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.

Rio Celeste Waterfall – One of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls is only a day trip away from La Fortuna. Read this article to learn about the hike to the bright blue Rio Celeste.

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