Most people would enjoy seeing a volcano close-up, especially an active one. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience many years ago and would now like to introduce it to my children. Recently, I discovered the surprising fact that the most active volcano area on earth is located on a Russian peninsula!
Located in far eastern Russia, Kamchatka lies between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. With less than two people per square mile, this is surely a foray into wilderness country! The 403,000 inhabitants live in the capital of Petropavlovsk and depend upon fishing and forestry for their livelihoods. However, the tourism industry has recently sprung up in this frigid outpost. It offers a large selection of tours that blend hiking, camping, and climbing to several volcanoes' crater tops.
Kamchatka has more volcanoes per square mile than anywhere else due to the Pacific Ocean plate movement. Consequently, approximately 160 volcanoes in lines stretch towards Japan, with almost 30 of them still displaying activity. Because the active volcanoes are found in one range, it's easy to visit more than one. Online tour providers give detailed itineraries so you'll get an idea of which volcanos you can see and which you can actually climb. A visitor to Kamchatka will get the most out of a volcano tour if they are willing to hike and camp. This is because most tours require overnight camping at the base of volcanos to accommodate daylight hiking, ranging from easy to very difficult. It is necessary to investigate this aspect before arranging a visit to ensure that the hikes are within the range of your party's expertise.
I was encouraged to learn that local volcanologists provide detailed presentations and instructions, even though tours have guided expeditions. (It is strongly advised not to go on one's own; Russia's volcanoes exist in potentially dangerous weather and environmental conditions.)
The three volcanoes most visited by tourists are Koryaksky, Avacha, and Kozelsky, due to their proximity to Petropavlovsk. (Since Avacha's last erupted in 1991, there is plenty of 'new' lava.) However, it may be worth a few additional side trips to witness some of Russia's other famous volcanoes:
Klyuchevskaya Sopka, at almost 16,000 feet, is the tallest, and Karimsky, erupting for the last 13 years, is the most active. When visiting Mutnovsky, one can see an actual glacier in motion and geysers and boiling mud. Gorely offers crater lakes and lava caves, as well as fumaroles- holes in the earth's crust that emit gas and steam. Plosky is an active flat volcano, while Shiveluch affords views of cliffs made out of pumice in addition to a waterfall. There are many more volcanoes a traveler may view (and even scale) if availability exists in time and budget!
It's exciting to see that so much untouched beauty can exist in such a relatively small area, offering the intrigue of volcanoes, the elements of nature, and the dazzling array of wildlife. Ecologically based volcano tours offer a chance to help this economically floundering area and an opportunity to witness sights not seen anywhere else in the world, all in one visit. It certainly appears as though a trip to Kamchatka would definitively make memories of a lifetime, even if the only volcanic activity would be a few wisps of smoke and sulfur!