Mount Etna Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

20.9 mi
6,171 ft
5.6 %


Page Contributor(s): Helmuth Dekkers, Oisterwijk, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands; Ard Oostra, Switzerland


Mount Etna is one of the hardest, most challenging, and difficult bike climbs in Italy and the world. This is a Top 10 World Cycling Climb and the third most difficult bike climb in Italy. Our route stops a bit short of the end of the trail which is where the buses stop on the volcano (about five miles up from Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza, where the paved road, SP92 ends) and 2.3 miles/3.7 km from the summit.
The gradient is only murderous on this climb if you choose to ride the gravel/sand/dirt portion which is the last 5.3 miles at 11.2% average grade.  Otherwise, the paved portion of the climb is a quite manageable 5.4% average.  The steepest quarter-mile is at the end and averages 19% and the final mile of the climb averages 14%. 
Roadway:   Until the dirt, the roadway is in good condition and paved. The 5 miles at 11.2% average grade after Refugio Giovanni cannot be done on a road bike.  We used a Crux gravel bike with 40mm nobbies but recommend a mountain bike with wide tires.  

Traffic:  Much of the first portions of this climb is along narrow and busy roads.  Once onto the dirt you only contest with tour buses.  
Gear:  We used a Specialized Crux with knobby 40mm tires, but would strongly recommend a mountain bike for this one.  We'd also recommend that anyone attempting this climb be in exceptional physical condition. 
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
We travelled to Italy just for this climb and brought our own bikes.   The ferry from the mainland (Reggio Calabria) to Sicily (Messina) is only 30 minutes - Direct Ferries web page. 

Staying in the town of Catania with its numerous options will give you a great base to do the several climbs and routes in the area.  



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Apr 30, 2021
Atop Etna among the the Volcanic rocks, you have a real sense of being at the very tippy top. You'll start in a very rustic Sicilian town and climb up through the tree line until you pop out into the volcanic abyss. The air gets thinner and the road get steeper and eventually loose gravel. There were quite a few jeeps passing by the day I rode. Guided tours to the top, by jeep, seem to be a popular tour destination.
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Cycling the gravel portion of Mount Etna, Italy.  

The moonscape of the Mount Etna cycling climb.

Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.

5 views of Mount Etna as we climb towards it.

The Mighty Mount Etna:  The third hardest bike climb in Italy (just behind the incomparable Scanuppia), is located in the east coast of Sicily, between the cities Messina and Catania.  We start the route at the horse monument.

Start our bike climb of Mount Etna in Catania, Sicily   

  bike at statue in Catania Italy

Starting at the horse monument makes sense because the true ascent begins there, but this is not without its hazards -- the drivers in this part of the world (or the tourists in this part of the world?) drive insanely!  Proceed with caution.

From the monument, you will go up a one way highway/main road for a few kilometers, then you merge with a one way lane pointing uphill. The best way to do this is to start at sunrise or just before, otherwise do not ride this part. At sunrise it was alright, with very light traffic.



We started this climb at dawn on 7 July 2018.

The road stays very busy as it is a main route in and out of town. There are many roundabouts in the first 10 miles, most have signs directing you toward Etna. There is no shoulder at any point and at one spot you must drive up a one lane onramp.  


Onramp only advisable (well, not really advisable, but manageable) in early morning.

By kilometer 16 the traffic has thinned and the main Mount Etna Strava Segment of climbing begins.  For cyclists not interested in doing the most difficult ‘fiets’ climbs but merely enjoying the climb, this is a smart place to start (27.2 km/2,156 m/7.8% from here; 15.6 km/734 m/4.7% to the alternate/safe/calmer start).


Near the alternate start at km 15.

    Road bike to Mount Etna - sign to SP 92 

Km 16.5 -- stay left on SP 92.

Once you climb past the trees you’ll start to see evidence of volcanic activity. The trees disappear and the view opens up, just as the road gets steeper and Etna looms before us in all its majestic glory.

Mount Etna Summit from afar with flowers in foreground   

View with 24 km to go.


A Bit About the Volcano:  Mount Etna, whose name is derived from the Greek meaning “I burn,” is an active supervolcano, and outside the Caucasus, is the highest active volcano in all of Europe.  This is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and exists in an almost-constant state of activity.  Most eruptions occur at the summit, where there are five craters, but eruptions on this volcano can also happen in one of the 300 vents on the flanks, ranging in size from small holes, to craters that are hundreds of meters across.  Though they can be large and highly explosive, eruptions at the summit of Mount Etna rarely affect the inhabited areas below, but flank eruptions have been known to occur at lower altitudes, well into inhabited areas.  The most recent summit eruption at Mount Etna occured in December 2018, while the the flank eruptions have been on pause since 2009.  More information on Mount Etna’s volcanic activity can be found here.

The big sweeping switchbacks take you to the restaurants/visitor center/parking lot. That’s where the paved road ends. Many tourist park there and hike, bus, tram, or quad to the summit.

Gondola on Mount Etna during our bike climb to the summit 

Alternate/easier way to the finish!  



It is very busy at the Rifugio, even in the early morning when I arrived. Mount Etna is a HUGE tourist attraction in Sicily. Most people I talked to had planned a whole day to visit.


8.5 km at 11.4% to the finish from the Rifugio Giovanni Sapienza.


Once on the unpaved portion, the road immediately becomes devilishly steep. I was struggling to stay upright from the very start of the gravel.  Mountain bikes are strongly recommended although I believe we can still safely call this a road/cross climb.

It’s no picnic for the last 8.5 km!

     Mount Etna road - sand and gravel - release air from bike tire 

This cycling climb is manageable for the very strong and technically accomplished riders, but very, very difficult. In some corners I lost traction and had to walk to a more mellow pitch to get started again. I don’t think many people ride up on cross bikes. I saw approximately 12 other riders, all on mountain bikes. The Mount Etna cycling climb is one like  Mauna Kea where it is best to swap out to an MTB at the end of the pavement. Even so, I did ride a cross bike with 40mm tires the entire bike climb.

2 mountain bikers on gravel and dirt road to Mount Etna 

The smarter way. 

    Specialized Crux bike on road to Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy 

          The less smart way . . .

The end of the road -- not the end of the path, though -- is at a parking lot (on the map called CraterBarbagallo).  That is the summit for our purposes.


The mapped finish . . . but . . .


. . . you can hike from here . . . or . . . 

Cyclist riding mountain bike on Mount Etna Volcano Sicily Italy   

. . . Keep on truckin!

To continue from there you have to go through a chain fence and the road becomes more of a trail. The loose gravel becomes tennis ball sized volcanic rock and is highly hazardous for any bike, especially a cross bike. In the final kilometers you really feel like you are on a volcano (which, of course, you are!).  The path starts to disappear and you only follow faint footprints to the end of the road. The end comes abruptly, the road just stops at a bunch of volcanic rock. I think there may have been some sort of landslide because on the map it looks like the road should continue from there. The locals I was with also said there had been a landslide there in the past. The dirt descent is very treacherous on a cross bike; it is very difficult to stay upright in the corners.  

Mountain bike at end of Mount Etna cycling climb 

In the words of Bob Dylan, “you don’t need a stop sign to know where the road ends.”

 View down at bike from end of road on Mount Etna, Sicily 

Cyclists in snow with bikes at top of Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy   

The “coolest” place I’ve ever had a snowball fight!

  PJAMM Brad Butterfiled at top of Mount Etna 

 i miei tre amici italiani.

Drone photo on top of Mount Etna of cyclists. 

Steepest kilometer starts at km 36.8 (13.9%).

Before heading out on your epic Mount Etna adventure, be sure to rely on our list of Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip, and use our interactive checklist to ensure you don't forget anything.

The Giro d’Italia has featured a finish at Cefalù to Rifugio Sapienza several times, most recently (as of July 7, 2018) May 10, 2018 Stage 6 (won by Esteban Chaves).



Upon an inquiry from a visitor about renting a bike to ride Mt. Etna, our friend from the Netherlands, Helmuth Dekkers, answered:

We were staying in Giarre and I rented an MTB to cycle up Etna from:   

But they also have road bikes on rent. In case you only cycle to Rifugio Sapienza then that is fine. For 20 Euro extra they brought the bike to the hotel. They are very near to Catania  so can also consider picking up the bikes yourself. I cycled without a guide and that was fine. Just had my GPS and a track on it.

Have fun on Sicily! It's a beautiful island. And in case you make it to Palermo, don't forget to try the street food: Pane et panelle, Arancine, etc.