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Exploring Smoking Volcanoes by Army Truck in Far East Russia

Exploring smoking volcanoes by Russian army truck is a must-do Petropavlovsk cruise excursion. It’s one of my all-time favorite shore excursion experiences. And with over 400 nights at sea, I’ve been on plenty of them.

Puffs of white smoke rise from the snow-covered slopes of a volcano.

Yes, the volcanoes in Kamchatka really are smoking.

The Kamchatka Peninsula in far eastern Russia is a beautiful land of smoking volcanoes and abundant wildlife. Since it’s not on the regular tourist circuit, one way to visit this off-the-beaten-path location is to sail from Alaska to Asia (or vice versa) on a repositioning cruise. Expedition cruises are another option.

Where is the Kamchatka Peninsula?

barren tundra in front of snow-covered volcanoes

Arctic tundra surrounds the smoking volcanoes.

The Kamchatka Peninsula dangles from Sibera, with the Bearing Sea on the east and the Sea of Okhotsk to the west, both bodies of water in the Pacific Ocean. The peninsula houses the world’s southernmost expanse of Arctic tundra.

Gold groundcover on the tundra in front of gray, barren mountains.

Fall colors on the tundra

Part of the Pacific Rim of Fire, the Kamchatka Peninsula contains 160 volcanoes with about 29 of them being active—a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area is also know for prolific wildlife, especially brown bears (grizzly).

Due to its proximity to the Aleutian Islands, Kamchatka proved to be a perfect base for Russians to listen in on the U.S. during the Cold War and beyond. A Russian submarine base is located across Avacha Bay from Petropavlovsk.

Buildings on a hill at Petropavlovsk, Russia.

Petropavlovsk

Alan and I arrived at Asia’s northeastern tip as part of a 52-day Regent cruise from Vancouver to Singapore. Our ship, Regent Mariner, sailed to the Kamchatka Peninsula after cruising across the Bearing Sea from Alaska.

Joining a medical evacuation program is a must when traveling internationally. If a medical emergency happens, you’ll be transported back to your home hospital.

How to visit smoking volcanoes on a Petropavlovsk cruise excursion

orange army truck in dry riverbed with smoking volcano in the distance

The army truck stops in the dry riverbed so that we can take photos.

In Petropavlovsk, cruise guests choose from shore excursions that include visiting a dacha, touring the local museum or taking a helicopter ride for a birds-eye view of the volcanoes. Instead, Alan and I pick a truly unique adventure, the Regent cruise excursion, “Petropavlovsk’s Home Volcanoes by Army Truck.”

After tendering from to the dock, we stepped up into the six-wheeled, enclosed vehicle for a two-hour ride to Nalychevo Nature Park. The tour description warned of “travel over bumpy surfaces.” When the truck turned off the pavement and up a dry riverbed, our information proved to be correct.

The vehicle lurched up, over and through deep trenches formed by snow run-off. Soon, we could see the smoking cones of both Avachinsky and Koryak volcanoes.

Turquoise building with orange roof and yellow wildflowers

Lunch is served here.

Once the truck climbed above the tree line, our 20+ group of cruisers arrived at an alpine village for a simple lunch. Sitting at long tables, we enjoyed a family style meal of grilled salmon, slaw and rice served by a woman who spoke no English.

Hikers walk on a path in the tundra with a smoking volcano in front of them.

Hiking with fall colors of the tundra underneath our feet.

Later, our young Russian guide, Svetlana, led a two-hour hike. We walked uphill to a viewpoint that was ideal for taking photos of both volcanoes. Those who wished, hiked farther up the hill while others returned to the alpine village.

Toward the end of the hike, the terrain became steeper and my fear of heights kicked in. Although I wore lightweight hiking shoes—that I also used as workout shoes in the ship’s gym—I needed the steadiness of hiking poles, which I had not packed. So I opted to wait at a rocky outcropping for the hiking group to reach the top and circle back around to my location.

On a Petropavlovsk cruise excursion, a woman hiker rests on a rock in front of a smoking volcano.

Perfect place for a great landscape photo!

I used the extra time to photograph the volcanoes and enjoy the beauty of Nalychevo Nature Park. In addition to hiking, cross-country skiers use the area in winter.

Although wildlife is said to be prolific here, I didn’t see any. However why would a grizzly be prowling the mountain slopes when salmon were running in the river?

Boomer man and woman standing in front of a snow-capped volcano with smoke puffing out of the cone.

You don’t have the opportunity to pose in front of a smoking volcano every day.

Alan and I highly recommend this excursion. The fall scenery provided excellent photographic opportunities while the hiking levels offered something for everyone.

More Asia shore excursions for you to try:

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Explore smoking volcanoes on a cruise excursion in Far East Russia.

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