Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda is one of the top destinations in the country for hiking and mountaineering safaris following Rwenzori Mountain, in western Uganda. The national park encompasses the famous Elgon Mountain, with its location in eastern Uganda, in the districts of Kapchorwa and Mbale.
About Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda.
The National Park derives its name from Elgon Mountain, on which it is formed. The Elgon Mountain is historically known to be an extinct volcanic mountain, with its last eruption taking place about 24 million years ago.
Mountain Elgon was once Africa’s highest mountain but due to decades of continuous erosion, its height has gradually reduced to 4,321 meters; thus making its peak Wagagai, the 4th highest peak in East Africa and the 8th highest peak on the African continent.
There are 2 tribes in Uganda that call Mount Elgon home, and these are the Bagisu and the Sabiny. The Bagisu, who are known as the Bamasaba, regard the mountain as the embodiment of Masaba, their founding father.
Elgon Mountain covers a surface area of 4,000km², and it is known to have the world’s largest caldera. The mountain is located in the eastern region of Uganda and sits on the border with Uganda and Kenya. As a result of its strategic location, Mount Elgon national park forms an extensive trans-boundary conservation area, which is protected by both countries.
The National Park sits on this old and extinct volcano, covering a total surface area of 1,121km². Part of the national park that is situated in Uganda is managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority, while the Kenyan part of the park is managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service. The paradox surrounding the national park is that, while the Ugandan part of the national park was gazetted in 1992, the Kenyan side of the national park was established in 1968.
Climate in Mount Elgon National Park.
Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda, experiences a temperate and moist climate, given the fact that it is situated on a mountain. The national park receives an annual rainfall measuring to over 1,270 millimeters.
Vegetation Cover in Mount Elgon National Park.
Mount Elgon National Park has a rich variety of vegetation ranging from montane forest to open moorland which comprises giant lobelia and groundsel plants. The vegetation cover in the national park varies with altitude. Most of the high altitudes of the national park are characterized by montane forest, bamboo, olive trees, giant groundsels, lobelia and moorland with heaths. However, the park’s lower altitudes comprise tussock grass and rocky ground.
Wildlife in Mount Elgon National Park.
Uganda’s Mount Elgon National Park is home to quite a number of unique wildlife species. The national park is a habitat for over 300 species of birds including; the eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Jackson’s francolin, Hartlaub’s Turaco and the endangered Lammergeyer. The park also has various species of mammals such as; elephants, buffalo, antelope, and duiker, as well as primate species like; blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, and the black-and-white colobus monkeys.
Attractions in Mount Elgon National Park.
The national park has other attractions that visitors can see while at the park, and these include;
- Caves: A great majority of the caves can be found along the slopes of Mount Elgon. These caves are situated in the areas of Kitgum, Kapchorwa, Kapkwai, and Mbale. The most easily accessed caves by tourists are the Kapkwai caves, which are strategically situated near the Forest Exploration Centre; and the Khauka Caves, located on the Wanale Ridge. Other caves include; the Hunters Cave, Siyo Cave, Mude Cave and the Tutum Cave, all of which are ideal for tourists taking part in overnight hiking expeditions.
- Jackson’s Pool and Peak: Both the Jackson’s Pool and Jackson’s Peak are named after the explorer, Fredrick Jackson. In 1889, he was the first European to climb Mount Elgon. Jackson’s pool is a natural and shallow water pool, standing at an altitude of 4,050 meters. Jackson’s peak stands at 4,165 meters and is used by the local people in the area, as a means of communicating with their ancestors.
- Mount Elgon Peaks and the Caldera: Tourists visiting Mount Elgon can partake in hiking activities on the mountain and get a chance to see any of its peaks and its caldera, which is the largest in the world. The tallest peak of the Elgon Mountain is Wagagi, standing at 4,321 meters; followed by Sudek at 4,303 meters, Koitobos at 4,222 meters and finally Mubiyi which stands at 4,210 meters. The caldera found on Mount Elgon was formed as a result of magma being drained from the volcano’s chamber. It later collapsed into a depression-like shape because it could no longer support the overlying volcanic cone. The eastern part of the caldera has hot springs, which visitors can find at the start of the Suam Gorge.
- Nkokenjeru and Wanale Ridges: These ridges are a sight to see for any tourist visiting Mount Elgon national park. The Nkokenjeru ridge lies at an elevation of 2,347 meters and covers a 25km long tongue of lava, which flowed out of the side of the volcano; following the collapse of the cone and thus blocking the main vent of the volcano. The Nkokenjeru Ridge winds up at the spectacular Wanale cliff/ridge, which overlooks Mbale Town. While here, visitors can see the dazzling and beautiful Nabuyonga and Namatyo waterfalls. The trail at the western part of the ridge leads visitors to the popular Khauka Caves. The ridge is also an ideal spot for visitors interested in paragliding activities, with sky views of Mbale Town.
- Sipi Falls: The Sipi falls mark one of the highlights of a visit to Mount Elgon National Park. The Sipi Falls are located just outside the national park, on the Kapchorwa road. There are 3 waterfalls at Sipi and the lowest of these falls cascades over a 100-meter cliff, with the second waterfall plunging at a height of 69 meters, over the entrance to a cave. This second waterfall is also referred to as Simba by the local people. The third Sipi waterfall, which is known as Ngasire, plunges 87 meters high. Sipi Falls is less than an hours’ drive from Mbale town. Visitors can also see other waterfalls at Sisiyi, Bulago, Chebonet, and Wanale among others. There are quite a number of waterfalls scattered across Mount Elgon National Park.
- Nyero Rock Paintings: The Nyero Rock Paintings are located just 65km north of Mbale town. These rock paintings are a famous attraction in the eastern region of Uganda, and many tourists heading to Mount Elgon National Park usually stop to see the rock art. The Nyero Rock paintings are the oldest rock art in Uganda and consist of six panels of prehistoric art, including geometric and abstract patterns. Archeologists and other researchers believe that the rock art dates back to prehistoric times between 3,000- 12,000 years BC.
- Other attractions outside the National Park include; the Tewei Hill, Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, and Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve.
Activities Done in Mount Elgon National Park.
Visitors planning to travel to the national park can engage in adventure thrilling activities such as;
Hiking/Mountaineering: Hiking and mountain climbing are one of the popular activities done by a majority of tourists visiting Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda. Mountain climbing activities usually involve visitors climbing to the highest peak of the mountain, which is Wagagi, elevated at 4,321 meters. Unlike climbing Mount Rwenzori, those climbing the Elgon Mountain won’t find the climbing process so tiring. Therefore, climbers don’t need a lot of high-tech climbing equipment nor experience.
There are three hiking trails that climbers/hikers can use to get to the mountain’s highest peak and these are;
The Sasa Trail: This is the shortest yet toughest hiking trail. This hiking route starts at Budadiri town, at an elevation of 1,250 meters and takes visitors through the local BaMasaba communities, allowing climbers to explore farmlands and interact with the locals. A round trip using this route takes 4 days. Climbers using the Sasa trail should look forward to seeing amazing attractions like the bamboo forest and Jackson’s Pool before finally reaching the mountain summit at Wagagai.
The Sipi Trail: This is the longest trail leading to Wagagi peak. It starts at the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, at an altitude of 2,050 meters. A round trip using this route takes 4-6 days, offering climbers with stunning views of caves, vegetation and the Caldera. The Sipi trail takes climbers through the Tutum Cave, entering the caldera and finally leading to Wagagi peak.
The Piswa Trail: Climbers using this route will take about 7 days to reach Mount Elgon’s summit at Wagagai. The trail is long and yet it is the easiest of all three trails. The trail beings at the Kapkwata village, located on the northern side of Mount Elgon. Visitors using this trail can be sure to sight wonderful and breath-taking attractions like the Karamoja plains, the Nandi and Kapeguria hills in Kenya, the caldera and hot springs, which are situated near the caldera.
Mount Elgon National Park also offers visitors trans-boundary hiking activities, where climbers climb Mount Elgon with an UWA guide, wind up at the caldera and then cross over to the Kenyan side of the mountain and descend it with a guide from the Kenya Wildlife Service.
Hiking/Mountaineering activities in Mount Elgon National Park cost USD 75 dollars per person/ per day for both foreign residents and foreign non-residents. These fees include park entry fees only. Visitors who wish to hike the services of a porter will have to pay an extra fee of USD 5 dollars and USD 6 dollars for a cook.
Birding: Mount Elgon National Park is home to over 300 bird species. Visitors who are bird lovers can engage in bird watching activities in the national park. During a birding expedition, visitors are able to sight unique bird species like; Chubb’s Cisticola, the White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Flycatcher, Moustached Tinkerbird, Tacazze Sunbird and the Black Kite among others. Birding activities in the park cost USD 30 dollars per person for foreigners and UGX 30,000 shillings for East African Citizens.
Cultural/Community Tours: Visitors in Mount Elgon national park can visit the nearby village communities within and outside the national park. During cultural/ community visits, tourists get a chance to interact with the local people in these villages, learn about the history and culture of the people, tour coffee farms, as well as watch entertaining performances from the local dance groups. During a cultural/ community tour, tourists can visit the Sipi Widows’ Group and Budadiri Community Walk.
Guided Nature Walks: Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda offers its visitors guided nature walks, with hikers having a chance to sight the park’s primates, bird and rare tree species. Visitors on a nature walk are also able to see spectacular attractions in the national park such as the caves, caldera, and waterfalls. A guided nature walk in the park during the day costs USD 30 dollars for foreign non-residents, USD 15 dollars for a foreign resident and UGX 10,000 shillings for East African Citizens.
Other activities that visitors can take part in while visiting Mount Elgon National Park include; rock climbing, camping and mountain biking.
Best time to visit Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda.
Tourists can visit the national park at any given time of the year. However, it is best for visitors to visit the park from June-August and December-March, during its dry seasons. It is important for visitors to also note that given the fact that the national park is located on the Elgon Mountain, it can rain at any given time; thus pack a raincoat for emergency purposes.
What to carry when Hiking/Climbing in Mount Elgon National Park.
Visitors traveling to Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda for hiking or mountaineering activities should pack the following items; a tent, sleeping bag, raincoat, hiking boots, cooking equipment, enough food, toiletries, a flashlight, hat/cap, hiking gloves, warm clothing, a first aid kit and enough mineral water.
Accommodation in Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda.
Visitors seeking accommodation while in the national park can find lodging in the following facilities; Suam Guesthouse, Kapkwai Bandas, Moroto Bandas, Pian-Upe Wilderness Camp and guest house; as well as other accommodation facilities outside the park-like; Masha hotel, Sipi River Lodge and Sasa River Camp among others.
How to get to Mount Elgon National Park.
Visitors can easily access Mount Elgon National Park from Kampala city. The national park is just 235km from Kampala City via road. Visitors will have to drive for about 3-4 hours to get to the park. For those traveling from Mbale town will have to travel about 20km to get to the national park.
Mount Elgon National Park is a place to be for any tourist traveling to the eastern part of Uganda. The national park offers wonderful and stunning views with ideal spots for visitors to take memorable pictures.
Do contact us in case you want to make any inquiries or bookings for a safari to this amazing destination.