Mt. Elgon national park is made of a huge volcanic mountain that is isolated along the eastern border of Uganda with Kenya. Its large size, 80 km in diameter, height of 3070m over the encompassing plains, offering welcome comfort. Its mountainous landscape introduces diversity to the monotonous local landscape. the cool heights offer relief for people from the scorching plains below whereas its slopes offer habitat to various plants and animals.
For years, Mount Elgon has served as a regional landmark : this extinct volcano is among Uganda’s most ancient physical features, initially erupting about Twenty million years back. It once was the highest mountain in Africa, imposing over the 5895m Kilimanjaro. Thousands of years of erosion have decreased its height to just 4321 m, making it to 4th highest summit in East Africa (as well as seventh on the continent). Even so, its 4000 sq km surface area remains the widest base of any volcanic mountain throughout the world. Mount Elgon is an import source of water in that region. Its forests experience approximately 3000mm of rainfall annually, which in the long run helps to support the plant and animals life together with the thousands of Ugandans living on and around the mountain.
Equally the water of Mt. Elgon is essential to several Kenyans, since it is bisected by its national boundary. The natural vegetation of the mountain act as a large biological sponge, safeguarded by the Mt Elgon National Park on either sides of the boundary. The Uganda National Park, that was in 1993 upgraded from a mere forest reserve, covers 1,110 sq km. Although its Kenyan counterpart covers only 170sq km, it is border by a forest reserve along with national reserve. The parks plus reserves in these two countries merge to form a trans-boundary conservation area that covers 2,229 sq km, that have were declared by UNESCO as Man & Biosphere Reserves
Mt Elgon receives much less visitors compared to other mountains across East Africa. But as routes on Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya become more and more crowded and deteriorated, hikers are admiring Mt Elgon’s abandoned moorlands. A hike on Mt. Elgon is to explore a spectacular montane wilderness minus the peak-oriented approach typical to higher mountains in the region. Certainly the greatest objective of reaching the peak of Mount Elgon isn’t the ultimate ascent to the Wagagai peak at 4321 meters, but the moving into the large 40 sq km caldera.
How to get there
Mt. Elgon National Park is situated 235km eastwards from Kampala. There is a good tarmac road from Kampala through Jinja up to Mbale town found on the western base of the mountain, before ascending to Kapchorwa town found on the north-western side of the mountain. There are Murram roads that lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to the different trailheads.
Accommodation and where to stay in Mt Elgone
there is dormitory accommodation along with self-contained wooden cottages provided by the national park at the Forest Exploration Centre in Kapkwai. The Meals are prepared on order. The park as well has self-catering guesthouses at Suam as well as Kapkwata. Beyond the park, is simple accommodation in Kapchorwa and Budadiri towns. A variety of accommodation is available around the beautiful Sipi Falls, as well as at the bottom of the mountain within Mbale. The mountain trails have 9 campsites, positioned in strategic intervals. These are found close to water sources, plus tent pads with latrines; however you should bring your supplies plus camping equipment. For your start we recommend Sipi River Lodge
Flora and fauna
Climbing Mt. Elgon takes you through a number of varied vegetation zones. its lower slopes are heavily cultivated to the park boundary. The very first vegetation zone is montane forest that stretches from the park boundary to 2500m. It is followed by the bamboo plus low canopy forest (2400m – 3000m), then the high montane heath (3000m – 3500m) consisting of giant heather that grows to a height of 6 meters. Over 3500m, the fierce winds and cold temperatures compel the heather to crumple into the open moorland.
Lastly, over 3800m, is the stunning Afroalpine vegetation found among Carex bogs and tussock grasslands. This unusual but impressive vegetation type is only found in the upper areas of the highest mountains in East Africa and consists of giant groundsel and the Lobelia
Mt. Elgon supports various wild animals such as spotted hyenas, elephants, leopards, buffalos, bushbucks, Defassa’s waterbucks and oribi. However, just as in most forest environments, it’s challenging to see the animals. The most frequently seen animals are tree squirrels, black & white colobus, duikers plus blue monkeys.
The mountain hosts 296 bird species including 40 restricted species including black collared apalis, Jackson’s francolin as well as moustached green tinker bird, . The tacazze sunbird, bronze-naped pigeon and Hartlaub’s turaco are restricted to Mt. Elgon and a couple of other mountains within eastern Uganda. Also the endangered Lammergeyer is visible here flying over the Suam gorge and the caldera.
Local People around Mt ELgon National park
Mt. Elgon hosts 3 tribes, the Ndorobo, Bagisu, and Sabiny. The Sabiny together with the Bagisu are subsistence farmers and carry out circumcision ceremonies almost every year to as a way of initiating young men (while the Sabinys initiate girls) into adulthood. Customarily, the Bagisu, also referred to as the BaMasaba, look at Mt. Elgon as the embodiment of their fore-founding father – Masaba, and you’ll hear this mountain referred to by his name. For long, the Local people have depended on the forest produce and also have come to agreement with the park to keep onharvesting resources like bamboo poles plus bamboo shoots (which are a local delicacy).
Hiking and climbing Mountain Elgon – eastern Uganda
Mt. Elgon National Park is a wilderness with no roads and can only be explored by walking, there are various routes that include one-day short walks to longer hikes that take several days. You may as well extend your adventure and descend the slopes to the Kenyan side. This will require earlier arrangement to obtain the services of a park ranger from the Kenya Wildlife Services. However the locals offer porter services at an affordable price carrying your travel luggage.
The ideal time to climb Mt. Elgon is in the dry season from June to August as well as December to March. it doesn’t require any special hiking skills to reach the caldera as well as the peaks, en-route you will be stunned the unique variety of plants and animals in addition to the waterfalls, small lakes, hot springs, caves and the gorges.
We recommend you carry rain gear and warm clothing since the weather suddenly changes. Don’t forget to carry insect repellent, a hat, camera and torch on your adventure.
Health and safety
Hikers need enough time to acclimatize to avoid altitude sickness. Remember that over 2500m; mountain sickness may affect anyone, regardless of age, or past mountain experience. However the best treatment for this is immediate transfer to lower altitude.
Around the park
Below are some of the routes on this mountain
4 days Sasa trail: This route begins from the town of Budadiri and it is the nearest to Mbale as well as the easiest to get at. Additionally it offers the most direct path to the peaks, though with a tough climb of more than 1,600m on day one. It crosses the biggest section of the bamboo forest in the park and goes by the pretty Jackson’s Pool en route to Wagagai Peak.
7 days Sipi trail: This route begins at the Forest Exploration Centre found at Kapkwai, a couple of kilometres upstream from the beautiful Sipi Falls which are found immediately outside the park’s boundaries. The trail takes you to the stunning Tatum cave concealed in the dense forest.
in addition, the Exploration Centre is the beginning point for one-day hikes that go through the thick montane forest up to the Chebonet Falls, the Kapkwai cave as well as a breathtaking view point that looks over the plains that are 1,200m below.
7 days Piswa trail: begins at Kapkwata, just 30km from Kapchorwa, and it is a longer path although begins at a higher elevation and follows an even more gradual path to the caldera. It’s famous for the Podocarpus forest along the way which is a key habitat for different wildlife thus making it ideal for game viewing.
Suam trail: is a lengthy less used trail that starts in Suam Village found on the Kenyan side. It follows River Suam across the steep beautiful Suam Gorge all the way to the hot springs located on the eastern part of the caldera.
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