Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park is home to the Mt. Elgon. At 4,000km² Mt. Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. It is on the Uganda-Kenya border. This is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in East Africa. Its vast form, 80km in diameter, rises more than 3,000m above the surrounding plains.
The mountain’s cool heights offer respite from the hot plains below. The higher altitudes providing a refuge for flora and fauna.
Mount Elgon National Park is home to over 300 species of birds. It is aslo home to the endangered Lammergeyer. The higher slopes are protected by national parks in Uganda and Kenya. This creates an extensive trans-boundary conservation area. It has been declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve.
Climbing Mt. Elgon’s deserted moorlands unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness. This is without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains. The ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mt. Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321m Wagagai Peak, but the descent into the vast 40km² caldera.
Mount Elgon National Park at A Glance
- Size: 1,121km²
- This extinct volcano is one of Uganda’s oldest physical features. Itfirst erupting around 24 million years ago.
- Mt Elgon was once Africa’s highest mountain, far exceeding Kilimanjaro’s current 5,895m. Millennia of erosion have reduced its height to 4,321m. Thus, relegating it to the 4th highest peak in East Africa and 8th on the continent.
- Mt Elgon is home to two tribes, the Bagisu and the Sabiny. The marginalized Ndorobos are dwell deep within the forest of Benet.
- The Bagisu are also known as the BaMasaba. They consider Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their foundingfather Masaba. They refer to the mountain by this name.
Activities to do in Mount Elgon National Park
Mountain Climbing in Mt. Elgon
Many travelers find Mt. Elgon an exciting alternative to the more strenuous climbs in East Africa. It has many of the same attractions, with a milder climate and lower elevation. Mount Elgon requires no special equipment or technical experience.
Birding in Mt. Elgon
MounElgon National Park offers excellent birding opportunities. This exist around Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre. This is in true within the secondary forest and thick shrub along the loop trail to Cheptui Falls. The area supports the African Goshawk; Chubb’s Cisticola and White-chinned Prinia. You will also find African Blue Flycatcher among others here.
Nature walks in Mt. Elgon
You should look forward to great nature walsk in Mount Elgon National Park. Enjoy views of Sipi Falls, the Walls of Death and the African sunrise across the Karamoja plains. This is on these peacefull walks just outside Mt Elgon National Park.
Hiking in Mount Elgon National Park
Hikers in Mt Elgon will enjoy being amongst the parks primates, birds and rare tree species. Trails lead past caves, viewpoints and waterfalls. You have the option of camping overnight on the mountain slopes.
Sport fishing in Mt. Elgon
Sport fishing takes place above the highest of the three waterfalls at Sipi. It provides exciting challenges to anglers. Those who take pride in battling with the rainbow trout. It is so named because of its beautiful coloration and fighting ability.
Cultural Encounters in Mt. Elgon
Find out where your coffee comes from! Arabica coffee is grown on the mountain side of Mt Elgon. It is also named Sipi or Bugisuby the local farmers. They have a reputation for producing some of the finest washed Arabica in Kenya and Uganda.
Mountain Biking in Mt. Elgon
Mountain biking trails run from Sipi trading centre to Chema hill in Kapchorwa town. It should take 1.5 hours and provides views of various waterfalls
Rock climbing in Mt. Elgon
Rock climbing takes place outside the Mount Elgon National Park at Sipi. There are 14 routes requiring various levels of rock scaling techniques. The toughest is a 35m climb while the easiest is 15m.
Animals in Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park supports a variety of wildlife. They include rock and tree hyraxes, elephant and buffalo. Also, in this park are Defassa waterbuck, oribi, bushbuck, duiker and forest hog. There are the rare bush pig, leopard, civet and serval cats andspotted hyena. You may come across aardvark and several rodent species. These animals are rarely observed in the forest setting.
Animals often seen include the black-and-white colobus and baboons. Others are red tailed, vervet, De Brazza’s and blue monkeys; duiker and tree squirrel.
The mountain is home to 300 birds including 40 restricted range species. 56 of the 87 Afrotropical highland biome species live here. They include the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinker bird and Alpine Chat.
there are the birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon. They include the Jackson’s Francolin and Black-collared Apalis.
There are those limited to just a few mountains in eastern Uganda. They are the Black-shouldered Kite and Tacazze Sunbird. Mount Elgon is one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen. Especially as it soars above the caldera and Suam Gorge.
Places to Visit in Mount Elgon National Park
Forest Exploration Centre
The Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai is 13km from Sipi town. It is an educational centre for schools. It is also the trailhead for climbers using the Sipi trail to the caldera.
Three circuits of between 3-7km run through the surrounding regenerating forest. Here visitors can visit caves, waterfalls, escarpments and viewpoints; and observe birds and primates.
There are several bird species to encountered here. They include Hartlaub’s Turaco and Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon. Others are Lemon Dove, Dusky-Turtle Dove and African Hill Babbler. There is also Alpine Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Mountain Yellow Warbler. You cannot forget the Thick-billed Honey guide, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike.
Mount Elgon’s slopes are riddled with caves. They were left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits. The most accessible are Kapkwai Cave, near the Forest Exploration Centre. There is also Khauka Cave on Wanale Ridge.
In the begining, such features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock. Later on they provided manure in the form of bat droppings. More recently, they have been used climbers and their porters. Even today, campsites are still located at Hunters Cave and Siyo Cave (near the hot springs). Mude Cave and Tutum Cave are ideal for overnight expeditions.
Jackson’s Pool and Jackson’s Peak
Jackson’s Pool stands at 4,050m and is a natural pool with shallow waters. This pool lies in the shadow of the 4,165m high Jackson’s Peak. It is a free-standing volcanic plug rising from the western flank of the mountain.
These features were named after the explorer Frederick Jackson. In 1889 was the first European to climb Mount Elgon. The peak is used by the locals as a spot to communicate with their ancestors.
The peaks and the caldera
Mount Elgon’s highest peaks are formed by high points around a jagged rim. They enclose one of the world’s largest calderas, at 40km long and 8km wide. The tallest peak is the 4,321m Wagagi. This is followed by Sudek (4,303m), Koitobos (4,222m) and Mubiyi (4,210m).
The Caldera is as a result of magma being drained from the chamber. It could no longer support the overlying volcanic cone. It thus collapsed into a depression-like shape.
In the eastern corner of the caldera are hot springs. This is at the start of the deep Suam Gorge. In the northwest is Simu Gorge formed by the sheer weight of the water in the caldera. It cut two stream beds out of the weak volcanic ash and agglomerate walls.
Mt. Elgon National Park’s vegetation is in broad zones. The characteristics are depending on altitude and rainfall.
The lower mountain slopes have dense forest and regenerating forests. They hung with vine-like lianas, epiphytes and lichens. The floor is covered with a carpet of ferns, orchids and flowering plants.
This lies within the tropical montane forest (1,500-2,500m asl). Common tree here are olive Oleahochstetteri, prunus africanas, Elgon teak and podocarpus. You will find cedar, Cordia, Neoboutania, allophyllus tombea and Aningueriaadolfi-friedericii here too.
The zone changes to mixed bamboo at 2,500-3,000m. The bamboo merges into open woodland. This is dominated by hagenia abyssinica and African rosewood. It is interspersed with hypericum – a giant form of St. John’s wort.
The heath zone lies within 3,000-,3500m above sea level. Here is giant heather interspersed with grassy swards of blonde tussock grass. You will find dots of pink and white everlasting flowers (ericriceum brownie and jonstonii). Also available here is flame-colored gladioli, blue delphiniums and red-hot pokers.
The moorland or Afro-alpine zone lies within 3,500-4,321m above sea level. It contains senecio elgonensis, Erica tree, giant lobelias and plumes of tiny blue flowers. You will find ladies’ mantle tussocks and pink and white everlasting flowers here too.
The summit of the mountain has the rare Afro-montane species. they include giant forms of lobelia and groundsel.
Nkokenjeru Ridge and Wanale
Nkokenjeru Ridge is a distinctive finger of forest extending outwards. This is from the main massif of Mount Elgon. It lies at an elevation of 2,347m and covers a 25km-long tongue of lava. This flowed out of the side of the volcano after the cone collapsed to block the main vent.
Nkokenjeru Ridge culminates at the superb Wanale Cliffs. This tower above Mbale Town; the seasonal Nabuyonga and Namatyo Waterfalls are here. A trail at this western end of the ridge leads you to Khauka Cave where petrified wood is.
This ridge also offers grounds for those interested in paragliding over the Mbale town.
The Nabuyonga Trail is a 5km loop with birding, fauna and flora. Viewpoints overlook Mbale town, Lakes Kyoga, Bisina and Salisbara. You can also see the rugged mountains in Karamoja region.
On a clear day, you may enjoy vistas of Wagagai peak and even areas of western Kenya. Beware not to throw stone into the Nabuyonga stream. The local folklore claims that if you do so, a thunderstorm will strike before you leave!
What Lies Outside the Park?
The northern and western sides of Mount Elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs. This is for several kilometres in length. Here the mountain’s rivers plunge as beautiful waterfalls.
The best known are the three waterfalls at Sipi on the Kapchorwa road, just outside the park. The lowest of these falls is the most spectacular as it cascades over a 100m cliff.
The second, known as Simba, plunges 69m over the entrance to a cave. Visitors can stand in the cave and enjoy a view of the back of the falls.
The third waterfall, also known as Ngasire, gushes over an 87m high ridge. Sipi Falls is less than an hour’s drive from Mbale on a paved road.
There are waterfalls found at Sisiyi, Bulago, Chebonet and Wanale. there are many more scattered across the mountain, offering spectacular views.
This is outside the park overlooking Sipi Falls. On this hill in the 1960s, Chemonges Kingo, King of the Sabiny would meet his subjects. From the top you can view the three falls, the Karamajong plains and the Wagagai peak.
Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve and Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve
In the plains of Karamoja to the north of Mount Elgon lie Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve. There is also the expansive Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve. The latter is the second largest protected area in Uganda, with an area of 2,788km2.
Wildlife found here includes rare species such as the roan antelope. Others are lesser kudu, Bright’s gazelle and ostriches. These in Uganda, are only here and in Kidepo Valley National Park.
Wildlife is more around the Loporokocho swamp. Bird species encountered here include Hartlaub’s Turaco and Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon. There is also Lemon Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, African Hill Babbler and Alpine Chat. Black-throated Wattle-eye, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Thick-billed Honey guide and Grey Cuckoo-Shrike are here also.
Rock paintings are in various sites within the Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve. They date back to over 3000 years. They were created by the Cushite and Nilotic peoples.
Nyero Rock Paintings
65km north of Mbale, the Nyero Rock Paintings are the finest of several rock art sites in the region. Three panels are found within the extensive granite outcrop of Moru Ikara. This is 10km from Kumi Town and 55km from Mbale on the Soroti road. The most impressive is Panel Two which includes two canoes bearing human figures.
Scenic viewpoints outside the park
A detour to Bulago off the Mbale-Sipi road reveals a village standing high above a waterfall. It faces the Simu Valley towards Butandiga ridge.
Yopu can also take the route to Kapchorwa beyond Sipi Falls to the north. It provides a stunning view towards Mount Kadam and the vast plains of Karamoja.
There is also the top of the Sironko Valley in Budadiri. It is enclosed by the Mudangi Cliffs and the Nkonkonjeru Ridge. It provides a picturesque view of the montane forest and caldera peaks. Visitors should also drive to the top of Wanale Cliff for panoramic views over the town of Mbale.