Mount Elgon National Park : For thousands of years, a sleeping monster has loomed above the Kenyan-Ugandan border. Mount Elgon is revered by the Bagisu tribe as the physical manifestation of their founding father, Masaba. Climb up his ancient body and see East Africa from his incredible vantage point at 4,321m.
INTRODUCTION TO MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK
Mount Elgon National Park is located on Kenya’s western border with Uganda, where it shares sister protection with Uganda’s Mount Elgon National Park of the same name. Kenya’s national park covers an area of 494 square miles (1,179 sq km).
Mount Elgon, with a height of 14,177 feet, is the park’s crowning achievement (4,321 m). It is thought to be East Africa’s oldest extinct volcano. The peak, which sits atop the plateau, rises 10,070 feet (3,070 m) from base to summit.
Mount Elgon has a diameter of 50 miles (80 kilometers) with five distinct peaks. The Wagagai summit is the highest point. Sudek 14,114 feet (4,302 m), Koitobos 13,852 feet (4,222 m), Mubiyi 13,816 feet (4,211 m), and Masaba 13,652 feet (4,161 m) are the remaining peaks in descending order.
The two highest and two lowest peaks are in Uganda, with the second highest directly on the border being shared by Kenya and Uganda. Koitobos is Kenya’s third highest peak and the only one.
The Elgon caldera is one of the world’s largest intact calderas, rivaling Tanzania’s neighbor Ngorongoro Crater caldera, which is the world’s largest. The mountain’s slopes are covered in a variety of vegetation, including montane forest, moorland, and tundra.
Despite its short size, the park contains a variety of habitats, including the previously mentioned savannah, montane forest, woodland, and alpine moorlands. Mount Elgon National Park is well-known among locals during the months of June and July for the amount of wildflowers that blanket the moorlands. One of the blossoming highlights is orchids.
The park’s landscape includes cliffs, waterfalls, caverns, gorges, mesas, calderas, hot springs, and, of course, Mount Elgon. Four caves can be explored, including Kitum cave dropping 656 feet (200 m) into Mount Elgon’s side. The volcano’s crater contains hot springs that reach temperatures of 118 °F (48 °C).
Some of the more prevalent wildlife species include elephants, buffalo, bushbuck, antelope, duiker, gigantic forest hogs, bushpigs, and the stunning black and white colobus monkeys. Visitors can expect to observe predators such as leopards, hyenas, and African wild cats. Although it is not as known for birding as Lake Nakuru National Park, it still has 300 kinds of birds for bird watchers to keep an eye out for.
Mount Elgon National Park is teeming with animals. Elephants, buffalo, and a variety of small antelope live on Mount Elgon’s lower slopes. Primates such as the black-and-white colobus monkey and the blue monkey can be found in the deep highland forest. The park also has around 300 bird species, including the Tacazze sunbird and the Lammergeier.
The Sabiny and Bagisu tribes live in Mount Elgon National Park. The Sabiny speak Sebei, a Nilotic language, and the Bagisu speak Lugisu, a Lumasaba dialect. The Bagisu regard Mount Elgon as a manifestation of their founding father, Masaba, and refer to it as such. Subsistence farming is practiced by both groups.
THINGS TO DO AT MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK
One of Mount Elgon’s main draws are its hiking routes. Unlike other climbs in East Africa, Mount Elgon’s routes are open all year and do not require any particular climbing equipment.
The hiking routes on Mount Elgon are less crowded than other hiking trails in East Africa, allowing you to appreciate the spectacular view without distractions. The three primary hiking trails on Mount Elgon differ in length and difficulty.
MOUNT ELGON HIKING TRAILS
The Sasa Trail: A four-day round trek is the shortest but most difficult trail. This is the original route up Mount Elgon’s 4,321m peak, Wagagai. The path begins at an elevation of 1,250 meters in the town of Budadiri in Uganda’s Eastern Region. The first day begins with a 1,650m rise. The trail then enters the jungle, leading to the Mudangi Cliffs, which are reached via ladders. Then there’s a 2.5-hour trek through a beautiful bamboo forest. Day 2 is a milder hike, while Day 3 brings you to Wagagai.
The Piswa Trail: The Sasa Trail is a less demanding (but longer) alternative. Over the course of seven days, you will travel approximately 49 kilometers. The trail begins at an elevation of 2,190 meters near the settlement of Kapkwata on the mountain’s north flank. The trail is well-known for its breathtaking vistas of the Karamoja Plains in Uganda and the Kapeguria and Nandi Hills in Kenya.
The Sipi Trail: The longest trail is 56 kilometers long and takes 4-6 days to complete. The walk starts at the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, which is located just a few kilometers from Sipi Falls. The portion through Tatum Cave, noted for its ancient cave paintings, is one of its attractions.
Day Hikes: The Forest Exploration Centre has created three shorter routes ranging in length from 3 to 7 kilometers. These trails are ideal for inexperienced hikers and visitors who want to enjoy Mount Elgon’s stunning beauty and animals in a short amount of time.
Mount Elgon National Park is home to over 300 bird species and has been designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Bird aficionados should keep an eye out for endangered species such as the Lammergeier. Keep an eye out for the African blue fly-catcher, African goshawk, and cinnamon-chested bee eater.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority opened mountain bike paths in 2012. Sipi River Lodge offers bike rentals. A one-and-a-half-hour trail leads from Sipi Trade Centre at an elevation of 1,775m to Chema Hill in Kapchorwa.
WHEN TO VISIT MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK
Although Mount Elgon is accessible all year, we recommend visiting during the drier months of June to August and November to March. If you visit in November or December, you will be able to witness its beautiful wildflowers in bloom.
In contrast, Mount Elgon’s trails become slicker in the wetter months, making your hike more difficult. You will be surrounded by breathtaking vistas whenever you visit.