Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park Uganda

Mountain Elgon National Park was established in 1992 in Uganda and was also established in Kenya in I968. It covers an area of 1,279km2 (494 sq miles). It is located in both Uganda and Kenya. The park is near Mbale city. It is on the coordinates of 01°08′00″N 34°35′00″E. the park is 87 miles on the northeast of Lake Victoria.  The park covers an area of 1,110km2 in Uganda and also it covers 169km2 in Kenya.

Mt. Elgon is a volcanic mountain that erupted more than 24 million years ago. Mt. Elgon has the largest volcano in the world that is 50km by 80km, it is 4th highest mountain in Eastern Africa.  In Uganda, it has the 2rd highest peak known as wagagai peak which is 4321 metres.  Elgon is enclosed by a sequences of rugged peaks and remember it has a crater lake that covers 40kms on the top of the mountain.

Location

Mount Elgon National Park is positioned alongside the Ugandan-Kenyan border. Mountain Elgon is a water catchment for a river Nzoi that streams to L. Victoria. It is also a water catchment for Turkwel River (Suam River) that flows to L.Turkana.

Climate

The park receives annual rainfall of over 1,270mm and therefore its climate is more of moist to moderate dry. Rains fall in June –August and December – March. But it is also good to note that rain might rain even in the dry season.

Vegetation

Elgon is a place that is rich with flourishing vegetation.  The park has Dense montane forest with bamboo belts and as you further go deep you will come along moorland zones that have groundsel plants and giant lobelia that are endemic plant species. Altitude contributes much on the variations of vegetation for example on higher altitudes you come across olive and Podocarpus gracilior forest, bamboo Arundinaria alpine and Podocarpus zone, Hagenia abyssinica zone plus moorland zone. In moorland zones you spot Philippia trimera and heaths Erica arborea. Tussock grasses like Festuca pilgeri and Agrostis gracilifolia are also spotted alongside herbs of Helichrysum, Alchemilla, Lobelia, giant groundsels, Senecio elgonensis and Senecio barbatipes. On the slopes of the mountain, you will spot Aningueria adolfi-friedericii and Olea hochstetteri and montane forest that is wet.

The botanical variety of the park comprises Podocarpus gracilior and numerous orchids, juniper and Elgon olive trees cedar, Juniperus procera, podocarpus, elder Sambucus adnata, pillarwood Cassipourea malosana. Over the 400 plant species in the mountains, Carduus afromontanus, Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Echinops hoehnelii, Romulea keniensis and Ranunculus keniensis are sotted on the higher altitude only and of broad leaf montane forest.

Wildlife in Mount Elgon National Park.

Mammals

This park supports a variety of wildlife. This includes; buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, rock and tree hyraxes, elephant, oribi, duiker, bushbuck, bush pig, forest hog, civet, leopard and serval cats, hyena, aardvark and several rodent species. But these animals are infrequently detected in the forest scenery.  However, duiker and tree squirrel, baboons, red tailed, vervet, De Brazza’s, black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys are the commonly seen creatures.

Birds

Mountain Elgon inhabits over 144 bird species with a restriction of 40 range species. These are mainly; eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Jackson’s spurfowl, Hartlaub’s turaco, lammergeyer and Tacazze sunbird. lammergeyer is being endangered because of the restriction range and can be seen rising on the Suam gorge and Caldera. Afrotropical highland biome species are also spotted here and mainly Alpine Chat, Moustached Green Tinkerbird and Moorland Francolin.

Birders watch birds from the thick shrub near Chebonet River close to camp supports, Baglafecht Weaver, White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Fly-catchers, African Goshawk, Mackinon’s Fiscal, Luhder’s Bush-Shrikes and Doherty’s.

Invertebrates

Almost a a half of butterfly species in Uganda are a said to be in Mountain Elgon. A dragon fly well known as Maathai’s longleg is also found on this park.  This dragonfly was named Maathai’s long leg after Wangari Maathai a noble prize winner. It was discovered in 2005.

Activities in Mount Elgon National Park.

Rock Climbing In Mount Elgon National Park

Rock climbing is practiced outside Sipi park. 14 routes require different levels of scaling techniques with 35km as the toughest and 15 as the easiest. Both have a charming/scenic view of Karamoja plains and the main falls. Visitors can hire equipment’s to use in climbing from Sipi Falls Tourist Guides Association.

Mountain Biking In Mount Elgon National Park

I/2 hours that are spent on the mountain biking trail from trading Centre of Sipi to Kapchorwa town on the Chema hill gives visitors a chance to view different waterfalls. Will also view the wonderful Karamoja plains. Visitors can hire bikes from the Sipi River Lodge.

Cultural encounters in Mount Elgon National Park

Mt Elgon is well known for Arabica Coffee growing and production in Uganda and Kenya. Farmers call it Sipi or Bugisu.

Sipi Widows’ Group

Sipi Widows Group walks with visitors in the coffee plantations explaining how and when to start plating, weeding, picking, grinding and storing of coffee. Once you join the local community and participate in their traditional activities like weaving, you will surely know who the Sabiny are and their life style. African Cuisine are well known for the preparation or cooking of delicious local foods. Don’t miss to taste. Don’t also miss to visit the women’s handcraft shops in the trading Centre because the fee collected contributes much to the community. The fee is used to speak against the traditional practice of female circumcision in the region, promoting coffee growing and also paying school dues for the less privileged and orphans.

Budadiri Community Ecotourism Experience

In Budadiri community, there is Mt Elgon’s Arabica Coffee processing plants that offer help to the local farmers.  In the same region, there are community groups that offer car hire, community nature walks accommodation, guided coffee tours and cultural dances. Visitors also experience the worderful regiions malewa bamboo shoot, cultural dances, folklore and food preparation.

Walkers can take three trails, ie, Namugabwe Cave Trail that takes a whole day. It passes through Bamasaba community land hence reaching the historical Cave that is full of bones. The three days walk to reach the mighty Sipi Falls also helps visitors to experience the culture of the two nearby tribes. Dirigana loop trail that goes straight to Gabushana Cave and Dirigsana falls allows visitors to experience the Walls of Death and the local markets.

Nature walks in Mount Elgon National Park

Nature walks in MT Elgon enable visitirs to walk to the walls of death, i.e. from Budadiri to Mudange Cliffs which is at the borders of a national park. These cliffs are found in the tropical forest.  Black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys, and baboons are also viewed on the way. Get a chance to sight the Karamoja plains and the African Sunrise on an awesome walk outside the park.

Local guides at Sipi falls can also arrange walks in the local area.  For example, when in Kapchorwa, you can walk for 20minutes from Noah’s Ark to Tewei Hill.

Hiking in Mount Elgon National Park

Park primates, tree species and birds are viewed by hikers in the park. You can camp during the night on the mountain slopes once you have finished the trails that led you to the past caves, waterfalls and viewpoints of the day. Mountain bamboo trail takes over 7km to finish Kapkwai Cave that goes through bamboo and tropical forest. On the trail you will view birds, primates and rare trees like Elgon Olive and Elgon teak.

A hike to Tutum Cave is 11km and a walk to the Chabonet Falls is roughly 5km. The walk to Kapkwai Caves is 3km and there is a ridge view trail that follows it. A walk to Khauka Cave which is located in Wanale takes around 3-4 hours. On Nabuyoga loop you can view Wagagai peak and Jackson’s Summit.

Birding in Mount Elgon National Park

Chubb’s Cisticola, African Goshawk, African Blue Flycatcher and White-chinned Prinia, Chinspot Batis, Dohertys and Luhders Bush-shrikes, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Hartloub`s Turaco, Baglafecht Weaver, Moustached Tinkerbird, Tacazze Sunbird, Olive- and Bronze-naped pigeons, Cinnamon Bee Eater, Black Kite and Black-collared Apalis are spotted well in Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre especially along the trail to Cheptui Falls. This place supports birding because of the thick shrub and secondary forest.

 Mountain/volcano climbing in Mount Elgon National Park

Mt. Elgon is the easiest and accessible mountain in Uganda that its peak can be climbed without special technic or equipment. There is no experience that is required climb peak of mountain Elgon. Travelers like climbing this mountain because it has got lower elevation, favorable climate, less congestion and many attractions.

Once you take the Sasa trail just know you have taken the shortest but the toughest way to the peaks of Mt. Elgon. On this trail you view the BaMasaba farming and also their settlements plus exploring their culture. The trip begins from from Budadiri town which is at the elevation of 1,250m. You can finish the toughest climb on the starting day since it is at 1,600m. Later you can crossover to the bamboo forest going through Jackson’s Pool as you head to Wagagai peak.

The Sipi trail starts from Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre which is 2,050m. it is 56km round trip and it can ultimately take 4-6days. It is considered to be the longest route to the peaks because it goes via Tutum Cave to reach the Caldera and finally enter Wagagai Peak. The journey that starts softly, becomes hard and tough when you reach Kajeri Camp.

The Piswa trail is gentle tril but a long one. It is 49km round trip and it takes a traveler 7 days.  The traveler starts from Kapkwata Village and passes via the soft platations and crosses over to Podocarpus Forest. It is well known for the scenic of Karamoja plains and wildlife in Uganda plus the Kapeguria and Nandi hills located in Kenya. Piswa way passes the hot springs and joins the Caldera and the peaks of Mt. Elgon.

Visiting mountain Elgon is so exciting and wonderful for hikers or climbers. You will spot the precious flora and fauna of the park and as you rotate your eyes around you will spot magnificent waterfalls, scenic peaks and gorges, hot springs and enormous caves. It is easy to trek with in the park no matter if it is wetter or drier. But it is advisable and more favoring to visit the park in dry season. The months for dry season are December-March and June-August. Don’t fear of the materials to use when hiking to the peaks, all peaks are accessible and not technique or tool required.

Attractions in Mount Elgon National Park

The park has got flora and fauna as attractive sceneries. More so the park has attractions such as; water falls, cliffs, gorges, caves, hot springs, calderas, mesas and the mountain peaks. There are four main areas that are explorable and these include Kitum cave, vast caves, Chepnyali, Mackingeny. These caves are mapped and are explored by visitors and also elephants and buffaloes are always spotted coming to taste on the natural salt at the cave walls.

When on the Endebess Bluff, you will sight areas of gorges, mesas, escarpments and rivers. Kiotoboss is the highest peak on mountain Elgon and is said to measure 13,852ft. hikers can reach the peak within two hours from the road’s end.

Other attractions

Other attractions in the park include ancient cave paintings which ae close to the trailhead at Budadiri. There are also hot springs in the Volcano’s crater which bubbles a temperature of 48 °C.

Popular culture

The park is a setting for part

The park is the venue for portions of Richard Preston’s book “The Hot Zone”. Kitum Cave is also a location in the book. Henry Rider Haggard’s novel known as ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ must have been inspired by the caves of Mt Elgon.

Forest Exploration Centre

Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai is just 13kilometres from the Sipi town. The centre acts as an educational Centre for schools. More so it is an education Centre for the trailhead of climbers who use the Sipi trail to reach the Caldera. There are three circuits of 3-7km that go through the forest where visitors see caves, escarpments, waterfalls and viewpoints. Also primates and birds are also spotted here. Birds species in this area include Hartlaub’s Turaco, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike.Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, Lemon Dove, African Hill Babbler, Dusky-Turtle Dove, Alpine Chat, Mountain Yellow Warbler Black-throated Wattle-eye and Thick-billed Honey guide,

Caves

Mountain Elgon has slopes that are punctured with caves which are as a result of moving magma and soil erosion of soft volcanic deposits.  You can easily access Khauka Cave which is on Wanale Ridge and Kapkwai Cave which is close to Forest Exploration Centre. In the past, these features were homes of the local people and their livestock but later were used as manure inform of bat droppings. The camp sites today are used by porters and climbers and are located at Hunters Cave which is near the hot springs, Tutum cave and Mude Cave are best for sleepover expeditions.

Jackson’s Pool And Jackson’s Peak

Jackson’s pool is positioned at 4,050m and it si a pool that is natural but with shallow waters. The pool is situated besides high Jacksons peak of 4,165m. it has a free standing volcanic plug that rises from the mountain’s western flank. In 1889, explorer Jackson Frederick climbed Mountain Elgon and thus the features where named after him. Locals use the peak as a place to communicate to the ancestors

The peaks and the caldera.

Mount Elgon has its highest peak that is formed by high points around a jagged rim that enclose the largest calderas in the world. These are 40km on the length and 8km on the width. Wagagai is the tallest peak of 4,321m, Sudek is second with 4,303m followed by Koitobos which is 4,222m and finally Mubiyi which is 4,210m.

Caldera resulted from magma drainage in the chamber. It could not support the overlying volcanic cone. On the later stage it collapsed into a depression like shape. When you are in the eastern corner of the caldera, you will find hot springs at the beginning of Suam Gorge.

Nkokenjeru Ridge And Wanale

Nkokenjeru Ridge is a distinguishing portion of forest ranging away from the main chain of Mountain Elgon. It is found at the elevation of 2,347m and it is said to be covering 25km of magma that flows away from the volcano that its cone collapsed blocking the main vent. Nkokenjeru Ridge ends at the Wanale Cliffs that are found in Mbale Town. In the same place you will find Namatyo Waterfalls and Nabuyonga. The trail at the end of western ridge leads you to Khauka Cave and you will find petrified wood here.

On the Nabuyonga trail which is 5kilometres, you will meet fauna and flora. You can also spot Mbale town, Rocky Mountains in Karamoja region, Bisina and Salisbara plus lake Kyoga. You can also spot vistas of Wagagai peak and also some parts of western Kenya. Nabuyonga stream has a folklore on a thunderstorm striking whenever people throw stones in the stream.

Beyond Mount Elgon National Park

Sipi Falls

In the western and eastern parts of Mt. Elgon you will spot beautiful falls. They are three waterfalls that are commonly known sipi falls alongside Kapchorwa road which is just outside the park and it is 100m cliffs. Secondly it is Simba that is 69m and is at the entrance of the cave.  Thirdly it is Ngasire which is 87m high ridge. It will take an hour to reach sipi falls from Mbale. You can also access waterfalls at Wanale, Chebonet, Bulango and Sisiyi.

Tewei Hill

This hill is found outside the park. In the 1960s, King Chemonges Kingo used to meet his Sabiny subjects as their King. While at the top you will spot the three falls, Wagagai peak and Karamajong plains.

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve And Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve

Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve and Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve are situated in the north Elgon from the plains of Karamoja. It is the 2rd largest protected area with an estimate area of 2,788km2. In this area you will find species like lesser kudu, ostriches, Bright’s gazelle and the roan antelope. These are found in Kidepo Valley National Park. More wildlife is located at Loporokocho swamp and birds that can be spotted here include, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Lemon Dove, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Dusky Turtle Dove, Alpine Chat, Thick-billed Honey guide, Mountain Yellow Warbler, African Hill Babbler and Grey Cuckoo-Shrike.

Rock paintings spotted on different sites around Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve are artistic of Nilotic and Kushite people of 3000yrs ago.

Nyero Rock Paintings

Nyero rock paintings are located in Kumi district which is 65km from North of Mbale. It is 10 km from kumi town on soroti road. The paintings talk about the history of the Teso people and you will spot three panels as your moving around the outcrop Moru Ikara. The panels have impressing paintings but panel two is more impressing than the other panels since it bears paintings of human figures.

Scenic Viewpoints Outside The Park

As your visiting Bulango which is few metres from Mbale Sipi falls, you will spot a village which is within hilly waterfall that faces Simu Valley on the Butandiga ridge. On the route to Kapchorwa after passing Sipi falls as your heading to the norh, you will spot Mount Kadam and the Karamoja plains. When on top of Sironko Valley which is in Budadiri in enclosure of the Nkonkonjeru Ridge and Mudangi Cliffs will show you the scenic of Caldera peaks and Montane forest. Travelers also should not miss out to view from Wanale Cliff and sight Mbale town.

Getting to Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park is 235km distant in the east as you’re from the central of Kampala region. The road is accessible since it is a tarmac one. The tarmac road takes you from Kampala via Jinja to Mbale town where you head to Mt Elgon and from there you will climb to Kapchorwa. The Mbale Kapchorwa tarmac road enables the traveler to access various trailheads.

Accommodation in Mount Elgon National Park

The park has nine campsites that are situated in well strategic locations. The campsites are situated in the tent pads, water sources and latrines. However, it is advisable to carry your own supplies and equipment’s for camping.  Simple accommodation in the national park is offered and you will find self-contained cottages at Forest Exploration Centre which is at Kapkwai and Kapkwata Rest House for selfcatering services. When you want to sleep outside the park, you can get accommodation services at Budadiri and Kapchorwa. Various accommodation facilities are located around Sipi falls and in Mbale town

What To Bring for a safari to Mount Elgon National Park 

Travelers should bring tent, warm clothes, sleeping bag, hat, sturdy hiking shoes, gloves, flashlight, rain gear, water bottle, cooking equipment, first aid kit, sufficient food supplies.

Park Entrance fee in Mount Elgon National Park

Rwenzori Mountains, Semuliki NP, Mount Elgon National Park, Tooro Semliki Game Reserve, Katonga Game Reserve and Pian Upe wildlife reserve are grouped in one catengory by UWA and they pay same fee. Their entrance fee is as follows; Non-residents pay US$35 and residents pay $25, East African nationals Ush15,000, Children aged five to 15 years pay US$5. Under-fives enter all protected areas for free.

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