Introduction to Mount Elgon National Park
Situated on the Kenyan-Ugandan border, Mount Elgon National Park is named after Mount Elgon, an extinct shield volcano which first erupted more than 24 million years ago.
Mount Elgon has the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world, and its 4,321m peak is the eighth highest in Africa.
Of the Park’s 1,279km² surface area, the Ugandan section covers 1,110km² whilst the smaller Kenyan section covers 169km².
Mount Elgon National Park is home to a plethora of wildlife. The lower slopes of Mount Elgon are inhabited by elephants, buffalo, and a variety of small antelope.
The dense montane forest contains primates such as the black-and-white colobus monkey and the blue monkey.
The Park is also home to over 300 species of bird, including the Tacazze sunbird and the lammergeier.
Mount Elgon National Park is home to 2 tribes, the Sabiny and the Bagisu. The Sabiny speak Sebei, a Nilotic language and the Bagisu speak a dialect of the Lumasaba language called Lugisu.
The Bagisu believe that Mount Elgon is the manifestation of their founding father, Masaba, and call the mountain by this name. Both tribes undertake subsistence farming.
Things to do at Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon’s hiking trails are one of its major attractions. Unlike other climbs in East Africa, Mount Elgon’s trails are accessible throughout the year and they require no specialist climbing equipment.
Mount Elgon’s hiking trails are less congested than other hiking trails in East Africa, allowing you to enjoy its stunning scenery without any distractions. Mount Elgon has 3 main hiking trails which vary in length and difficulty.
The Sasa Trail: The shortest but most challenging trail is a four-day round trip. This is the original route to Wagagai, Mount Elgon’s 4,321m peak. The trail begins in the town of Budadiri in the Eastern Region of Uganda at an altitude of 1,250m. The first day involves a tough ascent of 1,650m. The trail then enters the forest, and you reach Mudangi Cliffs which are climbed using ladders. Next, you will enjoy a 2 ½ hour walk through the picturesque bamboo forest. Day 2 features a gentler walk, and you will reach Wagagai on Day 3.
The Piswa Trail: A less strenuous, but longer, alternative to the Sasa Trail. You will cover c.49km across 7 days. The trail begins at the village of Kapkwata on the north side of the mountain at an altitude of 2,190m. The trail is famous for its breath-taking views of Uganda’s Karamoja Plains and Kenya’s Kapeguria and Nandi Hills.
The Sipi Trail: The longest trail covers 56km and takes around 4-6 days to complete. The trail begins at the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, just a few kilometres from Sipi Falls. One of its highlights is the section through Tatum Cave which is famous for its ancient cave paintings.
Day Hikes: The Forest Exploration Centre has opened 3 shorter trails which are only 3-7km. These trails are perfect for less experienced hikers and for travellers who want to get a taste of Mount Elgon’s beautiful scenery and wildlife within a short period of time.
In 2012, the Uganda Wildlife Authority opened mountain biking trails. Bikes can be rented from Sipi River Lodge. One 1 ½ hour trail runs from Sipi Trading Centre at an altitude of 1,775m to Chema Hill in Kapchorwa.
Mount Elgon National Park contains over 300 species of bird and it has been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Bird enthusiasts will be enthralled by its range of rare species like the endangered lammergeier.
You should also look out for the African Blue Fly-Catcher, the African Goshawk, and the Cinnamon-Chested Bee Eater.
When to Visit Mount Elgon National Park
Although Mount Elgon is accessible at any time of the year, we recommend that you visit during the drier seasons of June to August and November to March.
Visiting in November or December will allow you to see its delightful wildflowers in bloom.
In contrast, Mount Elgon’s trails are more slippery in the wetter months and this can make your hike more challenging. In turn, this can distract you from the panoramic scenery that surrounds you.
Getting to Mount Elgon National Park
The journey from Kampala to Mount Elgon National Park is around 235km.
The first leg is on a tarmac road that runs through Jinja to Mbale, a city in the Eastern Region of Uganda. The road then climbs to Kapchorwa on Mount Elgon’s north-western side.
The second leg of the journey is on dirt roads that lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.
Where to Stay at Mount Elgon National Park
Sipi River Lodge
Our favourite luxury accommodation is situated in the foothills of Mount Elgon. This lodge has spectacular views of Mount Elgon National Park. For travellers who are seeking secluded accommodation, Sipi has 4 Waterfall Cottages: Aniet, Kapsurur, Chepkui, and Toben.
Each cottage has an exclusive view of Kapsurur Falls, as well as an en suite bathroom and a private veranda. Sipi also offers three Riverside Bandas, Piswa, Sasa, and Suam.
The bandas fuse luxury with local building traditions. Their round walls and authentically crafted thatched roofing allow the bandas to seamlessly blend in with their beautiful surroundings.
Mount Elgon Hotel and Spa
Located in the suburbs of Mbale, this mid-range accommodation was converted from an old colonial building in the 1950s. Mount Elgon Hotel offers 3 types of accommodation: Junior Rooms, Superior Rooms, and Executive Suites. The Executive Suites have hosted several VIP guests, including politicians and members of royal families.
After a long day of trekking, you can choose whether to recuperate in the spa, the mini-gym, or the restaurant. You can even book a cocktails and wine tasting experience and enjoy a bespoke drinking experience.
Situated at the entrance of Mount Elgon National Park, this budget accommodation was originally built as a base for students who came to visit the rich forest.
The accommodation is functional but comfortable and travellers can choose between 4 cottages and 4 stationed tents.
The on-site canteen sells food and drink, allowing you to refuel after a long day of activity.
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