Mountain Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon is 4,321m high and it’s an extinct volcano with Wagagai as the highest peak. It first erupted more than
24 million years ago; and in prehistoric times and stood taller than Kilimanjaro does today.
Mount Elgon National Park lies along slopes of the magnificent Mount Elgon and occupies a total surface area of about 1,279 km², the Ugandan side of the park covering 1110 km2 while the Kenyan part covers at least 169km2; however, the Kenyan side of the part was gazetted earlier in 1968 while the Ugandan side was gazetted later in 1992.
The home to over 300 species of birds, including the endangered Lammergeyer. Small antelopes, forest monkeys, elephants and buffaloes also dwell on the mountainside. The higher slopes are protected as national parks in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extended trans-boarder conservation area which has been declared a UNESCO & Biosphere Reserve.
A hike on Mt. Elgon’s deserted moorlands discloses a magnificent and unclustered wilderness 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.
Attractions in Mount. Elgon National park
Flora and Fauna in Mount Elgon national park
The Park supports a variety of wildlife including rock and tree hyraxes, elephant, buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, oribi, bushbuck, duiker, forest hog, bush pig, leopard, civet and serval cats, serval cats, spotted hyena; aardvark and several rodent species. However these animals are rarely observed in the forest setting. More commonly seen creatures are the black-and-white Colubus, baboons, red tailed, vervet, Duiker, De Brazza’s and blue monkeys.
Birds in Mt. Elgon National Park
The mountain is home to 300 birds including 40 restricted range species. 56 of the 87 Afro tropical highland biome species live here, notably the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinker bird and Alpine Chat.
Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon include the Jackson’s Francolin and Black-collared Apalis. Among those limited to just a few mountains in eastern Uganda 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, soaring above the caldera and Suam Gorge.
Caves in Mt. Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon’s slopes are riddled with caves left by flowing volcanic lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits. The most accessible are the Kapkwai Cave, near the Forest Exploration Centre, and Khauka Cave on Wanale Ridge.
Historically, such features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock; later on they provided manure in the form of bat droppings. More recently, they were used by climbers and their porters, and even today, campsites are still located at Hunters Cave, Siyo Cave (near the hot springs), Mude Cave and Tutum Cave – ideal for overnight expeditions.
Mt. Elgon peaks and the caldera
Mount Elgon’s highest peaks are formed by high points around a jagged rim enclosing one of the world’s largest calderas, at 40km long and 8km wide. The tallest peak Wagagai stands at 4,321m above sea level, followed by Sudek (4,303m), Koitobos (4,222m) and Mubiyi (4,210m).
The Caldera was formed as a result of magma being drained from the chamber. When it could no longer support the overlying volcanic cone, it collapsed into a depression-like shape. In the eastern corner of the caldera, hot springs are found at the start of the deep Suam gorge. In the northwest, Simu Gorge was formed by the sheer weight of the water in the caldera cutting two stream beds out of the weak volcanic ash and agglomerate walls.
What to do in Mount. Elgon National park
Many travellers find Mt. Elgon an exciting alternative to the more strenuous climbs in East Africa. Most visitors prefer to do there Uganda hiking safaris from here since it is easier to access throughout the year, less congested and has many of the same attractions, with a milder climate and lower elevation.
Climbing the slopes of Mount Elgon requires no experience or expertise as it is easy to access the peak than other major mountains in Uganda.
There are numerous climbing trails that are well gazetted to help trekkers navigate easily while on this mountaineering adventure; these include, Sasa trail, Sipi trail & Piswa trail.
There are also other alternative hiking options where various routes can be combined, ascending the Sipi/Piswa/Sasa trail and descending along the Sasa/Sipi trail for example. This allows a tour to the caldera and a visit to the hot springs.
Camping in Mount Elgon National park
There are over 9 campsites to offer and these are located in strategic points along the trekking routes. Camping is encouraged to be done at designated campsites and the tourists are advised to carry along with them all the required camping equipment.
Day light hikes
The forest exploration center trail loop site makes one enjoy the cool mist at the chebonet falls, the Kapkwai cave, as well as the spectacular scenery and the talking tree. Just along Mount Elgon stretch, bears the Wanale trails loop site and has vertical cliffs of the ridge. Several waterfalls also make a very scenic drive. These 2-3 days-11 km hike also allows exploring Mount Elgon with unique montane forest, the rare plants and wildlife species. This tour offers an excellent opportunity to experience Mt Elgon. The walking shoes and the rain gear are recommended and a torch if you are planning to explore the caves as well.
Nature walks in Mount Elgon National park
A full-day nature hike leads from Budadiri to the Mudange cliffs, known as the Walls of Death, at the boundary of the national park. These cliffs are located in the tropical forest, and blue monkeys, black-and-white colobus and baboons are likely to cross your tracks. At Sipi Falls, guides from the local community can organize walks of a few hours up to a full day around local viewpoints. In Kapchorwa, a 20-minute sunrise trek at 6am from Noah’s Ark Hotel leads to the nearby Tewei Hill to watch dawn spreading across the vast Karamoja plains at the base of the mountain.
Cultural encounters in Mt. Elgon National Park
The encounter comes with the pride of meeting the Sipi Widows’ Group that can take the interested visitors on guided walk passing through the plantations of coffee and they also keep illustrating how coffee is planted, picked, grinded and washed. Finding out where the Arabic coffee comes from is very much interesting and this comes about through an encounter between Bugisu farmers who dwell on the Mt. Elgon slopes and are well known for producing the best Arabica coffee in Uganda and Kenya.
Cultural encounter with the Sabiny local exposes the visitors to the local’s private life style and participating in traditional activities like weaving, Learning about African cuisine through getting involved in cooking and tasting of local dishes. A visit to the women’s handcraft shop in the trading centre is also highly recommended and here visitors can continue to shop and also invest in maintaining the coffee plantations, helping the orphans and raising awareness about the dangers of traditional practiced female circumcision.
Getting to Mt. Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park is located 235 km east of Kampala. A tarmac road runs through Jinja to Mbale town at the western base of Mount Elgon, before climbing to Kapchorwa on the mountain’s north-western side. Murram roads lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to reach the various trail heads.