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Mount Elgon National Park, a hidden gem in East Africa, straddles the border between Uganda and Kenya. The park is named after Mount Elgon, an extinct shield volcano that boasts the largest volcanic base in the world. 

The highest peak, Wagagai, sits at an impressive 4,321 meters (14,177 feet) on the Ugandan side, making it the second-highest peak in Uganda. The park is a haven for nature lovers, offering a unique blend of rugged terrain, lush forests, diverse wildlife, and cultural heritage.

Mount elgon

Location & Accessibility

Mount Elgon National Park is located approximately 235 kilometres (146 miles) northeast of Uganda's capital, Kampala. The park covers an area of 1,279 square kilometres (494 square miles) on the Ugandan side and 169 square kilometres (65 square miles) on the Kenyan side.

It can be easily accessed from both the Ugandan and the Kenyan side.

Access from Uganda

  • By Road

From Kampala, the Kampala-Mbale route through Jinja takes around 4.5 hours, with a short extra drive to the park's entrance at Budadari. The road is good and the journey goes quickly once you are out of the Kampala traffic jam.

  • By Air

For those who would prefer flying, there scheduled and chartered domestic flights from Entebbe to Soroti Airstrip which is about 2 hours away from the park.

Access from Kenya

  • By Road

On the Kenyan side, the nearest town to Mount Elgon is Kitale - which is about 7 hours from Nairobi. From Kitale, the park is less than 2 hours away.

  • By Air

To avoid the significantly longer drive, visitors can take a domestic flight to the nearby airstrips of Kitale or Eldoret, and from here they drive to the park will be shorter.

Things to Do (Activities)

1. Hiking 

Mount Elgon offers a range of hiking trails suitable for all levels of fitness. The most popular trails include the Sasa, Sipi, and Piswa routes. 

The Sasa Trail is the shortest and most direct route to the summit, while the Sipi Trail is longer but offers stunning views of the Sipi Falls. The Piswa Trail, known for its scenic beauty, passes through stunning bamboo forests and heathlands.

wagagai peak on mount elgon

2. Bird Watching

Mount Elgon is a great habitat for more than 300 different species of birds. Notable species include the endangered Lammergeyer, Jackson's Francolin, and the Tacazze Sunbird. 

Birding is particularly rewarding in the montane forest and bamboo zones.

3. Wildlife Viewing

You might not expect a lot of wildlife in the mountains, but Mount Elgon's lower ranges are home to a good variety of wildlife such as elephants, buffaloes, leopards and some antelopes. Primates such as black-and-white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys are also common.

4. Exploring Caves

The park features several large caves formed by ancient lava tubes. 

The most famous is the Kitum Cave, where elephants are known to mine for salt by scratching the cave walls with their tusks. Other notable caves include the Chepnyali and Makingeny caves.

5. Visiting Sipi Falls

sipi falls uganda

The Sipi Falls, located just outside the park, consists of three stunning waterfalls. Sipi Falls is a popular destination for both locals and international visitors - because of the general beauty of the area.

The main fall drops 100 meters (328 feet) into a plunge pool - to create a breath taking sight. Guided hikes around the falls offer spectacular views and photo opportunities.

6. Cultural Encounters

The Bagisu and Sabiny communities surrounding the park offer rich cultural experiences. 

Visitors can participate in traditional ceremonies, such as witnessing the Bagisu circumcision ritual known as "Imbalu," or learn about the local way of life through village and farm visits.

Places to Stay

1. Sipi River Lodge: Located near the Sipi Falls, this lodge offers comfortable accommodation with stunning views of the falls and the surrounding landscapes. The lodge provides a range of activities, including guided hikes and coffee tours.

2. Mount Elgon Hotel and Spa: Situated in Mbale town, this hotel offers modern amenities and a relaxing atmosphere. It's an excellent base for exploring the park and nearby attractions. The hotel features a spa, swimming pool, and restaurant.

3. Kapkwai Forest Cottages: These budget-friendly cottages are located at the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, inside the park. They offer basic but comfortable accommodation, ideal for hikers and nature enthusiasts.

4. Moses' Campsite: This campsite, located along the Sasa Trail, is a popular stop for trekkers heading to the summit. It offers basic camping facilities and stunning views of the surrounding valleys.

5. Suam Guesthouse: Located near the Suam River on the Kenyan side of the park, this guesthouse provides simple accommodation and is an excellent base for exploring the less-visited parts of the park.

Seasons & Best Time to Visit

Mount Elgon National Park can be visited year-round, but the best time to visit is during the dry seasons from June to August and December to February. During these periods, the trails are less muddy, making hiking easier and more enjoyable.

You should keep in mind that high altitude areas have unpredictable weather where it can rain at any time. This is important to know especially if you will be hiking high up Elgon through the various climate zones. 

Related article: Best time to visit Uganda for safari trip

Wet Season

The wet season in Mount Elgon National Park happens from the months of March to May, and again from September to November.

  • Pros: Lush green landscapes, fewer tourists, ideal for bird watching.
  • Cons: Heavy rainfall can make trails slippery and challenging, some activities may be restricted.

Dry Season 

The dry season in Mount Elgon happens between the months of June to August and again December to February.

  • Pros: Pleasant weather, ideal for hiking and trekking, better wildlife viewing opportunities.
  • Cons: Popular trails and attractions can be crowded.

Climate Chart

Here’s a climate chart for Mbale, which is representative of the weather conditions in and around Mount Elgon National Park. 

Month Avg. High (°C/°F) Avg. Low (°C/°F) Rainfall (mm)
January 28/82 15/59 43
February 28/82 15/59 61
March 27/81 16/61 109
April 26/79 16/61 191
May 25/77 16/61 203
June 25/77 15/59 81
July 25/77 15/59 81
August 25/77 15/59 109
September 26/79 15/59 137
October 26/79 16/61 173
November 26/79 16/61 142
December 27/81 15/59 79

Nearby Attractions

1. Mbale Town

Mbale is a bustling town located at the foothills of Mount Elgon. It offers a range of accommodation, dining, and shopping options. 

Visitors can explore the local markets, visit the Islamic University in Uganda, and enjoy the vibrant nightlife. Mbale is ideal for experiencing the local life of the area, and some important cultural experiences - like Imbalu circumcision rituals where 'boys become men'.

2. Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

ostrich in pian upe

Located about 90 kilometres (56 miles) north of Mount Elgon, Pian Upe is Uganda's second-largest wildlife reserve.

It is home to a variety of wildlife, including antelopes, cheetahs, leopards and giraffes. 

The reserve offers guided game drives and bird-watching tours and has a great population of ostriches roaming freely.

3. Nyero Rock Paintings

These ancient rock paintings, located near Kumi town, are believed to date back to the Iron Age. The paintings depict animals, geometric shapes, and human figures. They offer a fascinating glimpse into the region's prehistoric past.

4. Kidepo Valley National Park

zebras with foal

Although further afield, Kidepo Valley is one of Uganda's most remote and pristine national parks. It offers spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife, including lions, elephants, and giraffes and buffaloes. 

The park is perfect for adventurous travellers seeking an off-the-beaten-path experience.

5. Jinja and the Source of the Nile

Jinja, located about 140 kilometers (87 miles) west of Mbale, is famous for being the source of the Nile River. Visitors can enjoy a range of activities, including white-water rafting, bungee jumping, and sport fishing.

Closing Thoughts

Mount Elgon National Park is one of those East African gems which are undiscovered by many due to the fact that their counterparts are wildly popular. Kilimanjaro steals the show as the tallest mountain in Africa, while Rwenzori steals whatever is remaining with is permanent glaciers and being the toughest mountain to climb in Africa.

Elgon's diversity of fauna and flora is only complemented by the world's biggest caldera, hundreds of waterfalls, hot springs and generally being breath taking. For avid hikers, Elgon is a gem worth your exploration.

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