Mount Elgon National Park is found in the eastern part of Uganda, covering an area of 1,110 kilometers squared. It is located right at the border of Uganda and Kenya. The park was established in 1992. The first European to circumnavigate the mountain was C.W Hobley in 1896. In the year 1890 Jackson Martine and E. Gedge ascended to Sudek peak and In 1911 Stigler and Kmunke were the first to make it to the Koitobos and Wagagi peaks. This park is one of the virgin destinations you can visit on your safari in Uganda.
Mount Elgon National Park derives its name from the extinct shield volcano found within the park. Mount Elgon is claimed to have been the highest mountain in Africa before millennia of erosion reduced it to 4,321 meters above sea level. The mountain is claimed to have first erupted 24 million years ago, making it one of the oldest physical features in Africa. Mount Elgon boasts with the largest volcanic base in the world. The mountain has got unique vegetation patterns from Montane forests, bamboo zone, moorland zones, groundsels, and giant lobelia.
Climbing Mount Elgon
Mount Elgon has got four peaks with the highest being Wagagi at an elevation of 4, 321 meters. The second peak is Sudek peak at 4,303 meters, with the third being Koitobos peak at 4,222 meters and lastly Mubiyi peak at 4,210 meters. There are three established trails in Mount Elgon that can lead you to the peak with each providing its own unique experience. Below are these trails.
Sipi Trail. The Sipi trail starts at Kapkwai forest exploration center and takes four to six days depending on the pace of the hikers. You will pass through many waterfalls, caves like Tutum cave, the caldera, and have greater views of the mountain and surrounding areas. The climb is gentle but gets tougher on the top.
Piswa Trail. This trail starts from Kapkwata village. It is the longest but easiest route to traverse as it gives you views of Kapenguria and Nandi hills in Kenya, along with stunning views of the endless Karamoja plains, north of Mount Elgon. There is a lot of wildlife and hot springs along this trail. It takes about a seven days round trip.
Sasa Trail. The Sasa trail starts from Budadiri village and its the shortest route, taking only four days. However, it is the toughest of all trails. You will pass through the Bamassaba settlements and farms before you get into a tough climb on day one. You will then pass Jackson’s pool and continue to Wagagi peak.
This natural beautiful pool was named after Fredrick Jackson, the first explorer to ascend to the Sudek peak. The pool stands at an elevation of 4,050 meters above sea level in the low land of Jackson’s peak which is approximately 165 meters high.
Mountain Elgon National Park is home to various animals such as; Civets, leopards, bush pigs, bushbucks, Oribis, waterbucks, duikers, spotted hyenas and Aardvarks, along with several primates like the black and white Colobus monkeys, De Brazza monkey, Olive baboons, blue monkeys, squirrels, and red-tailed monkeys. Much as the wildlife viewing experience here isn’t as nice as in other Uganda national parks, it’s definitely worth a try.
Mount Elgon National Park is home to over 300 species of birds with 40 species restricted to this area. Some of the birds at Mount Elgon National Park include mustached green tinker bird, moorland francolin, alpine chat, black collared Apalis, Jackson’s francolin, lammergeyer, black shouldered kite, tucazze sunbird, chubbs cisticola, white-chinned prinia, African goshawk, African blue flycatcher, chin spot batis, Mackinnon fiscal, luhders bush shrikes, Baglafecht Weaver, and many others.
Forest Exploration Center
The forest exploration center is found at Kapkwai center near Sipi town. This forest is important for study and research, especially for schools. The hike to the caldera also starts from here through Sipi falls. There lots of birds to be seen on this trail like the Grey cuckoo shrike, dusky turtle dove, Black-throated wattle eye, eastern bronze napped pigeon, yellow warbler, and thick-billed honey guide among others.
The slopes of Mount Elgon is home to the Sabiny and the Bagisu people also known as the BaMasaba. The Bagisu refer to Mount Elgon as Mount Masaba. The Bagisu people are well known for their Kadodi dance that is always danced when a man is getting circumcised to prove he has entered manhood. The Sabiny people, on the other hand, do female circumcision. You can explore the villages and learn the process of coffee making from farm to cup as well as the circumcision ceremonies.
The rivers of Mount Elgon plunge as beautiful waterfalls on the basalt cliffs. The most famous of these waterfalls is the dramatic Sipi falls. These falls are three in number. The highest cascades at a 100-meter cliff, another at 87 meters and the last one at 69 meters. These waterfalls are found in Kapchorwa town which is a 1 hour’s drive from Mbale town. Tourists can also hike to the Tewei hill with breathtaking views of the Wagagi peak and Karamoja plains.
Mountain biking in Mount Elgon is very interesting. You ride from Sipi trading center to Chema hill in Kapchorwa town while seeing beautiful views along the way. The unforgettable experience is climbing Mount Elgon on a bike. Those interested in biking can hire bikes and equipment from Sipi River lodge. Nature guided walks at mount Elgon can be taken to the Mudange cliffs also known as “walls of death”. The views there are panoramic as you come across many primates like the black and white Colobus monkeys and olive baboons, not forgetting several bird species along the way.
Mount Elgon has got a lot of uniquely set up natural caves to be explored. These caves include the Kapkwai cave, Tatum cave, Mude cave, hunters cave, and Siyo cave among the rest. There isn’t really accommodation at the park but there are good hotels you can sleep in within Mbale town or Kapchorwa like Mount Elgon Hotel and Spa, Sipi River Lodge, and Mbale traveler’s Inn among the rest. Mount Elgon National Park can be accessed from Kampala, the capital of Uganda within four hours through Jinja town by road.