One of the African Massifs, the Elgon Volcano is associated with the tectonic activities that created the Rift Valley millions of years ago. The volcano straddles the Kenyan border East of Mbale and is Africa’s 8th highest massif standing at 4321m at the Wagagai peak. Mt. Elgon national park, has the broadest base of any free-standing mountain in the world, making it the “World’s largest caldera”.
The mountain is shared by Kenya and 167km2 of the park is on the Kenyan side and in Uganda, it extends to over 1145km2 above the 2000m contour. The Kenyan side of the park was gazetted in 1968 and the Uganda side in 1993. The park harbors incredible flora and fauna and on the slopes are the famous Sipi falls, a famous attraction in the region.
Mt. Elgon National park has enormous potential as a hiking spot, but because it lacks a status like the Rwenzori, Kilimanjaro, and Kenya mountains, it sees far fewer visitors. But if you are a traveler seeking a relatively affordable and unique off-the-beaten-track opportunity to explore an Afro-alpine environment, it is one area that should draw your prospect.
Like the other East African mountain, the vegetation zones at Elgin are similar. The park protects a belt of evergreen forest that has a tall Afro-montane forest below 2500m and low canopy montane forest and bamboo between 2500m and 3000m. Above 3000m is heath and moorland and above 3500m onwards it supports the giant lobelia and groundsels.
Not much of the park’s Mammalia fauna is known. The most common ones are the blue monkey, forest elephants, DeBrazza’s monkeys, bush pigs, buffaloes, and common duiker. The park also has a bird checklist of more than 300 species that includes Afromontane endemics and rich diversity of forest birds.
To do at the park
Hiking (Day and overnight hikes)
Mt. Elgon is not a difficult mountain to hike and it requires hikers to be reasonably fit. 3 common day trails run through the exploration center like the Mountain Bamboo loop that is 7km and a 4-hour trip. This leads past a cave before reaching a point with a view of the peaks on a clear day. The Chebonet Falls Loop (5km) passes by the eponymous waterfalls and includes a climb through montane and bamboo forests to the main viewpoint. The Ridge View Loop involves an easy ascent of the ridge view which connects with the other trails at the main viewpoint.
Visitors can also take in the multiday treks of 4-6 days. These can be arranged through a tour operator or the national park offices so that they can prepare in advance for porters, cooks and how to sleep.
Around the Kapkwai Forest exploration center, various trails vary in length to explore the forests at the slopes of the mountain. These pass caves, waterfalls, and viewpoints. They are also an opportunity for birders to observe forest birds.
Kapkwai is a highly rewarding spot for birders with a high population of the 365 species of birds that are recorded at the park. Bird enthusiasts can tick birds like the Cinnamon-chested bee-eater, Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Golden-winged Sunbird, Hornbills, Hartlaub’s turaco, Bar-tailed Tragon, Grey-throated Barbet, Montane Oriole, Greenbuls, Apalises, among others.
Visit Sipi Falls
Sipi Falls on the falls slopes of Mt. Elgon is the main tourist focus. Sipi falls are a series of 3 pretty waterfalls that fall from the basalt cliffs on the Sipi River. Guests do guide walks to the main falls from the Sipi trading center. They can also abseil and do coffee tours.
Getting to the Park
Mt. Elgon is in Eastern Uganda 240km from Kampala. A drive from Kampala via Jinja and Mbale towns before reaching Kapchorwa brings you to the base of the mountain. The African brown matt road off the Mbale Kapchorwa road reaches the different trailheads.