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Home » 10 National Parks of Uganda: Uganda National Parks: National Parks in Uganda » Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park covers an area of over 1,121 Sq.km with the fourth tall mountain in East Africa which was the once the highest mountain in Africa far from Kilimanjaro but only to be reduced to 4,321m due to denudation forces.

With the last eruption occurring 24 Million years ago, Mt. Elgon can be considered oldest and largest solitary volcano not only in Uganda but East Africa in general.

It houses one of the world’s intact largest caldera stretching to over 42Sq.km supported by 4,000 Sq. km base which is the largest volcanic base in the whole world.

It was first gazetted as a Forest Reserve in 1929 and in 1940 the area became the Mt. Elgon Crown Forest while in 1951 it became a Central Forest Reserve.

Due to encroachment by the Benet-Ndorobo people, the government alloweda 6000 hectare portion of the Reserve for settlement in 1983 though more 1500 hectares were settled illegally and in 1993 the area received a national park status thus can currently be incorporated in your itinerary while planning your Safari to Uganda.

Mt Elgon is a habitat of the Bagisu and the Sabiny, with the relegated Ndorobos manipulating their survival within the forest of Benet.

The Bagisu, also known as the BaMasaba traditionally have a lot of cultural attachment to Mt. Elgon locally known as Mt. Masaba their founding father.

Mount Elgon is a hot spot for nature devotees presenting backpackers with numerous birding trails. The extinct volcanic mountain is a significant watershed backing up a rich diverse of vegetation zones stretching from montane forest to high open moorland scattered with the sophisticated giant lobelia and groundsel plants.

Considering its fauna and flora, the park also has a range of rewarding scenery including cliffs, caves, waterfalls, gorges, mesas, calderas, hot springs, and the mountain peaks.

The famous sites areas are vast caves where regular night invitees such as elephants and buffaloes approach to lick the natural salt found on the cave walls Caves like Kitum with overhanging crystalline walls, penetrating 200 m into the side of Mt. Elgon is rewarding sites on Uganda Safari.

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Safari Attractions in Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon- volcanic mountain

This oldest solitary volcanic mountain in East Africa which is the fourth in East Africa and the eighth in Africa regardless of the past denudation effects making it an attraction to encounter while on Safari to Uganda.

Its highest peaks are quite rewarding being formed by high points around a pointed edge enfolding one of the world’s largest calderas, at 40km long and 8km wide.

They include; 4,321m Wagagai, followed by Sudek (4,303m), Koitobos (4,222m) and Mubiyi (4,210m) respectively.

The caldera is a clear justification of the extent of the volcanic forces that shaped a cross section of the geography of the East African region.

In the eastern corner of the caldera, the deep Suam gorge contains hot springs while in the northwest, the absolute weight of the water in the caldera cut through two stream beds out of the weak volcanic ash and agglomerate walls to form the present Simu Gorge.

All this can hardly be found elsewhere except spending your appreciated time to undertake Safari in Uganda to enrich your geological horizon.

Vegetation Cover in Mount Elgon National Park

What an itch!

The vegetation on Mt. elgon is quite rewarding with various bands shaped by altitude and rainfall.

The lower mountain slopes are roofed with dense forest and regenerating forests, hung with vine-like lianas, epiphytes and lichens while the floor is contains a variety of ferns, orchids and flowering plants.

Common tree species encountered in the tropical montane forest (1,500-2,500m) are olive Oleahochstetteri, prunus africanas, Elgon teak, podocarpus, cedar, Cordia, Neoboutania, allophyllus tombea and Aningueriaadolfi-friedericii.

Mixed bamboo at 2,500-3,000m depicts the change of zone where it amalgamates into open woodland conquered by hagenia abyssinica and African rosewood intermingled with hypericum.

The heath zone (3,000-,3500m) is branded by giant heather interposed with grassy swards of blonde tussock grass dotted with pink and white everlasting flowers (ericriceum brownie and jonstonii) , flame-colored gladioli, blue delphiniums and red hot pokers.

The moorland or Afro-alpine zone (3,500-4,321m) contains senecio elgonensis, Erica tree, giant lobelias with hairy leaves and plumes of tiny blue flowers, ladies’ mantle tussocks (archimilla elgonesis) and pink and white everlasting flowers while the climax of the mountain is vegetated by rare Afro-montane species that include giant forms of lobelia and groundsel, which is quite interesting to an eco-traveler on this Uganda Safari.

Mount Elgon supports a variety of wildlife including elephant, buffalo, Defassa’s waterbuck, oribi, bushbuck, leopard and spotted hyena.

Though not frequently seen like in any other forest milieus, the most commonly visible species on this Uganda Safari are black and white colobus, blue monkey, duiker, and tree squirrel.

Birds in Mount Elgon National Park

The mountain is a home to 296 birds including 40 restricted range species that add spice to a birder’s experience on Safari in Uganda.

Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to mountain Elgon include Jackson’s francolin, moustached green tinker bird and black collared apalis.

The bronze-naped pigeon, Hartlaub’s turaco and tacazze sunbird are limited to Mt. Elgon and a few other mountains in eastern Uganda.

Mount Elgon is one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen, soaring above the caldera and Suam gorge.

Local People in Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon is a habitat to three tribes, the Bagisu and the Sabiny are subsistence farmers and conduct circumcision ceremonies every other year to initiate young men and women into adult hood respectively.

Traditionally, the Bagisu also acknowledged as the Bamasaba consider Mount Elgon to be the epitome of their founding father Masaba and refer the mountain by this name.

Local people have long history of attachment to mountain and the forest as they used to gather bamboo poles for construction and bamboo shoots for food.

Encounter the primitive Ndorobos with their traditional bull fighting experience. All this heritage is interesting to a traveler undertaking a Safari in Uganda.

Sipi Falls in Mount Elgon National Park

Though this is outside the park, it crowns the complete Elgon experience. The northern and western sides of Mount Elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs for several kilometers, over various flowing rivers plummet as stunning waterfalls.

The famous of the three waterfalls in the area is Sipi on the Kapchorwa road, just outside the park while the lowest of them is yet the most spectacular as it torrents over a 100m cliff.

Simba falls, plummets 69m over the entrance to a cave presenting visitors an opportunity to view its back from the cave.

The third waterfall, also known as Ngasire, streams over an 87m high ridge. It take a one hour drive to Sipi Falls from Mbale on a paved road while other nearby waterfalls can be reached at Sisiyi, Bulago, Chebonet and Wanale all offering spectacular views commemorating your Uganda Safari.

Safari Activities in Mount Elgon National Park

Birding

Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre and the Loop trails that push to Cheptui falls presents a unique opportunity for birders on this Uganda Safari to explore a variety of bird species including; Chubb’s Cisticola, African Goshawk, African Blue Fly-catcher, Chinspot Batis, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Dohertys, Luhders Bush-shrikes,White-chinned Prinia, Baglafecht Weaver, Cinnamon Bee Eater, Moustached Tinker bird, Hartloub`s Turaco, Olive- and Bronze-naped pigeons,Tacazze Sunbird, Black Kite and Black-collared Apalis.

Cultural Encounters

Encounter the life of the local people surrounding the park which include the Bagisu, the Ndorobos’ and the Sabiny.

Visit the interesting coffee plantations and participate in coffee production activities, taste the local Cuisine such as the Malewa (Bamboo shoots), experience the cultural dances, folks and ceremonies like the circumcision in order to be equipped with total African safari memories.

Mountain Climbing

Routes from three main trailheads to the peaks and caldera are well set to provide the visitor on this Ugandan Safari-tour with ultimate safari memories;

The Sipi Trail

which takes over seven days starts at Forest Exploration center -Kapkwai, a few kilometers upstream from Sipi falls which lie outside the park. It traverses via the spectacular Tatum cave hidden within extensive forest.

Sasa Trail

which is the shortest taking four days. It starts from Budadiri town, close to Mbale providing a direct route to the peaks regardless of the stiff climb of over 1,600m on the first day.

It crosses the park’s largest area of Bamboo and passes the lovely Jackson’s pool on the way to Wagagai peak.

Piswa trail which takes seven days to reach the peak Wagagai. It starts at Kapkwata, 30km beyond Kapchorwa is a longer route but starts at a higher altitude and follows a more gradual route to the caldera. It is notable for the podocarpus forest en route, a prime habitat for game viewing.

Suam trail. This long and little used trail starts at the village of Suam on the Kenyan border crossing. It follows the Suam River through the steep and spectacular Suam Gorge to the hot springs on the eastern side of the caldera.

Mountain biking Get the bikes from Sipi river lodge and cycle from Sipi trading center to Chema hill in Kapchorwa town. It’s exciting as it favors the visitor to view waterfalls and karamoja plains.The activity can take 1.5 hours of your time on Uganda Safari.

Nature walks Spend the whole day of Uganda Safari hiking from Budadiri to the Mudange cliffs, branded the Walls of Death due to their horror configuration, at the boundary of the national park surrounded by tropical forests where blue monkeys, black-and-white colobus and baboons are common sights.

While the indigenous guides at Sipi Falls 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 connects with Tewei Hill to witness dawn disperse across the enormous Karamoja plains at the base of the mountain.

How to Get to Mount Elgon National Park

The park is 235 km east of Kampala and takes 3 – 4 hours’ drive by road to Mbale via Jinja and then the trail head at Budadiri is 20 kms from Mbale which can be accessed by public transport.