Mount Elgon Facts
At 4,000km² Mount Elgon National Park Uganda has the largest volcanic base in the world. Located on the Uganda-Kenya border it is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in East Africa.
Its vast form, 80km in diameter, rises more than 3,000m above the surrounding plains. The mountain’s cool heights offer respite from the hot plains below, with the higher altitudes providing a refuge for flora and fauna.
A climb on Mt. Elgon’s deserted moorlands unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains: the ultimate goal of reaching the top of Mt. Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321m Wagagai Peak, but the descent into the vast 40km² calderas.
Tourist activities at Mount Elgon National Park Uganda
A number of routes ascend to the 4321m Wagagai peak, the summit of Mount Elgon. The Sasa trail ascends from the small town of Budadiri (1250m a.s.l.) in the Sironko Valley.
The shortest and most direct option, it is possible to reach the summit and descend to Budadiri in 3 or (more comfortably) 4 days. It does however involve a stiff altitudinal gain of 1650m, including an ascent of the Mudangi Cliffs, on Day One.
The Sipi Trail involves a longer but gentler ascent, starting 800 higher than Budadiri at the FEC (2050m). Other options are the Piswa and Suam routes on the northern side of the mountain and a proposed new route at Bushiyi.
Jackson’s Pool and Jackson’s Peak Jackson’s Pool stands at 4,050 m beside the Sasa Trail in the shadow of the 4,165 m high Jackson’s peak, a freestanding volcanic plug rising above moorland on the western flank of the mountain.
Mt Elgon is home to two tribes, the Bagisu and the Sabiny, with the marginalized Ndorobos forced to dwell deep within the forest of Benet.
The Bagisu, also known as the BaMasaba, consider Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their founding father Masaba and refer to the mountain by this name. They are famous for their colourful, biannual Imbalu ceremony in which boys are initiated into manhood through circumcision.
Nkokenjeru Ridge and Wanale Cliffs
Nkokenjeru Ridge is a distinctive finger of forest extending outwards from the main massif of Mount Elgon. It lies at an elevation of 2,347m and covers a 25km-long tongue of lava that flowed out of the side of the volcano after the cone collapsed to block the main vent.
Nkokenjeru Ridge culminates at the superb Wanale Cliffs which tower above Mbale Town; the seasonal Nabuyonga and Namatyo Waterfalls are located here. A trail at this western end of the ridge leads you to Khauka Cave where petrified wood can be found.
This ridge also offers grounds for those interested in paragliding over the Mbale town.
The Nabuyonga Trail is a 5km loop with birding, fauna, and flora. Viewpoints overlook Mbale town, Lakes Kyoga, Bisina and Salisbara, and the rugged mountains in the Karamoja region. On a clear day, you may enjoy vistas of Wagagai peak and even areas of western Kenya.
Beware of throwing a stone into the Nabuyonga stream – local folklore claims that if you do so, a thunderstorm will strike before you leave!
Mount Elgon’s slopes are riddled with caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits. The most accessible are 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.
Wildlife of Mount Elgon National Park Uganda
Large mammals, including elephants and buffalo, live in the forests of Mount Elgon but are rarely seen. Mount Elgon National Park is home to over 300 species of birds, including the African Goshawk, Chubb’s cisticola, white chinned Prinia, African blue flycatcher, and the endangered lammergeyer.
Mount Elgon National Park is home to over 300 species of birds, including the endangered Lammergeyer. The higher slopes are protected by national parks in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extensive transboundary conservation area that has been declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve.
The 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 is the 4,321m Wagagi, 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.
Outside Mt. Elgon National Park
The northern and western sides of Mount Elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs, often several kilometers in length, over which the mountain’s rivers plunge as beautiful waterfalls. The best known are the three waterfalls at Sipi on the Kapchorwa road, just outside the park. The lowest of these falls is the most spectacular as it cascades over a 100m cliff.
The second, known as Simba, plunges 69m over the entrance to a cave. Visitors can stand in the cave and enjoy a view of the back of the falls. The third waterfall, also known as Ngasire, gushes over an 87m high ridge. Sipi Falls is less than an hour’s drive from Mbale on a paved road.
Easily accessible waterfalls are also found at Sisiyi, Bulago, Chebonet, and Wanale, and many more are scattered across the mountain, offering spectacular views.
The Sipi area has much to offer mountain bikers, ranging from the casual exploration of the many lovely trails in the vicinity to the challenging Elgon Enduro hosted by Sipi River Lodge.
Nyero Rock Paintings
65km north of Mbale, the Nyero Rock Paintings are the finest of several rock art sites in the region. Three panels are found within the extensive granite outcrop of Moru Ikara, 10km from Kumi Town and 55km from Mbale on the Soroti road. The most impressive is Panel Two which includes two canoes bearing human figures.
Fly fishing for rainbow trout is possible on the Sipi River between the park boundary and the highest of the three waterfalls at Sipi. Again, contact Sipi River Lodge for details.
Uganda’s finest coffee is produced from Arabica beans grown on Mount Elgon. Take a guided tour of a coffee garden at Sipi to see how the beans are grown and ground. Other regional attractions include Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve and Nyero Rock paintings near Kumi.
How to get to Mt. Elgon Park
Mount Elgon National Park lies 235km east of Kampala. You can travel by road using Jinja highway through Jinja to Mbale town at the western base of Mount Elgon. Dirt roads lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.