Mount Elgon National Park
Mt. Elgon is an extinct volcano that first erupted more than 24 million years ago. Mt. Elgon has the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world of 50 km by 80 km; it is the fourth highest mountain in Eastern Africa, with the second-highest peak in Uganda Wagagi at 4321 meters. Mt. Elgon contains crater covering over 40 Kms at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a series of rugged peaks.
The forest and thick scrub along the rivers and waterfalls, harbors a number of birds like: African Goshawk, Chubb’s Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Fly-catchers, Chin-spot Batis, Mackinon’s Fiscal, Doherty’s and Luhder’s Bush-Shrikes and Baglafecht Weaver.
While on the slopes of the mountain, pass through the dense montane forest and mixed bamboo belts teeming with birdlife. You will then enter the fascinating heath and moorland zones containing several interesting endemic plant species such as Giant lobelia and groundsels. Wildlife enthusiasts will be pleased to spot primates such as the Black and White Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey, and hundreds of fascinating bird species, including Golden Winged and Tacazze sunbirds, Ross’s and Hartlaubs Turacos, Black and White Casqued and Crowned Hornbills, the endangered Lammergeyer and the Jackson’s Francolin which is found nowhere else in Uganda. If you are particularly observant you can also see buffalo, duiker, hyena or even the elusive leopard.
Visiting Mount Elgon National Park has an exciting setting for extended hikes. Adding onto the unique and attractive flora and fauna of the area, you can expect to experience magnificent waterfalls, enormous caves, scenic peaks and gorges, and hot springs which bubble up at 48’C. The best times to visit are during the drier seasons from June to August and December to March.
There are two main hiking trails which lead to the mountain’s peaks and these include:
Salsa Trail or Buddukiro trailhead is the most easily accessible from Mbale and is the most direct route to the peaks. It passes through the Park’s largest area of bamboo forest. However it is also a steep and rugged climb of over 1600m on the first day.
Kapkwata hiking trail along this route you can explore a vast forest, an excellent place for wildlife viewing. The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes 4-5 days to complete. All visitors are encouraged to discuss options with an Information Clerk at the Male, Budadiri or Kapkwata Visitors’ Centers. You may choose to also do Mountain Biking and Rock Climbing, all of which can be arranged for.
There are 5 basic campsites strategically located along points along the trekking circuit. End over to respect Park regulations by camping only at designated campsites. No camping is allowed within the caldera. MENP camping is primitive, and all necessary camping equipment must be carried with you. Some items such as tents and sleeping bags can be hired through the Park office in Mbale. Make sure not to forget a warm jacket and rain gear, as extreme weather conditions will add to your Mt. Elgon adventure! Also please take a fuel-efficient camp stove if possible to avoid placing additional pressure on MENP firewood resources.
Support local community members and encourage continued conservation of Mt. Elgon National Park’s valuable resources by hiring local guides and porters. All certified guides have received training in natural/ cultural histories, emergency first aid and communication. Porters will assist you by carrying up to 18 kg of your gear as well as preparing meals, setting up/taking down your camp, and collecting your water. Fees are set at Ush 8,000 (guide) and Ush 7,000 (porter) per stage. The wages cover the guide or porter’s park visitation fee and the cost of sufficient food and supplies. Make sure to ask to see a guide’s license before hiring. For additional safety reasons, a Park ranger escort must be hired when visiting the calderas or ascending the peaks. You will meet your ranger escort at Sasa or Piswa patrol hut where you must present your park receipt before proceeding upwards.
The Forest Exploration Centre has three ” day ” trails ranging between 3 and 7 km. These trails offer an excellent opportunity to experience Mt. Elgon’s unique plants and wildlife in shorter time period. A fourth trail has recently been opened to reach the enormous Tutum Cave, 11 km from the center. This trail also passes through a range of vegetation types and offers opportunities to see wildlife such as Black and White Colobus Monkeys and a variety of birds.
Simple accommodation facilities are available inside the Park at the Kapkwata Rest House and the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai. Prior arrangements through the MENP Visitors’ office in Mbale are necessary as these facilities do not accommodate large numbers of visitors. Kitchen services are available, but visitors should bring their own food supplies or provide money to buy food on arrival. The Forest Exploration Centre also conducts a four-day environmental program for school groups of up to 30 students which allow children to experience a living forest ecosystem while learning the importance of conservation. It has dormitory – style rooms and bathing facilities with running water.