Mount Elgon National Park
Mountain Elgon is an extinct volcano that first erupted more than 24 million years ago. With the largest surface area of any extinct Volcano in the world (50km by 80km), Mount Elgon is the fourth highest mountain in East Africa, with the second highest peak in Uganda (Wagagai peak, 4321 m). It contains the largest intact caldera, a collapsed crater covering over 40kms at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a series of rugged peaks. While ascending Mount Elgon’s enchanting slopes you will meet four-distinct forest types: the lush montane forest where you will find the Elgon peak, mixed bamboo belt, the fascinating heath and spectacular moorland hyrachs which contain stands of some of the most rare endemic plant species, like the giant lobelia elgonensis and dotted clusters of peculiar groundsels which are unique in Africa. You will also encounter the dense shrubs and brilliant wild everlasting flowers that will add to your Mount Elgon adventure. Bird lovers will enjoy about 300 bird species including the endangered lammergeyers, the rare Jackson’s francolin, guinea fowls, sunbirds and turacos among others. A number of primates inhabit the mountain, other animals include bushbuck, antelope, civet, and wildcat and the elusive leopard roam below. Bush duiker, hyena, jackal, rock hyrax, buffalo and elephant rove between the forest and the moorland. Many of these animals visit Mount Elgon’s bat filled caves for their valuable mineral deposits.
There are three main trailheads or starting points that lead to the mountain’s peaks. You may choose to begin your ascent from Budadiri (Sasa trailhead), forest exploration center-Kapkwai (Sipi trailhead) or Kapkwata (Piswa trailhead). Sasa trail is accessible from Mbale and is the most direct route to the peaks though steep with rugged climb of over 1600m on the first day. It passes through the park’s largest area of bamboo forest. Sipi trail offers the spectacular Tutum cave hidden within extensive forest, while Piswa trail is renowned for the towering Podpcarpus forest, an excellent place for wildlife viewing. In contrast, Sipi and Piswa trails start at much higher elevations with a longer more gradual climbs to the peaks. After visiting the peaks you can either return using the same trails or descend via a different route. Each trail/route has camping stages with a nearby water source, as well as tent pads and latrines. The park is developing a trekker’s hut at Mude cave on Sasa trail. Mount Elgon National Park Uganda also engages in cross boarder tourism with Mount Elgon Park-Kenya, hand over of visitors to either team takes place at the Hot Springs. The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes about 5 days to complete. All visitors are encouraged to discuss options with an information clerk at the Mbale, Budadiri, Kapwakai or Kapkwata visitor’s centers. The best times to visit are during the drier seasons from June to august and march to December.
Mountain climbing is the most popular done activity at the park, it allows trekkers to enjoy most especially those who are physically fit and trekking to the top of Mt. Elgon is taken as the most breathing activity. Special equipment is required for those intending to climb to the peaks, as you go higher up the mountain at 3,500. You will find the highest number of endemic plant species including unique giant fleshy herbs such as lobelias and groundsels that can grow up to 5 above meters in height also see the clusters of peculiar big plants.
Treks which are available for trekking include the Sipi trail (7 days) Sasa trail (4 days), Piswa trail (7 days) and Saum trail. You can ascend and descend from one trail to another depending on your interest
The park also gives you an opportunity to watch the impressive clear water Sipi Falls which is located near the forest exploration centre at Kapkwai. The falls are located just outside the park
The park has a variety of wildlife to mention some include the buffaloes, Defassa’s, Oribi, waterbuck, elephants, leopard, bushbuck, spotted hyena, and a variety of bird species over 296 including 40 restricted range species. Jackson’s francolin, black collared Apalis, Haetlaub’s turaco and the tacazze sunbird can all be seen.
For those who are interested in expanding their knowledge of local Ugandan culture, arrangements can be made to visit the local; community. If interested you can purchase the locally produced craft items from the park headquarters or along the road at various craft markets. Visiting the local community is interesting as you can run more from them, as you interact with them; explain to you their farming methods, how they have managed to leave in the area among others.
There several accommodations within and outside the park and these include;
Sasa River Camp
Wash and Wills Country Home
Sipi River Lodge
Mt. Elgon Hotel
Suam Guest House
Mbale Resort Hotel