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Mountain Elgon – Uganda’s Wonder

Mountain Elgon

Mountain Elgon National Park

Size: 1145 sq. km

District: Kapchorwa

Geographical location: Eastern Uganda on the border of Uganda and Kenya.

Physical attributes of Mount Elgon 

Mountain Elgon National Park is rich in heritage and beauty. It has the second most popular mountain in Uganda after the Rwenzori mountains for good reason. The park has Uganda’s second tallest and East Africa’s fourth tallest mountain (Mountain Elgon), and this mountain has one of the world’s largest intact calderas (8 miles in diameter). The mountain is just a shelled out volcanic mountain. It is the oldest extinct volcano in East Africa. The mountain has a base of about forty miles in diameter. The summit of Mount Elgon is an old volcanic crater whose rim has largely been worn away. The whole of the crater is drained by a boundary stream called Suam. The bottom of the crater is 12000 feet.

Mount Elgon Height

There are five peaks on Mountain Elgon, some of which are located in Kenya;

  • Wagagai (4,321 metres (14,177 ft)), in Uganda. This is also the highest peak on the mountain.
  • Mubiyi (4,211 metres (13,816 ft)) in Uganda.
  • Masaba (4,161 metres (13,652 ft)) in Uganda.
  • Sudek (4,302 metres (14,114 ft)) on the Kenya/Uganda border.
  • Koitobos (4,222 metres (13,852 ft)), a flat-topped basalt column in Kenya.


Mount Elgon Caves
Tourist visiting one of remarkable caves on Mount Elgon. Photo Credit: Job Seyekwo

The southern slopes of Mountain Elgon have remarkable caves which entice everyone that visits them. They are a popular tourist destination and a must see if you will be traveling to this area.

The lower slopes of the mountain are very fertile and bananas, potatoes, barley, Arabica coffee and other crops do very well there.

History of Mountain Elgon

Mountain Elgon is an extinct volcano which last erupted over 24 million years ago. Though Mount Elgon’s Wagagai peak is now the 17th highest peak in Africa, Mount Elgon was once the highest in Africa but after millions of years of soil erosion, the mountain lost its top position. Joseph Thomson was the first European to see the mountain in 1883 and on his first sighting; he described it as an outpost of the great central lava-field of the Masailand.

The Bagishu in South and south western part of the mountain never cultivated above 6000 feet on the mountain until the introduction of Arabica coffee and European Vegetables.

The Kenyan side of the Park was gazetted in 1968 while the Ugandan side was gazetted in 1992.

Vegetation of Mountain Elgon

Mount Elgon Hiking
A celebration of the beauty of Mount Elgon. Image by Job Seyekwo

Mountain Elgon has four altitudinal vegetation zones common to afro-montane systems; afro-alpine zone, heath zone or sub-alpine zone, bamboo zone and montane forest zone. Bamboo forests are common in the southern and western sections of the park. These bamboos can grow up to 15m in length and are a major article in the local diet of the Bagishu.

The zone from 11500 feet to the summit of the mountain is characterized by absence of any bush and trees, with the exception of two arborescent  Senecios, Senecio elgonensis and Senecio gardneri. Both can grow to heights of about 25 feet.

Arundinaria alpina bamboo occurs grows in the mountain between 7000 and 9000 feet but is less gregarious below 8000 feet.

The most dominant trees species on Mountain Elgon include; Cynometra (ironwood), Parinari, Pteragota, and Piptadeniastrum.

Trekking Mountain Elgon

The mountain has three main trail heads that lead up to the mountain peak; Budadiri (sasa trailhead), forest-exploration center trailhead (Sipi trailhead), and the Kapkwata (Piswa trailhead). The Sasa trailhead offers the most direct route to the mountain peak.

How to Reach Mountain Elgon

It is a 5-hour road journey from Kampala to Mt Elgon via Jinja. A reputable tour operator should be able to arrange for you transportation, accommodation, food and other activities in Mt Elgon National Park beforehand.

Activities to Do on Mountain Elgon

Mount Elgon is an ideal destination for a number of outdoor activities such as:

  • Hiking

Mt Elgon serves as one of the two highest peaks in Uganda. From the park headquarters or the surrounding lodges and hotels in the cities of Kapchorwa or Mbale, hiking arrangements can be made with local tour guides who can take you to the heights of the mountain, safely. The views from the top are unbelievable. You can also climb through the four altitudinal vegetation zones of the park. Be prepared to encounter endemic plants,  beautiful birds, and stunning animals.

  • Cultural encounters

You cannot leave the Mountain Elgon area without tasting the locally grown Arabica coffee. You can visit one of the local coffee farms to learn about the origins value chain of Arabica coffee which grows well in the region. On this tour you will discover the farm origins of the coffee and also learn how to roast it.

  • Nature walks
  • Photography tours 
  • Abseiling
  • Birding

There are more than 350 bird species recorded in Mountain Elgon National Park. Some of these include Ross’s turaco, Casqued hornbill, African Goshawk, White-chinned prinia, crowned eagle, African blue fly catcher, Abyssinian Ground-thrush, lammergeyer, Hartloub’s Turaco, Black collared Apalis, White-browed Crowbec, Mountain Oriole, Mountain Yellow Warbler,  Cinnamon Bracken-Warbler, Tucazze Sunbird, Olive- and Bronze-naped pigeons, and gregarious hornbill. You can hire knowledgeable local bird guides from the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Center within the park. This area around the center also offers the best birding opportunities.

  • Nature Walks

The mountain is famous for its lava tubes or caves which elephants frequent to access the mineral rich soils. There are several theories to explain ingestion of these mineral rich soils by the park elephants. Some argue that the clay is used by the elephants to detoxify themselves while others believe that this mineral rich soil contains mineral nutrients the elephants need in their diet. Get ready to trek through these remote beautiful tracks; sometimes these go across muddy patches, clear river crossings, and steep inclines. We can organize adventure walks to these caves within the park.


  • Water Falls

With numerous underground streams to serve as undercurrents of sheer adventure, you can enjoy numerous water falls on Mountain Elgon like Sipi falls in the Kapchorwa area and the Chebonet falls in Kapkwai. Of these many waterfalls Sipi Falls dominates them all as a first among waterfalls equals. These waterfall cascades keep Mountain Elgon rinsed of the happenings on the many dirt trails which have been beaten by exuberant hikers.

Sipi Falls Mountain Elgon
The beauty of Sipi Falls on Mountain Elgon. For many travelers, these are the most picturesque water falls to see in Uganda. There is no shortage of hikes at Sipi.


Best time to visit or when to visit Mountain Elgon

High Season (June – August and December – March)

These are the dry seasons and are the best times to climb the mountain but we should also add that the mountain can be visited and climbed throughout the year.

Low season (April – May and September – November)

Expect lower temperatures, rainstorms, mudslides in the region, and occasional road washouts.

Accommodation around Mountain Elgon

Luxury category

  • Sipi river lodge (30 minutes to park entry point)
  • Rafiki lodge Sipi (30 minutes to park entry point)
  • Mbale Resort (1.5 – 2 hours to park entry point)

Interesting facts about Mountain Elgon

  • It is an extinct volcano
  • Mountain Elgon is the eighth-highest mountain in Africa.
  • Mountain Elgon is the second highest mountain in Uganda.
  • Mt Elgon is home to the broadest base of any free standing mountain in the world.
  • The crest of Mountain Elgon is well below the permanent snow line.
  • Mount Elgon is home to more than 300 species of birds.
  • Mt. Elgon  was first discovered in 1883 by Joseph Thomson.


Mountain Elgon is a singularly superior rising which soars up to match your greatest expectations. It dominates the horizon like a fist pumping the sky in salutation. Despite it being rocky with every step, this must not be the safari trip not taken. If you visit it with us, we assure you a unique experience while hiking, viewing or simply being in the presence of this extinct force of nature. Please, get in touch with our bookings department as soon as you’re ready to soar the heights of the majestic Mountain Elgon.

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