Mount Elgon National Park, Uganda
Popularly known as Masaba by the local people, Mount Elgon is an extinct volcano that last erupted over 24 million years ago. The mountain’s volcanic past is evident in the hot springs that still bubble out of the caldera floor.
Some scientists judging from Mount Elgon’s 50 kilometer diameter reckon it may have been higher than Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro. Elgon’s highest peak Wagagai, reaches 4,321 meters above sea level.
Besides volcanic forces many other geological events have shaped Mount Elgon, the many crate lakes in the mountains caldera were formed by glaciers, which extended from summits down to about 3,500 meters during the Pleistocene era. The same glaciers gouged a deep gash out of the eastern wall, creating what is now the Suam Gorge.
Jutting westwards from the main mountain is the Nkokonjeru peninsula, a 2,350 meter ridge extending for about 20 kilometers. Years of land use practices and a growing population have had their effect on the area, which is one of the reasons the park was created.
Gazzeted on October 1993, the 1,145 square kilometer Mount Elgon National Park is primarily concerned with conserving and restoring the original forest that once covered the slopes, enabling the mountain to continue its essential role as a major watershed.
The area around the park is largely occupied by the Bagisu people, one of the few ethnic groups in Uganda that still practice traditional circumcision. Mainly agriculturalists they grow crops that include coffee, banana’s (locally know as matooke), millet, potatoes, beans and peas.
With the friendly people in the area, waterfalls, caves, hotsprings, mountain vegetation, peaks, the Suam Gorge, and the fascinating caldera itself, Mount Elgon is an exciting place to explore.
Mbale, where the mountain park headquarter is located is 250 kilometers from Kampala, 97 kilometers from Soroti, 45 kilometers from Tororo to the south, and 224 kilometers from Moroto to the north. It is served y an excellent tarmac road from Kampala, Tororo and Soroti.
When to go
The best time to visit is during the dry season from June to August and December to February, with the latter preferable. However, even at other times of the year it is manageable although strong rains that cause landslides have been reported in recent times in area.
Where to stay
With the exception of hotels that are located in Mbale Town like Mbale Resort Hotel, there quite a number of lodges at the foothill of the mountain and camping sites on the hiking trails. Some of the lodges at the foothill of Mount Elgon National Park include; Kapkwata Guesthouse, Suam Guest House and the Sasa River Camp.
It takes about four hours by road from Kampala to Mbale. To get there head east out of the capital on Jinja road which takes you past the Lugogo indoor stadium, through the middle of the KCCA sports grounds and the Kyadondo Rugby Stadium before you pass the Namanve Industrial park on your way out of Kampala.
After 80 kilometers, you come to Uganda’s third largest town, Jinja , the location of the source of the Nile and home to the Owen Falls Dam. From Jinja, stay on the main tarmac road heading east to Tororo, which is 125 kilometers away. On the way you pass some fairly major trading centers and towns like Bugembe and Iganga.
It’s a 45 kilometre drive from Tororo on the main tarmac road to Mbale, where the headquarters of the Mount Elgon National Park is located. Although an attractive town, Mbale itself does not have much of interest. The 30 minute walk from Mount Elgon Hotel to the town center is pleasant.
To reach the Mount Elgon National Park headquarters from the center of Mbale, take the road south east from the clock tower into Masaba road. The office is about one and a half kilometers from town opposite the Mount Elgon Hotel.
Mount Elgon is ideal for climbers seeking a less strenuous alternative to Rwenzori Mountains, as scaling Mount Elgon requires no technical climbing skills, and all major summits are accessible to hikers. The beautifully wooded slopes, smaller scale, and milder climate make Mountain Elgon a wonderful wilderness experience.
There are two main trails in the park: the Sasa and the Piswa, and any combination of the two trails is possible depending on your fitness levels. Ideally you should allow at least five days for a normal trip which includes climbing the highest peak, Wagagai but a seven day trip is more comprehensive also allowing you to visit the Caldera and climb Jackson’s point the second highest peak.