Gazetted in 1992, the park covers an area of 1145 sq.km. The Nearest town is Mbale, 28kms to the trail head of Budadiri. It is 314 kms from Kampala (3 to 4hrs). There no roads within the park and all activities are done on foot.
Elgon is a 4,321m high extinct volcano which in prehistoric times stood taller than Kilimanjaro does today. Although the mountain straddles the Kenya border, its loftiest peak, Wagagai, lies within Uganda and is best ascended from the Uganda side. Mt Elgon is surrounded by forests, inhabited by mammals and birds. It is ideal setting for both short and extended hikes. Three circuits of between 3-7km run through the surrounding regenerating forest, numerous caves, cascading waterfalls that mesmerizes visitors as they enjoy a climb up to Wagagi peak and the caldera. The main peaks form the shattered wall of a collapsed central Caldera at 8 kms in diameter said to be the world’s largest which contains glacier lakes and hot springs.
Major Attractions include caves. 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.
Jackson’s Pool and Jackson’s Peak: Jackson’s Pool stands at 4,050m and is a natural pool with shallow waters. This pool lies in the shadow of the 4,165m high Jackson’s Peak, a free-standing volcanic plug rising from the western flank of the mountain. These features were named after the explorer Frederick Jackson, who in 1889 was the first European to climb Mount Elgon. The peak is used by the locals as a spot to communicate with their ancestors.
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.Mt. Elgon’s vegetation is banded into broad zones whose characteristics are dictated by altitude and rainfall.
The lower mountain slopes are covered with dense forest and regenerating forests, hung with vine-like lianas, epiphytes and lichens. The floor is covered with a carpet of ferns, orchids and flowering plants. Common tree species encountered in the tropical montane forest (1,500-2,500m) are olive Oleahochstetteri, prunusafricanas, Elgon teak, podocarpus, cedar, Cordia, Neoboutania, allophyllustombea and Aningueriaadolfi-friedericii.
The zone changes to mixed bamboo at 2,500-3,000m. The bamboo merges into open woodland dominated by hageniaabyssinica and African rosewood interspersed with hypericum – a giant form of St. John’s wort.
The heath zone (3,000-, 3500m) is characterized by giant heather interspersed with grassy swards of blonde tussock grass dotted with pink and white everlasting flowers (ericriceum brownie and jonstonii), flame-colored gladioli, blue delphiniums and red hot pokers.
The moorland or Afro-alpine zone (3,500-4,321m) contains senecioelgonensis, Erica tree, giant lobelias with hairy leaves and plumes of tiny blue flowers, ladies’ mantle tussocks (archimillaelgonesis) and pink and white everlasting flowers. The summit of the mountain is vegetated by rare Afro-montane species that include giant forms of lobelia and groundsel.
Nkokenjeru Ridge and Wanale- 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 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!
Beyond the park you find Sipi Falls. The northern and western sides of Mount Elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs, often several kilometres 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.
Wildlife: There is a variety of forest monkeys and small antelope, along with elephant and buffalo. The bird life has a check list topping 300 birds.