Mount Elgon National Park is a national park 140 km North East of Lake Victoria. The park covers an area of 1279 km² and is bisected by the border of Kenya and Uganda. The Ugandan part of the park covers 1110 km² while the Kenyan part covers 169 km². The Kenyan part of the park was gazetted in 1968, the Ugandan part in 1992.
The park is named after Mount Elgon, an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya.
Mount Elgon National Park is located on the border of Kenya and Uganda. 140 km North East of Lake Victoria. It is uniquely split down the middle by the Kenyan-Ugandan border. Mount Elgon is an important water catchment for the Nzoia River which flows to Lake Victoria and for the Turkwel River which flows into Lake Turkana.
The climate is moist to moderate dry. Annual rainfall is over 1,270mm. The dry season runs from June to August, and December to March, although it can rain at any time.
Elgon’s slopes support a rich variety of vegetation ranging from montane forest to high open moorland studded with the giant lobelia and groundsel plants. The vegetation varies with altitude. The mountain slopes are covered with olive Olea hochstetteri and Aningueria adolfi-friedericii wet montane forest. At higher altitudes, this changes to olive and Podocarpus gracilior forest, and then a Podocarpus and bamboo Arundinaria alpine zone. Higher still is a Hagenia abyssinica zone and then moorland with heaths Erica arborea and Philippia trimera, tussock grasses such as Agrostis gracilifolia and Festuca pilgeri, herbs such as Alchemilla, Helichrysum, Lobelia, and the giant groundsels Senecio barbatipes and Senecio Elgonensis.
The botanical diversity of the park includes giant Podocarpus, juniper and Elgon olive trees cedar Juniperus procera, pillar wood Cassipourea malosana, elder Sambucus adnata, pure stands of Podocarpus gracilior and many orchids.
Of the 400 species recorded for the area the following are of particular note as they only occur in high altitude broad-leaf montane forest: Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Carduus afromontanus, Echinops hoehnelii, Ranunculus keniensis (previously thought endemic to Mount Kenya), and Romulea keniensis.
Elephants and buffalo can be found on the lower slopes. The park is also home to a variety of small antelope and forest monkeys, including the Black-and-white Columbus and Blue Monkey. Over 300 birds can also be found in the area, including the endangered Lammergeyer, African Goshawk, and Baglafecht Weaver. Maathai’s Longleg an endangered dragonfly was discovered here in 2000 and named after Nobel Prize winner Wangari Mathaai.
Together with the fauna and flora, the park has a variety of scenery; this includes cliffs, caves, waterfalls, gorges, mesas, calderas, hot springs, and the mountain peaks. The most popular areas are the four explorable, vast caves where frequent night visitors such as elephants and buffaloes come to lick the natural salt found on the cave walls. Kitum cave, with overhanging crystalline walls, enters 200 m into the side of Mt. Elgon.
At the Endebess bluff there a panoramic view of the areas’ escarpments, gorges, mesas, and rivers. The highest peak of Mt. Elgon on the Kenya side, Koitoboss, measures 13,852 ft (4,155 m), and is easily reached by hikers in about two hours from the road’s end. Activities include
Vehicle circuits leading to animal viewing areas, the caves and Koitoboss peak. Self-guided walking trails (Ask for the Kitum Cave guide book at the gate), Hiking to Endebess Bluff and Koitoboss Peak, Primate and bird watching, Cave explorations, Camping photography, Mount Elgon Caves
Recent studies have shown that elephants and other mammals are major contributors to the development of these unique natural phenomena. The animals frequently visit at night to ‘mine’ the natural salt by licking it from the cave walls. The caves are mapped and Kitum, Chepnyali, and Mackingeny can be explored by visitors to the park
Other attractions include ancient cave paintings near the trailhead at Budadiri, and hot springs in the former volcano’s crater which bubble at temperatures of up to 48 °C.
The park is the setting for parts of Richard Preston’s book The Hot Zone. Kitum Cave is also a setting in the book. Henry Rider Haggard’s well-known novel ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ may have been inspired by the Mt Elgon Caves.