Forest Exploration Centre
The Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai is about 13km from Sipi town and it doubles as an educational Centre for schools and the trailhead for climbers using the Sipi trail to the caldera. Three circuits of between 3-7 km run through the surrounding regenerating forest, where visitors’ can visit caves, waterfalls, escarpments and viewpoints; and observe birds and primates. Bird species encountered here include Hartlaub's Turaco, Lemon Dove, Dusky-Turtle Dove, African Hill Babbler, Alpine Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Thick-billed Honey guide, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Mountain Yellow Warbler, and Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon.
Forest Exploration Centre in Kapkwai
Mount Elgon’s slopes are comprised of various caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits that erupted some years back. The most accessible of these caves are Kapkwai Cave which is near the Forest Exploration Centre, and Khauka Cave on Wanale Ridge. Long ago, the precious features acted as shelters for livestock of the local people who were the traditional inhabitant of the Mountain. On later days the caves also provided manure in form of bat droppings and recently they are used by climbers and their porters as their resting grounds when hiking the mountain, also campsites have been set at the formerly Hunters Cave, Siyo Cave which is near the hot springs and Mude Cave , Tutum Cave are ideal for overnight expeditions.
Some of the caves left by moving lava
Jackson’s Pool and Jackson’s Peak.
Jackson’s Pool which is said to be standing at 4,050m is a natural pool occupied by the shallow waters. The pool lies in the low land of the 4,165m high Jackson’s Peak, a free-standing volcanic plug rising from the western flank of the mountain. These physical features were named after the explorer Frederick Jackson, who in 1889 was the first European to climb Mount Elgon. The peak has traditional attachments to the locals since they use it as spot to communicate with their ancestors who left them long time.
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.
On the rim of the old Caldera Mount Elgon
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, Prunus Africanus, Elgon teak, Podocarpus, cedar, Cordia, Neoboutania, allophyllus tombea and Aningueriaadolfi-friedericii.
The zone changes to mixed bamboo at 2,500-3,000m. The bamboo merges into open woodland dominated by hagenia abyssinica 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 senecio elgonensis, Erica tree, giant lobelias with hairy leaves and plumes of tiny blue flowers, ladies’ mantle tussocks (archimilla elgonesis) 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.
Wanale Cliff and the birds found at Nabuyonga Trail
Beyond the park
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.
The beautiful Sipi Falls at Mount Elgon
Outside the park overlooking Sipi Falls is the hill where, during the 1960s, Chemonges Kingo, King of the Sabiny would meet his subjects. From the top you can view the three falls, the Karamajong plains and the Wagagai peak.
Easily accessible waterfalls are also found at Sisiyi, Bulago, Chebonet and Wanale and many more are scattered across the mountain, offering spectacular views.
Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve and Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve.
In the plains of Karamoja to the north of Mount Elgon lie Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve and the expansive Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, the second largest protected area in Uganda, with an area of 2,788km2. Wildlife found here includes rare species such as the roan antelope, lesser kudu, Bright’s gazelle and ostriches which, in Uganda, are found only here and in Kidepo Valley National Park. Wildlife is concentrated around the Loporokocho swamp; bird species encountered here include Hartlaub's Turaco, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, and Lemon Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, African Hill Babbler, Alpine Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Thick-billed Honey guide and Grey Cuckoo-Shrike.
Rock paintings found at various sites within the Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve are believed to date back over 3000 years and were created by the Kushite and Nilotic peoples.
Nyero Rock Paintings.
Located just 65km north of Mbale, the Nyero Rock Paintings are the finest of several rock art sites in the region. Three panels are found within the extensive granite outcrop of Moru Ikara, 10km from Kumi Town and 55km from Mbale on the Soroti road. The most impressive is Panel Two which includes two canoes bearing human figures.
Some of the Paintings done at Nyero Rock
Scenic viewpoints outside the park.
A detour to Bulago off the Mbale-Sipi road reveals a village standing high above a waterfall facing the Simu Valley towards Butandiga ridge. The route to Kapchorwa beyond Sipi Falls to the north provides a stunning view towards Mount Kadam and the vast plains of Karamoja. The top of the Sironko Valley in Budadiri, enclosed by the Mudangi Cliffs and the Nkonkonjeru Ridge, provides a picturesque view of the montane forest and caldera peaks. Visitors should also drive to the top of Wanale Cliff for panoramic views over the town of Mbale.