There are reasons why we like to climb mountains. Mallory gave us one, “because they are there!” Whether mountain hiking means overcoming your fears, pushing beyond your limits, or ticking off your adventure bucket list, mountaineering in Uganda can help you achieve those adventure dreams.
Few destinations in Africa can comfortably combine jungle trekking through age-old tropical forests with exceptional mountaineering through alpine wonderlands and botanical Edens to snow-capped peaks. Uganda can pull off such adventures and throw in a big game-viewing safari across vast savannah reserves and water channels.
From hiking the most challenging Rwenzori Mountain summits to the stunning peak chain of the Virungas, mountaineering in Uganda promises climbing alpine wonderlands and trekking adventures in places where vegetation morphs into cloud-covered peaks.
It doesn’t matter your fitness level; there’s a hiking trail for everyone in Uganda. All you need is a truckload of adventure spirit.
Here are the places for mountain hiking adventures in Uganda that should feature on your safari holiday for next summer.
Climbing the Rwenzori Mountains, the legendary “Mountains of the moon,” is a memorable hike through Africa’s botanical big game. The hiking adventure explores the mist-shrouded mountains of a rugged massif that tower almost 4,000 m above the Albertine Rift Valley, making them visible from great distances.
Hiking the lower Rwenzori mountains takes you through a striking, pristine landscape of alpine vegetation studded with magical giant lobelias, groundsels, and heathers—a Nania-like mystical world into which to escape.
Trekking in Rwenzori is an experience through exceptional natural beauty unique to the region. It is a medley of spectacular snow-capped peaks, glaciers, and V-shaped valleys that would make the Smokey Mountains scream for attention. The Rwenzoris’ fast-flowing rivers, magnificent waterfalls, sky blue lakes, and unique flora leave nature gazers stunned.
From watching bizarre endemic flora, unique landscapes to encounters with threatened animal species such as the African forest elephant, eastern chimpanzee, l’Hoest’s monkey, Rwenzori black-fronted, and red duiker, climbing the Rwenzori Mountains is one of the most thrilling hiking adventures in East Africa.
Unlike the popular Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, Climbing Rwenzori Mountains offers different climbing options because it’s a mountain range with six summits separated by deep gorges; what you won’t find on the Kilimanjaro trails.
Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley is the highest peak and most thrilling for mountain climbers. It is also the third-highest peak in Africa, after Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.
Rwenzori mountains offer various climbing options from a single day to twelve-day. There’s a suitable hiking route for a keen birder, peak climbing fanatic, or slothful hiker who wants to simply enjoy the peace, seclusion, and beauty of the mountains.
Two trekking circuits provide climbing access to the Rwenzori peaks. First is the most intense and impressive is the Southern Circuit, which ascends via the Mubuku and Bjuku valleys from Nyakalengija to meet the Central Trail that winds between the prominent peaks. Professor Scott Elliott pioneered the trial in 1895.
The second trail, known as the Central Circuit, runs up the Nyamwamba Valley above Kilembe near Kasese, meeting the Southern Circuit at River Bujuku. Luigi di Savoia pioneered hiking the trail in 1906.
For a shorter route, skip Nyakalengija altogether and climb the Kilembe Central Trail, managed by Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS). RTS offers a variety of mountain climbing packages using a combination of trails along (and between) the Nyamugasani, Kamusoni, and Nyamwamba river valleys.
The ascent to Margherita from Nyakalengiya requires 10-12 days through more incredible landscapes than the established Central Circuit.
An alternative ascent from Kilembe takes you through pristine landscapes and astonishing beauty, including a remarkable string of eight lovely glacial lakes in the Nyamugasani Valley.
The most recommended Rwenzori mountain climbing route is the eight-day hiking to Mount Baker summit (4,842m) and back. A more extended 10-12-day mountain hiking expedition can reach Mount Stanley, and shorter hikes to appreciate the scenery can take 3-5 days.
The cost of an eight-day hike with RTS to Mount Baker summit is about USD 1,200 per person, including park entrance, one porter, tented or otherwise, and food (excluding high-energy snacks). A nine-day ascent of Margherita (Mount Stanley) instead of Mount Baker will cost about US$1,280. Shorter treks up to Mutinda or Lake Kopello cost about US$122 per day.
The Virunga Mountains form a chain of eight stunning volcano peaks studded in the Albertine Rift on the Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC tri-border. Two of them, Nyiragongo (3470m / 11,385ft) and Nyamulagira (3058m / 10,033ft), are still very active (as recent as 2020) and accounted for 40% of African volcanic eruptions.
Hiking Virunga Mountains occurs from the Ugandan side on three mountains, including Muhavura (4127m / 13,540ft), Gahinga (3474m / 11,398ft), and Sabinyo (3645m / 11,959ft).
Fortunately, mountain climbing services on all three volcanoes start at Ntebeko Visitor Center at the base of the volcanos in Mgahinga National Park. Hiking begins at 7:30 am. Bring along a day-pack with energy snacks, a lunch pack, and two litres of water.
Climbing the Virunga Mountains in Uganda costs USD 95 for foreigners ($35 park entrance fee and $60 for the guided trek) per day. Hikers can access Mgahinga National Park from Kisoro town (11km – 30-min drive), where they’ll find most accommodation. Luxury travellers can book at Gahiga Lodge, located a few meters from the park entrance.
Hiking Virunga Mountains is a typical addition to Uganda’s golden monkey and gorilla trekking adventures. Usually, a trip includes two or three nights outside the park with a day reserved for each activity because all have one excursion starting at 7:30 am.
Mount Muhavura, the third-highest of the Virungas, is the most strenuous climb. Located at the farthest south-end of the Virunga chain at the Uganda-Rwanda border, Muhavura’s enormous conical shape towers at 4,127 meters into the clouds. There is a crater lake on its peak, and at its base, a swampy river separates it from Mount Gahinga.
Seasoned hikers can reach the Muhavura peak in seven hours on a good weather day. The 1200-meter ascent is quite steep, requiring a bank of energy and good physical fitness, even for a seasoned hiker.
Hiking Mount Muhavura begins with a comfortable ascent; it gets very steep between the first hut at 3117 meters and the second hut at 3860 meters. It then eases out towards the summit point. Most hikers never make it beyond the first hut, but those who make it to the top are rewarded with exotic views from the crater lake beyond the rugged Rift Valley landscape.
Descending Muhavira is no joke either; it’s best to take a comfortable pace to avoid excessive muscle and joint stress. You can even ask UWA to camp for the night before your ascent. However, that has to be in writing before your mountain climbing trip.
Perfectly sitting between Muhavura and Sabinyo, Mount Gahinga is the smallest and simplest climb of the three Virunga Volcanoes in Uganda. The Gahinga mountaineering trail ascents through stunning afro-montane and bamboo vegetation teeming with endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Hiking Gahinga usually takes 5-8 hours, up and down. Even a moderately fit climber can ascend the summit within 4 hours.
Hiking the 4-mile ascend on Mount Sabinyo is the most dramatic of the three volcanoes. The mountain climbing challenge on Sabinyo involves conquering three peaks.
You begin the challenge walking through a flat swampy zone, then ascent a moderately steep climb through the afro-montane and bamboo zones to the top of the lowest peak. UWA maintains the trail, so you’ll not be bush-whacking like gorilla trekking.
Things hike gets very interesting after the first peak. The forest falls away as you begin the steep climb-up knife-edged ridges over vertical wooden ladders nailed into the ridge to the second peak. You’ll be standing at a tri-border at the second peak between Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC with stunning views over the three countries.
The last challenge is climbing the almost-vertical wooden ladders that would even stop you in your truck by just looking at them. If you make it up there, you’ll see the whole stunning mountains chain, including Mikeno, Karisimbi, and the often snow-capped Visoke.
Climbing Mount Sabinyo to the last peak and back starts at 7:30 am and typically takes 10-14 hours.
Sitting on the Uganda-Kenya border, Mount Elgon is the largest and oldest solitary mountain offering some of the most rewarding mountain climbing adventures in East Africa. Its vast shape towers 4,321 meters above the surrounding plains.
Mount Elgon has the largest extinct volcano base, with the lower slopes populated by elephants, buffalo, and various small antelope. The dense montane forest harbours primates, including the black-and-white colobus monkey, the blue monkey, and more than 300 unique bird species. Elgon’s higher altitudes provide a refuge for incredible flora.
Unlike other mountain climbing adventure trails, Elgon’s hiking trails don’t require specialist hiking skills and equipment. The hiking trails are less crowded, allowing hikers to relish its stunning scenery without disruptions.
Mount Elgon’s three hiking trails vary in distance and difficulty.
The shortest and most challenging Sasa trail is a four-day round trip to the top Wagagai peak (4,321 m) and back. The climbing trail begins in Budadiri at a 1,250 m altitude with a tough ascent of 1,650m.
You then hike through Afro-montane forest where you have a good chance of seeing Colobus and Blue Monkeys and reach Mudangi Cliffs which are climbed using ladders. After walking through the scenic bamboo, the last hike is a gentler ascent to Wagagai summit.
Piswa Trail is a less strenuous but more prolonged alternative to the Sasa Trail, covering 49 km in seven days. It begins at Kapkwata at a 2,190-meter altitude on the northern side. It ascends through spectacular views of the Karamoja plains, Kapeguria, and Nandi Hills in Kenya.
The Sipi trail is the longest mountaineering trail on Mount Elgon, covering 56 km in about 4-6 days. It begins at the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, a few kilometres from the stunning Sipi Falls—a major highlight on Mount Elgon National Park tours. Another highlight on this trail is the hike through Tatum Cave, famous for its ancient cave paintings.
Mount Elgon National Park has three short hiking trails beginning from the Forest Exploration Centre and covering 3-7 km. The easy short trails are recommended to inexperienced hikers who want to explore Mount Elgon’s heavenly scenery and wildlife within a day’s walk.
Hikers can access Mount Elgon 235 km east of Kampala via Jinja and near Mbale Town. Mountain climbing in Elgon typically features on Source of Nile tours, with a night or two exploring activities in Jinja.
Away from camping during your mountain hiking adventure, accommodation options include Sipi River Lodge at the base of Mount Elgon — the best of the bunch, the colonial-styled Mount Elgon Hotel, and Kapkwai Cottages at the park entrance. More budget options are available at the nearby Mbale town.
The string of volcano mountains stretching on the Karamoja Platou are a great mountaineering alternative to the strenuous Rwenzoris, Virungas, and Mount Elgon.
These mountains, including Mount Kadam (3,063m ), Napak (2,538m), Moroto (3,083m), and Mount Morungole (2,749m), have lower elevation and mild climate compared to other mountains in Uganda and don’t require special equipment or technical mountain climbing experience.
Mountaineering the Karamoja mountains is a blend of authentic cultural encounters with mountain tribes, stunning landscape views, incredible birdwatching spots, and ideal campsites along the trails. Let’s take a look at the Karamoja mountaineering trails.
The highest peak in the Karamoja region is Mount Moroto at 3,083 m. Moroto’s peaks include Sogolomon (3027m), Imagit / Leoron (2773m), and Sokodek (3083m).
The 30-km Moroto mountain climbing trail ascends a 2,250-meter distance taking about three days. The trek is moderate with a strenuous climb on the first day, a scenic hike through the forest and over the ridges on the second day, and a half-day descend on the last day.
The trail features incredible views over the valley’s endless plains from which the green majestic mountain ridges arise. You will explore this magical paradise in a bright and clear milky way.
Mount Kadam trail to the 3,063-meter summit is about 29 km and can take 2-3 days to complete. Ascending the peak starts at Nakapiripirit town at 1,450 m elevation.
Mountaineering on this trail will take you through varied vegetation, including dry montane forest and forest-savanna mosaic at lower altitudes and semi-evergreen thickets at higher altitudes.
Mount Kadam is an essential source of vegetables, fruits, and medicinal herbs for the surrounding ethnic tribes. It is home to five agricultural tribes, including Pokot, Pian-clan, Tepeth, Sebei, and the Kadama. The first hours of hiking will be an authentic cultural experience walking through some fascinating villages.
Known for its steep slopes and lush vegetation, Mount Napak is arguably the most challenging summit in the Karamoja mountains. At the base of Napak, the Iteso tribe finds fertile land for settlement, and mountain provides them with hunting grounds.
Mount Napak’s unique location within the Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve promises hikers breathtaking views over the reserve onto the Karamoja planes and beyond. Varying hiking plans are available, from 3-hour nature walks to 3-day mountaineering expeditions for hiking nards.
Mount Morungole, also known as Ik-land, towers 2,750 meters in the extreme northern Karamoja hills, looming over Kidepo National Park’s Narus and Kidepo plains. Morungole is the source of many water streams that feed into Narus and Kidepo rivers, creating a wildlife oasis in Kidepo National Park—a top tourist attraction in Uganda.
Uganda’s smallest tribe, called the Ik, lives on the Morungole ridges—a fascinating cultural experience on a day’s hike. You can visit the traditional beekeepers and experience their rudimentary ways of extracting honey.
Climbing the mountain takes about a full day, starting from 07:00 am to about 05:00 pm. Regardless, you’ll be trekking through stunning scenery as you climb higher, so bring your camera to capture incredible landscapes.
Tailor-made mountaineering adventures