National Parks in Uganda
There are 10 National Parks in Uganda and 12 Wildlife Reserves. Each one of them has its own character and beauty. The diversity of the National Parks in Uganda cannot be found in may other places in the world. Forests, Rivers, Lakes, Mountains and open plains all make up the National Parks in Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is most famously known as the home of more than half of the remaining Mountain Gorillas.
It is believed that Uganda’s first people, the Batwa have inhabited this forest for 400,000 years, and many continue to do so.
The Park was first designated as Crown Forest Reserves in 1932; it changed name to Impenetrable Central Forest Reserve in 1964, and was finally designated as a national park and renamed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in 1991. In 1994, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bwindi means impenetrable in the local dialects; a fitting description for the thick ground cover of ferns and vines and extensive bamboo and forest hardwoods that hinder direct access to the forest on foot.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a complex ecosystem within the forest that is inhabited by 120 mammal species of which 10 are primates, 346 bird species and over 200 butterfly species. Forest hogs, forest elephants and numerous primates roam beneath the thick canopy of trees. penetrable National Park remains best known for her gorillas, gorilla trekking and since 2016, gorilla habituation experiences. A gorilla encounter in Bwindi, where half of the worlds total gorilla population; over 500 gorillas live, is undoubtedly the absolute highlight of any trip to Uganda. The Park is run by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and is split into four sectors.
Mgahinga National Park is the smallest, but one of the most beautiful of Uganda’s parks. Set in the clouds amid the magnificent Virunga volcanoes that straddle Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo borders, it is part of the larger Virunga Conservation Area that includes the Rwandan Parc National des Volcans and the Congolese Parc National des Virunga. Mgahinga National Park takes its name from Gahinga, the local word for piles of volcanic stones was first declared a game sanctuary in 1930 before being gazetted as a national park in 1991 to protect the endangered mountain gorillas that inhabit its afro-montane forests.
The world’s only golden monkeys can be found in the bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains and visitors can now track and take part in habituating them. Although Mgahinga National Park is home to 76 species of mammals including giant forest hogs, bush pigs, forest buffaloes and elephants, they are hard to spot in the dense forest.
Mgahinga National Park’s most striking feature is the three extinct conical volcanoes; Mt. Sabinyo at 3,645m, Mt Gahinga at 3,474m and Mt. Muhavura at 4,127m above sea level. At Mt. Sabinyo’s summit, visitors can stand in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC at the same time!
Kibale Forest National Park is the best primate park in Africa. It has two notable distinctions that make it a superb safari destination in Uganda. First, the park has one of the highest diversity and concentration of primates in any habitat in Africa – a record 13 species. Second, it is home to a prolific 320 bird species including four that have not been recorded in any other park in Uganda. Not surprisingly, the two key activities that are done in Kibale Forest National Park are Chimpanzee Trekking and Bird Watching.
Kibale Forest National Park was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1932 and acquired National Park status in 1993. Today, it ranks among Africa’s foremost research sites. Kibale Forest National Park t is located in Southwestern Uganda stretches over 795sq. km of magnificent tropical rainforest interspersed with patches of grassland and swamp. Kibale Forest National Park is Uganda’s most accessible rainforest with good internal infrastructure managed by the local communities. It adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the south to create a 180km-long migration corridor for wildlife between Ishasha in the remote southern corner of Queen Elizabeth National Park and Sebitoli in the north of Kibale.
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s oldest, largest and best-known national park. It takes its name from the resplendent Murchison Falls that were themselves named in 1864, after the President of the British Royal Geographical Society, Sir Roderick Murchison.
Murchison Falls National Park is located in the northern part of the Albertine Rift Valley where the massive Bunyoro escarpment meets the vast palm-dotted savannah of the extensive Acholi plain. It spreads inland from the shores of Lake Albert around the Victoria Nile, east to the Karuma Falls. The park was once called the Gulu and Bunyoro Game Reserve and was gazetted in 1952 to include the adjoining Karuma and Bugungu Wildlife Reserves.
Murchison Falls National Park is dissected from east to west by the Victoria (White) Nile, which at the Murchison falls forces its way through a narrow 7m gap in the rocks to plunge 50ft into a gorge and flow onwards as the Albert Nile. The northern half of the park contains open savannah and is inhabited by 80% of the entire park’s animals. The famed boat cruise that leads up to the base of the falls is one activity that you must do.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is the only park in Uganda crossed by the equator. The Ruwenzori and Virunga mountain ranges form a stunning backdrop to the park whilst the middle of the park is characterised by the Kazinga Channel connecting two Great Lakes, Edward and George. The park is divided into 3 sectors: Mweya Peninsula the hub for tourist activity, The Kasenyi Plains and Kyambura Gorge to the east of Mweya and Ishasha in the remote southwest. The famous tree-climbing lions are the star attraction and in Ishasha and the habituated chimpanzees steal the show in Kyambura Gorge. The Mweya peninsula and the Kasenyi plains provide, visitors with the most chance of seeing game when they visit.
Named in honour of the coronation of the reigning Queen Elizabeth of England in 1964, the park was initially gazetted as a reserve called Kazinga National Park. It is also a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – a conservation area that is considered typical of the balanced relationship between people and nature.
Kidepo Valley National Park is arguably Uganda’s most spectacular park. The scenery of Kidepo Valley National Park ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses is unsurpassed by any other park in Uganda and makes for exceptional game viewing. Kidepo Valley National Park was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1958 before becoming a National Park in 1962.
The park is tucked away in a remote corner in the northeast of Uganda in the semi-arid Karamoja region. Two rivers; River Kidepo and River Narus that are beautifully lined with Borassus palms dissect the park. The Narus valley receives a little more rain than the Kidepo valley and during the dry season, its remnant pools and wetlands are a beacon for all manner of game. For much of the year, the park’s wildlife flocks to the Narus Valley and can be observed at a waterhole near the Tourism Centre in Apoka. To appreciate the extent of the dry season, visitors can drive to the dry Kidepo River and walk across the 50m-wide bed of sand. But the best part about a visit to Kidepo during the dry season is how easy it is to see the animals, sometimes just by skimming the valley with binoculars, from the comfort of your room.
Lake Mburo National Park may be one of Uganda’s smallest parks, but it offers more than enough delights to give it a high ranking on the Uganda safari circuit. Lake Mburo National Park is located in Southwest Uganda, en route to Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks. It was first gazetted as a controlled hunting area in 1933, upgraded to a game reserve in 1963 and finally to a national park in 1983.
Lake Mburo National Park has the most extensive acacia woodland of any of Uganda’s parks. Its sculptured landscape ranges from rolling hills and rocky outcrops to grassy valleys, tranquil lakeshores and swamps that together support extensive biodiversity of 68 mammals. Wetland habitats comprise 20% of the park’s surface and Lake Mburo, the largest of the five lakes found inside the park is part of a 50km-long wetland system that is linked by swamps. Unique to Lake Mburo National Park is the availability of both horseback and quad bike safaris, which allow for closer viewing and exceptional photographs of the abundant plains game.
Lake Mburo National Park is the best park to view the gigantic eland and is home to Uganda’s only population of impala. Locally nicknamed the ‘Home of the Zebras”, the park is replete with Zebras that wander without care alongside antelope, topi, oribi, impala, reedbuck, warthog and the mighty buffalo. The15 Rothschild’s Giraffe that was introduced from Murchison Falls National Park in 2015 adds to the diversity of the park, as do leopards, of which Lake Mburo has the highest concentration in Uganda.
Semuliki National Park proves that a trip off the beaten track pays off! Semuliki National Park was only recently gazetted in 1993 was formerly known as the Tooro Game Reserve, and is widely considered to be one of the richest areas in Africa in terms of plant and birds life. Located in the extreme west of Uganda in the middle of the Albertine Rift Valley, Semuliki National Park is a rich mosaic of grassland, savannah, wetland and rainforest framed by the gleaming shores of Lake Albert and the steep green slopes of the Ruwenzori Mountains.
Semuliki Forest is an extension of the massive and remote Ituri forest of the DRC and is a remote and unspoiled wilderness that is recognised as one of the most bio-diverse forests on earth where species have been evolving for over 25,000 years. The only tract of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa, the forest sprawls across the Semiliki Valley on the remote western side of the Rwenzori’s and has many features, flora and fauna, that are associated with Central Africa.
Semuliki National Park is particularly well suited for hikers willing to take to the trails in this African jungle in search of the numerous bird and animal species, as well as the crater lakes and hot springs.
The Rwenzori Mountains are the highest block of mountains in Africa and are also known as the Mountains of the Moon. The mountain range is 120kms long and 65kms wide and has 6 permanently snowcapped peaks:
Mt. Luigi di Savoia at 4,62m,
Mt. Gessi at 4,715m,
Mt. Emin at 4,798m,
Mt. Baker at 4,843m,
Mt. Speke at 4,890m
Mt. Stanley at 5,109m
70 % of Rwenzori Mountains National Park is above 2,500m in altitude, making it Uganda’s highest park.
The diverse nature of the Mountain range enables visitors to be able to do anything from a one day hike to a 10-day excursion.
The highest mountain in Eastern Uganda is km Mount Elgon, whose highest peak Wagagai stands at 4,231m. Although Mt. Elgon is Africa’s 8th highest mountain, it is by no means a difficult mountain to climb and it is in fact often selected for being an exciting alternative to the more strenuous climbs of East Africa.
The beauty of Mount Elgon is that hikers require no special equipment or technical experience.
Hiking can be done on several different trails of varying lengths. Shorter guided hikes explore the montane forest and bamboo to reach the caves and waterfalls.
There are currently 3 multi-day hikes that can be done:
Sasa River Trail,
All of the above trails take in the summit, Wagagai at 4,321m and descend into Bumasola.