9 Beautiful National Parks in Uganda

Adult male Eastern Gorilla
© d_proffer / Creative Commons

Written by Jesse Elop

Updated: May 17, 2023

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The Big Five animals are African megafauna that attract tourists from around the world. Are you trying to find a safari destination where you can see these extraordinary animals? If so, you should definitely consider Uganda for your next vacation. This article will explore 9 beautiful national parks in Uganda to help you get started.

Background

Uganda flag

The flag of Uganda features a crowned crane and red, yellow, and black stripes.

©Osman Bugra Nuvasil/Shutterstock.com

There are 9 national parks in Uganda, some of which are popular tourist destinations for people hoping to see African wildlife. Uganda has incredible biodiversity that includes the “Big Five” animals – leopards, lions, black rhinoceroses, elephants, and African buffalos. Other residents of Uganda are mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, baboons, colobus monkeys, and many more.

The oldest national parks in Uganda are Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks. They were both established in July 1952. The two areas were previously game reserves and are governed by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. The designation of the national parks not only helps to protect animals, but it creates tourist destinations that contribute to the country’s gross domestic product. The tourism sector accounts for 2.5% of the Ugandan GDP and is growing.

1. Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison National Park is one of the oldest, largest, and most visited national parks in Uganda. The park is in the Ugandan districts of Buliisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, and Masindi. The total area of Murchison National Park is 1,503 square miles! Since its development in 1952, it serves as a refuge for animals and an attraction for tourists. More than 73 animal species live in the park including the Big Five. There are also troops of chimpanzees totaling more than 610 individuals. There are 451 bird species including 23 that are endemic to the Albertine Rift.

Murchison falls national Park

The Murchison Falls are a scenic highlight of Murchison Falls National Park.

©Lennjo/Shutterstock.com

When you are visiting the park, there are plenty of things to do. In addition to game drives in a standard safari vehicle, there are hot air balloon safaris. You can also participate in chimpanzee tracking, birdwatching, and going on nature walks. Be sure to visit Murchison Falls while you are in the park for a breathtaking view.

2. Kidepo National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park is 557 square miles of land in the Karamoja region. It became a national park in 1958. A major attraction in the park is Mount Morungole which towers 9,020 feet above the vast plains. There is a diverse array of wildlife including the Big Five. There are also cheetahs, giraffes, bat-eared foxes, African wild dogs, and about 500 species of birds.

Black Rhinoceros (Diceros Bicornis) - walking through plains

Black rhinos are one of the Big Five game animals and are critically endangered.

©Stu Porter/Shutterstock.com

In the park, you can view these animals on safari drives. Although fewer visitors go to Kidepo National Park than other parks in Uganda, game drives and wildlife viewing on foot are available. Other activities are nature walks, birdwatching, and mountain climbing.

3. Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park is tied for being the oldest park in Uganda and is also one of the most popular. The park was founded in 1952 and encompasses 764 square miles. It is also the third, and final, national park in Uganda that is home to all the Big Five animals. In addition, there are hippos, Nile crocodiles, chimpanzees, giant forest hogs, spotted hyenas, and more. In total, there are 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species.

Two huge hippos fighting with each other in the pond, Masai Mara

Kidepo National Park has many large residents, including the Big Five and hippos.

©iStock.com/Wirestock

While you are visiting be sure to check out the special activities they offer in the park. In addition to game drives, there are also opportunities for chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge, boat cruises, night drives, nature walks, and birdwatching.

4. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park

The smallest national park in Uganda is Mgahinga Gorilla National Park with a total area of 13.01 square miles. It was created in 1991 and is in the Virunga Mountains in the Kosoro District of Uganda. There are three inactive volcanoes in the park including Mount Muhabura (13,540 feet), Mount Gahinga (11,398 feet), and Mount Sabyinyo (12,037 feet). There are diverse habitat types in the park such as bamboo forests, the Albertine Rift montane forests, montane grasslands, and an alpine zone at high altitudes.

Uganda has over half of the world’s mountain gorillas and is one of the few places tourists can encounter them in the wild.

©Jurgen Vogt/Shutterstock.com

Incredible wildlife lives throughout Mghinga National Park. There are resident mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, leopards, elephants, buffalo, colobus monkeys, and more. There are also several bird species that are endemic to the Albertine Rift. These animals can be seen while on game drives, gorilla tracking excursions, volcano hikes, or nature walks.

5. Mount Elgon National Park

The next beautiful destination is Mount Elgon National Park. This park is 494 square miles straddling the Uganda-Kenya border. At the national park, Mount Elgon stands 14,178 feet tall on the Kenyan border and is the eighth-highest mountain in Africa. The park also hosts a cave-dwelling population of elephants, an endemic species of bushbuck, and rare birds like Sharpe’s longclaw, Hunter’s cisticola, Jackson’s spurfowl, and Elgon francolin.

In the Tutum Cave with waterfall, Sipi trail, Mount Elgon, Uganda

Visitors can access the Tutum Cave and its waterfall via the Sipi trail in Mount Elgon National Park.

©Arjen de Ruiter/Shutterstock.com

At Mount Elgon National Park, you have the chance to explore and view wildlife. Be sure to visit Kitum Cave and Tutum Cave; elephants wander in the caves looking for natural salt deposits. Also, make sure you bring your binoculars for birdwatching, nature walks, and game drives.

6. Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Rwenzori National Park is a 385-square-mile park in southwestern Uganda along the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The park covers much of the Rwenzori Mountain range including the tallest mountain in Uganda and Africa’s third-largest peak, Mount Stanley (16,763 feet). Fascinating animal species in this park are African forest elephants, southern tree hyraxes, chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, and L’Hoest’s monkeys, amongst others.

Mount Stanley in Rwenzori national park uganda

Mount Stanley is the largest mountain in Uganda and stands in Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda.

©Grace Wangui/Shutterstock.com

Activities in the park that create opportunities to see this wildlife are hiking, guided tours, and nature walks. Other activities are climbing and camping. A popular excursion in Rwenzori National Park is the Rwenzori Central Circuit trail. This trek is typically done over a 7-day period.  There are lodging accommodations in and around the park, as well.

7. Lake Mburo National Park

Lake Mburo National Park is a park in Kiruhura District covering 100 square miles. It became a national park in 1983. Animals in the park are zebras, gorillas, hippos, impalas, warthogs, elands, buffalo, leopards, hyenas, genets, civets, jackals, and serval cats. There are also over 300 bird species. In the 1980s, local people eliminated lions from the area. A lone lion found in the park, however, attacked and injured three people in 2015.

genet sitting on a rock

A genet is a small cat-like carnivoran that can be found in Uganda.

©iStock.com/ePhotocorp

If you visit Lake Mburo National Park, there are several lodges available upon reservation. Also while you’re there, you can go on a game drive, gorilla trekking, birding, and on a boat trip on Lake Mburo to see crocodiles and hippos.

8. Semuliki National Park

Semuliki National Park is an 85-square-mile expanse in the Bundibugyo District. It became a national park in October 1993. The park borders the Semliki and Lamia rivers and has two hot springs. Like several other Ugandan national parks and parks in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Albertine Rift exists in Semuliki.

Hot Springs in Semuliki National Park, Uganda

One of two two hot springs in Semuliki National Park is erupting, spouting hot water.

©Radek Borovka/Shutterstock.com

Semuliki National Park is one of the most biodiverse locations in Africa and has an especially large variety of butterflies and birds. There are approximately 460 species of butterflies in the park and 400 bird species. Park visitors can view these animals and immerse themselves in local culture. Cultural immersion is not only a fascinating component of traveling, but tourism also provides the local Basua people with an additional source of income.

9. Kibale Forest National Park

The final national park in Uganda to explore is Kibale National Park, established in 1993. This park has one of the highest diversity and concentration of primates in Africa. There are endangered chimpanzees, red colobus monkeys, and vulnerable L’Hoest’s monkeys. Other primates include Uganda mangabeys, Ugandan black-and-white monkeys, blue monkeys, and more. Besides primates, the park is home to elephants, buffalo, leopards, and African golden cats, amongst others.

Ugandan wild Mangabey monkey in sunlight

Kibale Forest National Park is home to many primates, including the Ugandan mangabey.

©Chris Vekker/Shutterstock.com

This is also a good location to learn about local culture because multiple tribes inhabit the area surrounding the park. The Batooro and Bakiga people are the two major tribes. Kibale is also a popular destination for chimpanzee tracking, camping, birding, and going on game drives. There are tented camps and safari lodges available to tourists as well.


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About the Author

Jesse Elop is a graduate from the University of Oregon now working at the University of Washington National Primate Research Center. He is passionate about wildlife and loves learning about animal biology and conservation. His favorite animals- besides his pup, Rosie- are zebras, mandrills, and bonobos. Jesse's background in biology and anthropology have supplied him with many fun facts that might just pop up in some of his articles!

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