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Hiking in Kenya is popular with locals and tourists alike. There are many hiking trails ranging from arduous mountain hikes to ‘walk in the park’ nature trails. There are several within the capital Nairobi, while others are further away. One thing is common – wherever the trail takes you, the stunning scenery is worth the effort.
Ngong Hills are a short distance from Nairobi and easily accessible by car. The hiking route starts from the northern side, at 1,961m (6,400ft) above sea level. The initial part of the trail cuts through village, then past a wind farm and finally, you get to the radio repeater stations. From then on, you climb and go down the undulating series of hills. The trail ends at the southern part of the hill known as Kona Baridi and takes approximately 4–5 hours to complete, depending on your fitness level.
Karura forest is one of the best hiking trails for families. This is a nature lover’s haven, with marshland, a wealth of tree species and birdlife. There are numerous hiking trails, covering a distance of 50 km (31 mi). The trail leads to caves and a waterfall. The initial 2 km (1.2 mi) are a steady walk on a dirt track, when then turns right at a marked point and drops down a steep hill, all the way to the river. From there it steadies again until you get to the caves. These caves are thought to have been a hideout for Mau Mau fighters during the struggle for independence. Further on, you will find the waterfall.
The Nairobi Arboretum is adjacent to the State House on a 30-hectare (74-acre) piece of land. It was set aside by the government in 1907 to plant fast-growing exotic trees for use during the construction of the Mombasa-Kampala railway. Back then they would cut indigenous trees along the railway, which was not sustainable, as they discovered because indigenous trees would take long to mature. To date, the arboretum has over 350 types of both exotic and indigenous trees. There are paved footpaths throughout, which serve as hiking trails.
The Nairobi Safari Walk is a nature trail set inside Nairobi National Park. It takes approximately 2 hours to complete the walk. A winding boardwalk covers three major habitats. The first is a wetland area where crocodiles idle, the second a savanna grassland where you can spot wildlife including an albino zebra, leopards and the rare bongo. The third habitat is a woodland area exhibiting indigenous plants, labelled with their traditional uses.
Just an hour away from Nairobi, Mt. Longonot is perfect for a day trip. With its last eruption in the 1800s, this dormant volcano is now among the best hiking trails in Kenya. The trail starts close to the main gate and ascends gradually past the forested area. From there the climb continues all the way to the top at 2,276 m (7,500 ft) above the sea level. The journey up and down takes approximately 4 hours. Going around the crater at the summit takes an additional 2 hours.
Hell’s Gate has one of the best hiking landscapes in Kenya. The imposing Rift Valley cliff face forms the exterior of the park and attracts seasoned and novice rock climbers alike. The Ol Njorowa Gorge, on the other hand, meanders a distance of 24km (15 mi), forming one of the best hiking trails. The stretch, filled with hot water springs that supply water to a small stream at the floor of the gorge, can take between 3-6 hours to trek. The breathtaking scenery can also be relished while cycling alongside wildlife like giraffes.
These underrated and unexplored hills are located between Amboseli National Park and Tsavo West National Park. They cover a distance of 150 km (93 mi), with the highest point standing at 2,188 m (7, 200 ft) above sea level. Unbeknown to many, Chyulu Hills has one of the longest lava tubes in the world. The trek covers a distance of 15 km (9 mi) through rugged terrain filled with wildlife and beautiful fauna, particularly after the rainy season. It takes about 3–4 hours to the mouth of the caves.
35 km (22 mi) from the Chyulu Hill National Park headquarters is the other hiking trail called Satellite, which was used as a training base by the US army. The peak stands at 1,900 m (6,200 ft) above sea level. There are no trails, hikers follow wildlife tracks through these gentle hills. It is advisable to go with a park ranger.
If you do not have 5 days set aside to climb the mountain, then set aside 6–8 hours to hike to the Met Station at an altitude of 3,050 m (10,000 ft). The hike starts at Naro Moru gate of Mt. Kenya National Park, through the forest and a bamboo zone. The steep climb begins at Percival’s Bridge, approximately 2 hours into the hike. Beware of elephants, buffaloes and colobus monkeys. Some hikers choose to reach the alpine zone, a further hour’s worth of trekking, but the panorama is rewarding. This zone is covered with distinct vegetation like the senecio, giant heather, lobelia and tussock grass.
This is the largest caldera in Kenya and the second largest in Africa. The highest point, called Viewpoint, is located 8km (5 mi) from Nakuru town. The view from this height is awe-inspiring, you can see Lake Nakuru simmering in the horizon immediately after Nakuru town. From the Viewpoint, there is a hiking trail down to the caldera’s floor. The highest point of the caldera wall is 500 m (1,640 ft) above the floor.
Mt. Elgon lies on the border of Kenya and Uganda. It has a caldera with beautiful features like hot spring lakes and two gorges – Suam and Simu. However, most of this is on the Ugandan side. The hiking trail, rocky with a steady rise, starts from the Rongai gate in Mt. Elgon National Park. With the guide of a park ranger, you will go past the famous Kitum Caves where elephants mine salt deep inside the caves. You may also spot the elusive genet cat around this area. Proceed to Road Head, the base of the highest peak, then onwards to Koitoboss Peak. At 4,187 m (13,700 ft), this is the highest point of Mt. Elgon (on the Kenyan side). The ascent and descent take approximately 6–8 hours, or longer if you camp overnight.