When it comes to the highest mountains in Kenya, there’s no shortage of places to look. This East African country is awash with highlands, and the majority of its population lives in elevated areas. Even the capital, Nairobi, is found at an altitude of 5,500 feet. It’s a country with mountains at its very core. Quite literally in fact, as Kenya’s highest mountains are in its centre.
In discussing the diverse topography of Kenya, one notices distinct patterns. The land is flatter along the eastern and western borders, but it elevates towards a central peak. The eastern side has a gentle incline, whereas the western side is interrupted by the Great Rift Valley. This geographical feature gives rise to two distinct mountain ranges: the Mau Escarpment in the west and the Aberdare Range in the east.
Number one of all the highest mountains in Kenya is the aptly named Mount Kenya. In fact, in the whole of Africa, Mount Kenya is second only to Mount Kilimanjaro in terms of height. Starting from a base already elevated at 5,250 feet above sea level, it rises to a series of sharp, pyramidal peaks. The top two are Nelion at 17,022 feet and Batian at 17,058 feet.
Mount Kenya is an extinct stratovolcano and part of the Eastern Rift range, which is itself a subset of the East African mountains. This is an overwhelmingly volcanic chain that runs through Tanzania, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi as well as Kenya. Craggy and glacier topped, it’s said that it was last active some 2.6 million years ago. Back then, it’s thought it may have risen to a height of some 21,300 feet. And, while it has diminished in size, it’s nonetheless a seriously imposing sight.
Being the highest of Kenya’s highest mountains is just one of the reasons UNESCO declared the peak and its surroundings a World Heritage site. Other factors included the area’s biodiversity and Mount Kenya’s status as a holy mountain of the Kikuyu and Meru communities.
Another extinct volcano is second on the list of the biggest mountains of Kenya. Mount Elgon straddles the Kenya-Uganda border, its five-mile-diameter crater topped by numerous peaks. At some 14,178 feet, Wagagai peak is the highest of them all. It’s also just enormous, with one of the world’s largest intact calderas and its formations spanning an area larger than Yosemite National Park.
Caves, valleys and streams are just some of the forms that characterise Mount Elgon and its surroundings. Vegetation, which varies according to elevation, includes deciduous forests. Like Mount Kenya, Elgon is set within its own national park.
We’re off to the northern side of the Aberdare Range for the next of the highest mountains in Kenya. Rising to around 13,127 feet, Mount Satima or “Lesatima” is encircled by jagged volcanic cones named, rather dramatically, the “Dragon’s Teeth”. Set within Aberdare National Park, it’s on the edge of Nyeri County, close to where it meets Nyandarua County.
Mount Kinangop is a dormant volcano that reaches approximately 12,802 feet above sea level. Located some 20 miles south of Satima, it’s the second tallest member of the Aberdare Range and among the tallest mountains in Kenya.
The Cherangany Hills
While it’s considered bad form to make a mountain out of a molehill, the same does not apply to a Cherangany Hill. Not least because many of these particular hills reach elevations of around 10,000 feet. This not only qualifies them as mountains, but as among the highest mountains in Kenya. Spread across the counties of Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot, the area is of vital importance for its forests and water supply.
The Biggest Mountains of Kenya
And so, from the magnificent Mount Kenya to the understated Cherangany Hills, each of Kenya’s highest mountains has contributed to the country’s rich biodiversity, cultural heritage, and natural marvels.