With its lush landscape reminiscent of the Kenyan countryside, sweeping tea plantations, hiking trails, and unforgettable tourist attractions in Kenyan national parks. National parks in Kenya manage to entice families, culture lovers, and travelers from all around the world. Kenya, being the home of the “Big Five” has awesome beautiful national parks with savannah grasslands, majestic animals, unique plants, and the most picturesque views.
For landscape photographers, or those seeking the next destination to satisfy their outdoor taste, we have sieved through the Kenyan national parks and cherry-picked the top 10 you should visit. Remember, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) sets park fees for citizens, residents and non-residents, as regards to all national parks are reserves in Kenya.
1. Nairobi National Park
Visiting the Kenyan parks could not be complete without walking through the “World’s only Wildlife Capital”. One of the best national parks in Kenya. Known for its proximity to Nairobi central business district, Nairobi National Park is characterized by wide-open grass plains and backdrop of the city scrapers, scattered acacia bush play host to a wide variety of wildlife including the endangered black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, baboons, and over 100 mammal species, in addition to a diverse birdlife with over 400 migratory and endemic species.
Visitors can enjoy the park’s picnic sites, three campsites, and the walking trails for hikers. You can visit Nairobi national park all year round, just remember to take some useful items like binoculars, a camera, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, guidebook, drinking water, and any other picnic items. Nairobi national park is located 10 km South of Nairobi city center. Besides, it was the first park to be gazetted in Kenya on December 16, 1946.
- The only wildlife park in the world that is so close to the city.
- Black rhinoceros, which is an endangered species.
- Major rhino sanctuary for breeding and restocking other parks
- Diverse birdlife: Has over 400 bird species. At least 20 of which are seasonal European migrants.
- Home to over 100 mammal species, four of the Big Five (lion, buffalo, leopard, and rhino).
- Has a spectacular wildebeest and zebra migration.
- Large predators: lion, leopard, hyena, and cheetah.
- Aggregations of large herbivores- eland, buffalo, zebra, and wildebeest.
- Ivory Burning Site Monument.
- Walking trails at hippo pools.
- Nairobi Safari Walk & the Orphanage.
- Spacious accommodating picnic sites.
2. Mt. Longonot National Park
Rising from the floor of the Great Rift Valley like a monolith is the extinct volcano of Mount Longonot. A unique feature is a thick forest that lies within the crater of the mountain. The crater rim also provides great scenic views across the beautiful Rift Valley to Lake Naivasha. Major wildlife attractions at Mount Longonot include buffaloes, elands, lions, leopards, bushbucks, common zebra, giraffe, and Grant’s gazelles making it one of the best national parks in Kenya.
You can visit Mount Longonot national park all year round, just remember to take some useful items like binoculars, camera, hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, guidebook, drinking water, and any other picnic items. The park is accessible via tarmac road and its located 90km from Nairobi city. Some of the activities to do at Mt. Longonot National Park include; biking, game viewing, hiking, rock climbing, viewing Lake Naivasha, and walking.
- Extinct volcano and crater forest, scenic landscape, views of lake Naivasha and the Great Rift Valley.
- The park is a paradise for birds of prey.
3. Amboseli National Park
Crowned by Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, the Amboseli National Parks is one of Kenya’s most popular parks. The name “Amboseli” comes from a Maasai word meaning “salty dust”, and it is one of the best places in Africa to view large herds of elephants up close. Amboseli National Park has over 80 different mammals to be found ranging from the tiny (and rarely seen) spectacled elephant shrew to the huge bulk of the African elephant.
Few visitors will go home without superb elephant pictures with Kilimanjaro as a backdrop. There are also over 400 bird species. Nature lovers can explore five different habitats here ranging from the dried-up bed of Lake Amboseli, wetlands with sulfur springs, the savannah, and woodlands. They can also visit the local Maasai community who live around the park and experience their authentic culture thus it one of the best national parks in Kenya.
- Large herds of elephants.
- Mt. Kilimanjaro.
- Big Five.
- Observation Hill which allows an overall view of the whole park especially the swamps and elephants.
- The swamp below observation hill hosts many elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and a variety of waterfowls like the pelican, Egyptian goose.
- Contemporary Maasai culture and indigenous lifestyle.
4. Maasai Mara National Park
Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the most popular tourism destinations in Kenya and Africa. The reserve is located in the Great Rift Valley in primarily open grassland. Wildlife tends to be most concentrated on the reserve’s western escarpment. The Masai Mara is regarded as the jewel of Kenya’s wildlife viewing areas. The annual wildebeest migration alone involves over 1.5 million animals arriving in July and departing in November. Nowhere in Africa is more wildlife abundant.
The Mara is known as one of the finest wildlife destinations in the world, with an excellent chance of seeing the big five, cheetah, serval, hyena, bat-eared foxes, black-backed and side-striped jackals, hippo, crocodile, baboons, warthog, topi, eland, Thompson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, impala, waterbuck, oribi, reed-buck and zebra. There have been some 95 species of mammals, amphibians, and reptiles and over 400 bird species recorded on the reserve thus it’s one of the best national parks in Kenya.
- Wildebeest migration.
- Big five.
- Game viewing.
- Night game drives.
- Visits to Masai cultural villages.
- Bush dinner, lunch, and breakfast.
5. Lake Nakuru National Park
On the floor of the Great Rift Valley, surrounded by wooded and bushy grassland, lies the beautiful Lake Nakuru National Park nicknamed “The beautiful wildlife haven”. Visitors can enjoy the wide ecological diversity and varied habitats that range from Lake Nakuru itself to the surrounding escarpment and picturesque ridges. Lake Nakuru National Park is ideal for bird watching, hiking, picnic, and game drives.
- Flamingo (Greater and Lesser) and other water birds including a variety of terrestrial birds numbering about 450 species in total.
- Mammals: 56 different species including white rhinos, waterbuck, etc.
- View-points: Lion hill, Baboon cliff, and Out of Africa.
- Hills: Enasoit, Honeymoon, Lion hill ridge, etc.
- Waterfalls: Makalia.
- Unique vegetation: About 550 different plant species including the unique and biggest euphorbia forest in Africa, picturesque landscape, and yellow acacia woodlands.
- Cycle with rhino event every September yearly.
6. Hell’s Gate National Park
Named for the intense geothermal activity within its boundaries, the Hell’s Gate National Park is a remarkable quarter of the Great Rift Valley. Spectacular scenery including the towering cliffs, water-gouged gorges, stark rock towers, scrub-clad volcanoes, and belching plumes of geothermal steam make it one of the most atmospheric Parks in Africa. Hell’s Gate is an ideal venue for a day trip from Nairobi where, in addition to the bio-diversity that includes raptors, visitors can enjoy mountain biking, rock climbing, and a natural spa.
Hell’s Gate National Park covers an area of 68.25 square km and is situated in the environs of Lake Naivasha about 90 km from Nairobi. The park is 14 km after the turnoff from the old Nairobi-Naivasha highway. It is characterized by diverse topography and geological scenery. It is an important home of the lammergeyer (The Bearded Vulture). Hell’s Gate can be accessed through two main gates: the main Elsa Gate and the Olkaria Gate. The latter also serves the Olkaria Geothermal Station that is located inside the National Park.
- Spectacular scenery including the towering cliffs, water-gouged gorges, stark rock towers, scrub-clad volcanoes, and belching plumes of geothermal steam make it one of the most atmospheric Parks in Africa.
- Wildlife viewing.
- Raptor nesting in cliffs.
- Hot springs.
- The Olkaria Geothermal Station.
- The Mervyn Carnelley Raptor Hide.
- Tourist circuits, nature trails.
- Health spa.
7. Aberdare National Park
The Aberdares are the third highest range of mountains in Kenya, reaching a summit of just over 4000m. This massive range is well known for its thick salient forests, and their prolific game. These high altitude forests are broken by moorlands and plains, and through the abundant tree cover, there are sensational views of the Rift Valley and the peak of Mt Kenya. The forest is a hidden world of wildlife.
The thick vegetation provides the perfect cover for countless species. Very large herds of Elephant and Buffalo move almost silently through the undergrowth, while overhead noisome birds and colobus monkeys dominate the canopy. At night the forest comes alive, the cries of hyrax and the distinctive rasping growl of leopard echoing among the trees. The Aberdares has two ‘Tree Hotels’, unique safari lodges set high in the canopy above waterholes and natural salt licks.
Night sees an unending procession of game emerge from the forests to visit these clearings. This is an ideal opportunity for guests to unobtrusively observe the game at length. A night in the Aberdares is unforgettable. Elephant herds surround the waterholes, drink and then fade away into the forest. Buffalo bulls fight over territory in spectacular battles. Sleek Genet cats descend from the trees and slip through the halls of the lodge.
Occasionally a Rhino or the elusive Bongo antelope appear and visit the waterhole. The Aberdares can also be explored by vehicle, or on foot. There are trekking trails throughout the forests, and across the moorlands. A few days spent here is one of Kenya’s best forest treks. The foothills of the Aberdares are ideal for exploring on horseback and there are crystal clear mountain streams that abound with Trout. The Aberdares are a great place for waterfalls.
There are a series of spectacular falls along with the range, and at Nyahururu, Thompson’s Falls has become a popular rest stop for travelers. Picturesque, steep forested ravines and open moorland characterize the Aberdare National Park. The park provides a habitat for elephants, black rhinos, leopards, spotted hyenas, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, buffalos, warthogs, and bushbucks among others.
Rare sightings include those of the Giant Forest hog, bongo, golden cat, serval cat, African wild cat, African civet cat, and the blue duiker. Visitors can indulge in picnics, trout fishing in the rivers, and camping in the moorlands. Bird viewing is rewarding, with over 250 species of birds in the park, including the Jackson’s Francolin, Sparrow hawks, goshawks, eagles, sunbirds, and plovers.
- Game animals easily seen in the park during game viewing include; African elephants, black rhino, leopard, spotted hyena, olive baboon, black and white colobus monkey, sykes monkey, cape buffalo, warthog, common zebra (North Aberdare), bushbuck, reedbuck. Rare sightings include those of Giant Forest hog, bongo, golden cat, serval cat, African wild cat, African civet cat, blue duiker.
- The very beautiful sceneries of Aberdare include magnificent waterfalls with the main ones being Karuru waterfalls which fall in three steps, 1st step 117 metres, 2nd step 26 metres, and 3rd 130 metres, making a total of 273 metres, Chania waterfalls, and many other smaller ones.
- Adding to the beauty of Aberdare are many ridges and river valleys which attract mountain scenery photographers.
- Another attraction in Aberdare is the 400 kms electric fence. The fence protects the whole Aberdare ecosystem from human pressures and contains wildlife, preventing human/wildlife conflict.
- Visitors can also indulge in picnics, trout fishing (in the past the rivers were stocked with brown rainbow trout) in the rivers, and camping in the Moorlands.
- Bird viewing is rewarding with about 290 recorded bird species, including the Aberdare Cisticola that is critically endangered and Jackson’s francolin, which is regionally endemic, sparry hawk, goshawks, eagles, sunbirds, and plovers.
8. Meru National Park
Meru National Park is wild and beautiful. Straddling the equator and bisected by 13 rivers and numerous mountain-fed streams, it is an especially beautiful area of Kenya. It has diverse scenery from woodlands at 3,400ft (1,036m) on the slopes of Nyambeni Mountain Range, northeast of Mt. Kenya, to wide open plains with meandering riverbanks dotted with doum palms.
Game to view includes lion, elephant, cheetah, leopard black rhino, zebra, gazelle, oryx, and some of the rarer antelope, Lesser Kudu, and duiker, also the more common dik-dik, one of Africa’s smallest antelope. A large pride of lion can be seen and some of Kenya’s largest herds of buffalo. The rivers abound with hippo and crocodile, fishing for barbus and catfish is permitted at campsites and along the Tana River.
Over 300 species of birds have been recorded, including Red-necked falcon, Heuglins courser, brown-backed woodpecker, sunbirds Peter’s Finfoot, inhabiting the Murera and Ura Rivers; Pel’s Fishing Owl, kingfishers, rollers, bee-eaters, starlings, and weavers. The Park is most famous as the setting for Joy Adamson’s book “Born Free”, the story of Adamson’s life and research amongst lion and cheetah. “Elsa” the lioness was the most well-known and her grave is marked here.
Brilliant on a magnificent scale, the Meru and Kora sister parks feature luxuriant jungle, coursing rivers, verdant swamp, khaki grasslands, and gaunt termite cathedrals all under the sky’s great blue bowl. Little visited and utterly unspoiled, few places are comparable to the remote and rugged atmosphere found here. Visitors can see Grevy’s zebras, elephants, Bohor reedbucks, hartebeests, pythons, puff adders, cobras, and buffalos.
- The former home of Joy and George Adamson and Elsa the lioness.
- Views of Mt. Kenya.
- Rivers and riverine habitats.
- Tana river.
- Adamson’s falls.
9. Tsavo East National Park
The sight of dust-red elephants wallowing, rolling, and spraying each other with the midnight blue waters of the palm-shaded Galana River is one of the most evocative images in Africa. This, along with the 300 kms long Yatta Plateau, the longest lava flow in the world, make for an adventure unlike any other in the Tsavo East. The park forms the largest protected area in Kenya and is home to most of the larger mammals, vast herds of dust – red elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, pods of hippo, crocodile, waterbucks, Lesser Kudu, Gerenuk, and the prolific birdlife features 500 recorded species.
- Vast herds of dust – red elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, leopard, pods of hippo, crocodile, waterbucks, Lesser Kudu, Gerenuk, and Hirola.
- Prolific bird life featuring 500 recorded species.
10. Tsavo West National Park
From the sight of fifty million gallons of crystal-clear water gushing out of from the under parched lava rock that is the Mzima Springs to the Shetani lava flows, Tsavo West is a beautiful, rugged wilderness. The savannah ecosystem comprises open grasslands, scrublands, and Acacia woodlands, belts of riverine vegetation, and rocky ridges including the Poacher’s.
Lookout where visitors can see the teeming herds in the plains below. Tsavo West offers some of the most magnificent game viewing in the world and attractions include elephant, rhino, hippos, lions, cheetah, leopards, buffalos, diverse plant and bird species including the threatened corncrake and near threatened Basra Reed Warbler.
- The spectacle Mzima Springs is the sight of fifty million gallons of crystal clear water gushing out of from the under parched lava rocks, forming the most welcoming and lovely scene in Africa.
- Ancient lands of lions, in 1898 the Uganda railway construction was abruptly halted by the two of the most voracious and insatiable man-eating lions appeared upon the scene, and for over nine-month waged intermittent warfare against the railway and all those connected with it in the vicinity of Tsavo.
- A vibrant volcanic arena; molten lava that forms Shetani lava spewed from the earth just about 200 years ago and its fiery fury was thought by locals to be the work of the Devil.
- Poacher’s Lookout and roaring rocks; the park abound the panoramic vantage point from which to view the movement of the herds.
- Glorious game drives; Tsavo west offers some of the most magnificent game viewing in the world.
- Ngulia Sanctuary; this is where the growing population of highly endangered black rhino is inching from the chasm of extinction forced upon them by rampant poaching in the 1960s.
- Lake Jipe lies astride Kenya and Tanzania border and is teeming with aquatic life. Bird watching is also major activity around the lake.
- First World War Site-East African Campaign, perhaps the most bizarre campaign of the world war was fought in the “Bundu” (Bush) – the barely explored wilderness of thorny scrub and dense forest of Tsavo West. This last “gentleman war” was waged under the code of honor-sometimes or guerilla tactics adopted from African tribal fighters. The guided tours of the crater, Kichwa Tembo, and Mzima fort will enable you to trail the real footsteps of the world war veterans.