How to Take a Self-Guided Hike up Mount Kenya

How to Take a Self-Guided Hike up Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya is the second tallest mountain in Africa behind Kilimanjaro. As one of the main attractions, this volcanic mountain stands at 5,199 meters (17,057 feet), and it is a haven to hike up Mount Kenya for experienced trekkers and mountain climbers.

Most national parks in Kenya and in neighboring Tanzania are very expensive, but the national parks in Kenya do not require a guide when hiking, unlike parks in Tanzania. This makes a huge difference in the cost for those who are budget conscience. Hiking the tallest mountain in Africa is impressive, but you’ll need a guide to tackle Mount Kilimanjaro.

A hike up Mount Kenya is actually more challenging and many think it’s a more beautiful and dramatic mountain. And it is MUCH cheaper to climb. Hiking in Africa comes with a cost and climbing Mount Kenya is a great alternative to Kilimanjaro for those on a shoestring budget.

Mount Kenya is a high-altitude mountain and extremely steep. While climbing Mount Kenya is allowed without a guide for groups of two or more, it is a serious mountain and comes with serious consequences. Altitude sickness occurs here often, so proper acclimatization is very important.

If you are not an experienced trekker, there are two options that can help you on this hike – hiring one guide or getting full coverage with a guide, porter, and transport. If experienced in high altitudes, this hike is possible entirely self-guided and it is incredibly rewarding.

Mount Kenya Hike: Views near Lenana
Mount Kenya Views near Lenana

Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.

How to Get to Mount Kenya

Climbing Mount Kenya: The Nora Moru Plateau near McKinders Hut
The Nora Moru plateau on Mount Kenya near McKinders Hut

Mount Kenya is roughly three hours north of Nairobi. Either hire a private car or take the public matatu to Naro Moro/Nanyuki depending on your route. Nanyuki is a bigger town and will be easier to arrange everything if you’re going without a guide, but everything can be done from Naro Moru.

Nanyuki is the start of the popular Sirimon Route, while Naro Moru is the start of the Naro Moru route.


Where to Stay near Mount Kenya

Climbing Mount Kenya: High Altitudes
Prepare for High Altitudes and Steep Ascents

Depending on your route, stay in Nanyuki or Naro Moro prior to your hike. The Sirimon Route is close to Nanyuki, whereas the Naro Moro route is closer to the village in Naro Moro. Most budget hotels and campsites cannot be booked online ahead.

Hotels in the area are relatively basic but have a helpful staff and great service. If you plan on staying in Naro Moru, the Anka Resort is your best option. The resort features an outdoor swimming pool with a beautiful garden. Rooms come equipped with a flat-screen TV, a small refrigerator, a kettle, and all rooms have a private bathroom.

And if you’re staying in Nanyuki, Ngomongo is a great accommodation choice. It’s just 19 miles from Mount Kenya National Park and they’ll serve you a full English/Irish breakfast each morning!

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Booking a Guide for Trekking Mount Kenya

While there likely are good companies that arrange hiking trips for Mount Kenya, it is also important to know the truth about booking guides. On several occasions, guides lied to us. We had a friend forced to skip a night at Old Moses Camp going up Sirimon and went straight to Shipton’s Camp at 13,800 feet, a dangerous move not allowing for proper acclimatization.

Some guides will require payment for a four-day hike, but then guide a three-day hike and pocket the extra money per person that they will charge. They may say backcountry camping is illegal, or it costs extra each night to camp. They often try to pocket as much money as possible when there is little truth to what is being told. Make sure you select a guide that you trust and one that takes safety seriously.


Climbing Mount Kenya Without a Guide

The only time it is a requirement to book a guide is when hiking Mount Kenya solo and the park allows only groups of two or more to hike unguided. This also applies to rock climbing at Mount Kenya. So, should you just skip the guide and porter and hit the trail? Before you do, be sure to take a few safety precautions.

This is a high-altitude hike. It is also one of the quickest hikes from the base of the mountain to get to alpine conditions, with glaciers, and above the elevation levels needed for proper acclimatization. This is not a hike to try to rush through as you’ll need to be properly acclimated.

It is important to make sure to have REALLY warm gear. It might be really warm in Nanyuki and Naro Moro before your hike, but up near the summit, the temperatures are consistently below negative throughout the year. Bringing the right gear is crucial.

Also, sections of the mountain are not properly marked, and it can be very hard to follow a trail while crossing screes or near the summit. Within minutes, all visibility could be lost due to weather, so having very good navigation skills is important.


How to Properly Acclimatize for a High Altitude Hike

Hiking Mount Kenya: Backside of Batian
The backside of Batian – the view’s from the Sirimon Route

There are ways to prepare for a high-altitude hike, and these tips could make a difference in saving your or someone else’s life. The BEST way to pre-trip acclimatize is to stay for 48 hours in higher altitudes. Instead of rushing from Nairobi to Mount Kenya to start the hike the next day, it is much safer to spend two nights in Naro Moru or Nanyuki to start the acclimatization process.

Another great way to acclimatize is to hike up as much of the way as possible. This is much safer than driving up to 10,000 feet and starting the hike.

Altitude sicknesses, including Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), and High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE) become real threats when climbing above 10,000 feet. The proper way to acclimatize is to only increase your sleeping altitude by 1,000 feet each night. For every 3,000 feet of elevations gained, a full rest day is a good idea. It is best to “climb high and sleep low” – you can climb more than 1,000 feet in a day, as long as you come back down to sleep at a lower altitude.

During the hike, it is crucial to stay hydrated, maintain enough nutrition, and avoid inhibitors, such as tobacco, alcohol, or depressant drugs (such as sleeping pills) which can all negatively affect the respiratory system while sleeping. Drink a LOT of water during the day and before sleep. Snack as much as possible throughout the day with high-energy, high-carb snacks.

If you experience any feelings of serious mountain sicknesses or even just strong headaches, the safest thing to do is to immediately go down. Even going down a few hundred feet could make a big impact.

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How Much Does it Cost for a Mount Kenya Guide

Mount Kenya National Park: Summit of Lenana
Summit of Lenana with views of Batian

If choosing between guide services, try not to go through a middleman and book directly with the guide. We were quoted at the time a price of $130 USD per day per person for a four-day hike. That covered all park fees, guides, porter, cook, and accommodation. You can visit the Kenya Wildlife Service for updated prices, but our average breakdown of each cost (listed in USD) were as follows:

  • Park Entry – $156 per person for a three-day pass OR $208 per person for a four-day pass depending on your route
  • Guide – approximately $100 total
  • Porter – $80 total
  • Camping Fee – $20 one-time cost per person at park entry
  • Camping is an extra 500 Ksh per night at hut OR you can camp free at the Ranger Stations
  • Lodging costs if not camping – hut beds are $20 per bed per night
  • Food – ranges from $30 to $60 per person when paying the guide to buy the food
  • Transport – ranges from $30 to $60 for a private car on the Sirimon Route

How to Book a Mount Kenya Guide on a Budget

Mount Kenya Climb: Peak Lenana Sunrise
Sunrise is popular at Peak Lenana

Most hikes up Mount Kenya are a three-night, four-day hike, but you’ll want to discuss the route and the itinerary for each day. Be clear on whether or not it is possible to meet the 24-hour threshold to make it a three-day hike, and if it is, only pay for the three-day permit. It is always possible to pay more at the park gate when leaving if it ends up being a longer hike than expected.

Hiring a guide should cost $80 to $100 USD for the trip, and your guide can carry and cook your food, which can eliminate the need for a porter and cook for solo hikers and small groups. Buy all the food yourself to cut costs significantly. Agree to camp at Ranger Stations, which are at no additional cost to the one-time $20 camping fee.

It is also possible to cut down costs of transport. For the Sirimon Route, hire a moto-taxi from Nanyuki at the beginning of the hike. On the Naro Moru Route, 2-3 miles from the park gate are Matatu’s, which go back and forth to Naro Moru for 70 shillings. By booking this trip the right way, it should get your costs down between $250 and $350 USD per person for the entire hike.


National Park Fees for Trekking Mount Kenya

Mount Kenya Hike: McKinders Camp
McKinders Camp on Nora Moru Route
  • Three-Day entry – $170 USD per person*
  • Four-Day entry – $220 USD per person*
  • There are also five and six-day permits for longer excursions
  • Camping Fee – $20 per person for the entire stay
  • Huts cost $20 per bed per night, paid directly at the hut to the park ranger

*Please note, these three or four-day entry prices are for 24 hour periods. If entering the park on a Monday at 1 PM, that means with a three-day permit, you can leave the park on Thursday by 1 PM.

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Backcountry and Camping Options on the Mount Kenya Hike

Climbing Mount Kenya: Summit of Lenana
Summit of Lenana

If you do not have your own camping gear, but want to camp, it is possible to rent gear in Nairobi, Naro Moru, or Nanyuki. Naro Moru has a small store called Mount Kenya Expeditions that rents gear or will get you in touch with someone who has all the gear needed. They are located on the street behind the Chieni Supermarket. Nanyuki has several options for rentals, just ask one of the many guides in town.

Camping costs an extra one-time $20 USD per person for the entire hike, which covers all “backcountry camping.” This means, camping anywhere on Mount Kenya, but not at one of the huts.

If you plan on camping at Met Station, McKinders, Old Moses Camp, or Shipton’s Camp, you’ll pay 5,000 shillings per night, but have access to their facilities and some shelter. The other option which we preferred, was to camp at the Ranger Stations for no additional cost.

Ranger stations have toilets and running water, and they’re extremely friendly and helpful if you need anything. Backcountry camping is permitted on Mount Kenya, just make sure to be near a water source.


Mount Kenya Hiking Routes

1. Mount Kenya Naro Moru Route

Hiking Mount Kenya: View from Naro Moru Route
View from Naro Moru Route; It is a STEEP hike up to Lenana

The Naro Moru Route is the shortest and most direct route up to Peak Lenana. This route was once one of the most popular but has taken a hit due to the construction of a new road from the park gate up to the highway.

While it may not be the most scenic hiking up on day one on this road, this hike is the cheapest option. It is more challenging than other routes as there is a steep section near the vertical bog and getting from McKinders up to Peak Lenana is extremely steep.

Start from Naro Moru to get to the park gate to start your hike. Camp at the Ranger Stations next to Met Station and McKinders for your nights on the mountain.

For full details on the Naro Moru route, this is the route we did, in conjunction with the summit circuit. Full trip details of our route are further below on this post!


2. Mount Kenya Sirimon Route

Mount Kenya National Park: View from the Sirimon Route
The view from the Sirimon Route Past Shipton’s Camp

This very scenic route is more gradual and a little longer than Naro Moru. It takes you through a beautiful valley to the backside of Mount Kenya and offers the best views of the mountain. It is the best hike for those who are not as experienced with high-altitude mountains.

This hike originates from Nanyuki. Hire a taxi, moto-taxi, or private car from Nanyuki to the park gate to start the hike (and schedule a pick up when finished!). Camp at the Ranger Stations next to Old Moses camp and Shipton’s camp for your nights on the mountain.

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3. Mount Kenya Chogoria Route

Mount Kenya Climb: Local Faura
Amazing Local Fauna

This route begins in Chogoria town and it is longer than the other common routes. The route begins 20 miles from the park gate and usually, a 4×4 car hire will be arranged. From the gate, you’ll walk through a forest filled with beautiful fauna and you’ll have the possibility of seeing elephants and leopards.

This hike is typically completed in 5 days and is considered by some the most scenic of all routes up Mount Kenya.


4. Mount Kenya Summit Circuit

Mount Kenya Hike: Summit Circuit Above Oblong Tarn
Hiking the Summit Circuit Above Oblong Tarn

The summit circuit is the best way to see the full beauty of Mount Kenya, but absolutely should not be attempted unless you are an experienced hiker. The circuit begins at the summit of Peak Lenana and can go in either direction, but we suggest going back towards Shipton Camp on the Sirimon Route and circuit the mountain in that direction.

The circuit comes with some grueling ascents and descents all while hiking at the high altitude of 14,000 feet to 16,000 feet, encircling the peaks to make this a very long but amazing day hike.

Full details on the Naro Moru route in conjunction with the summit circuit are at the bottom of this post!


Hike Suggestions

  • Best Beginner or Intermediate Hike – Sirimon Route
  • Best Hike on a Budget (Intermediate to Advanced) – Naro Moru Route
  • Top Overall Hike – Sirimon Route and the Summit Circuit
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Our Hike: Mount Kenya Naro Moru Route & The Summit Circuit

Climbing Mount Kenya: Road from Naro Moru
Walking on the Road from Naro Moru

Day 1 – Mount Kenya Naro Moru Route

Hiking Mount Kenya: Trail Section
The Trail Section Just after Met Station

What used to be a very common route, Naro Moru is now less popular due to the construction of a road from the park gate up to Met Station. This route is the shortest, which can ensure a three-day hike.

Get a matatu from town to the end of the road, three miles from the park gate, and begin your hike from here. Hike on the road for three miles to the park gate, followed by six miles up to Met Station. Met Station is your stop for the first night, and at 10,000 feet, it is great for acclimatization. Camp at the ranger station across from Met Station for free.

Day 2 – Mount Kenya Naro Moru Route

Mount Kenya National Park: Vertical Bog
The Vertical Bog

Start by hiking up from Met Station to McKinders, the high camp sitting at 14,200 feet. This is a big elevation gain, so take it slow! Ascend a steep path for the first mile before finally hitting a proper trail. Once on the trail, there is another half mile before reaching a well-known section to get lost in – the vertical bog.

Mount Kenya Climb: Path leading to Valley
Path Leading to Valley and McKinders Camp

The vertical bog is a steep section that often has clouds rolling in and can be very damp and muddy. The ground is similar to that of a bog and sinks beneath your feet. There is a lot of erosion in this section, so be sure to look for the trail markers.

Climb straight up to not get lost. At the top of the bog, the trail flattens out some and it’s an easy hike the remainder of the way up to McKinders. If staying at the ranger station, continue your hike five-minutes past McKinders.

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Day 3 – Mount Kenya Summit at Point Lenana

Mount Kenya Hike: Path Leading to Point Lenana
Path Leading up to Point Lenana from McKinders – Hike up to the Light Colored Gravel Area on the Far Right of the Photo

The final ascent up the hike follows with several options for your third day. Most who do this hike wake up and leave between 2 am and 3 am to climb up to Point Lenana for sunrise. This is no easy task and where a guide would come in handy.

The path to Lenana is right next to the ranger station, where you wrap around the valley beneath several large peaks and icebergs. When you reach a massive gravel section that is extremely steep, this is the path up. Ascend the scree, but note that it can be difficult to spot the zigzag trail up the mountain face.

Climbing Mount Kenya: Point Lenana Sunrise
Sunrise at Point Lenana

This is the hardest part of the entire hike, and the steepest section we encountered on Mount Kenya. Once reaching the top of the gravel section, continue to the first peak to get to Top Hut, which sits at the base of Point Lenana. From here, it is a 30-minute climb to the summit with the help of bolted chains, the highest via Ferrata in the world.

After sunset, there are a few options. You can come back down the same Naro Moru route and begin your descent down the mountain. Or you can descend down the Sirimon Route.

Your last option is to go on the Summit Circuit encircling the peaks, back to McKinders Hut for the night.


Day 3 – Continuation of the Summit Circuit

Hiking Mount Kenya: Kami Tarn
View from Kami Tarn (Kami Hut)

The summit circuit joined together with a sunrise summit up to Point Lenana is no easy task. It should only be done by expert hikers and will come with hours of continuous climbs and descents all between 14,000 and 16,000 feet elevation.

This ended up being a 10-hour hiking day, and we hike at a pretty fast pace. With that said, it will give the best views of Mount Kenya and an unforgettable experience on this beautiful mountain.

From Point Lenana, continue down the Sirimon Route. During the steep descent, Shipton’s Camp will be seen lower in the valley, so do not proceed here. Further up from Shipton’s Camp to your left, in the distance, there is a white shack (and possibly some tents) that used to be the location of Kami Hut. It now is just a small shack and a common camping area for mountain climbers.

Veer left off the path, and head directly to Kami Hut. There is a small path that straddles Batian. It is a gravel scree with a lot of rock boulders. Kami Hut has freshwater, so you can fill up on water here.

Mount Kenya National Park: Mountain Near Emerald Tarn
Hugging the Mountain Near Emerald Tarn

Just past Kami Hut is a steep incline on gravel rocks of light color similar to that of sand. Take this trail up to the ridgeline. From here, there are stunning views of Oblong Tarn a few hundred meters below.

Descend down to the tarn, where the trail follows the edge of the lake to the other side. At the other side of the tarn, there is a steep ascent up into the saddle. From here, the trail is very visible (if there are no clouds). The trail hugs the mountains to your left, with a small descent followed by a small ascent.

Once passed this section, the rock changes drastically to dark damp rocks covered in moss and algae, very different from the other side of the mountain. Continue hugging the mountain, where Emerald Tarn will be seen to the right several hundred meters below.

Continue on the path straddling the mountain, which will lead to the middle of Two Tarns. The path will pass the left side of the first tarn, and the right side of the second tarn. After the second tarn, the path splits.

Stay on the LEFT trail. This trail will eventually descend to McKinders Hut. You can cut out sometime by zigzagging your way immediately down by following the cairns to American Camp. From here, there is a flat trail that leads to the ranger station and McKinders Hut.


Day 4 – Mount Kenya Descent

We woke up early and from McKinders Hut descended our same route up Naro Moru back to the park gates. We went pretty fast to ensure we got there by 1 pm, so our three-day pass was valid within the 24-hour rule. It took us five hours to descend to the park gate. We took a short break here before another couple miles down to the road where the hike ended.

Overall, our hike up Mount Kenya was an amazing experience full of challenges and beautiful views.

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That’s it! We hope you have a wonderful trek up to Mount Kenya!


Planning a trip to Kenya? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!


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Mathew
Mathew
5 months ago

Loved the article, my friend and I are hiking mt Kenya soon so I really appreciate you guys putting this together!

James H
James H
5 months ago

For the benefit of Mathew, and anyone else reading this post: the information in this article is no longer accurate, and hasn’t been since 2019. Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) unfortunately no longer allow entry for visitors without an accredited guide.

James H
James H
14 days ago

As a follow up, we weren’t sure about going with a guide at first, but our guide Stephen did everything to make the trip comfortable and walking with him was like walking with a friend.

He’s on Whatsapp, +254 723 310635 – drop him a message when planning your trip and you will be in good hands 🙂

Tom
Tom
14 days ago

Note that as of June 2022, we (couple of 2, starting at Sirimon gate, exiting Chogoria) were not allowed to enter without a guide anymore. This was also stated as such on the Kenya Wildlife services website and on a notice sign at Chogoria gate.

Valerie Wheatley
Admin
Valerie Wheatley
13 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Thanks for the update Tom!

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