01 Jul TRAIL REVIEW: The fantastic ups and downs of the escarpment near Lake Albert
Tucked away in a corner, just a bit off the popular tourism circuit segment that connects Murchison Falls National Park to Kibale Forest, lies Lake Albert. The lake is squeezed in between the blue mountains of Congo and the impressive escarpment on the Uganda and part of the East Africa rift. The area forms a very nice location for exciting rides for mountain bikers and gravel bikers and, due to the many tarmac roads that have been constructed for future oil extraction, even road bikers can eat their heart out. Endless undiscovered single and dual tracks, waterfalls, wildlife, villages with authentic huts and its super friendly inhabitants, technical downhills and challenging climbs and not to forget million longhorn cows make this area a fantastic off the beaten path location for the avid cyclist.
Roughly the place can be divided into two areas: the lowlands and the highlands which are connected by two roads that overcome a 400 meter difference in elevation. More about this in a minute.
The lowlands can be characterized as a rather flat area with dry savannah plains that connects to the lake shores. It is said that in ancient times the lake used to be larger and covered the entire lowlands plains. There are several villages, mostly near the lake, with 90% of its inhabitants being fishermen. At night, when the fishing boats sail out to catch silverfish, you can see a thousand lights floating on the lake. On a clear night this spectacular sight seems to blend in with the starry sky, forming an seemingly endless fairytale décor. The lowlands include Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve which is home to the Uganda Cob, warthog, hippo and even carnivores like leopard and hyena. There are easy to cycle wide gravel roads that even will get you inside the Wildlife Reserve. These roads can be rocky so riding tubeless is advised or bring a couple of spare tubes or puncture mending kit. Alternatively you can choose to use the sandy single tracks that criss-cross through the whole lowlands. They offer a very comfortable and exciting ride. Just be aware of any longhorn cows that could be blocking the road.
The highlands are greener and consist out of mainly farmland with authentic villages dotted around the area. The terrain is hilly and has many narrow compact gravel roads with a fantastic flow. Short climbs, longer flowy descents and almost no technical sections. For gravel bikers this is the perfect setup for a wonderful ride while mountain bikers might find it a bit boring.
However, the technical rocky road that goes down from the escarpment to the lake will offer some satisfaction for the technical riders. A true challenge lies in climbing it back up again. Strava segment names such as the “Wall of Hoima” (9%) and “Kikonko Killer” (14.1%) will probably say enough. An easier climb can be found approximately 30km Southwards. Here the same climb up the escarpment can be done on tarmac over a longer distance resulting in a less intimidating steepness of 4.8% on average.
Befriended rider Kjetil Reite has explored the area and created a number of routes of various distances that can be found at the bottom of this page. At the moment of writing the trails close to the take were partly flooded by the expanding lake. We decided to ride both the 70km lowlands and 32km highlands and then try our luck on the Hoima Wall Challenge (click links for our Strava activities) and deviate from the original route whenever we found an inviting trail. Our base of operations was Kikonko Lodge situated on the edge of the escarpment and offering a breathtaking panoramic view of the area and Lake Albert. It is also strategically located on the ‘Mur of Hoima’ right between the lowlands and highlands areas. Lake Albert Lodge and The Lake Albert Guesthouse can be found in the Wildlife Reserve and there is a large choice of accommodation available in Hoima.
Where: Lake Albert
Type of riding: gravel, mtb and roadbiking
Routes distances: 20-100km
Terrain: Undulating flowy compact gravel roads through rural area (highlands). Wide rocky/gravel roads with lake view through dry savanna plains (lowlands).
Strava segment: Kikonko Killer
Accommodation: Kikonko Lodge, Lake Albert Lodge, The Lake Albert Guesthouse
How to get there: 4/5 hour drive from Kampala, by plane (construction of airstrip in progress)