The Bale Mountains National Park is located at 400km southeast of Addis Ababa, It’s Ethiopia’s most scenic and lush national park, varying from 1500m – 4377m with all sorts of wildlife.
It covers the largest area of Afro-alpine terrain in Africa – an alluring destination for walkers, wildlife enthusiasts and birders. In a country with so much history and culture, the Bale Mountains allow you time to enjoy Ethiopia’s natural beauty and diversity.
It’s high altitude plateau that is broken by numerous spectacular volcanic plugs and peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and rushing mountain streams that descend into deep rocky gorges on their way to the lowlands below. As you ascend into the mountains you will experience changes in the vegetation with altitude, from juniper forests to heather moorlands and alpine meadows, which at various times of year exhibit an abundance of colorful wildflowers. It gives the visitor opportunities for unsurpassed mountain walking, horse trekking, scenic driving and the chances to view many of Ethiopia’s endemic mammals, in particular the, Giant mole-rats, Mountain Nyala and Ethiopian Wolf, and also birds, such as the Thick-billed Raven, Wattled Ibis, Blue-winged Goose, Rouget’s Rail and more.
Parts of the park
Gaysay Grasslands:- This area derives its name from the little Gaysay River that flows into the Web near Dinsho. It consists of Boditi peak at the southern end of the Lajo Spur, and the flatlands each side of the Gaysay River at the mountain’s base. The main road crosses part of the Gaysay area, just before reaching Dinsho. The entrance gate lies beside (north of) the main road seven kilometers before the village, coming from Shashamenne. A small track from the gate leads you across the Gaysay River and then divides at the base of the mountain. The eastern arm affords good views of the plains west of the Web River and goes for four kilometres to the northern boundary fence at the small Albabo stream. Colobus monkey are often seen in the Hagenia forest before the first stream crossing. There is a small photographic hide that is ten minutes walk up the first stream through lovely Hagenia trees. The left fork of the track goes for three kilometres to the northern boundary fence around the west flank of Boditi. There are good views of the Gaysay valley and its associated marshes brimming with reedbuck. Fine views can be had to the north of the Gaysay valley and Lajo Spur.
The Northern grasslands are the best place for viewing the endemic mountain nyala* – sometimes up to 50 in a herd. Also ever present, bohor reedbuck, play an important role in the ecosystem as they are the only grazers in this area of the park. Other mammals that are commonly seen are warthog, grey duiker, serval, and golden (common) jackal, along with the spotted hyena at night.
Birds that can be seen include the Abyssinian longclaw, winding cisticola, marsh harrier, Abyssinian ground hornbill, spot-breasted plover, Rouget’s rail, wattled ibis, Abyssinian catbird* and many more.
The Woodlands The juniper woodlands cover the northern slopes of the Bale massif, reaching from Dodola to Dinsho. These woodlands are under intense pressure from grazing, inhibiting the growth of new trees. Hagenia abyssinica and African juniper (Juniperus procera) dominate the woodlands. At the upper limit of their distribution, the juniper trees are smaller than in other parts of the park. In contrast, the Hagenia trees can grow to be massive, flowering from November to February. St John’s wort (Hypericum revolutum) is also common in the woodlands, growing as shrubs near the lower edge and reaching a height of 5m in the upper tree line. They are easily recognizable by their bright yellow flowers, which bloom throughout the year and are the major source of nectar for the honey produced in the area. Also present is the only indigenous rose to Africa (Rosa abyssinica), which has fragrant, white flowers.
Mountain nyala, warthog, Menelik’s bushbuck, colobus monkey and olive baboon can be spotted in the area.
Birds to look for include the wattled ibis, Abyssinian catbird, white-backed black tit , Abyssinian ground thrush, gold-mantled woodpecker, red- breasted wryneck, thick-billed raven and many more.
Afroalpine Meadows (Sanetti Plateau):- It covers the South eastern part of the Bale Mountains National Park . This, the highest all-weather road in Africa, crosses over the 4,000 m contour, and some of the loveliest mountain scenery in Africa that can be viewed from the comfort of your vehicle.
The road climbs up from Goba through beautiful Juniper and Hagenia forest. The road is lined with the orange-blossomed Leonotis, and in the wet season the “Red Hot Poker” (Kniphofia} is blooming beneath the trees and attracting the brilliant iridescent Tacazze and Malachite Sunbirds. This forest gives way to giant St John’s Wort (Hypericum revolutum} woods at 3,300 m altitude. This narrow zone is soon succeeded by heather (Erica} moorlands at 3,400 m and you are out of the forest and into the open in the mountains proper. Vistas open to the strange pinnacles of Chorchora peak on the left -one of the Park boundary markers, and across the sheer-sided Tegona River gorge to the right.
Another steep zigzag climb across slopes covered in heather bushes and Alchemilla johnstoni scrub, and you enter the Plateau proper, through the portals of the weird five-metre tall flower columns of giant Lobelia rynchopetalum plants. Here the plateau is studded with numerous shallow alpine lakes, with views to the steep-sided volcanic plug of Konteh Tullu in the south, and the long craggy ridges of Mt. Batu (4,203 m) in the west.
The road continues climbing gently, part Crane lakes at the base of Konteh. This is the centre of the best area for seeing Semien Fox, and on rare occasions small groups of Mountain Nyala. Here, you are at over 4,000 m above sea level, and in pure, clear cool mountain air with views in all directions on a clear day. These views are heightened by the steep climb to the top of Konteh (4,132 m), or the longer (one and a half hour) climb to the top of domed Tullu Deemtu (the “red mountain” in Oromo) to the west of the road soon after. This is the second highest mountain in Ethiopia at 4,377 m above sea level.
Erica Forest and Moorland Located immediately above the tree line, from 3,400m to 3,800m, is a belt of heather made up of species of the Erica and Phillippa genera, dominated specifically by Erica arborea (tree heath), a shrub common throughout the world that grows to staggering proportions in Bale – up to 5m on the edge of the tree line. These forests are a fairytale wood of giant heather dressed in moss and old man’s beard (a lichen). These trees are highly endangered and quite rare in Ethiopia. The most accessible example of this type of forest is on the road that crosses the Sanetti plateau, 100m above Rira.
Mountain nyala*, Menelik’s bushbuck*, and grey duiker live in the area in relatively large numbers, but are hard to spot due to vegetation densities. Klipspringers and hyraxes are also common. The Bale Mountains are the only area where both male and female klipspringers have
Harenna Forest The southern and largest area of the park consists of the second largest forest in Ethiopia: the Harenna forest. Along with the adjacent State- and community-managed forest outside the park, it constitutes an area of over 4,000km2. It is also the largest cloud forest in the country. The road from the plateau takes you down the Harenna escarpment and into the forest. Mountain bamboo grows within the forest, particularly on steep slopes. Rubus steuderi, a member of the blackberry family, grows along the road from April to June. The upper area of the Harenna forest is wet cloud forest with an extensive bamboo belt, while the lower parts are drier mountain forest. At about 2,200m as the slopes become gentler, larger trees of up to 30m tall appear, and the canopy closes. These include fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior) and fig trees (Ficus spp.) of massive girth. Branches are covered with dense epiphytes. In the lower areas of the forest, wild forest coffee (Arabica sp.) grows.
Because the forest is so dense and clearings are few and far between, the elusive animals of the forest have little trouble staying hidden. Black-and-white colobus monkey, olive baboon, warthog and Menelik’s bushbuck are common. With a little luck and perseverance, you might see a giant forest hog, a bush pig or an endemic Bale monkey. Clearings are the best places to look for lion, leopard and African wild dog. Genet, civet, porcupine, and hyena are all active at night.
Birds of the Harenna forest are equally elusive. Look for the Abyssinian hill babbler, Abyssinian crimson-wing, Ayre’s hawk eagle, silvery-cheeked hornbill, black-winged lovebird, Abyssinian oriole, yellow-fronted parrot, white-cheeked turaco and narina trogon. A wide range of migrant birds can also be spotted, including Palearctic warblers.