They say that mountains are the temples of the gods. The Horton Plains National Park is one place to put that to test!
Horton Plains National Park is nestled in the skirts of two of Sri Lanka’s tallest mountains; Kirigalpotta (2,395 meters) and Totapola (2,359 meters) which tower over the plateau, which is 2,100 meters high. Grasslands and clouds fill this rich, protected area. Biodiversity abounds here, housing several endemic species—especially birds. Keep an eye out for leopards, wild boars, shaggy bear monkeys, sambar deers, and the rare toque macaque. The Horton Plains National Park is a famous destination for bird watchers and nature lovers alike.
One of the main draws of the park is the World’s End, an 870 meter sheer drop off that marks the south end of the park. Visit World’s End early in the morning before the mist descends or you won’t be able to see through the mist! From the park entrance, the walk to World’s End is four kilometers long. From there, you can continue to Bakers Falls, one of Sri Lanka’s most famous waterfalls. Complete the circuit by walking back to the entrance of the park, a 9.5 kilometer walk, which should take about three hours at a leisurely pace.
Things to Do
1. 9km Horton Plains Loop Trail
Horton Plains National Park is a montane forest that has a high viewpoint and a trek over 9kms. As it is the only National Park in Sri Lanka that allows for walking, the 9km loop trail is a significant attraction in the area. It is covering the whole area of the National Park within a walk of 3 hours. It is a vast grassland with a cloud montane forest that has very short trees due to the wind. In the first part of this main trek, you will have to pass open grasslands and then continue with the forest area.
This main trek starts at the visitors’ centre of the National Park. So before starting the trek, you can also have looked to the newly built education centre to know about the trek and other related details about this National Park. There is an entrance fee to the park, so you have to buy a ticket to enter the park. The journey can be a rough one in some areas; hence, you will have to get ready for a challenging part where the road is not maintained well. But it is always a little adventure to walk the trail, enjoying the fantastic wildlife and views over the clouds.
2. Cloud Forest and Flora
As Horton Plains area is in the central highlands, it has an altitude of 2100 meters above the sea level. So it is one of the windiest places in Sri Lanka. Due to the heavy winds, it is hard for the trees to be on the land. And that’s why the Horton Plains National Park is known as a montane cloud forest. Especially the western side of the National Park has a large area of cloud forests remaining in Sri Lanka. The tallest trees are around 20 meters in height, and all other area is high alpine grasslands. The grassland is roughly about 2000 hectares, while the montane forest cover is approximately 1160 hectares. Since the prairie is spreading over the dry slopes, it is probably a result of fires that happened in Horton Plains National Park’s early days.
As it has numerous endemic plants, it is an essential habitat for conservation. It has around 750 species of flora and 54 woody plant species, including 27 endemic plants. Also, there are swamps in between grasslands, which make the beautiful sceneries in the mist. Also, Horton Plains National Park is a great place to see endemic orchids and lichens, as well.
3. Baker’s Falls
As the Horton Plains National Park has a 9 km loop to trek around, the baker’s waterfall is one of the main attractions you meet on your way. It is named after a famous British explorer, Sir Samuel Baker, who was living in Sri Lanka during the colonial times. From the starting point of the trail, following the road straight could take you to the baker’s waterfall first within a few kilometres. So you will reach the waterfall before the world’s end, which could be more relaxing for your tired feet.
This waterfall is known as one of the widest waterfalls in Sri Lanka. It is about 22 meters in height, having a few cascades to add more beauty. Also, there is a small path to reach the bottom part of the waterfall, but still, you can enjoy the view from the observation deck as well. As it originates from the Belihuloya, you need to be careful when reaching down the bottom in the rainy season to avoid flash fluids. Also, you are not allowed to dip into the waterfall due to security reasons. Due to the high mist near the waterfall, it is a challenging job to take pictures. If you prefer staying overnight close to the baker’s waterfall, the department of wildlife has a campsite close to the waterfall.
4. Chimney Pool
Unlike the other attractions here in the Horton Plains National Park, the chimney pool is a human-made pond close to the bakers’ waterfall. Once you start the trail to baker’s waterfall, this is the first stop that you have to come across before reaching the waterfall. It’s made by stones probably during the colonial times; still, no data has been relived about the purpose of building a pond in a National Park. This pool was home for rainbow trout during the colonial times. Planters initiated the Ceylon fishing club in the hill country, and they have bred those fish in the natural water bodies. So it also could be a fishing spot made by colonisers of the Ceylon fishing club.
However, it is a great location to relax while trekking with the beautiful view of the water body from the banks. You can walk across the bank of the chimney pool, sit and relax. If you are planning to stay much more extended time here in the chimney pool, start the trail from the left path. Then this is going to be your last stop. Hence no rush to see other attractions, you can enjoy the scenic beauty of the area around the chimney pool.
5. World’s End
The world’s end is the main attraction of the Horton Plains National Park. The sudden end of the plateau makes a steep drop to a close-by tea estate. It’s a vertical drop around 800m, makes the clouds float under your feet. The underneath valleys and reservoirs far away are visible only during the morning hours due to the heavy mist. So it is always better to visit the world’s end during the early hours of the day to have a great view. On a rainy day, you could only see a white cloud wall beyond the cliff due to the mist. In a day with a clear sky, there are times that visitors have seen the south coast from the world’s end. No wonder why Horton Plains National Park is called the rooftop park in the country.
As the steep edge is dangerous, there is a newly built platform to sit and enjoy the view. But as there are no safety rails, you need to pay more attention to your safety when visiting the world’s end. Since the footpath is washed away by heavy rains, you need to wear good hiking shoes. Those treks can be very slippery and somewhat hard to walk. But despite the hard treks, the fantastic view from the world’s end is an excellent reward for you after a tiring long walk.
6. Bird and Wildlife Watching
Horton Plains are one of the important bird areas in the country as well as a critical wildlife area. Twenty-one species of endemic birds are living here; four of them are only can be found in the Horton Plains National Park. Also, many of the migratory birds can be seen during the winter months. If you prefer bird watching, you need to get early as much as possible to avoid the crowds. A total number of eighty-one bird species are found in the park.
Other than birds, it has 24 species of mammals, including elusive leopards. But the mostly seen mammal is the Sambar deer, simply hundreds are there in the parking area. The small mammals such as otters, rusty-spotted cats, and fishing cats are also living in the area. Since most of the mammals are nocturnal, you may have to be very patient to see them during the day time. The most recent sighting of a Slender Loris is a piece of excellent news for an enthusiastic wildlife watcher when visiting the Horton Plains National Park. And not to forget the reptiles and amphibians, Horton Plains National Park is a home for them as well. It has nine species of reptiles and eight species of amphibians, including six endemic reptiles in Sri Lanka.
Camping in the Horton Plains National Park is an excellent chance of observing and experiencing nature. There are three campsites inside the park, which has to be booked by the department of wildlife. If you need to camp next month, you may have to go to the booking office on the first Monday of this month. These three sites have permanent toilet facilities for campers. The first campsite is close to the wildlife office but away from the trek. So you will have more privacy than other campsites inside the park. You get to pitch your tents in a land bordering a water stream from three sides.
The second campsite is close to the chimney pool, where you could quickly run into the water stream to have a dip. But as it is in the middle of the trek to the world’s end, this can be busy with hikers passing your campsite. As long as you are not fussy about not having privacy at the campsite, this is also an excellent spot to stay overnight. The third one is also located in the middle of the other two campsites, close to the water stream. It is much spacious than the other campsites with a great view in the morning. However, you are not allowed to have campfires as one flame could burn the entire park in a dry season. Since then, you may have to have a small gas burner for cooking inside the campsite.
8. Devils Staircase Hike
Devils staircase is known as one of the best hiking trails in Sri Lanka. This trail is starting from Kalupahana, running across a scenic mountain to Ohiya. As it is nearly around 22km, this is more suitable for extreme hikers. If you are fit enough, you can start the trek from Ohiya, pitch a camp in the middle and stretch the journey for two days.
The small road behind the Ohiya railway station could lead you across trek to Horton Plains as well. So the landmark is a Hindu temple, take a turn to left and walk down the road to find the starting point of the devil’s staircase. Most of the parts of this journey could continue through a beautiful tea estate called “Uduweriya,” so always be respectful to the people you meet in the way. In some areas, it is a bit challenging with steep edges in the road, and the mist will also block the view of the road sometimes. So be mindful to pay attention to the cliff edges on the way. If you are doing the trek from Ohiya, you could reach the top of the Bambarakanda waterfall end of the day. It is a great place to pitch the tent close to the highest waterfall in Sri Lanka.
9. Bambarakanda Falls
Bambarakanda fall is the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka. With a height of 263 m, it flows down to Kalupahana through a pine forest. It is forming a waterfall shaped a horsetail, originated by kuda Oya. You can easily reach the waterfall from Kalupahana, where you end the devil’s staircase trek. As this road leads to several other hiking trails, it is not to be mistaken from the main road. Within 5 kilometres you can reach the entrance point of the trek to the waterfall. You need to buy a ticket for the Bambarakanda waterfall, to support the regular maintenance of the viewpoints.
With a short walk from the ticket counter, you can reach this fantastic waterfall, which has a large swimming pool on the bottom. This pool is safe to swim during the dry season as water levels are decreasing. However, always check with the officer in the ticket counter about the weather and rainfall before a dip into the swimming pool. As the observing deck is renovated, it has all washroom facilities and changing facilities, as well. Since then, you could spend a good time in the viewpoint of enjoying the view of the tallest waterfall in Sri Lanka.
10. Ohiya – Idalgashinna Trek
Idalgashinna- Ohiya is the best rail hike in Sri Lanka, 5300 feet above the sea level. As it has magnificent views of the misty mountains, it is prevalent among the tourists to get a real rail hike experience. Idalgashinna is a small town with pine forests and few shops around the railway station. So it gives you a feeling of an abandoned city if you step out of the station.
But the view along this sleepy city is unbelievably beautiful with the mist. If you start the rail hike from the Idalgashinna station, first meet the officers at the station to get to know the train schedules. As this rail hike has around 14 tunnels to go through, it is essential to know the times before starting the journey. Only a few tunnels have utility holes in the tunnel, where you could fit in if you meet a train inside the tunnel.
As the fresh winds come through the hills are perfect for a long trek, mornings are better for this rail hike. You can continue walking the railway track to Ohiya, where you meet another small town. Along with this trek, you get to experience fantastic pine forests and clouds above the underneath valleys. So no doubt that this is one of the best railway hikes to do in Sri Lanka.
11. Kirigalpoththa Mountain
Kirigalpoththa is the second-highest mountain in Sri Lanka, with a height of 2388 meters. As it is close to Horton Plains National Park, you get to see this mountain in a distance if you are visiting that area. As the trail starts from the National Park, you need to enter the park first. Once you reach the visitors’ centre, follow the footpath until you meet the water stream. That is the landmark to identify the starting point of the trek. You may take around 4 hours to reach the summit.
The trek is going through grasslands and a cloud forest where you get to see large herds of Sambar deer. Also, if you are lucky, you may come across several bird species on the way. The trail could be slippery and steep at some points; hence, it is essential to wear suitable shoes. At the end of the trek, it is a precarious climb on the narrow road with just two feet. In a blink, you could fell for 500m if you miss a step. However, after a tiring hike, you get the best view above the National Park. You could see all the mountains around the summit and valleys far away. Since then it is the best way to enjoy the surroundings in a birds-eye view, it is all worth climbing 2388 meters.
Hawagala is another beautiful hiking location close to Balangoda. Since it has a camping site on the summit, it is more popular as a camping ground for adventure lovers. Yet it is also suitable for a one day hike, could efficiently finish the walk within the day if you start early.
If you are coming from Colombo, get down from the Belihuloya guest house. From there, you can take the road to Landuyaya village where the trek is starting. Once the town ends, a tea estate starts, and you have to follow the footpath behind that. After walking through high grassland, you can find the route to the summit quickly. But walking along the meadow is not easy as the grass has sharp leaves. You will meet two water streams in the trail if you are taking the right path. This trail could take around 3 hours to reach the summit from the village. Before the summit, you meet the campsite, pass it and reach the summit to get a 360 view with beautiful hills around Balangoda.
From the summit, you could easily see Rathnapura, Rakwana, and Horton Plains, as well. If you start early, you can enjoy the view without the mist on the summit. But usually, weather changes unpredictably in this area, so always be prepared for that as well. With the spectacular views of the mountain, it is one of the best hikes in Sri Lanka that you could do in a day.
13. Nonpareil Estate Falls
Nonpareil Estate Falls is one of the least popular waterfalls in Sri Lanka. As it is in a private property, most of the visitors do not know that it is accessible to visitors. If you are visiting this waterfall, you need to reach Belihuloya town. And from there, take Nonpareil Estate road for another 6 kilometres to reach this waterfall.
It is not listed in the official records of the Sri Lankan waterfalls, yet has a fantastic view from the Horton Plains road through the Nonpareil Estate. It is originating from Nonpareil Estate, flowing to Hirikatuoya. With three cascades, this waterfall is approximately 40-30 meters in height. As it is less popular, you can enjoy the view for hours, and no one will disturb you. Also, the gravel road towards the waterfall is a scenic journey through the misty mountains as it has beautiful landscapes with rocky outcrops in between the montane forest cover. You don’t need to have an entrance ticket for this waterfall, but try to stay in the path as much as possible. Since the estate is bordering Horton Plains National Park and peak wilderness sanctuary on another side, you can’t trespass into these protected areas.
14. Baker’s Bend
Baker’s Bend is a beautiful viewpoint in Nonpareil Estate in Balangoda. As it is private property, you need to get permission from the estate to see this, but it is not a hassle. You need to travel along this road for about 11 kilometres, and you can’t come in vehicles after the gate unless you have a booking in their state bungalow. It is the 23rd bend of the road through the state to great Nagrak bungalow. As it is above 5000 feet from the sea level, you get a spectacular panoramic view from this viewpoint. From the left side, you could easily see the Balathuduwa and Gommoliya Kanda peaks on a clear day. If the sky is spotlessly clean, the view stretches until the southern valley until the Udawalawe Reservoir.
There is an exciting story about the shape of Baker’s Bend as it is a horseshoe-shaped bend. The British governor Samuel Bakers used this road for this daily route. And once he had met with an accident when he was travelling in a horse cart with his wife. Though the couple survived, the horse died from the accident. So it is said he made the bend in a horseshoe shape as a tribute to his horse.
15. Surathali Falls
In the same area of Balangoda, you can visit another beautiful waterfall very quickly. This fantastic waterfall named after a famous Sri Lankan movie “Surathali.” It is 60m in height, 50m away from the Badulla-Colombo main road. Once you pass Belihuloya, next to the first small bridge, you could find a name board on your left-hand side. Take that road until you find the footpath to the bush. If you need to have a look from the top of the waterfall, take the path to up. If you don’t want to reach the top, walk down to the base of the waterfall. The footpath takes you to the bottom of the waterfall, where you see the entire waterfall at a distance of a couple of meters.
This beautiful waterfall has three cascades and a swimming pool on the base. During the rainy season, it is full of strength, so not suitable to dip in the pool. But there are small bathing areas with low-level of water in the upper part if you could manage to climb up to the summit. The trek to the summit is challenging, with steep edges and slippery rocks. But worth climbing to have a fantastic look over the waterfall.
Paraviyangala is one of the famous summits in the Kalupahana mountain range. Also called as Lovers peak, due to the University students climb this peak annually as a welcoming gesture to newcomers. Its also accessible from Colombo-Badulla main road, after passing the Pambahinna Junction take the path to the left with a name board. This peak was a famous camping spot a few months later, but now it is only open for day tours.
Once you get into the footpath, walk until you meet the ruins of a monastery in the rock known as NiyadaGala. Behind the solid foundation, the pathway continues through the pine forest. You will not miss this landmark, with the ruins of the temple after the destructive landslide happened there in 2016. As you have to cross a water stream next to the old monastery, your route is confirmed to be correct one. Walk along the pine forest, until you get into a flat area with the view of the summit. As the trek could be hard from here, have a good rest and start again. If it is not a cloudy day, you can see the southern Plains from the summit along other misty mountains. At a glance, you could have a fabulous clear view after a tiring hike up to the summit.
17. Balathuduwa Peak
Balathuduwa peak is a part of the Belihuloya mountain range, accessible from WangediGala trek. If you are not taking the other peaks, take the same route to Bambarakanda falls from Colombo-Badulla road. As it is the same in the range of Gommoliya Kanda, the summit is about 2012 m in height. Once you pass the name board to the waterfall, from your left side, you will find a forest patch and a footpath towards it. Follow the road to WangediGala trek, and without reaching the summit, take the route to left as it continues to the Balathuduwa peak. It is a long trek in the bush, and you need to be careful about the leech attacks as well. Once you pass the forest patch, you enter the grassland with a visible viewpoint. This last part of the hike is hard with the steep rocks, but worth all the tiring steps you have taken up to the summit. From the summit, you can see the Belihuloya mountains and Gommoliya Kanda as a forest patch as the vegetation there is a bit different. If the sky is clear, Horton Plains National Park and devils staircase are also visible in the distance. As Balathuduwa’s peak is in the middle of the mountains, it is the best place to have a better look at the Belihuloya mountain range. You can find a local guide in the area if you are not confident enough to take this trek alone.
Where to Sleep
Accommodations in and around Horton Plains National Park keep to a nature-inspired theme. Depending on where you choose to stay, your room could be on top of a hill or a mountain!
World’s End Lodge
Want to stay longer at the World’s End? Book a room at the World’s End Lodge that offers an exceptional hideout with a stunning view.
Hill Safari Eco Lodge
This lodge is the perfect place to relax and stay if you want to make an early start to Horton Plains. It offers clean rooms and a breathtaking view.
Misty Mountain Lodge
This hostel offers army style rooms, with a bed and nightstand provided. Getting to the lodge requires hiking through tea plantations and amazing scenery. Perfect for adventurous backpackers with a simple style.
Landa Holiday Houses
These houses cater to customers with a variety of backgrounds. You can choose any of the avenues it provides during your stay.
Horton Plains National Park seat above the sea level, so the temperature is quite low here. There are multiple mountains, valleys and water surfaces. Make sure to pack warmer clothes as the average weather is around 20 degrees during the daz and falls below 10 degrees during night!
If you plan on hiking, bring a comfortable pair of boots, light jacket and even hats and scarves are good options. During the day it gets very misty, so layers would work very well.
Getting In and Around
Horton Plains National Park is in the heart of the island, between multiple large mountains. Take a bus through the Haputale-Boralanda and NuwaraEliya-Ambewala-Pattipola roads. You can also take a train at Ambewala and Ohiya and get off at NuwaraEliya. From there, start walking at the Far Inn.
Colombo: Colombo is 180 km away from the national park. You can travel from Colombo with the hourly bus to Balangoda, where you can transfer to a local bus or travel with a taxi to reach Horton Plains in 6 hours. You can also take the express train to Ohiya, which is only 10 minutes away from the park. Take a tuk-tuk or taxi from Ohiya, total trip time 8 hours. Via car or taxi the trip time is 3.5 hours.
Negombo: Negombo is 190 km away from Horton Plains National Park, just above Colombo. The easiest is to travel to Colombo and take the hourly bus or the express train. Via taxi or a private car you can reach the national park in 4 hours.
Kandy: Kandy is 100 km away from Horton Plains, also in the heart of the island. You can take the direct express train to Ohiya, with a total trip time of 5 hours, or take a taxi or a tuk tuk to be there in 1.5 hours.
Ella: Ella is only 50 km east away from Horton Plains National Park. You can take a local bus to Ohiya which goes three times a day to be there in 3 hours, or you can hire a taxi or a tuk tuk to be at the park in 1 hour.
Galle: Galle is 260 km away from the national park, on the south west coast of the island. You can take the express bus to Wellawaya which goes every 4 hours then transfer to a local bus towards Ohiya, with a total trip time 7 hours. Via train take the four times a day express train via Colombo to reach Ohiya in 10 hours. You can also go by a taxi or private car to be there in 4.5 hours.
Dambulla: Dambulla is 175 km away from Horton Plains National Park, in the northern region. Via bus or train travel to Kandy then transfer to the express train to Ohiya, to be there in 7 hours. Via taxi or private car you can be there in 4 hours.
When to Go
The weather in central Sri Lanka is way cooler than in the rest of the island. Due to the high mountains and lakes the air is cold and misty. The average weather is 20 celsius during the day and around or under 10 celsius after sunset.
It is the best to after August, when monsoon season is over. Due to the colder weather, the number of tourists is lower than around popular tourist attractions, so even during holidays or Christmas this is a safe choice to travel to.
The entrance fees at the National Park are a bit more expensive than at other national parks ($50) but it is because this park is highly valued – you will not be dissapointed!
You can purchase drinks, snacks and food at the park, at the average price ($1-5). Public transportation to the park is not too expensive, as some larger cities are only half and hour away ($1-3). You can also hire a driver to take you to the park ($50) and hire someone to be your guide while hiking. Make sure you agree on a price beforehand!
There are plenty of options for everyone in Sri Lanka, does not matter if you wish to have a luxury vacation or a more budget friendly trip.
Sri Lanka offers beautiful, high-end hotels with luxurious spas and suites ($90+), mid-range family oriented hotels ($30-50) or hotels and hostels for those who wish to spend less on accommodation ($10-30). Camping at Horton Plains National Park is a bit more expensive due to the value of the national park, and it starts at $65 USD per person per night.
If you’re seeking nature, high places, and a totally different Sri Lankan experience, then Horton Plains is your place to go! Enjoy a nine kilometer hiking loop that takes you to Worlds End (a sheer drop off down a rock face), through a cloud forest, and past Bakers Falls, a beautiful waterfall you don’t want to miss. There are over twenty species of birds endemic to Sri Lanka (and some to Horton Plains) that you can keep an eye out for. If you love camping, you’ll love it here! Book a campsite in advance to get the most of your stay. There are lots of fantastic places to stay—like the World’s End Lodge—and even more places to eat if you visit Ohiya. We can’t wait to see you in Horton Plains!