A Guide To Karura Forest

Karura Forest is an urban forest within the Nairobi city metropolitan. It is managed by Kenya Forest Services in collaboration with Friends of Karura Forest. The later is an NGO that was led by conservationists and Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wangari Maathai, who was also the founder of Greenbelt Movement.

Karura Forest
Karura Forest

Karura Forest is an urban forest in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The forest was gazetted in 1932 and is managed by the Kenya Forest Service in conjunction with the Friends of Karura Forest .

Due to its proximity to a growing city, there have been plans to reduce the forest in favour of housing and other development. However, these plans have been controversial with conservationists. In the late 90’s there were housing projects that would have excised portions of the forest. Conservationists, led by Wangari Maathai, the leader of Green Belt Movement who later became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, carried out a much publicised campaign for saving the forest. Karura Forest became also a symbol of controversial land grabbings in Kenya.

Karura Forest Geography – Karura Forest Location

Karura Forest has an area of 1 063.0 ha, making it largest of three main gazetted forest in Nairobi. The others are Ngong Forest and Ololua Forest. The centrally located Nairobi Arboretum is much smaller.

Karura Forest is located north of central Nairobi and is bordered by the suburbs of Muthaiga, Gigiri, Runda, Ridgeways, Mathare North, Highridge and Spring Valley. The western part of the forest is also known as Sigiria Forest.

The area north of central Nairobi forms a drainage basin and was once heavily forested, but exists today only as patches like Karura Forest and City Park. The forest is cut by Thigirie, Getathuru, Rui Ruaka and Karura Rivers, all tributaries of Nairobi River.

Features in the forest include a waterfall, bamboo forest, marshland, Mau Mau caves and an old church.

The United Nations Office at Nairobi and UNEP headquarters are located adjacent to the forest. The Karura Forest Product Research Centre is also located there.

Karura Forest Nature Walk

Karura Forest is now developed as a visitor’s attraction. This includes creation of nature trails. The first trail, which is four kilometres long and connects Limuru Road with Old Kiambu Road was opened in May 2009. An electric fence has been built around the forest for security reasons

The Karura Forest Environmental Education Trust (K-FEET) was formed in 2010, and launched by the minister of Forestry Noah Wekesa.It will manage an environmental education centre located in Karura Forest

The Nairobi northern bypass road, under construction since 2009, will pass through a wetland which is said to feed Karura Forest, thus posing a threat to the forest.

Karura Forest – Geology

The forest sits on million-year-old Late Tertiary volcanic rocks. Technically speaking, the common rock forms are volcanic tuffs with intercalated flows of basaltic sponge cake. Both types are occasionally exposed in Karura’s deeper river valleys, and the tuffs yield the familiar grey building stone of Nairobi. “Chimneys” of larva are occasionally found exposed on ridges in the western and middle sections of the Forest.

Karura Forest – Topography

The Karura landscape rolls gently between and through shallow valleys. Drainage is generally southeasterly. Depressions throughout the forest impede drainage and cause formation of small edaphic grassy swards and swamps, some of which are under threat from thirsty Eucalyptus trees.

Karura Forest Climate

The forest, as Nairobi, has two wet seasons: April to June and October to December. In July and August it is cool, cloudy and dry. From August to December it is sunny and dry. January, February and early March are hot and dry months.

The average annual rainfall is 930 mm (37 inches), varying from 1250 mm (50 inches) during wet El Niño periods to 350 mm (14 inches) during drought spells. The peak average rain months are April, May and November.

Temperatures throughout the year vary according season, cloud and sunshine, but the range is from 8° C (45° F) on a chilly August morning to 28° C (82° F) on sunny February afternoon.

What to see in Karura Forest

Karura Forest Picnic Site – Rivers

Five perennial tributaries of the Nairobi River pass through the forest running roughly west to east and cutting through gently undulating landscape. These are:

  1. the Ruaka, which runs through the Runda Estate and forms part of the northern forest boundary;
  2. the Karura, which cuts through a deep valley in the northern part of the main forest;
  3. the Gitathuru, which separates the main forest along its southern edge from the Old Muthaiga Estate;
  4. the Thigiri (a tributary of the Gitathuru), which forms the northern border of the Sigiria section of the forest; and
  5. the Mathare River, which borders the forest in Peponi.

The Karura River valley offers a precarious and stunning descent through indigenous forest to the large waterfall and the Mau-Mau caves.

Karura Forest Picnic Site – Soils

Since the Late Tertiary, when Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro were formed, the area has suffered only moderate tectonic disturbances. Thus the parent rocks have been weathered deeply to produce even soil profiles. Under natural forest, the resulting soil is very deep, ridding brown clayey loam with slow but free profile drainage. Such soils become particularly sticky when wet, yet dry very quickly with a tendency to shrink and crack. The upper few inches of soil are usually stained dark brown with incorporated humus; no deep litter layer develops.

Beneath grassland in freely drained areas, the soil is very similar to that found under forest stands. However, in the low-lying areas a different soil is found. These low-lying areas are intermittently water-logged; the water table fluctuates considerably and a small amount of fine soil material is usually transported down the catena from neighbouring higher ground. Under such conditions, the soil is usually very heavy, dark grey clay; this is often stained black with un-decomposed humus, so-called ‘black cotton’ soil. Between 5 cm (2 in) to one metre (ca. 3 ft) below the clay layer, a red-brown laterite occurs, a product of re-cementation that is rich in iron compounds and associated with swampy areas and a shifting water table.

Generally speaking, the forest soils are eminently suited to tree growth, except in the impeded drainage of swampy sites that provide natural edaphic grassy glades characteristic of Kenya’s upland forests.

Karura Forest Picnic Site – Vegetation

Forest plantations cover some 630 ha. Species include imports from South America, Australia and the Asian sub-continent, such as Araucaria cunninghamii, Grevillea robusta, Eucalyptus saligna, E. globule, Cupressus torulosa and Cupressus lusitanica.

Almost all the plantations in the forest have passed their economic rotation age. The Eucalyptus range from 38 to 83 years, Araucaria, 44 to 46 years, and Cupressus, 34 to 46 years. Most of these plantations have already become to succumb to age-related drying. Part of the FKF-KWS management plan includes a campaign to replace the degraded plantations with indigenous species.

Indigenous trees cover approximately 260 ha (not including some 25 ha in the largely alienated 110-ha salient east of Kiambu Road). Species include Olea europeae subsp. auspidata, Croton megalocarpus, Warburgia ugandensis (Muthiga in the vernacular), Brachyleana huillensis (Muhugu, the iconic image on the FKF logo), Uvaridendron anisatum, Markhamia lutea, Vepris nobilis, Juniperus procera (Cedar), Craebea brownii (a huge specimen sits just outside the largest Mau-Mau cave), Newtonia buchananii, Salvadora persica (Mswaki, the Toothbrush Bush), Ficus thonningii (Mugumu), Trichilia emetica, Calondendrum capense and Dombeya goetzenii.

Additionally a number of shrubs are also found which have wide local medicinal use; these include Strychnos henningsii (Muteta), Erythrococca bongensis (Muharangware), Vangueria madagascariensis (Mubiro), Rhamnus prinoides (Mukarakinga), Caesalpinia volkensii (Mubuthi), Solanum incanum (Mutongu, Sodom Apple), Elaeodendron buchananii (Mutanga) and Rhus natalensis (Muthigio).

The riparian belts along the Gitathuru and Ruaka streams host groves of Arudinaria alpina, Kenya’s native bamboo species. The exotic giant bamboo Dendrocalamus giganteus is mainly found growing within the tree nursery along the Karura River. Additionally, small wetlands are found throughout the forest (occupying some 10 ha). These provide important habitats for birds and bird watchers

Karura Forest Picnic Site – Birds

The forest is known to host a variety of animals. These include the Suni, Harvey’s Duiker, Bushbucks, Bush Pigs, Genets, Civets, Honey Badgers, Bush Babies, Porcupines, Syke’s Monkeys, Bush Squirrels, Hares and the Epauletted-Bat. A Side-striped Jackal has been recorded in Sigiria.

To date, some 200 bird species have been seen in the forest. These include Ayres Hawk-eagle, the African Crowned Eagle, the Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Hartlaub’s Turaco, the Narina Trogon, the African Wood Owl, Crested Cranes, Sparrows, Doves, Weavers and Vultures. The call of the African Snipe has been heard at Lily Lake.

A pictorial list of the main bird species (compiled by Mr. Amedeo Buonajuti) is available at the entrances to the forest free of charge

Karura Forest Picnic Site – Reptiles

Reptiles include the rock pythons, numerous other harmless snakes, plated and monitor lizards.
A detailed inventory of the fauna is planned to be conducted with the National Museums of Kenya.

Karura Forest Picnic Site – Insects and other Arthropods

A detailed inventory of non-vertebrate species is planned. Preliminary collections have been undertaken by ICIPE, the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology, and you may catch a glimpse of white, tent-like insect traps within the forest

The forest provides habitat for numerous species of butterflies, including the African Queen and the Desmond’s Green Banded Swallowtail (see the images on the back of the Karura Forest Map).

Other things to see at Karura Forest Picnic Site

  1. A 15-metre waterfall,
  2. Archaeological sites (recently excavated, artifacts being analyzed),
  3. An old chimney incinerator – used by the Central Bank for the burning of decommissioned currency up until the mid-1990′s,
  4. An abandoned stone quarry pond, now called Lily Lake,
  5. Caves which are considered to be sacred by many and steeped in Kenyan history (they were formerly used by the Mau-Mau freedom fighters as hideouts during the struggle for Independence),
  6. Patches of bamboo,
  7. Marshlands that attract bird life including winter migrants from Europe and Asia,
  8. Serene groves of secondary and primary indigenous trees.

The forest is also where Professor Wangari Maathai (late leader of the Green Belt Movement and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) carried out a much publicised campaign for saving the forest from developers who tried to grab large portions of the north of the central section of the forest. The forest became a symbol of the fight against land grabbing in Kenya.

What to do in Karura Forest

Activities available in Karura Forest, one can undertake:

  • Bird watching
  • Forest walks
  •  Forest drives
  •  Cycling
  • Butterfly watching
  • Running
  • picnicking
  • Walking
  • Tree-Planting
  • Just Sitting
  • Horse-riding
  • Mountain-biking

How to get to Karura Forest Picnic Site


Entrances to the main section of Karura Forest (Gate letters as per Karura Forest Map):

  1. Gate A. Main entry off Limuru Road across from the Belgian Embassy (road access to KFEET. Centre and FKF forest office)
  2. Gate B. Eastern Family Trail entrance (pedestrian only) at the end of Old Kiambu Road, off Kiambu Road
  3. Gate C. Also known as ‘Sharks Gate’ after the nyama choma (roast meat) establishment outside the forest across the Kiambu Road. Currently only open Saturdays and Sundays. Great for biking and dog-walking.
  4. Gate D. Pedestrian entrance at the end of the ICRAF access lane
  5. Gate E. Pedestrian entrance to Sigiria section of the forest off Limuru Road (parking at Gate A)
  6. Gate F. Main Sigiria entrance at end of Thigiri Lane off Thigiri Ridge Road. Parking inside gate.

A newly-revised official Karura Forest Map detailing the location of the entrances is available for sale for 500/= at the gates and KFEET Centre, and can be viewed by clicking here.


To the main Forest gate (Gate A)…

Matatu (from Nairobi city centre to Belgian Embassy on Limuru Road). Numbers 11B, 106, 107, 108, 114 or 116 (southbound only).

Taxi (from centre of Nairobi): Approximate cost – KES 800 to 1,000.

To Sharks Gate (Gate C)…

Matatu (from Nariboi city centre to Kiambu via Kiambu Road). Numbers 100, 120, 121.

To the FKF forest office…

Located at KFEET Centre via main Limuru Road gate.

To the FKF administrative office…

Triad House, 83 Muthaiga Road. Situated in Mr. Shretta’s office, small annex, left of main Triad House building.

Office hours: 9:00 AM to 16:00 PM.
Accountant on duty Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

A Map to Karura Forest

Karura Forest Entrance Fee

Kenya / EAC Citizen: Adults – 100 Child – 40

Residents: Adults – 200 Child – 100

Non Residents: Adults – 600 Child – 30

(NB: ‘RESIDENTS’ are defined as non-citizen persons living in Kenya only. Proof of Kenya residency is required.)

Karura Forest Nature Walk Tour Guides

Accompanying FKF Guide 300/= per 2 hours

Collect Guides and pay for their services at Limuru Gate or the KFEET Centre.

Please ensure you get a receipt of payment.

Karura Forest Picnic Site

Picnics on the designated picnic sites near the KFEET Centre and Amani Garden may be pre-arranged and booked through the KFEET office. Note that a picnic is defined as a small (not more than 50 persons max) packed-snack affair for family and friends, and must neither involve catering nor erecting temporary structures such as tents (see Events, below).

The picnic fee per person shall be as follows :
Adult 250/=
Child (under 12) 150/=

Note that the picnic fees include forest entry for Citizens and Residents. Non-residents pay the normal entry fee.

Parking fees should be paid separately.

Please note that there is no picnicking whatsoever permitted in any part of the forest apart from the designated areas indicated above.

For further clarification, please note that a ‘picnic’ is NOT a ‘barbecue’. According to the Oxford Dictionary:

Picnic: An occasion when a packed meal is eaten outdoors especially during an outing OR a packed meal eaten outdoors. [Note: No mention of cooking, grilling or roasting.]

Barbecue: A meal or gathering at which meat, fish or any other food is cooked outdoors on a rack or open fire.

[Note: No mention of picnic.]

Karura Forest Picnic Site Bike Hire – Karura Forest Cycling 

Visitors to Karura Forest can now hire a sturdy multi-speed trail bike to use on designated forest trails.
Charges: KES 500/= for two hours extendable.

Contact: James Mulili for information & booking, tel. 0734-727257

Karura Forest Picnic Site – Events

The 3 ha (7.5 ac) KFEET Centre grounds and the Old Farmhouse area near Amani Garden are ideal for larger functions that require catering and infrastructure such as tents and sound equipment. Events include:

  1. Corporate team-building
  2. Weddings
  3. Charity fund-raising
  4. Commercial and promotional events
  5. Regular fixtures (sporting, training, etc.)
  6. Exhibitions

Charges vary depending on the nature of the event, the number of participants and the amount of catering and support infrastructure required. A maximum of not more than 1,000 participants per day is encouraged to minimise impact on the forest and surrounding neighbourhoods.

Music and sound must be kept to a level that can only be heard within the perimeter of the event area.

Organised events that may be within the forest, include:

  1. Walking, running or cycling events
  2. Photoshoots and filming sessions

Charges shall be negotiated for each such event. Please also see the FKF filming policy guidelines.

Please enquire for rates and rules: telephone 0739-262092 or via email, rafiki@karurafriends.org

Karura Forest – School Parties for over 10 Children

These charges will include provision of accompanying FKF Scouts and/or KFS Rangers. Accompanying teaching staff and drivers may enter for free. The standard charge per person (irrespective of nationality) will be as follows:

  1. School children attending private schools : 100/= per child
  2. Parking for private school buses at KFEET Centre : 500/= per vehicle
  3. School children attending Government schools : 50/= per child
  4. Parking for govt. school buses at KFEET Centre: 200/= per vehicle

Karura Forest Annual Passes

Members of Friends of Karura can obtain an Annual Pass from the KFEET Office in the forest or from FKF office at Triad House, 73 Muthaiga Road, Muthaiga Tel: 0722 891654 (Agnes).

Karura Forest Contacts

Attraction Type: Scenery & Landscapes, Wildlife
Category: Forest, Lake or River, Birding Site
Region: Nairobi
City / Town: Muthaiga,Nairobi
Road / Street: Kiambu road
Telephone: 258 20 239 6440, 258 715 735555
Email: info@kenyaforestservice.org
Entrance Fee: Yes

Karura Forest Video