The misty mountains of the Knuckles Mountain Range sanctuary sprawls across villages, providing travellers unique ways to experience wildlife in the mountainous terrains of Sri Lanka on foot. Diverse terrains with unique flora, coupled with picturesque and panoramic views, are ideal for hikers and trekkers to experience Sri Lanka’s wilderness.
The Knuckles Mountain Range is situated in central Sri Lanka across two districts in the highlands and is one of the best places to discover the country’s wildlife on foot. The locals refer to it as the mist-laden mountains (Dumbara Kanduvatiya) as the peaks of the mountains are almost always enveloped by a thick layer of cloudy mist. However, its unusual name is attributed to the British surveyors who found that the recumbent folds of the mountains resembled a clenched fist, hence it was called Knuckles. This mountain range has nine peaks over 1,200 meters in height. The highest five peaks (Knuckles) is well above 1,800 meters, with the highest being nearly 2,000 meters. While the Knuckles Mountain Range sanctuary accounts for only 0.03% of Sri Lankas total forest area, its contribution is significant as it has a high level of biodiversity. A series of cloud forests at the higher points provide habitat for unique flora and fauna.
This diversity and unusual topography has attracted many nature and wildlife enthusiasts to explore this remote and lesser-visited gem of a sanctuary. Knuckles Mountain Range sanctuary was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2010. It holds relics with more than 30 percent of Sri Lanka’s endemic trees and herbs that are all important for the natural environment. There are five different types of forests in this range including semi-evergreen, sub-montane, montane, riverine forests and savannah grasslands. It is no wonder such diversity makes ideal habitat for just over 30 species of mammals including endemics such as black-naped hare, golden jackal, toque macaque, Indian pangolin and purple-faced langur. Smaller and more elusive mammals such as fishing cats and mouse deer are recorded. Twelve endemic and endangered amphibians reside in this habitat. This sanctuary is also home to more than 130 species of birds with 20 endangered.
The endangered birds include Sri Lankan hanging parrot, Sri Lanka green pigeon and Sri Lanka wood pigeon. These mountains are also hot spots for migrant birds including the rare Kashmir fly-catcher. Birds such as Indian pitta and forest wagtails frequently fly into this region to escape winter. Temperatures in this region can vary from 5°C in the early morning to 35°C during day. The mornings are generally chilly, as are the nights. However, the humidity is rather high. The weather can quickly change from sunny and warm to cloudy and rainy. It’s best to carry the right rain gear and clothing suitable to keep you warm and cool when the weather changes. The top of the peaks are generally cooler and windy. It rains continuously from October up until December with more moderate rains in from December to February. March to May is drier. June to September are the driest months which are the best for trekking, although trekking is still pleasurable during most times excluding October to December.
Trails, trekking and bushwalks in Knuckles Mountain Range are truly invigorating and worth the effort. There are number of trails ranging from soft to moderate to high intensity levels. All these can be customised based on individual capacity, preferences and fitness levels. Trekking at soft to moderate levels includes mostly flatter terrains with more walking and less climbs. These trails will take you through small forests areas across sparsely populated remote villages. The scenery and beauty of terrains are eye catching with some unusual waterfalls, montane forests. These trails give visitors the opportunity to witness the everyday life of the people of this rather remote region. The more arduous and high intensity trails take you to the top of the peaks of Knuckles Mountain Range. The trails are exciting and adventurous as they initially go through a couple of remote villages where time stands still.
This is followed by an uphill climb through forest patches and paths that seem to have been only inhabited by animals. These paths and climbs lead to savannah like plateaus with panoramic views. One of the most beautiful peaks in these trails is the summit of ‘Manigala’, meaning time-rock, that takes the shape of an elephants head. Interestingly, decades ago people looked at the movement of the sunrays falling on this rock to ascertain the time in the absence of clocks. As much as you climb there is also doable steep ascends. The trails are generally accompanied by a local guide, usually a villager who knows the terrain very well. The trails can vary between half-day to full day (4 hours to 7 hours) based on the intensity and distances. They are generally done in small groups of less than 10 people, although larger groups are possible. The trails are appropriate for couples and solo travellers.
Accommodation in this region is limited. They are mostly small and modest. A stay in Knuckles Mountain Range should ideally be for 2 or 3 nights where one-to-two trails can be incorporated during this stay. While we have many beautiful memories of this trail, one that we enjoyed most was a full day trail that took us to the peak of Manigala. We started our journey early morning around 6.30 a.m. and continued to trek through remote villages until we reached the forest. A mix of climbs and plateaus lead to the picturesque peak. Along the way we saw exotic butterflies, endemic birds and the nesting grounds of the rare and endemic pangolins. The picnic on top of the mountain surrounded by astonishing panoramic views was unforgettable, so was a herd of cautious wild buffaloes who watched us from far.
Here are sample itineraries for wildlife tours of Sri Lanka featuring Knuckles Mountain Range. Click below to read more about trails and trekking in Knuckles Mountain range or get in touch to receive a detailed, tailor-made itinerary.
Amazing trip! We absolutely loved it. Sri Lanka is now a country we would definitely like to go back to and explore further.Thank you so much for all the work you did in putting the trip together for us. It was a great mix of places for us to get a good feel of the country. We will be encouraging all our friends to go to Sri Lanka.