This might seem like a silly idea for an article – “one foot after the other” right? The hike up Ella Rock offers stunning views over the valley and great fun walking along the train tracks, but can be a little confusing if attempting on your own. You can hire guides in Ella or along the way, but we hope this post helps you if you want to attempt it on your own.
- Distance: 8 – 10 KM (depending where you start)
- Time: 4 hours return (approx.)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- What to bring: Water, sunscreen, shoes (not flip flops), camera
Some people recommended we leave early in the morning to beat the heat and the crowds, but our homestay did a great breakfast and we’d had a few drinks the night before, so we didn’t set off until about 10:00AM. Don’t let the cool nights in Ella fool you, it can still get stinking hot during the day, especially on this walk when you are often totally exposed to the sun. That said, it was definitely doable in the middle of the day – we had no issues and even though it was a Saturday, there weren’t too many crowds.
You start the walk by hopping onto the train track anywhere south of Ella station. From station / town, you walk along the tracks for about 45 minutes until you Kithalella train station. It’s great fun walking along the tracks, there are lots of locals doing maintenance, carrying shopping and even cooking tea. There are a number of trains that run during the day, but you have ample time and warning to move to the side, where there is plenty of space to let the locomotive safely past.
Along the way there are some fantastic views and bridges, and an optional detour to the Small Rawana Waterfall. At various points along the track some enterprising Sri Lankan’s might try to convince you to turn off, but this is mainly a ploy for you to hire them as guides or buy something from a local shop. Politely decline, keep the faith and continue walking until you reach Kithalella train station – you can’t miss it!
From there you continue along the tracks another 200m or so until the turn off, which is a sharp cutting that veers off towards 8 o’clock (shown in the picture above). There are white distance marking signs along the side of the track – you need to go past 166 1/2 and if you see 166 1/4 you have gone too far.
Take the turn off and you will cross a small footbridge over a river where you will likely see some people washing, bathing or cooling off in the water. Continue on through the tea plantations and within a few minutes you will come across a gorgeous little farming community. At this point a number of guides may offer you their services, but feel free to politely decline and keep walking through the village. Some may also attempt to walk with you and ask for a tip at the end, letting them know that you didn’t bring any money is a good way to head this off pretty quickly.
There are quite a few pathways heading in and out of the village, but they all seem to join up eventually as you start your ascent through the forest. After 20 to 40 minutes (depending on your walking speed) you will come to a T junction with an amazing outlook over Ella valley. Here we found a couple of people selling ice creams and water. It’s a great place to rest, take in the view and catch your breath.
When you’re ready for the final part of the ascent, head right and follow the well-worn path to the summit. Again, there are a couple of options – the straighter path (to the left) is more direct but a little steeper, while the path to the right winds around through the forest a little more. Both paths end up on a small dirt access road that takes you out onto the rock. This is the most difficult part of the walk, but you are mostly shaded by huge trees and it doesn’t last too long.
When you reach the top you’ll see a small hut that is under construction and a couple of vendors selling water and tea. Past them is the rocky outcrop that offers spectacular (and vertigo inducing) views over the town and valley. If it’s busy, you can continue past the hut and around the top of the hill, where there are plenty of other great spots to sit and enjoy the vistas.
We spent about 45 minutes enjoying the views from the top of the climb before starting down towards the bottom. It’s much easier to find your way back, though it’s still quite steep so watch your step and be careful of your knees. You can reward yourself with an ice cream or coconut at the farming village at the bottom, before walking back along the tracks and into town.
If after all this your legs can manage the stairs up to the third level of Chill Lounge, we highly recommend finding a beanbag, ordering a rice and curry or their speciality Lamprais (meat, curries and egg steamed in a banana leaf) and downing a couple of ice cold Lion Lagers to recharge the batteries – you will have earned it!