Hiking in Knuckles Forest Reserve, Sri Lanka
Updated: Feb 7, 2020
A short guide covering a day's trek to Dawatagala Peak from Wattegama, and a half day's walk to Mini World's End & Riverston Peak.
Knuckles is one of 5 peaks in this eponymous Sri Lankan mountain range, so called because of its fist-like resemblance.
Apparently, there are 32 hiking trails but no one seemed to know anything about them which is why it took The Boyfriend and me three days of scootering around to find an entrance.
This was not an overly arduous task given how stunning the surrounding areas were: all paddy fields, tea plantations and lush greenery.
Day trek to Dawatagala Peak
The GoogleMaps & MapsMe locations are incorrect so map co-ordinates (7.404775, 80.795377) are more helpful to find the start of the trail.
We stayed at Rahas Ella hotel, where you can't leave anything on your balcony as the monkeys come to investigate.
There are many accommodation options in Wattegama but this was particularly peaceful, situated opposite a small waterfall.
It is a 20 mile drive to the start of the Dawatagala Peak trail which takes around 90 minutes on scooters. You can park ~200m away from the trail start.
Note: accommodation is sparse around the hiking area - don't trust online maps as in rural Sri Lanka things are never quite what they seem, as we frustratingly found after many long drives to no where.
To guide or not to guide
Beware of people telling you that you MUST have a guide to trek. This is not the case. You cannot get lost on the Dawatagala trail unless you're a total idiot and then you probably deserve a Darwin Award.
Guides charge a starting price of £75 to drive you to the entrance and carry your lunch/water up the easy-to-follow trail. They often don't speak English so you're not even getting extra local knowledge about flora and fauna.
Either hire scooters or jump in a tuk tuk to the trail start, much cheaper than 20,000 rupees.
This really is a nature walk so bring your own refreshments. We picked up a nice selection of fruit and samosas in Panwila town by the bus stop.
You could do this walk in sandals but trainers are better as it's quite a scramble at times.
The last 1km of road to the entrance is absolutely dreadful and should only be attempted if you're super confident. Like this boy racer on two wheels.
Otherwise you can park and just walk the 1.2km up from where the path turns to this hellish gravel.
The trail start
Walk over the bridge by the small waterfall and follow the path until this sign.
Admittedly, the sign does say you need a permit but as there's no office nearby or anyone from whom to buy them, we just headed up.
We also had a ticket from the previous day at Mini World's End which we brought with us just in case.
This 8km walk was quite a challenge at times and the first part is uncovered so try and arrive early to avoid the direct sun.
It took us 2 hours 15 mins on the way up. The view was beautiful at the top amongst the fast-moving clouds.
The way down
There is a lovely flat plane of a little waterfall where you can refresh your tired feet in the cold waters.
On the way back to Wattegama, stop at the Hatale Tea Shop and have some fresh tea from the local area with a beautiful view over the plantations.
You can even buy some tea to send home to (envious) friends and family.
Mini World's End & Riverston Peak
An alternate, much easier walk is to Riverston Peak and Mini World's End in Pitawala. It is not sign-posted but it is difficult to miss as there's only one main road through Riverston.
The start of the walk to Riverston Peak is at co-ordinates 7.523302, 80.737086.
We stayed in Matale before realising it was a 20 mile drive (~90 mins) to the entrance so probably it's better to stay in Riverston.
Potentially, in high season, there may be someone in the green hut but if not, just follow the path round to the top.
It's an easy walk with nice views but on the peak is an electricity pylon which isn't very pleasant to be honest.
For a more natural experience, you can drive the 6km down to Mini-World's End and take the much nicer walk to the end of the world!
You need a ticket to enter which is 756rs (£3.20) - cash only - from the office in the car park. We took this 'permit' with us to go to Dawatagala peak as it also said 'Hiking in Knuckles Range'.
It's a very nice walk through unpaved paths to the viewpoint.
The way back
Heading back to Matale, you can stop at Bambara Kiri Ella waterfall to have a dip in the waters and watch the local women rock-cleaning their clothes.
A very pleasant end to a visit to Knuckles.