Lion cubs in the savannah, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

Africa’s best national parks for seeing lions

Jun 7, 2024
Reading time: 12 minutes

So you want to see lions on your African safari? Of COURSE you do! They're the kings of the jungle, after all. Here are the eight African national parks and reserves that offer the highest chances of seeing lions so you can plan the best safari possible.

You can see lions in their natural habitat in many places throughout Africa. But that said, you can also very easily go on safari and not see any lions. Because they're not circus cats – they're wild creatures doing things their own way, and they're not nearly as interested in you as you are in them!

So where should you go for the highest chances of spotting one? Or hopefully many more than just one – a whole pride or two would be fantastic, not so?

Since lions are one of the only sociable cat species, there's a good chance that if you spot one, you'll spot others too.

While there are many great private reserves where lions are protected and able to enjoy properly lion-y existences, for most of us it's the national parks and reserves that offer the most affordable and accessible safaris.

Kazi and clients in FA branded safari vehicle with lion nearby, Tanzania

Our Tanzania safari leader Kazi with clients watching a lion

Here then is our list of the African national parks with the largest lion populations. We then look at the parks with the highest lion densities.* And finally, based on those two metrics, we offer our picks of the three tippity-top African national parks for seeing lions!

* Of course we must just point out that lion populations and densities can and do fluctuate due to various factors. So we're working with stats that are, of course, just estimates.

5 parks with the largest lion populations

The five national parks with the largest lion populations are all in East and Southern Africa.

Let's start with those in East Africa ...

1. Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda)

Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwest Uganda is home to a very large lion population.

Lion sitting in grass in the dark in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

A lion spotted at night in Queen Elizabeth National Park

This beautiful national park, which has the Nile River running through it, boasts a fantastic array of habitats, including grasslands, woodlands, and wetlands. These help to support a very healthy lion population.

Excitingly, visitors to the park who want to see lions can join the research team working for the Queen Elizabeth Predator Project for an almost guaranteed lion sighting! One member of a few lion prides living north of Kazinga Channel (see the map below) has been fitted with a radio collar, so the team is able to locate them easily.


Map of Queen Elizabeth National Park

Visitor numbers on these excursions are limited, so book ahead. And note that the team also researches leopards, so you could well see a leopard or too on your outing as well!

What's more, safari-goers in Queen Elizabeth National Park have the chance to spot lions during game drives but also while on boat safaris on Kazinga Channel.

Finally, note that while Queen Elizabeth National Park is relatively hard to reach (being roughly a day's drive from Uganda's international airport), it's a great place to visit and has lots for you to do, as we discuss in Things to do (and animals to see) in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

2. Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) and Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya)

While the Serengeti and Masai Mara are two separate national parks in two different countries, we've put them together because they're fenceless neighbours (see the map below). This means their lion populations are connected, as they're free to roam back and forth.

The-Great-Migration Serengeti Masai Mara

Map showing the adjoining Serengeti and Masai Mara parks

In fact, the Serengeti National Park and Masai Mara National Reserve exist to protect the same ecosystem. This ecosystem – referred to as the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem – has at its heart the Great Wildlife Migration, which is a mass movement of about two million hoofed animals. Some lion prides move with the migrating herds, stalking them and picking off weaklings at the edges.

Ours. Lioness and cubs watching wildebeests crossing Ndutu Lake, Serengeti, Tanzania

Lionesses watching a wildebeest herd in southern Serengeti

This means that when the Great Migration herds are in Tanzania (which is most of the year), many of these lions are in Tanzania. But when the herds move into Kenya (roughly June to October), some lions will follow their prey north into Masai Mara.

Tanzania is world-renowned for its super impressive commitment to wildlife conservation. So perhaps unsurprisingly, it has TWO national parks in this top-five list!

3. Ruaha National Park (Tanzania)

Ruaha National Park is Tanzania's second largest protected area after Selous Game Reserve, and its largest national park. In fact, it's roughly the size of New Jersey.

The park's vast wilderness has diverse landscapes, and so is able to support many and various species of animals, which in turn serve as ample prey to support a thriving lion population.

Lions feeding on an African bush elephant that they hunted. Ruaha National Park. Tanzania

Feast time in Ruaha!

Ruaha National Park receives almost no visitors. One key reason for this is that most visitors to Tanzania are keen to head north to the Serengeti to see the Great Wildlife Migration. So if you're eager to have a safari experience that involves lions and almost no other safari cars, then Ruaha could be the perfect choice for you!

Ruaha is the perfect park to visit if you don't like crowds. Only around 100 people visit the park each day!

4. Kruger National Park (South Africa)

Kruger National Park is one of the largest and most famous game reserves in Africa. Located in the far northeast corner of South Africa, it has a lion population of roughly 1,500, giving you a great chance of seeing some lions on a safari here.

The Kruger is a very notable national park in Africa. For starters, it protects nearly 150 mammal species! And these include the Big Five (black rhino, bush elephant, lion, leopard and Cape buffalo), a boast that not every other park in this blog post can make! In fact, the Kruger has been instrumental in the conservation of rhinos, and has a large number of both black and white rhinos.

Close up of a battered male lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa

This lion's battered face reminds us that life isn't just long naps for these mighty creatures

Kruger became South Africa's first national park in 1926. But a large part of it was established as early as 1898. The park is an enormous 19,455 square kilometres, making it the seventh largest national park in Africa, and by far the largest park discussed in this blog post!

Finally, it's interesting to note that Kruger National Park protects just one portion of a transfrontier ecosystem: together with parks in neighbouring Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Kruger helps to protect the wildlife contained within the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. Similar to the Serengeti-Mara setup, its borders aren't fenced to allow for the natural movement of animals across national boundaries.

5. Hwange National Park (Zimbabwe)

Hwange National Park (previously Wankie Game Reserve) in western Zimbabwe is well-known for its diverse wildlife.

Lionesses resting by a massive tree in Hwange National Park

Lionesses resting by a massive tree in Hwange

Hwange's grasslands and forests of balsam trees provide great wildlife habitats, and so the park is known especially for its lion prides as well as its large elephant herds and painted dog packs. (Incidentally, painted dogs are endangered, and Zimbabwe is one of their last strongholds.)

Hwange National Park has a large lion population of roughly 500 individuals!

It's worth nothing that in the northwest of the park there are two dams where animals, including lions, sometimes gather, especially in the dry seasons. There are concealed lookouts where you can position yourself in the hopes of seeing a pride.

5 parks with the greatest lion densities

Of course, an arguably more useful metric in our discussion of where to find African lions is the density of the population at any given national park.

We say this because some national parks are simply enormous – larger than small countries, in fact – and so the density of each one's lion population matters in terms of your chances of being able to actually find them!

These five African national parks have the highest lion densities.

1. Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tanzania)

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) in Tanzania is internationally renowned for its high concentration of lions.

lion in Ngorongoro Crater

A lion inside Ngorongoro Crater

While not strictly speaking a national park – because the Maasai people are allowed to live and own livestock here – the NCA deserves to be on this list because it functions much the same as a national park in the ways that matter to this discussion.

The NCA enjoys a very dense lion population because of its relatively small size and the diversity of animals living here that can serve as prey.

Luke. Ngorongoro Crater Follow Alice FA vehicle safari Tanzania

Our client Luke took this snap on his safari inside Ngorongoro Crater

What's important to note here is that the specific spot within the NCA that you want to visit to find lions is Ngorongoro Crater. This massive crater with its 600-metre high wall is a type of Garden of Eden. And as we discuss in 12 great facts about Ngorongoro Crater, its lion population is the densest of anywhere in Africa!

Ngorongoro Crater – which is just 264 square km (102 square miles) – has the highest density of lions of anywhere in Africa!

2. Queen Elizabeth National Park (Uganda)

Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda pops up again!

While the park's lion population of around 200 individuals is small compared to those of parks like Kruger and Serengeti, the relatively small size of the park makes the population one of the densest on this list.

Ours. Tree climbing lion in Ishasha, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

A lioness peeks out from among the leaves of a tree in the park's Ishasha sector

We also want to point out that while the Ishasha – the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park – is relatively hard to access, this part of the park is famous for having tree-climbing lions.

Lions generally don't climb trees. It's only in northern Tanzania and Uganda where they do this regularly. And so the sight of a lion or two draped for a nap over a tree branch can be really exciting!

3. Moremi Game Reserve (Botswana)

Moremi Game Reserve in northern Botswana is part of the Okavango Delta, which makes it one of the greenest parts of the whole country.

The reserve has wonderfully diverse wildlife, and its varied habitats (such as floodplains, savannahs and woodlands) supports a high density of lions.

A windswept young pride male Lion during the green season at Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana (1) (1)

A windswept lion during the green season at Moremi

What's especially lovely about this relatively small reserve is how the land changes so dramatically between different sections. It's also adjacent to Chobe National Park, another jewel in the crown of Botswana, so safari-goers are able to visit both Moremi and Chobe without travelling too far.

Another drawcard for many is that Moremi doesn't receive nearly as many visitors as some of Africa's other famous reserves, so it's a great option for those wanting a more exclusive and intimate safari experience.

4. South Luangwa National Park (Zambia)

South Luangwa National Park in Zambia has a notable lion population, and its diverse landscapes, including riverine areas and woodlands, contribute to a relatively high density of lions. And not only is it known for its lion density, but also for its leopard density. So if you're keen to see predators in general, this park is a great choice!

Lion wit prey and vultures and behind him in South Luangwa National Park, Zambia

Vultures are ready when this lion in South Luangwa is done with its prey

South Luangwa National Park is also known as being one of the very best places in Africa for walking safaris, which provide unique opportunities to encounter lions and other animals on foot. Visitors can also go on night-time safari drives.

Finally, it's worth noting that the park is home to endangered Thornicroft's giraffes, a subspecies of giraffe that can only be found in Luangwa Valley. Given that you doubtless want to see animals besides just lions on your safari, these unusual giraffes could help to sway you when choosing which park to visit!

5. Masai Mara National Reserve (Kenya)

The only other park to show up on both lists besides Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is Kenya's Masai Mara National Reserve!

The Masai Mara is a vast swathe of grassland that sits about 2,000 m above sea level. It's by far the best game reserve in Kenya, and not just when it comes to lions.

Masai Mara National Reserve is believed to have somewhere around 600 to 800 lions!

 Lion and wildebeests

A lion watching a herd of wildebeests

The density of its lion population naturally swells when the Great Wildlife Migration is in town, as discussed earlier on. So the best time to visit is between June and October, when you should have the greatest chance of seeing lions.

Come to the Masai Mara between June and October for the chance to witness lions stalking the enormous herds of the Great Migration!

Your chances of spotting lions in the Masai Mara are relatively high, especially if you head to the Musiara and Sekenani sectors, or the Mara Triangle.



Top 3 African national parks for seeing lions

So where should you go on safari in Africa if you're all about the lions? We suggest you choose one of these three parks for the greatest chances of lion spotting ...

  1. Maasai Mara National Reserve – this gorgeous reserve has many hundreds of lions (and they're pretty unfazed by vehicles), and it's a real treat if you get to see them stalking the herds of the Great Migration in summer!
  2. Queen Elizabeth National Park – this is a truly beautiful park that boasts a high density of lions, as well as lions that like to climb trees, and by joining a research team tracking collared lions, you're almost guaranteed to find some!
  3. Ngorongoro Crater (inside Ngorongoro Conservation Area) – the crater has the highest density of African lions of any park or reserve, and looking for them involves driving down into the world's largest unbroken caldera ... win!
Ours. Lion seated in Masai Mara, Kenya safari

A lion looking regal in Masai Mara National Reserve

Top tip for finding lions on safari

We want to end this post by offering our top tip for finding lions on safari in a national park. So here it is ...

You have a better chance of spotting lions in the dry season than you do in the rainy season.

There are two reasons why the dry season tends to offer up more lion sightings than the rainy season:

  • The vegetation thins out in the dry season, making lions easier to spot.
  • Lions are forced to stay relatively near to rivers and watering holes in the dry season, so you know where you're likely to find them.

Finally, please note that if you want to see lions in action, you should head out in the early morning or at dusk. Lions are largely crepuscular, meaning they like to hunt around sunrise and sunset.

Lions with illuminated eyes at night

A pride of lions at night

During the heat of the day, lions usually like to find a cool spot where they can park off and sleep. A resting pride is easier to find than one on the hunt, as safari guides are usually in radio contact with one another about their locations.

Any questions? Please drop us a line and we'll happily chat African lions some more with you!

We hope this blog has been helpful and you're excited to head off on a safari and find some lions. 🦁