The mountain is an extinct volcano standing alone. Its slopes include several different biomes; the lowest parts are dry upland forest, changing to montane forest of cedar and podo at about 2,000 m, with a belt of bamboo trees at 2,500 m that the changes to an upper forest of smaller trees covered with moss. Twelve small glaciers may be found scattered among the complex of seven summits.
The area around the mountain is protected in the Mount Kenya National Park.
The Kikuyu people believe that their supreme being Ngai lives on Mount Kenya.
The missionary Johann Ludwig Krapf was the first European to report a sighting of Mount Kenya, in 1849. The first recorded ascent of Mount Kenya was made by Halford Mackinder on 13 September 1899. The highest point (Batian) is a technical climb; the classic Diamond Couloir climbing route is a Grade IV of about 20 pitches, up to YDS 5.9 in difficulty.