South Africa boasts some of the most exquisite and picturesque hiking trails in the world. Hiking is a fun, relaxing way to experience the great outdoors. As there are way too many hiking trails in South Africa we asked some experienced hikers about their favourite hiking trails. For inspiration to help plan your next hiking trail, see below 20 of the best hiking trails in South Africa.
1. Wodehouse Trail
Located at Golden Gate Highlands National Park one of the most iconic parks in SA, the Wodehouse trail has some of the most incredible sandstone rock formations I’ve ever seen. It also happens to be the highest peak in the park, offering some amazing views and dramatic landscapes. Bird lovers will spot some black eagles on the sandstones and more game can be seen on this trail even if from a distance. It can take anything between 4-6 hours (depending on fitness and pace) to complete the trail even though I would not rate it as an easy hike.
2. Lion’s Head Hiking Trail
Lion’s head is well known for its picturesque structure located between Table Mountain and Signal Hill. At 669 meters above sea level, its peak offers a panoramic view of Cape Town city. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to hike Lion’s Head. There are two hiking routes (The chain and spiral route) to Lion’s head both start at the parking spot, Signal Hill Road. This is one of the heavily congested trails.
Overview of Lion’s Head Hike
- Distance: approximately 5 km.
- Time: 2-3 hours depending on your pace.
- Difficulty: Easy/Moderate.
- Entrance fee: Free.
What to bring with you
- Wear sports shoes with good grip as the rocks can be slippery (particularly after rain).
- Sunscreen-the trail has little shade.
- Camera for capturing the trail and the summit.
- Garbage bag-there are no dustbins, leave no litter.
3. Wild Coast Hiking Trail
Would you like to experience the Eastern Cape’s beautiful landscape and culture?
The Wild Coast Hiking Trail offers exactly this. It’s considered to be one of the popular hikes along the coastline in South Africa. The four-day hiking trail from Wild Coast Sun in Port Edward to Lusikisiki covers a total of about 73km with the longest day being a 26km trail on the first day.
The trail takes you through the different villages, popular landmarks and it involves several river crossings. The landmarks include the Weolmi 303 Shipwreck and Cathedral Rock.
One of the most incredible attractions is Luphathana where you can dance with the waves and admire them as they crash into the rocks and explode high up. There are several waterfalls along the trail, with the most amazing being Waterfall Bluff. The trail is perfect for a first multi-day hike as there are porters available and the hiking trail is considered to be moderate in difficulty.
- Use aqua shoes while hiking on the beach, the beach sand will wear you down if you are wearing hiking boots. Aqua shoes will give you the freedom to dip your feet in the water.
- Have lunch along the river with your feet in the water, the sand has a massage effect.
4. Outeniqua Hiking Trail – Garden Route National Park
This trail might not be as popular as the Otter trail but it is one of the best-kept secrets of the Garden route! It is a 7 multi-day hike with ‘decent’ but shared accommodation. Some of the trail cabins deliberately have no electricity leaving one to be creative around cooking and bathing making the experience more interesting. One can do anything from 2/3/5 days and doesn’t have to do the entire 7 days. A decent level of fitness is required as some days the hike lasts approximately 18km and there are some technical sections on the hike including some river crossings.
5. Bainskloof Hiking Trail
Bainskloof pass is situated on the R301 regional road between Wellington and Ceres. There are various hiking trails at Bainskloof with hidden gems to be discovered such as Limietberg, Bobbejaanrivier, rockhoppers to name a few, however, some of these trails cannot be accessed without a permit. The permit can be purchased during weekdays at Cape Nature offices or booked online.
6. Otter Trail Hiking Trail
The Otter hiking trail is a five-day adventure in the wilderness and is considered amongst the toughest hikes in South Africa. This popular trail starts at Stormsriver in the Eastern Cape and ends at Nature’s Valley, it takes you along the Garden Route coastline and through the Tsitsikamma forest.
The trail is 45km long and should not be underestimated. The distance covered every day is relatively short, however, the terrain is challenging with steep inclines on numerous stairs and rocky paths.
It is an unguided trail and does not have porters meaning you will carry all your essentials (from cooking utensils to clothes) to survive on the trail in your backpack. Before the start of the trail, you will go through induction on the trail route, tidal times and you will get to weigh your bag – realise what you will carry on the trail.
The breathtaking views along the trail are nothing short of spectacular. And if you are lucky you might spot some Otters and dolphins along the trail.
Accommodation offered has capacity for 12 people in Huts with basic facilities: mattress, toilet, and cold-water shower. There is no electricity, but wood is available at the Huts. The Huts are perfectly located on rocky shores with incredible views and I loved falling asleep to the sound of the waves pounding against the rocks.
The biggest challenges of the trail are the inclines on what feels like an endless number of stairs and on the 4th day with the crossing of the mighty Bloukrans River. The 4th day starts at dawn depending on the tide times for low tide, our hike started at 12:30 am due to the pace of the group which we measured leading up to this day. The hike to Bloukrans river is 10kms long of which most is hiked in the dark. Plan your day such that you get about an hour to rest and energise before crossing the Bloukrans River. Water at low tide is about 1.2m, up to the waistline. After the river crossing takes your time, have lunch before heading to the hut. The hut on the 4th day, Andre Hut has the most beautiful view and somewhat makes up for the challenging day.
The hike is strenuous and you need to have a good level of fitness. At the end of the five days, you will be awarded a certificate of completion for surviving the Otter Trail, one of my greatest achievements.
- Must-have safety items – small First Aid kit, map of the trail, survival bag, cell phone, and a rope for river crossings
- There are escape routes along the trail, when in doubt don’t attempt the river crossing rather take the escape route
- The first day of the hike is one of the shortest trails, take your time at the waterfall and swim
- Explore the area around the Hut, there are tidal pools you can take a swim in
- Look up at the night sky, the star skyline is amazing
- Pack light! Eat your heaviest and fresh foods on the first day
7. Mnweni and Rockeries Pass – Drakensberg
Extremely challenging, unmarked, narrow and single paths, sky scrapping grass, boulders, multiple river crisscrossing, breathtaking and picturesque is what qualifies this 3 day +- 43km hiking trail as one of SA’s best as it gives hikers an adventure with a different taste!
8. Elephant’s Eye Cave
Elephant’s Eye cave is situated in Constantiaberg Mountain. The cave was named Elephant’s Eye particularly because the mountain looks a little like the side on of an elephant’s head and the cave lies just where an eye would be. Start the hike at the Silvermine Nature Reserve parking area. As you get to the peak you will be mesmerized with breathtaking views of Cape Town, False Bay and Tokai forest. This trail can be heavily trafficked particularly during weekends.
Overview of Elephant’s Eye Hike
- Entry fee- minimum conservation fee to be paid at the gate.
- Duration- 5-8 hours depending on your fitness level and it is suitable for children.
- Difficulty- Easy hike, a bit steep towards the cave.
What to bring with you
- Wear sports shoes with good grip as the rocks can be slippery (particularly after rain).
- Sunscreen, sunglasses & hat -the trail has little shade.
- Camera-to captures the trail and the cave.
9. Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Golden Gate Highlands National Park also known as Golden Gate Park is a national park that is part of the SANParks group. Situated near the famous small-town of Clarens and at the foot of Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains, you will find the awe-inspiring Golden Gate Park. The park’s name is derived from the golden glow caused by the setting sun reflecting on the limestone formations.
Also read: Best national Parks in Africa
There are several trails to choose from which cater for beginners and more advanced hikers. The park offers short, medium day hikes and a two-day hike. We chose the short 2.4km hike Brandwag buttress due to the stormy weather, however, we still got to admire the incredibly beautiful scenery.
For anyone planning on visiting Clarens, visit the Golden Gate Highlands Park for a beautiful view of the Free State.
Tip: Visit the Basotho Cultural Village situated 30min from the centre of the park to be taken back to the 18th Century Basotho village.
10. Hennops Hiking trail – Outside Pretoria
Even though Gauteng is not a popular hiking destination, the Hennops hiking trail has got GAME, yes, this trail boasts zebras, impala and kudu amongst others. As if that is not enough, the trail has its own man-made cable car, a suspension bridge, a cafe, picnic area and some beautiful views. This is a fairly easy trail that can be enjoyed by the whole family.
11. Chapman’s Peak Hiking trail
This mountain peak is one of the worthwhile hikes in the Cape Peninsula with exceptional 360 degrees views. Chapman Peak is well known for Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the world’s most scenic drive.
Overview of Chapman’s Peak Hike
- Entry fee-free ( with a Day Pass or R42 for a light motor vehicle on Chapman’s Peak toll road)
- Distance- Approximately 5 km round trip
- Duration- Approximately 3 hours depending on your fitness level and it is suitable for children
- Difficulty- moderate
What to bring with you
- Wear sports shoes with good grip as the rocks can be slippery ( particularly after rain)
- Water and refreshment (please bring recycling bag with you)
- Sunscreen, sunglasses & hat -the trail has little shade
- Camera-to capture the trail and the summit
12. Arangieskop – Outside Robertson
Let me tell you one thing, this 2 days 21 km hiking trail is not called the Kilimanjaro of the Western Cape for nothing, one gets pushed to the boundaries while hiking peak after peak. While you expect to descend on day two, after the summit, and a hectic ascend on day one you will still find some challenging ascents. The terrain is steep and one foot wrong, all hell could break loose as one would fall into what I will call the ‘devil’s pit holes’ that lay below. Back to the summit, as one makes their way up, they get the most amazing views of the Koo Valley and Robertson. The overnight stone hut has a donkey shower operated system, a fireplace, kitchen as well as an outdoor braai area
13. Kloof Corner Hiking Trail
Kloof Corner is one of Cape Town’s most popular hiking trails, and the easiest hike on Table Mountain suitable for all fitness levels affording you spectacular views of the Twelve Apostles, Camps Bay, Lion’s Head, the City Bowl and the Atlantic Ocean.
14. Boesmanskloof Trail, Greyton to McGregor
The magnificent mountains and pure natural beauty of the Boesmanskloof trail which includes a waterfall with a huge swimming rock pool leaves one intoxicated by nature for days after the 28km 2-day hike. The Eagle’s nest hut specifically, is a taste of bush luxury! It has a lounge area, a mix of double and single beds with two sheets, blankets and throws, a fireplace, an outdoor braai area, showers in each one of the 4 rooms. This is truly a highlight for any hiker! This trail also happens to be a heaven for stargazing too.
15. Kasteelspoort Hiking Trail
Kasteelspoort Hiking trail is one of the Table Mountain exciting trails for adrenaline junkies or adventure seekers. It is found on the western slopes of Table Mountain and you will be treated to serene views of the Atlantic Ocean, Camps Bay, Lion’s Head on a less crowded route. There are two starting points. You can start your hike from top Theresa Avenue, Camps Bay or Kloof Nek Road through the well-known Pipe Track hiking trail. The climb to the top is quite lengthy and challenging but worthwhile with extraordinary panoramic views throughout the hike. At the final destination of the hike, you will spot the well-known ‘diving board’. This iconic rock formation hanging on the edge of the mountainside has become one of the most popular highlights and tourist attraction, making it an exceptionally once in a lifetime photo opportunity.
Overview of Kasteelspoort Hiking trail
- Entry fee-free.
- Distance- Approximately 10-12 km round trip.
- Duration- Approximately 3-4 hours depending on your fitness level.
- Difficulty- moderate to high and requires scrambling over rocks.
- Don’t hike alone, at least 2 or 3 people.
- Choose your route carefully and stick to it.
- Check & follow the trail signage
- Should you get lost do not panic but try to trace your steps.
- Always take waterproof clothing, this will come in handy with Cape Town’s unpredictable weather.
- Always bring enough water, specifically in summer
16. Miaspoort, Paarl
On this trail, one is welcomed by boulders right from the start! As one proceeds making their way up to the Huguenot peak (summit point), one is greeted by some spectacular views and can actually spot Table Mountain from a distance. This is where one also finds a visitor’s book tucked in a small steel case as well as the giant Italian cross which was built to commemorate Italian prisoners who died building the Du Toitskloof pass. This hike is only about 8km.
17. Krom River Trail, Paarl
This spectacular trail is located in the Limietberg nature reserve. One literally hikes along the river banks leading to two beautiful waterfalls. To get to the second waterfall which is the biggest, one needs to climb up chains and cross over the top of the first waterfall which is a bit more adventurous. Along the riverbank, there are rock pools suitable for swimming. This trail is approximately 7.1km long.
18. India Venster, Cape Town
India Venster offers some dramatic mountain and picturesque views of the city of Cape Town including Robben Island. It is a challenging hike that requires high levels of fitness. One needs upper body strength to pull the body up and if one has short legs like me, definitely needs to dial a friend for assistance to make it through. It is a highly technical route with lots of scrambling in some sections. But the views are so magnificent and makes it worth the effort. While you admire the city views, at some sections of the hike you are greeted by the Table Mountain aerial cable car literally over the head which is unique to this route.
19. Skeleton Gorge, Cape Town
If you are curious and want to see the ‘secrete beach’ on top of Table Mountain that everyone is raving about, hiking up the skeleton gorge will satisfy your curiosity. This is one of the most diverse routes on the Table Mountain national park. It’s technical and boasts boulders, ladders, chains and a waterfall during the rainy season. As one reaches the top of the mountain, the terrain changes into the sand, leading to the ‘beach’. Even though the water is not clear, swimmers have a ball on sunny days. It also makes a good swimming spot when lockdown regulations restrict visits to normal beaches.
20. Silvermines Hiking Trail, Cape Town
The silvermines hiking trail is one of Cape Town’s most popular and beautiful hiking trails. It boasts beautiful fynbos including Proteas, a cave known as the elephant eye which is a hiking trail on its own, picnic and braai area, beautiful dams where hikers and visitors can swim, a beautiful waterfall, the most amazing views of Muizenberg and St James beaches (through the Muizenberg and St James Peaks) and the beautiful false bay coast line up to Simon’s Town. The Muizenberg Peak offers the most spectacular views of Marina da Gamma, a village that is literally surrounded by water which makes it look like a mini Venice. One also enjoys the beautiful view of the Zandvlei lake with locals rowing in the water from these two peaks. This is not all, the silvermines also lead to the Steenberg and Noordhoek peaks as well as an amphitheatre on the Kalkbay side.