A Hiker's Guide to the Garden Route in South Africa

The Pass to Pass trail near George offers breathtaking views
The Pass to Pass trail near George offers breathtaking views | © Mark Dixon

Visitors to the beautiful Garden Route have unlimited choices when it comes to walking and hiking trails, from easy, child-friendly options to challenging, five day routes.

Woodville Big Tree Trail, Wilderness (2.5 kilometers/1.5 miles)

This trail is great for the elderly or families with young children. There are picnic facilities on the trail and wheelchair friendly walkways through the forest. The wilderness area is known for its amazing scenery, so make sure to visit the Map of Africa viewpoint, where the bends of the Kaaimans River create a silhouette resembling the African continent.

Duration: 1 hour
Rating: Easy

The Woodville Big Tree trail leads to a yellowwood tree estimated to be 850 years old

This trail along the beach starts at the Outeniqua Resort and offers unmatched coastal and bush views. Hikers should carry drinking water, as none is available along the trail. The small seaside town of Glentana is situated between George and Groot Brakriver, and is a popular holiday destination among locals—largely due to its pristine beach.

Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes
Rating: Easy/average

Millwood Mine Walk, Knysna (5.6 kilometers/3.5 miles)

This circular route starts at the Millwood picnic spot and features include the remains of an old mining village and a waterfall, which is the perfect spot for taking a breather and having lunch. Hikers can leave their cars at Mother Holly’s Tea Room and visit the old gold mining museum before trekking off.

Duration: 2 hours
Rating: Moderate
*Entrance fee

The original mining building still stands at the site

Dune Mole Rat Trail, Wilderness (6 kilometers/3.7 miles)

The Dune Mole Rat Trail is an extremely sandy route that offers no shade, so remember to pack sunscreen and a hat. The trail, however, is wonderful for viewing fynbos and proteas up close and offer beautiful views of the Rondevlei and Swartvlei lakes.

Duration: 2-3 hours
Rating: Moderate

Pass to Pass Trail, George (7.5 kilometers/4.6 miles)

The circular Pass to Pass Trail has two starting points, the top of Montagu Pass or Outeniqua Pass, and can essentially be done in any direction. Hikers can, when following the 1.3 kilometers (0.8 mile) detour, view George and sometimes Victoria Bay (if the weather permits) and break for lunch at this spot.

Duration: 3 hours
Rating: Difficult

The Elephant Trails, Knysna (7, 8 or 9 kilometers/4.3, 4.9 or 5.5 miles)

The starting point for the Elephant Trails is at the Diepwalle Forest Station and it offers three circular routes through the old Yellowwood forest. The water in the streams is drinkable so there’s no need to pack too much. The Knysna Elephant Park is a must-visit; the park was the first in the country to care for orphaned elephants.

Duration: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes
Rating: Easy
*Entrance fee

The trail leads through lush forest

St. Blaize Trail, Mosselbay (13.5 kilometers/8.3 miles)

If you’d like a hike with some whale watching added in, this trail is for you. The trail starts at the Cape St. Blaize Lighthouse and continues along the cliffs until ending at Dana Bay. Remember to take water and watch out for snakes in summer months—it’s wise to carry a walking stick.

Duration: 4 hours
Rating: Moderate
Permit: None

Hikers can expect spectacular views from the clifftops

Harkerville Coastal Hiking Trail (26.6 kilometers/16.5 miles)

This two-day hiking trail offers the best of the Garden Route, all along the coastline. The best way to take on this hike is to start early, and as accommodation at Harkerville Hut is included, this isn’t difficult to do. The route includes many climbs and challenging points, so a moderate fitness level is required. Also, if you have a fear of heights this hike is not for you.

Need to know: Make sure your shoes offer appropriate ankle support as there are many pebbled trails on the route

The Otter Trail, (43 kilometers/26.7 miles)

The five-day Otter Hiking Trail is the oldest official hiking trail in South Africa and also one of the most popular in the country. Needless to say, bookings should be made far in advance. The trail starts at the Storms River Mouth Rest Camp and continues through the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Daily distances covered vary from 4.8 kilometers (2.9 miles)–13.8 kilometers (13.8 miles) and a moderate level of fitness is necessary.

Need to know: Checking out at De Vasselot Rest Camp is compulsory

Garden Route Trail, Wilderness (58 kilometers/36 miles)

This five-day slack-packing trail is a must for those wanting to get close to nature, and combines hiking and canoeing in some of the most awe-inspiring settings. The trail starts in Wilderness and ends at the Knysna Lagoon and includes a 16-kilometer (9.9-mile) beach stage. Hikers can look forward to spotting African Fish Eagles and Eagle Owls, among other birds, and there are many swimming opportunities along the route. The fact that luggage is transported to each accommodation option sets this hike in a class of its own.

Need to know: Hikers will be accompanied by a scientific guide at all times
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