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With undulating mountain chains, hectares of forest and vast nature reserves right on its doorstep, Cape Town has a strong outdoor culture with hiking rated as one of the top activities. The Table Mountain National Park, around which the city is based, has an abundance of trails covering all types of terrain, while other scenic routes can also be found within an hour of the city center. These top ten hiking trails will help you lose yourself in nature.
Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most famous landmark and boasts a network of hiking trails with various lengths, time and difficulty. These hikes cover all types of terrain, from well-defined paths to rocky inclines with lots of scrambling and exposure to heights. Along the way you will encounter indigenous fynbos, mountain reservoirs and a variety of local fauna including the rock hyrax. The most well-trodden trail is Platteklip Gorge — a short but steep route that takes you up the centre of the table to the summit where you can take the cable car down.
The Nursery Ravine/Skeleton Gorge route is a more challenging hike that begins at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden and follows a steep pathway over rocks and up wooden ladders to Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point of the mountain. India Venster is a difficult and technical route that takes hikers to the top of the India Ravine (shaped like the country) and traverses the western section of Table Mountain towards Camps Bay. On the Atlantic side, Pipe Track and Kasteelsport are relatively easy meanders below the Twelve Apostles Range affording panoramic views of Camps Bay.
*Hiking India Venster with a guide is advisable.
Standing at 669 m above sea level, Lion’s Head is the iconic mountain peak to the right of Table Mountain. It is one of the city’s most popular hiking trails for its magnificent views of the Atlantic ocean, mountains and the city. The trail begins at Signal Hill Road and follows a steep but fairly easy track to a section below the summit, where you’ll need to climb to the top with the help of chains and ladders. If that sounds too daunting, an alternate but slightly longer path also takes you to the summit.
Situated on the Eastern slopes of Table Mountain, Newlands Forest offers a variety of walks and hiking trails for all levels of fitness. The forest contains many unique sights such as the historic Lady Anne Barnard Cottage, the Newlands Reservoir, the City Parks Nursery as well as numerous rivers, streams and indigenous fynbos. Popular trails include the Contour Path to Rhodes Memorial, the Forest Station Walk and the Fernwood Trail up to Newlands Ravine — a moderate hike that travels uphill to a lookout point with fantastic views of the southern suburbs.
Arguably the most awe-inspiring and challenging of all Cape Town hikes is the Hoerikwaggo Trail. Hoerikwaggo is the Khoi people’s name for Table Mountain which means ‘Mountain in the Sea’. The strenuous 75 km trek takes five days to complete and is usually done with experienced guides from local tour companies. This dramatic, undulating trail begins in the Cape Point Nature Reserve and follows a designated path featuring cliffs, steep ascents and descents, beach walks and mountain paths, ending on the western flank of Table Mountain. Hikers usually rest overnight in tented camps along the way.
This easy, family-friendly route begins at Constantia Nek pass on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and follows a mostly gravel road to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens six kilometers away. The picturesque route winds its way along the fynbos-covered mountains with stunning views of the southern peninsula.
Cape Point Nature Reserve is situated at the south-western tip of Africa in the Table Mountain National Park. There are numerous one-day hiking trails with diverse scenery ranging from deserted beaches to shipwrecks, local wildlife and impressive sea cliffs. Popular trails include the circular Sirkelsvlei route and the Cape Point to Cape of Good Hope trail, which showcases the dramatic landscape and ocean.
Chapman’s Peak trail is situated above the famous marine drive between Noordhoek and Hout Bay, and leads visitors to the highest point of the mountain. It is a moderate three-hour hike, including stops for photos, and boasts 360 degree vistas of the peninsula. The route begins just beyond the toll gate (where you collect a free day pass) and follows a steep stone pathway that levels out toward the top. Beautiful scenery including proteas, watsonias and other endemic flowers add color to the mountainside.
The mountains above the seaside hamlet of Kalk Bay contain numerous hiking trails and caves amid dense vegetation and Afro-montane forest. Ranging from moderate to difficult, the trails lead uphill through the Spes Bona and Echo valleys, offering magnificent views of False Bay. The trails are well signposted and there are raised boardwalks in the forest to protect their roots and prevent erosion. Old Mule path is a gentle trail that gradually climbs along the mountainside and is a great spot for whale watching between June and November. Once a month, the Cape Peninsula Speleological Society offers a tour of the mountain caves for enthusiastic hikers.
The beautiful Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lies south-west of Stellenbosch in the Winelands region, and features the majestic Jonkershoek Mountains. The sprawling reserve, which covers 9,800 hectares, is rich in fauna and flora with more than 1,100 plant species and a variety of small mammals, birds and reptiles. There are various nature walks in the area and four main hiking trails ranging from two hours to six hours in length. Along the way you’ll encounter rivers, indigenous forest, waterfalls and panoramic views of the valley.
Kogelberg Nature Reserve is a World Heritage Site located south-east of Cape Town and falls within the larger Kogelberg Biosphere. The Biosphere spans 100,000 hectares and is considered the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, renowned for its pristine beauty and diverse fynbos. The area is comprised of mountain ranges, indigenous forest, highland valleys, rivers and waterfalls making it an ideal place for hiking. There are numerous day and overnight trails at Kogelberg ranging from 3 km to 24 km long. One of the most popular trails in the area is Crystal Pools — a fairly easy hike leading past a series of rocks pools in which hikers love to cool off on a hot day.
* Permits are required to hike in the Kogelberg Biosphere.