With miles upon miles of untouched beauty and glorious far-reaching vistas to uncover, it comes as no surprise that Cape Town is one of the most popular hiking spots in South Africa. With a plethora of trails to choose from, this is a destination not to be missed for lovers of the great outdoors.
From hiking up Table Mountain to trekking along the coastal path of Sandy Bay, read on to find out more about some of the best hiking trails in Cape Town for a range of abilities to discover during your time in this breathtaking city.
Why go hiking in Cape Town?
With so many different paths and trails to choose from, Cape Town is full of stunning flora and fauna no matter which routes you decide to take. With heart-stirring views over the city and out towards the ocean, it’s easy to understand why so many people choose to hike in the Cape every year.
We spoke to Alison from 52 Cape Town Hikes about what makes Cape Town such a unique hiking destination.
“Picture this: a bustling city of several million people and smack bang in the middle, within walking distance of the skyscrapers of the city centre, is a spectacular mountain range full of forested gorges, rare and strange plants found nowhere else in the world, mysterious rock labyrinths, and even a white sand beach beside a lake at the top. These mountains are crisscrossed with what seems like a never-ending network of intriguing hiking trails and scrambling routes. And this (Table Mountain) is just one of the many, many easily reachable hiking areas in and around Cape Town. I've been hiking in Cape Town for more than 20 years, but I know there are still plenty of wonderful discoveries waiting for me practically on my doorstep.”
Alison also told us how Cape Town’s hiking trails compare to other world-renowned trails.
“Most of Cape Town's hiking trails are day hikes - routes that you can easily complete in just a few hours. This makes them much more accessible than most other world-famous trails, which are generally multi-day hikes requiring a high level of fitness and preparation. And, thanks to the huge number and variety of trails in and around the city, people of all levels of ability and experience can explore the Cape's incredible landscapes on foot.”
So, out of the many, many trails to discover in Cape Town, we have highlighted four different trails to choose from that suit a range of abilities and endurance levels.
Duration: 1.5-2.5 hours to the top
Difficulty: Medium (cable car available)
The most famous hiking trail in Cape Town, Table Mountain is loved by hikers of all abilities. One of the more popular cruise excursions and days out in the area, hiking Table Mountain is enjoyed by a variety of visitors who want to take in the sights and see a Cape Town from otherworldly heights.
Travel blogger Johnny from Johnny Africa told us what makes Table Mountain such an exceptional hike.
“Without a doubt, Table Mountain is Cape Town’s most defining characteristic. Voted as one of the New7Wonders of Nature, the impossibly flat peak that stretches for three kilometres is a truly special sight. If you’re lucky, some days you’ll witness a ‘table cloth’ of cloud that just covers the top of the mountain. Seasoned hikers can also enjoy numerous routes while ascending the 1080m to the top. Others can take the iconic Table Mountain cable car with spectacular views of Cape Town. Once at the top, enjoy sweeping panoramic views of the Western Cape that you’ll never forget.”
Duration: 45 minutes – 1 hour to the top
The second most popular Cape Town hiking trail, Lion’s Head is thought to be a less strenuous trek than Table Mountain but with reaching views and lush greenery that will inspire you all the same. The trail also has chains and ladders to climb if you’re moderately fit and looking for a challenge, but there are other routes you can take instead if you’d prefer.
“A trip to Cape Town would not be complete without a visit to Lion’s Head,” says Johnny. “It’s one of the top attractions in the Mother City and affords you the most stunning views of the city. From the top of Lion’s Head, you can see all of Cape Town, Table Mountain, and the 12 apostles at the same time. The hike itself is slightly challenging, but the path is well marked and totally worth it. Make sure to bring some bubbly to enjoy at the top because there will not be many places in the world with a better setting!”
Travel blogger Dave from What’s Dave Doing? also told us why hiking Lion’s Head is a must.
“If you’ve only got the time or energy for one hike in Cape Town, I’d suggest Lion's Head. It’s quite a bit easier than trekking up Table Mountain, but there are still some rocky, steep sections towards the end that provide enough challenge to make it feel like you’ve achieved something worthwhile.
“You don't need anything in the way of specialist clothing beyond a pair of running or hiking shoes. Plan to take a couple of hours to do the round trip, pack snacks and more water than you think you'll need, and don’t forget to enjoy the views.”
Duration: 2-2.5 hours to the top
Difficulty: Hard (cable car available)
One of the many hiking trails up to Table Mountain, Skeleton Gorge is one of Cape Town’s longest and most challenging trails, with the effort certainly worth the reward. Once at the top, you’ll be able to enjoy spectacular panoramas of Robben Island to Camps Bay and Lions Head. The trail is a jungle-like path that is accessed from Kirstenbosch Gardens, a botanical garden full of rare flora and an enchanting tree canopy walkway that offers compelling views of Table Mountain.
Travel blogger Julie from Frame Ambition told us more about this picturesque hike and what it entails.
“Skeleton Gorge is one of the tougher (and relatively longer) hikes that Cape Town has to offer. The full route connects the east face of Table Mountain and the Kirstenbosch Gardens and can be started from either end.
“Expect lush indigenous forests, sweeping views, mini waterfalls and some tough climbs that can be slippery at the gorge itself. The hike’s difficulty would be at a 4 out of 5, with at least 5 hours set aside for hiking up and down the mountain.”
If you don’t think you’d be confident hiking up the trail, Julie recommends descending it instead. “To avoid climbing up the mountain, instead, start the trail at the end of the hike by using the cable car to get to the top of Table Mountain. It should be kept in mind though that the cable car may be closed due to strong winds.”
Duration: 1-2 hours
If you’re looking for a more relaxed hike with a beach setting, Julie recommends hiking Cape Town’s Sandy Bay trail. Located next to the golden sands of Sandy Bay beach, the trail offers impressive sights of the surrounding grassland and the glittering shoreline, with reaching views all the way out to the horizon.
“Sandy Bay is best known to locals as an age-old nudist beach,” says Julie, “but the mountains that surround it are high and wide enough to offer views over the ocean and surrounding foliage. The route starts at the Hout Bay sand dunes car park and is a moderate 2 out of 5 for difficulty. Set aside 1-2 hours for this hike which can be extended should you want to descend onto Sandy Bay beach for a swim or a picnic. The BOS 400 shipwreck is an interesting site to observe from the hike and some more adventurous souls even swim out to it from the beach below.”
Tips for hiking in Cape Town
Before embarking on a hike in Cape Town, it’s important to stay safe. Taking the right precautions before setting off is imperative, whether that’s wearing the right clothes or following basic hiking safety guidelines.
As an experienced hiker in Cape Town, Alison shared with us her top tips for staying safe during your hike.
“An unfortunate side effect of having amazing mountains right in the middle of a city is that many people don't seem to remember that these are real mountains, with the same risks and dangers as other mountains. I often see people (locals and visitors alike) hiking in unsuitable shoes, with no hat, water, food or sunblock.
“At the very minimum, follow basic hiking safety precautions: wear proper walking shoes and a sunhat, carry sufficient water and food, as well as a warm jersey and windbreaker, as weather can change quickly.
“A map and a mobile phone are also important. Respect the mountain and stick to the marked trails. If you want to explore one of the lesser-known trails or scrambling routes, it’s worth hiring a qualified mountain guide to help you get the most out of the trail while staying safe.”
With a dazzling city and rich outdoors to explore, browse our cruises to Cape Town today. On top of this, you can also book a pre- and post-cruise guided tour of Cape Town if you wish to explore the city in depth.
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