Hiking is one of the best ways to have fun and enjoy a great travel experience, especially if you want to reconnect and appreciate the beauty of nature. South Africa has some of the finest hiking trails in the world, where the opportunities for adventure are endless. Whether you prefer to hike along rivers or tread up mountains, this country has the perfect trail for hikers of all levels of skill and for all ranges of interest.
We have put together a list of the best hiking trails in South Africa where you can discover the unparalleled natural beauty of our nation.
1. Lions Head, Cape Town
This is not one of the easiest hikes in and around Cape Town, but undoubtedly one of the short walks with the best views by far. The hike takes approximately 3 hours (up and down) and hikers are rewarded with views of the city bowl, Table Mountain and the Limiet Berge (Limit Mountains) in the West, and as you round the first turn you have spectacular views of the Twelve Apostles and Camps Bay.
A person with average fitness should be able to reach the summit within an hour although there is a short piece where you would have to use chains to get to the next level. There is a slightly longer route around the chains for those that do want to use an alternative route.
This is also an extremely popular route at full moon. People usually leave before sunset, and enjoy the sunset over the Atlantic, and then watch the moon rise over the mountains in the east. Make sure you have picnic goodies with you and a warm jacket and torch that will last all the way down.
2. Hennops Trail, Gauteng
Located just 39km from Johannesburg and about 35km from Pretoria, the Hennops hiking trail is perfect for taking a break from the city and indulging in nature without having to travel too far. The two trails available are the 11.3km Krokodilberg Trail that takes you through a mountainous area and the 6.15km Zebra Trail that takes you through a fenced game camp. The picturesque trails have much to offer including a suspension bridge, an old mine, ruins and a cableway to get you across the Hennops River. At the end of the trail there is a swimming pool for you to cool off and a braai facility, the perfect end to a great hike! The Hennops Hiking trail is low on difficulty and is perfect for a day trip. Overnight accommodation facilities are also available.
3. Amatola Hiking Trail, Eastern Cape
The Amatola Hiking trail is considered one of the finest hiking trails in South Africa, but it is a challenging one, even for experienced hikers. The good news is that this trail can be completed in instalments! The 100km trail takes 6 days to complete. The trail begins at the close to King Williams Town at the Madam Dam and ends at the Tyume river forest station in Hogsback. Along the way hikers will traverse some of the most breathtaking mountain sceneries in South Africa. More than half the trail passes through incredible, ancient and indigenous rainforests and crosses several streams and pools. The birdlife along the trail is incredible and hikers can view Knysna Louries, Cape Parrots, Crowned Eagles, Barbets, Woodpeckers, Flycatchers, Robins, and even Black Eagles around Geju peak. The animals that you may encounter along the trail include Giant Golden Moles, Giant Earthworms, Bushbuck, Duiker, Porcupines, bush pig, otters, baboons, Samango and Vervet monkeys. Accommodation and ablution facilities are available on the way.
4. Otter Trail, Garden Route (Western Cape)
The Otter Trail is considered one of the best for serious hikers. The 42km-long hiking trail that begins at the Garden Route National Park’s Storms River rest camp and ends at Nature’s Valley takes you through the Tsitsikamma Forest and along the Garden Route’s rugged coastline, hugging the Indian Ocean. Along the way, hikers will be able to view the Skilderkrans quartz outcrop – a great place for spotting dolphins and whales in the ocean below; the Bloukrans Estuary; and one can even spot the famous Cape Clawless Otter which can be found around the lowland areas of the forest. The hike takes about 5 days and although this is not the most difficult hike in the country it does require a fair level of fitness. There are beautiful rest camps with spectacular views along the trail. First Car Rental has car rental branches conveniently located across the Western Cape to help you get to your hiking trail with ease.
5. Wild Coast Hiking Trail, Eastern Cape
The breath-taking views along the Wild Coast Hiking trail are nothing short of spectacular. One of the best coastal hiking trails in South Africa, this five-day trail from Port St Johns to Coffee Bay can be challenging and calls for strength and stamina. However, the natural beauty and the heart-warming hospitality from local villages will always keep your spirits high and your feet willing. Another popular hiking trail in the Eastern Cape is the 59km Drifters Wild Coast Trail along the northern Wild Coast which takes you to popular landmarks including Cathedral Rock and Waterfall Bluff. The 80km Diaz Cross Trail, which starts at Woody Cape in the Alexandria State Forest and ends at the mouth of the Great Fish River, is a hiking trail perfect for those who don’t want to leave the beachside. This trail offers luxury accommodation on the way.
6. Diamond Coast Hiking Trail, Northern Cape
The 50km long, 3-day hike along the Diamond Coast takes hikers deep into a pristine area that was formerly closed to the public due to mining activity. The hike, jointly managed by De Beers and the Namaqua National Park, takes hikers from Koingnaas to Kleinzee along a predominantly coastal terrain with gorgeous windswept sand dunes. Hikers get to explore the old diamond mines and visit the local diamond museum. You will be amazed by the variety of rocks and mineral remains along the trail. Hikers can also spot a variety of animals including Springbuck, Gemsbuck, Water Mongoose and Brown Hyenas.
7. Golden Gate National Park, Free State
The Golden Gate National Park is a great place for relaxed hikes and is ideal for daytrips. Along each of the hiking trails, one gets a grand view of the famous sandstone hills and depending on which trail you choose, you can view spectacular wildlife. The one-hour Mushroom Rock Hike, which starts at the Glen Reenen Rest Camp, is ideal for hikers with young children. If you are looking for a bit more adventure but not as much exertion the 120m-high Brandwag Rock Hike trail or the Eco-Ravine Hike should fairly challenge your abilities. The Cathedral Cave Hike and the Wodehouse Hike trails are both 4 hours long, the latter being the more challenging one. The 28km Ribbok Overnight Trail is the longest and offers the opportunity to conquer the park’s highest peaks. Hikers can spot a variety of game along this trail and if you are lucky, the endangered Bearded Vulture as well as Verreaux’s Eagles.
8. Blyderivierspoort Hiking Trail, Mpumalanga
This 30km, 3 day iconic hiking trail takes you from Paradise Camp in God’s Window to the Bourke’s Luck Potholes and transports you to a world of stunning natural wonders. Starting with the Blyde River Canyon, which is one of South Africa’s foremost tourist attractions, to the gorgeous rock pools, waterfalls and rock formations, the trail offers breath taking views of the Lowveld. The trail offers comfortable overnight accommodation facilities. After a good night’s rest, hikers can enjoy an early morning swim in the natural pools nearby. This trail is a challenging one and is best suited for experienced hikers. Persons under 16 years of age are not allowed to hike this trail.
9. Summit Route,Kgaswane Mountain Reserve (North West)
The Summit Route located in the Kgaswane Mountain Reserve is about 25 km long and ascends right from the start. The trail requires a fair degree of fitness and can be a bit daunting in the heat of the summer months, but the view from the top will make it worth the effort. The Kgaswane Mountain Reserve is part of the mighty Magaliesberg Mountain range and hikers can find a variety of interesting rock formations along the way. The trail also offers a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of the very shy and very rare Sable Antelope, an animal known for their scimitar horns. Along the trail hikers will get to visit the beautiful Tierkloof Waterfall and take a swim in the refreshing natural pools in the area.
10. Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail,Limpopo
Another gorgeous trail set in the mountains, the Magoebaskloof Hiking Trail promises magnificent scenery, cascading waterfalls, cool natural pools, plantations and beautiful forests. The 50km, 3-day circular trail starts at De Hoek Forest Station, which is situated approximately 22km from Tzaneen. Hikers have the chance to spot a variety of animals including Samango Monkeys, Bushbuck, bush pigs and an extensive number of birds, particularly in the Grootbosch Forest. Hikers must also look out for the very unique ‘huilklip’ or crying rock. This extraordinary natural rock sounds like a gong when it is struck with a stone! Birding enthusiasts enjoy the best opportunities to see the Black-fronted Bush Shrike in the enormous Woodbush and Swartbos forest areas along the trail. This is a challenging hike and is recommended for experienced hikers.