Hiking in South Africa
There's no better way to experience wild places than to put your boots on and your feet on the ground, one in front of the other. South Africa has a huge variety of awesomely scenic hiking trails. Here are some of the highlights.
The Otter Trail along the Tsitsikamma coast is probably the most popular hike in the country. Lush forests, rugged shorelines, mountain streams and waterfalls and fragrant fynbos make this a special one. It's strenuous, with lots of ups and downs, but the distances aren't too great.
If you want the scenery and walking with less slog and more luxury, try the Dolphin Trail. It traverses similar terrain to the Otter – joining up with it in places – but instead of hiking huts you stay in fully catered guest houses with great views and good food. Your pack is transported to your next overnight spot by vehicle, and you carry only a day pack with lunch, water, camera and swimsuit.
The Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape offers similar trails but dramatically different scenery: miles of deserted beaches, wave-lashed rocks and occasional tropical forest.
Accommodation is in coastal hotels instead of huts. The usual is to carry your pack, but you can arrange to have it driven around, if you plan ahead.
Purists can tackle the Wild Coast rough as they like. There are miles and miles of unspoiled hiking trail traversing high mountains, deserts and forests, where the accommodation is the usual hiking hut, and the cuisine whatever you decided to carry.
For an even wilder experience, you can hike for days in the Cedarberg, near Cape Town, or the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal, without seeing a hut or a route marker. These are designated wilderness areas, and you simply take a map and a permit and set off, sleeping under the stars or in convenient caves.
There are many others, some of which are on private land. You can get a reasonable idea of what's available from the Footprint Hiking Club.
Of course, the most important aspect of a hiking trail is that you don't constantly bump into other people. And the only way to ensure that is to limit numbers, so that means you have to book.
Active Escapes is a leading authority on Wild Coast Hiking. From traditional backpacking trails to fully supported 'slackpacking' holidays; the entire Wild Coast can be hiked, with accommodation ranging from luxury hotels to tented camps or village based homestays. They also offer fully guided and supported hiking trails in the Drakensberg, Eastern Cape Highlands and KZN Midlands, as well as more challenging Drakensberg hikes with a registered mountain guide.
Berg Free is run by Dave Sclanders, a registered mountain guide. He offers hikes in the beautiful Drakensberg, ranging from one day in length up to five days. Descriptions of a wide variety hikes are provided, along with extensive safety information, photos, and feedback from hikers.
The Boksburg Hiking Club meets on the first Wednesday of every month. They organise trails and a hiking programme is available on the club's website. To see what it's all about, take a look at the club's photo section too.
Cape Nature provides information on numerous outdoor activities, including hiking – from one day to multi-day trips in the province's many nature reserves. Other offerings include mountain biking, kloofing, canoeing, kayaking, fly-fishing and horse trails, among others.
Drifters, a tour operator, offers a tour that features either hiking and cycling on the Wild Coast. It lasts six days and five nights and passes along beautiful unspoiled coastline, and a three-day option is also available.
EveryTrail in South Africa features a list of trails, which are described and rated by users. Google maps are included which show useful features like elevation and satellite shows. Photos are included and a list of similar trips is also provided.
Excelsior Wine Walks offers something a little different: a three-day wine walk through beautiful Cape vineyards and orchards that includes visits to a number of wineries, and walking in the Elandsberg and Langeberg Mountains.
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife oversees game parks in KwaZulu-Natal, from the coast to the Drakensberg Mountains. They have a section on hiking, which includes a weekly hiking report, links to weather reports, safety information, tips, and vital information. Some links to hiking operators are also provided.
Footprint Hiking Club offers pictorial reports on various trails, as well as written reports. A hiking calendar is included, as well as advice on hiking equipment, hiking with children, and how to start hiking. The club's mission statement is "to offer members the opportunity to enrich their lives by partaking in environmental and socially related activities offered by the club while taking an active and responsible stance in the preservation of the environment".
Garden Route Hiking Trails has information on different routes around different towns. The hikes are also rated according to difficulty and contact numbers are provided.
High Adventure is a mountain guiding and training company based in Cape Town. They offer guiding services that cover the Cape Peninsula mountain chain and other Cape mountain rangers, as well as all the the significent ranges and climbing areas in other parts of South Africa and Namibia. Their guided activities include mountain walking through to rock climbing and accomodate all levels of ability and experience.
Hike Cape Town is a comprehensive site that focuses on day hikes in the Cape Peninsula. There is also information on guided walks and trail running. Walks are graded according to difficulty, and a good description is given of each one. Time and distance is included.
Info Hub has a list of hiking and trekking tours. Each of the tours includes comprehensive information on the itinerary and links to tour operators are supplied.
Johannesburg Hiking Club organises hikes and hiking-related events, and fosters a sense of responsibility towards the environment. Meet like-minded outdoor and conservation-orientated people who wear heavy boots and smell like the mountain air. The club offers youthful, midweek and Sunday hikes, backpacks, base camp weekends, slide shows, club evenings and social events.
Komatiland Eco-Tourism, which operates out of Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, offers hiking, 4x4 trails and mountain biking. There are seven overnight hiking trails and eight day trail options, all featuring wonderful scenery.
Linx Africa – Trails in Southern Africa is a useful resource which, region by region, allows one to click on specific areas in each province and find out more about the hiking trails in those areas, including the type of trail, the closest town, a description, and contact details.
Mountain Club of South Africa. Hiking is one of the MCSA's main activities, with the club's different sections organising hikes ranging from short day walks in kloofs to multi-day traverses across remote mountain areas.
MTO Forestry is the custodian of the famous Tsitsikamma Hiking Trail. Located in the southern Cape, it is a hiker's paradise, passing through beautiful indigenous forests and mountain fynbos. It is about 60 kilometres in length and features excellent overnight accommodation facilities.
Namaqua Silver Sands Trails & 4X4 offers the fully-catered six-day Namaqua Coastal Tour, while the self catered Namaqua Coastal Tour last five days.
The Num-Num Trail, in Mpumalanga, is a five-day, 42-kilomerte hiking trail that passes through a a variety of pristine landscapes, from yellow-wood forests to sandstone mazes and open grasslands. Not only will you find game along the way, but there are also almost 1 000 waterfalls on the property, including spectacular views of the Uitkomste Falls that are the highest in Mpumalanga. There are five hiking camps all offering fully equipped kitchens, hot and cold showers and braai facilities.
Peak High Mountaineering offers trekking, rock-climbing, ice-climbing, and Mountain Development Trust Courses in mountaineering, trekking and abseiling. Equipment is also available for hire. Mountain biking is another option, as well as mountaineering on Mount Kenya. A nice photo gallery is included.
The Pretoria Dapper Stapper Klub/Club features information on trails throughout South Africa. It also has a useful check list, information on the hiking grading scale, and hiking ethics. Furthermore, GPS maps are presented, with a guide about how to use them.
Ridgways Ramblers offer guided tours and operate out of Cape Town. They cater to all levels of hikers, including individuals, families and schools. Table Mountain is a favourite venue, but the hikes go further afield too, including at Kirstenbosch, the Lions Head, Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Kogelberg Nature Reserve, and the Three Sisters.
RockSport Mountain & Outdoor is based in Sedgefield on the beautiful Garden Route. They offer rock climbing, hiking, backpacking information and equipment. Descriptions of climbing routes around South Africa are also presented, as is info on hiking routes in the Eastern Cape.
South Africa National Parks manages a system of parks which represents the indigenous fauna, flora, landscapes and associated cultural heritage of South Africa. Click on the links to Game Parks run by SA National Parks to find out more about hiking opportunities inside of them, including the famous Otter Trail.
Sandpiper Safaris provides accommodation and hiking safaris in Boggomsbaai, situated close to Mossel Bay, on the beautiful Garden Route. Included in the hikes on offer is the Oystercatcher Trail, a spectacular guided, luxury and fully catered route, which has earned high praise from, among others, National Geogrphic, Getaway Magazine, and the BBC.
Serendipity Eco Trails is situated on a beautiful bushveld farm called Tierkloof, near Polokwane in Limpopo. There are hiking, motorbike, 4x4, and quadbike trails. The hiking options include 16- and 24-kilometre trails, with overnight stays in comfortable bush camps.
SHAKAbarker Tours is located in St. Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal, and operates in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Game Reserve. They offer a number of different trails, ranging from short walks to the Emoyeni Trail, which is 65 kilometres in length and lasts from a Friday afternoon to a Tuesday morning.
South African Hiking Trails has information on more than 300 trails. Useful details such as duration, layout, difficulty, distance, and a good description of the trails are provided. A list of popular trails is also provided.
Southern African Outdoor and Adventure Trails is based in Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal. It offers a number of trails and a calendar of when these hikes will be done is provided. Search the website for options all over South Africa, or check on their mountain bike options too.
Spanafrican Adventures organises hiking expeditions in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Park, ranging from day hikes to seven-day traverses on top of the escarpment. Highlights include the natural beauty of the mountains and cliffs, the flora, the fauna, and the rock art. Included in the offerings is the Giants Cup trail, the only established trail in the Drakensberg, which is 60 kilometres in length and usually takes five days to complete.
The Strandloper Hiking Trail, on the Transkei coast, covers 60 kilometres over four days, starting at Kei Mouth and finishing at Gonubie. A literal translation from Afrikaans for "strandloper" is beach walker, which gives one an idea of what to expect. An easier option, the Strandloper Sundowner Trail, is also available.
Take-a-Hike specialises in guided trails around Cape Town. They include "Table Mountain: Constantia Corner Trail", "Cape Point: Shipwreck and Sirkelsvlei Trail", and "Hout Bay: Manganese Mine and Blackburn Ravine Trail". Galleries of the three trails show what is on offer.
Trail Info is continually adding new trails around South Africa, including hiking , canoeing, and horse trails, and has put together an impressive list of routes. Information on hiking clubs, Green Flag accredited operators, and equipment is also provided.
The Trails Club of South Africa is based in Cape Town. It offers a wide variety of hikes and trails to visitors and members, including Saturday afternoon hikes, full-day Sunday hikes, Wednesday evening hikes in summer, Weekend away hikes of two to four days in duration, longer trails, including in the Drakensberg and Namibia, and socials too.
Venture Forth International is based in Cape Town and incorporates the Cape Town School of Mountaineering. It's a specialised mountain guide service and an accredited mountaineering school. They offer guided treks and hikes in the the Cedarberg, Swartberg, and Drakensberg mountains, as well as on Table Mountain. Rock climbing and kloofing are also undertaken, while expeditions to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Cerro Aconcagua in Argentina are also offered.
Wikitravel provides a list of trails in South Africa, including distance, days, e-mail and telephone contacts, and price.
Wild Coast Holiday Reservations offer exciting holiday options in one of South Africa’s undiscovered jewels, the Wild Coast. Their choice of hiking trails includes the four-night, five-day Hole-in-the-Wall Trail, the six-day Wild Coast Meander, the six-day Wild Coast Amble, and the four-day, three-night Wild Coast Pondo. Catering is provided, as well as a warm bed and hot shower every evening.
Wild Mountain Adventures operates in the beautiful mountainous regions of the Eastern Cape, including around Barkly East, Rhodes, Lady Grey and Wartrail/New England. They specialise in is luxury adventure trails, and tailor-made activity holidays, fully catered in beautiful farmstay accommodation. Other options are fly-fishing, river rafting, mountain biking, horse riding, 4 x 4, and quad routes.
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