While most travelers visit South Africa for its safaris and diverse wildlife, the country is actually full of epic hiking trails that showcase the natural beauty of the land.
From ocean views and lush forests to the dry Karoo, unique rock formations and indigenous fynbos, hiking in South Africa offers an unforgettable experience. This country should definitely be on your hiking bucket list!
Here are the best hikes in South Africa (as rated by a South African hiker!)
Best Hiking Trails in South Africa
1. The Whale Trail
The Whale Trail is a 34 mile (55 km) long hiking path from Potberg to Koppie Alleen, in the Western Cape.
This scenic route allows hikers to enjoy the beautiful coastal views of the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Not only does this trail show off South Africa’s natural splendor, but it is also known to be one of the best places in the world to see whales!
This iconic trail books up months in advance. So, if the Whale Trail is something you really want to do, make sure you plan your trip and book early!
The route itself is fairly easy, although you will be walking quite a lot for about 5 days. So makes sure you have a good pair of comfortable hiking boots!
If you want the best chance to see whales poking their heads and tails out of the sea, then make sure you book your trip between June and December. Seeing these majestic creatures frolicking in the ocean is a truly special and unforgettable sight!
2. Skeleton Gorge
Skeleton Gorge is a 3.7 mile (6 km), moderately difficult hike up Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain. Hiking Table Mountain is a must for all avid hikers and there are several route options to accommodate all levels of fitness.
The trail up Skeleton Gorge is arguably the best route to take as the scenery and the views are unmatched. Along the trail you will pass through forest before hiking through the unique floral zones and fynbos that grows on the mountain.
This hiking trail is perfect for nature lovers and hikers looking for an epic day hike. Skeleton Gorge takes between 5 to 6 hours (including the hike across the table top to the cable car). Once you reach the cable car, you will be treated to breathtaking views of the coastal city of Cape Town.
3. Fanie Botha Trail
One of South Africa’s oldest and most well known trails is the Fanie Botha Trail in Mpumalanga. The Graskop Route is about 32 miles (52 km) long, takes 4-5 days to trek and is the most challenging route of the Fanie Botha Trail.
This stunning trail takes you to tranquil rock pools, natural swimming spots and impressive waterfalls like Lone Creek and Mac Mac Falls.
Not only is the scenery of this trek beautiful and peaceful, but you’ll also see some wildlife along the way! Keep an eye out for baboons, monkeys, colorful birds and antelope as you trek.
4. Golden Gate Highlands National Park
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is the perfect spot for hikers who want a more relaxing and casual hiking experience. Situated in the Maluti Mountains of the north eastern Free State, this national park showcases South Africa’s natural beauty perfectly.
There are a number of different day hikes to choose from so you can spend some time in the area and explore the various landmarks of the park in your own time.
If you’re looking for something a little more serious, the Rhebok Trail is a 18.6 mile (30 km) route that takes two days to hike. This trek is fairly strenuous but offers awe-inspiring mountain views that make every step worth it.
5. Sentinel Peak
Located in the heart of the Drakensberg Mountains is Sentinel Peak - the highest free-standing mountain in the range in South Africa (3,165 meters).
This 3.7 mile (6 km) hike should not be underestimated as you’ll be climbing over rocks and braving chain ladders that have been fixed right into the vertical rock face.
The thrilling Sentinel Peak hike is perfect to get your adrenaline pumping and offers hikers a spectacular 360° view of the Drakensberg Mountains below.
6. Amphitheater Hike
The Amphitheater Hike is another hiking gem found in the Drakensberg Mountains. This is a challenging trek and amongst the hardest hikes in the world. The trail begins at the Sentinel car park and takes about 7 hours in total to complete.
The hike takes you up to the top of Tugela Falls - the world’s second highest waterfall. From up here, you have unparalleled views of the surrounding escarpment. Seeing the water flow down the mountain from way up high is a striking sight to behold.
If you want to be sure you’ll see the gorgeous Tugela Falls in full force, plan your hike between November and February as it is a seasonal waterfall.
7. The Otter Trail
Located along the beautiful coastline of the Garden Route, the Otter Trail is one of the most popular hikes in South Africa. This 26-mile (42 km) trek begins at Storm’s River and ends at Nature’s Valley.
You’ll wander through the Tsitsikamma Forest and be treated to stunning views of the coast. You may even be lucky enough to spot a whale or a dolphin poking out the water.
Make sure to keep an eye out for the elusive Cape Clawless Otter (the trail's namesake) around the lowlands in the forest.
Best Time to Hike in South Africa
The best time to go hiking in South Africa depends on where you’re planning on hiking in the country.
It is better to explore the coastal regions during the spring, autumn or summer months (anytime from September to May). While winters are fairly mild, it can be quite rainy and windy. Summer brings hot temperatures and longer days so you can take your time hiking in the light.
The central regions of South Africa experience a rainy summer season so if you don’t want to get wet, aim to go hiking in spring or autumn. Otherwise, make sure you pack a good raincoat to protect you from the rain!
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