South Africa's 15 most beautiful hiking trails

South Africa’s 15 most beautiful hiking trails

South Africa is known to be a land of diverse landscapes and breathtaking vistas; an expansive playground capable of satisfying even the most die-hard traveler’s wanderlust. And what better way to explore this raw, unadulterated terrain than by foot? Hmm, but where to start? Well, here are South Africa’s 15 most beautiful hiking trails; let the Instagramming begin.

15. Golden Gate Highlands Rhebok hiking trail

15. Just a stone’s throw from Clarens is the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The Park’s two day Rhebok trail will have hikers navigating their way through some of South Africa’s most spectacular mountains, rock-pools and ravines. The hike is considered moderately difficult and shouldn’t be attempted without an experienced guide. Take note that the region can become rather misty and cold, so be sure to pack accordingly.

Location: Free State.

Description: Just a stone’s throw from Clarens is the Golden Gate Highlands National Park. The Park’s two day Rhebok trail will have hikers navigating their way through some of South Africa’s most spectacular mountains, rock pools and ravines. The hike is considered moderately difficult and shouldn’t be attempted without an experienced guide. Take note that the region can become rather misty and cold, so pack accordingly.

Difficulty: Moderate – Advanced.

Length: 31 km.

Cost: R155 per person.

14. Amatola hiking trail

14. The starting point of the Amatola hiking trail lies just outside of King William’s town and makes its way through some of the most impressive highland scenery South Africa has to offer. The trail is adorned with a sublime array of waterfalls and rock pools, offering hikers welcomed respite from the summer sun. The path finds its end in the mysterious and magical world of Hogsback, cloaked by centuries-old indigenous Afro-montane forests and the breathtaking Amathole mountains. The hike is typically done over six days, and is considered one of the more challenging trails South Africa has to offer.

Location: Eastern Cape.

Description: The starting point of the Amatola hiking trail lies just outside of King William’s town and makes its way through some of the most impressive highland scenery South Africa has to offer. The trail is adorned with a sublime array of waterfalls and rock pools, offering hikers welcomed respite from the summer sun. The path finds its end in the mysterious and magical world of Hogsback, cloaked by centuries-old indigenous Afro-montane forests and the breathtaking Amathole mountains. The hike is typically done over six days, and is considered one of the more challenging trails South Africa has to offer.

Difficulty: Advanced.

Length: 100 km.

Cost: Price on request.

13. Fanie Botha hiking trail

13. Winding its way through Sabie’s acres of lush Komatiland forest, the Fanie Botha trail exposes hikers to a variety of local bird-life as well as two national monuments, namely, the Mac Mac and Lone Creek falls. The whole trail takes five days to complete, but two and three day options are also catered for.

Location: Mpumalanga.

Description: Winding its way through Sabie’s acres of lush Komatiland forest, the Fanie Botha trail exposes hikers to a variety of local bird life as well as two declared national monuments, namely, the Mac Mac and Lone Creek falls. The whole trail takes five days to complete, but two and three day options are also catered for.

Difficulty: Moderate – Advanced.

Length: Full route approximately 75 km.

Cost: R105 per person per night.

12. Magoebaskloof hiking trail

12. Found on the escarpment skirting the town of Tzaneen, the Magoebaskloof trail will have hikers negotiating craggy ravines and sub-tropical forest as they explore all that the real Limpopo has to offer. Eucalyptus and blue gum trees form a towering canopy enshrouding one’s path from the outside world and quietening minds frantic from the city. Annual rainfall in the area is high, so pack a raincoat. The full trail is five nights long, but shorter two and three day routes are also optional.

Location: Limpopo.

Description: Found on the escarpment skirting the town of Tzaneen, the Magoebaskloof trail will have hikers negotiating craggy ravines and sub-tropical forest as they explore all that the real Limpopo has to offer. Eucalyptus and blue gum trees form a towering canopy enshrouding one’s path from the outside world and calming frantic city minds. Annual rainfall in the area is high, so pack a raincoat. The full trail is five nights long, but shorter two and three day routes are also optional.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Length: Full route approximately 60 km.

Cost: R105 per person per night.

11. Leopard’s Kloof hiking trail

11. Nestled away in the quaint coastal town of Betty’s Bay is the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens. The Leopard’s Kloof day trail is but one of many pleasant Park walks that cater to the entire family. The hike ascends through thick coastal forest and is punctuated by vibrant limestone fynbos and Renosterveld all the way up to the Leopard’s Kloof waterfall.

Location: Western Cape.

Description: Nestled away in the quaint coastal town of Betty’s Bay is the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens. The Leopard’s Kloof day trail is but one of many pleasant park walks that cater to the entire family. The hike ascends through thick coastal forest and is punctuated by vibrant limestone fynbos and Renosterveld all the way up to the Leopard’s Kloof waterfall.

Difficulty: Easy.

Length: 3 km.

Cost: R50 deposit.

10. Dolphin hiking trail

10. If you’ve always wanted to hike the Tsitsikamma but felt the Otter Trail was too daunting, then the Dolphin trail might be for you. The luxury three night hike allows travelers to see the Garden Route in style (and less a heavy backpack), an alluring proposal for those more fond of slackpacking. The iconic Storms River bridge is but one of many striking landmarks boasted by the route. Other attractions include the wide variety of fauna, flora, and hopefully, dolphins, that can be seen along the trail.

Location: Eastern Cape.

Description: If you’ve always wanted to hike the Tsitsikamma but felt the Otter Trail was too daunting, then the Dolphin trail might be for you. The luxury three night hike allows travelers to see the Garden Route in style (and less a heavy backpack) – an alluring proposal for those more fond of slackpacking. The iconic Storms River bridge is but one of many striking landmarks boasted by the route. Other attractions include the wide variety of fauna, flora, and hopefully, dolphins, that can be seen along the trail.

Difficulty: Easy.

Length: 17 km.

Cost: R4990 per person if sharing / R5940 for individuals. Includes all food, accommodation and transport.

9. Hole in the Wall hiking trail

9. The Wild Coast’s unique mix of estuaries, mangrove swamps and seaside cliffs make the Hole in the Wall hiking trail a distinctly memorable experience. In a similar fashion to the Dolphin Trail, this hike is also considered a luxury trail, so nightly accommodation is provided by local hotels. The hike is done over three days and is a must-do for coastal lovers.

Location: Eastern Cape

Description: The Wild Coast’s unique mix of estuaries, mangrove swamps and seaside cliffs make the Hole in the Wall hiking trail a distinctly memorable experience. In a similar fashion to the Dolphin Trail, this hike is also considered a luxury trail, so nightly accommodation is provided by local hotels. The hike is done over three days and is a must-do for coastal lovers.

Difficulty: Easy – Moderate

Length: 31 km.

Cost: Price on request.

8. Skeleton Gorge hiking trail

8. Arguably one of the most scenic routes of hiking Table Mountain is Skeleton Gorge. While the trails’s first half is largely limited to forested ravines, the second half takes in the majority of Table Mountain’s floral zones, and offers magnificent panoramic views of Cape Town. The return hike taxes approximately 6- 8 hours to complete.

Location: Western Cape.

Description: Skeleton Gorge is arguably Table Mountain’s most scenic hiking route. While the trails’s first half is largely limited to forested ravines, the second half takes in the majority of Table Mountain’s floral zones, and offers magnificent panoramic views of Cape Town. The hike takes approximately 6- 8 hours to complete.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Length: 6.2 km.

Cost: R50.

7. Swellendam hiking trail

7. In addition to being the third oldest town in South Africa, Swellendam is also home to one of the most scenic hikes in the country. For any avid flower lovers, the hike is a must. There are some 30 members of the erica family to be found in the area including some that are only to be found in these mountains. The full hike is done over 6 days, and should only be attempted by more veteran hikers; shorter trail options are also available for the less experienced.

Location: Western Cape.

Description: In addition to being the third oldest town in South Africa, Swellendam is also home to one of the most scenic hikes in the country. For any avid flower lovers, the hike is a must. There are some 30 members of the Erica family to be found in the area including some that are only to be found in these mountains. The full hike is done over 6 days, and should only be attempted by more veteran hikers; shorter trail options are also available for the less experienced.

Difficulty: Moderate – Advanced.

Length: 70 km.

Cost: Currently under maintenance on account of Western Cape fires.

6. Diamond Coast hiking trail

6. Situated within what was once a restricted diamond mining area lies the aptly titled, Diamond Coast. Now jointly run by De Beers Coast of Diamonds and the Namaqua National Park, the trail offers hikers the chance to explore the path less traveled (and maybe find a precious stone or two while doing so). The hike is done over three days and traverses unspoilt sand dunes, shipwrecks, a variety of rock and mineral deposits, and not to mention a plethora of wildflower and plant species.

Location: Northern Cape.

Description: Situated within what was once a restricted diamond mining area lies the aptly titled, Diamond Coast. Now jointly run by De Beers Coast of Diamonds and the Namaqua National Park, the trail offers hikers the chance to explore the path less traveled (and maybe find a precious stone or two while doing so). The hike is done over three days and traverses unspoilt sand dunes, shipwrecks, a variety of rock and mineral deposits, and not to mention a plethora of wildflower and plant species.

Difficulty: Easy – Moderate.

Length: 50 km.

Cost: Unfortunately we’ve just been informed that the Diamond Coast hiking trail has been decommissioned; perhaps a road-trip with a few friends is in order?

5. Blyderivierspoort hiking trail

5. Starting at God’s Window and wending its way through the third largest canyon in the world, the Blyderivierspoort hiking trail really allows one to truly appreciate the majesty of the Blyde River Canyon and its surrounds. The full hike is five days, with the last two days being optional. Hidden among the ferns, Cycads, wild figs, Mobola plums and orchids you’ll find baboon, Duiker and Klipspringer; other attractions include Bourke’s Luck potholes.

Location: Mpumalanga.

Description: Starting at God’s Window and wending its way through the third largest canyon in the world, the Blyderivierspoort hiking trail really allows one to truly appreciate the majesty of the Blyde River Canyon and its surrounds. The full hike is five days, with the last two days being optional. Hidden among the ferns, cycads, wild figs, mobola plums and orchids you’ll find baboon, duiker and klipspringer; other attractions include Bourke’s Luck potholes.

Difficulty: Moderate – Advanced.

Length: 60 km.

Cost: Currently under maintenance (6-8 months).

4. Olifantsbos shipwreck hiking trail

4. If you're looking for the sense of satisfaction you get after conquering what seems to be an insurmountable obstacle, then the Shipwreck hike leaves much to be desired. But if it's raw beauty and rich history you're after, then the short and sweet Olifantsbos trail will deliver on both counts. Pick up an information pamphlet and map from the Buffesfontein Visitors Centre and take a relaxing meander through the Cape Point Nature Reserve.

Location: Western Cape.

Description: If it’s raw beauty and rich history you’re after, then the short and sweet Olifantsbos trail will deliver on both counts. Pick up an information pamphlet and map from the Buffelsfontein Visitors Centre and take a relaxing meander through the Cape Point Nature Reserve.

Difficulty: Easy.

Length: 5 km.

Cost: R110.

3. Ukhahlamba Amphitheatre hiking trail

3. The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park can be found a mere two hour’s drive from Durban, and is home to the largest collection of bushmen paintings south of the Sahara. Arguably the most iconic feature of the park however, is the Amphitheatre, an awe-inspiring basalt wall rising 3000 meters above sea level. The almost perfectly symmetrical shape of the buttress also serves as a surreal backdrop for the Tugela falls, Africa’s highest waterfall (948m). The three day slackpacking trail is designed to allow people of average fitness to enjoy the wonders of this World Heritage Site and is not to be missed.

Location: KwaZulu-Natal / Free State.

Description: The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park can be found a mere two hours’ drive from Durban, and is home to the largest collection of bushmen paintings south of the Sahara. Arguably the most iconic feature of the park however, is the Amphitheatre, an awe-inspiring basalt wall rising 3000 meters above sea level. The almost perfectly symmetrical shape of the buttress also serves as a surreal backdrop for the Tugela falls, Africa’s highest waterfall (948m). The three day slackpacking trail is designed to allow people of average fitness to enjoy the wonders of this World Heritage Site and is not to be missed.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Length: 33 km.

Cost: Between R3100 – R3450 (minimum two people).

2. Sentinel Peak hiking trail

2. Falling on the western side of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre and dubbed the "chain ladders" hike is the Sentinel Peak traverse, a trail not for the faint of heart. If scaling sheer rock-face by way of ladder sounds like your thing though, then this single day hike might be for you. If you should muster up the courage, then the view from the top will serve as a handsome reward.

Location: KwaZulu-Natal / Free State.

Description: Falling on the western side of the Drakensberg Amphitheatre and dubbed the “chain ladders” hike is the Sentinel Peak traverse, a trail not for the faint of heart. If scaling sheer rock face by way of ladder is your thing, then this single day hike is for you. If you should muster up the courage, then the view from the top will serve as a handsome reward.

Difficulty: Moderate – Advanced.

Length: 6 km.

Cost: Price on request.

1. Whale hiking trail

1. Stretching from Potberg to Koppie Alleen, the Whale trail gives hikers the chance to explore the unparalleled beauty of De Hoop nature reserve and coastline. The Whale trail has been said to be the “Sun City of hiking routes” and is renowned to be one of the best whale watching spots on the globe. The route is characterized by rolling limestone sand dunes, salty sea air, and an assortment of wild fynbos – not to mention, whales! The trail takes 5 days to complete and must be done in groups of 6, 8 or 12. The hike is often fully booked months in advance and does not come cheap, but the experience is certainly well worth the price.

Location: Western Cape.

Description: Stretching from Potberg to Koppie Alleen, the Whale trail gives hikers the chance to explore the unparalleled beauty of De Hoop nature reserve and coastline. The Whale trail has been said to be the “Sun City of hiking routes” and is renowned to be one of the best whale watching spots on the globe. The route is characterized by rolling limestone sand dunes, salty sea air, and an assortment of wild fynbos – not to mention, whales! The trail takes 5 days to complete and must be done in groups of 6, 8 or 12. The hike is often fully booked months in advance and does not come cheap, but the experience is certainly well worth the price.

Difficulty: Easy.

Length: 55 km.

Cost: R1695 per person + R480 per person (portage).

If you’re lucky enough to be a South African, then let us know which hiking trails we’ve missed out in the comments section below. If you’re a foreign national, then we’ll take care of the South African visa and you take care of the hiking boots.

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29 Comments

  1. You,ve left out the 5 day hike from the top of the cederberg to the south. Truly one of the most special that I’ve done.

  2. You haven’t included any along the garden route, among others, the Otter, Tsitsikama and Outeniqua, not to mention the magnificent day hikes in the Harkerville area. I have done a few of those that you have mentioned, all lovely, but your top 15 is incomplete without at least some of these. Perhaps your list need to grow to a top 20.

  3. Hi Justine,

    Thanks for the comment.

    We’ve included the Dolphin Trail, which explores some of the most beautiful parts of the Garden Route and Tsitsikamma. It’s also far less difficult, so will likely appeal to a broader audience than the onerous Otter Trail. We will be sure to check out the Outeniqua trails though!

  4. Hi Derek,

    We’ve included the Dolphin Trail, which arguably covers some of the most beautiful parts of the Tsitsikamma, but is far less challenging than the Otter Trail.

  5. The Chokka Trail is a 56km slack packing route between St Francis, Cape St Francis and Oyster Bay in the Eastern Cape, highlights being a canal cruise, calamari tasting plus visits to a working harbour and penguin rehab facility – beauty at its best. Come see for yourself!

  6. The Otter Trail which deserve a listing in its own right. The Fish River Canyon and the Baviaanskloof trail.

  7. Hi please let me know how to book the whale trail – I have tried a few times but nobody gets back to me. I do not mind booking a few years in advance

  8. Hi Wesley, I was also surprised not to find Cederberg on the list, but this country has so much to offer and our lovely Cederberg is still one of those well hidden gems. You will find a variety of trails in the Cederberg on http://www.cedheroute.co.za, one of them is a new trail called “cederberg 100 trail”. There are much more of course but these listed on the site are those accompanied by guide and transportation of belongings to the next stay over.

  9. Woodcliffe.5day hike near McClear in the Eastern Cape
    Absolutely stunning.Moderate to strenous

  10. As far as I know, the Dolphin Trail does not cover “some of the most beautiful parts of the Otter Trail”. It’s not at all the same trail.
    The Dolphin Trail runs east of Storms River Mouth, while the Otter Trail runs from the rest camp in a western direction to Nature’s Valley. It’s two completely different trails.
    If Fanie Botha, Magoebaskloof and the Amatola (which are all quite challenging) is on the list, then the Otter should be, too. Amatola is, according to a friend, even more challenging than the Otter…

  11. I was 52 and my wife 51 when we did the Otter. It was our first ever hike and we were not fit at all. Yes it was difficult but not as difficult as some make it out to be. The views and the beauty is very rewarding.

  12. Please forgive my ignorance but, the cost of some of these seem to be quite ludicrous.

  13. Hi Matthew, we’re inclined to agree with you. However, don’t forget that some of the more expensive trails include food and luxury accommodation over the course of several days.

  14. I assume the Otter Trail was left out because it is the most beautiful hiking trail in the world?

  15. Very insightful information guys and thanks. ‘ Did the Otter Trail and it was awesome and certainly epic. Which trials offer cabins for lodging similar to the Otter?

  16. You left out the Otter Trail! Sorry but Its goes in opposite direction of the Dolphin. It covers superior scenery and is not as demanding as the Amatola. To omit the Otter is tantamount to omitting Table Mountain from “Cape Town Attractions”!!

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