Hiking is a favourite in South Africa. Whether your perfect hike is a leisurely stroll or a challenging track, you will find some breathtaking spots around South Africa. Some include famous landmarks while others are perfectly hidden gems.
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One of the reasons hiking is such a popular activity is that beginners really don’t need to invest much in terms of gear (unless you’re picking one of the more challenging trails to start with!), and veterans still enjoy every hike because there’s always something new to see.
When it comes to trail options and scenery, South Africans once again hit the jackpot. We have everything from coastal routes to forest trails and bush walks, and everything in between. No matter what direction you go, you’re likely to find some incredible hiking trails.
We’ve done a bit of digging and found some of the most popular, and obscure, hikes around the country. So dust off your boots, and pick your favourite.
Quick Tip: If you’re a beginner, don’t tackle any serious hikes without a guide. Take the time to learn before you head for any of the big hikes. By definition, a hike is usually far from help or resources (or cell phone signal), so build your experience gradually.
For those who get a bit nervous when they hear the word ‘hike’, you’ll be happy to know that many trails are referred to as a ‘walk’, which at least makes it sound much less strenuous. If you fancy a walk with a sea breeze, here are a few suggestions:
- The Alexandria Trail is a 32 km trail through the Addo Elephant Park taking in sand dunes and ocean. It takes two days to complete and is unguided. It’s considered a taxing trail due to the sand dunes and can be extremely hot in summer.
- The Five Bay Trail near Paternoster in the Western Cape is a beauty. This three-day hike consists of rocky shorelines and tidal pools. It’s a long 28 kms, but gets rave reviews due to the incredible scenery.
- The Storms River Mouth Trail in the Garden Route is a short 3.7 km hike that includes a suspension bridge, caves, and incredible views. It’s not a very difficult hike, but it does include one steep section up to the main lookout point.
- The Buffalo Bay Trail in the Western Cape is family and pet friendly. It’s a relaxed, winding 4,8 km loop and is the perfect starter trail for those looking to get out in nature more often.
There are hundreds of coastal walks to choose from. Just remember that even the winter sun can hurt, so pack sunscreen, hats, and plenty of extra socks for the inevitable beach sand and salt water combination.
Head for the Forest
When you think of South Africa, the word ‘forest’ is not the first that comes to mind, but we have some beautiful forest walks in some parts of the country.
- The Cecilia Waterfall Trail is a 4,3 km shady, protected hike in the Cape Floral region. It’s a popular, moderately challenging, walk and pets are welcome.
- The Faerie Glen Nature Reserve is one of those hidden gems that’s well-known to locals in Pretoria, Gauteng. It’s a popular beginner trail and many bird watchers head out on the trail over weekends.
- The B’sorah trail in Hartbeespoort Gauteng, is a combination of dense forest and riverbanks. The 15km trail is considered easy, but it ends with a tricky climb out of the gorge, which catches many newcomers off guard.
- SA’s famous Circles in the Forest Trail is a 8.4km loop through the incredible Knysna Forest. It’s an easy and popular trail that includes a waterfall and a number of swimming spots. No pets allowed.
Walking Safaris, or Bush Walks, are extremely popular in South Africa. Many locals, however, assume that these trails are aimed at tourists, but the reality is that most of these trails can be accessed by anyone, and avid hikers often seek out new bush trails.
Although the term ‘walking safari’ sounds like a very long trek, many of these trails are easy, scenic, and take less than two hours.
- The Kruger National Park offers a wide variety of bush walks. They vary from short walks to lookout points to spectacular five-day journeys. Whichever you choose, we advise you to always listen to your guide and make liberal use of bug spray.
- Pakamisa Game reserve, in KwaZulu Natal, has a number of scenic bush walks catering to all fitness levels.
- In the Eastern Cape, Shamwari Game reserve offers a number of trails where some visitors are lucky enough to spot leopards or wild dogs.
In addition to the hundreds of hiking options across every province, South Africa also has some world-famous hikes.
- The Otter Trail in the Garden Route is likely on every hiker’s must-walk list. This 45km five-day hike is only recommended for experienced hikers. You’ll be camping, crossing rivers, cooking your own food and seeing some of the most amazing natural beauty South Africa has to offer.
- The Tankwa Camino is legendary and extremely long! This unique desert trek is a whopping 257 km and takes ten days to complete. It is considered one of the most difficult hikes and participants need to do some training beforehand to ensure they can handle 27 km per day. Not for the faint-hearted.
- The Green Mountain Trail in Elgin, Western Cape, is one of the few hikes that includes wine tasting. Because why not!? The four-day walk takes hikers from one wine farm to the next and each evening is spent in accommodation at a different wine farm. The route is considered moderate, so hikers are encouraged to keep their wine tasting to moderate levels as well.
It’s impossible to list all the incredible hiking trails across South Africa, but rest assured that if you’re in the mood for a hike, there’s an accessible trail near you.
If you’re not sure what your hiking fitness needs to be then sites such as Suzuki Go 100 come in very handy as they give realistic input from fellow travellers.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or someone looking to just get outdoors, the options are limitless. To make the most of it, ensure you are well-prepared and never underestimate the amount of water you’ll need! Ask the guides for advice beforehand and make sure you follow all the recommendations regarding safety.
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