If you love being outdoors, you’ll no doubt want to fit in a hike or two when in Cape Town. With a national park right in the middle of the city, it’s super easy to explore the many trails, whether it’s a sunrise hike up Lion’s Head or a morning spent clambering up Table Mountain. These are five of the most popular hikes in Cape Town.
A classic hike that is as popular with Capetonians as visitors, climbing to the top of Lion’s Head is a quick, but steep route. Fit hikers can reach the top in about half an hour, while those taking it slower may want to allow an hour for breaks and to admire the views. There is a bit of scrambling involved at the top and some ladders to climb (though taking a longer route means you can avoid these). The best time to climb Lion’s Head is at sunrise; aim to reach the top just as the sun is rising over the city. You’ll need a head light for the initial section of the trail, but it gets light quickly.
One of the most scenic ways to reach the top of Table Mountain, Skeleton Gorge runs from the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens all the way up the mountain. The trail continues around the top to Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point of Table Mountain. Passing waterfalls and beautiful outlooks from the higher sections, this is a picturesque route that takes between two and four hours to complete and can be quite challenging with some ladders to climb. At the top, if you take a brief detour before walking on to Maclear’s Beacon, you’ll find an unexpected sight: a white-sand beach around the edges of the reservoir. Who knew Table Mountain has a beach on top?
This is a great hike to do if you don’t fancy any steep climbs. Pipe Track runs relatively flat along the Atlantic side of Table Mountain, affording stunning views across the ocean as you hike. Start at the point Tafelberg Road and Kloof Nek meet, on the front corner of the mountain (the right-hand side if you’re facing it) and walk along the Pipe Track, turning back at whatever point suits you – it’s about 6km to Corridor Ravine, the trail’s end.
Probably the most popular route up Table Mountain, Platteklip Gorge runs right up the front of the mountain with views across the city bowl. It is a straight-forward hike. Though it is steep, there isn’t any climbing or scrambling, with a clear pathway and steps leading the way up to the top. It’s also one of the safest for solo hikers, as it’s well-trodden with plenty of other climbers along the route, even during the quieter winter months. It will usually take between two and three hours to get to the top, after which you can take the cable car back down, or hike down the same way.
The left-hand peak of the iconic Table Mountain outline, Devil’s Peak can be accessed from either Newlands Forest or Tafelberg Road, on the ‘front’ of the mountain. Hikers summiting the peak are rewarded by panoramic views of the city and its suburbs, backed by distant mountains. The hike is quite tough, with some rocky patches, so bring lots of water and a snack to enjoy on the top before you make your way back down again. Up and down will take between three and four hours for most people.
Safety first: Visitors are advised to explore with a guide who knows the trails well or to at least hike a clearly-marked trail rather than anything more off-piste. It’s best to hike with someone else or in a group, if possible. If you’re not hiking with a guide, make sure you sign up to Safety Mountain, a Cape Town Whatsapp tracking service provided for free; send them your starting point, route and ETA, and then check in when you are off the mountain.