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A Complete Guide to Table Mountain Hiking: Trails, and Tips

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Cape Town is probably one of the best metropolitan cities for hiking because of the different options in and around the city. My favorite ones by far were the majestic Table Mountain. The mountains are 1,085 meters high, famous for their unique shape and the “blanket” of clouds that cover them.

One legend says that these clouds, moving slowly over the top of the mountains, are the result of a smoke competition between the devil and a local pirate called Van Hunks. I find this explanation much nicer than the scientific one.

Table Mountain hiking map

Table Mountain is a flat mountain that borders Cape Town and the surrounding region. The views from the top are truly breathtaking. You’ll see beautiful landscapes whether it’s a clear day or a slightly cloudy one. Tourists frequently use the year-round cable car, but there are also a number of scenic hiking trails that are well worth exploring.

Table Mountain hiking map
Table Mountain hiking map

Table Mountain Hiking

Getting to the top will take you a little longer than getting to the top of Lion’s Head, but it is definitely more rewarding. Most visitors take the cable car to the top, but I would advise anyone who is physically able to exercise to walk to the top.

It’s just more rewarding if you know you’ve just climbed all the way up. There are also always plenty of nice places to stop for a snack, which will make your efforts all the more rewarding.

There are several paths to the summit depending on different levels of experience, ranging from 2 to 5 hours of walking. As long as the weather is nice and not too windy, the cable car will work; however, you should always keep enough energy to get back down in case it doesn’t.

A Complete Guide to Table Mountain Hiking: Trails, and Tips

Before starting your hike, I advise you to always check the following criteria:

  • What is the weather forecast? The weather can be quite rough on top of the mountains, and, as mentioned earlier, the wind has a direct impact on your descent. So it’s best to check before you start your adventure. Just because it’s nice and warm at the bottom doesn’t mean it’s the same at the top. We made the mistake once, and believe me, it was not so pleasant.
  • Is someone accompanying you? There are always a lot of things that can happen on a hike, so to be safe, it’s crucial that someone join you. In the end, it will also be more fun to enjoy the beautiful view together.
  • Did you take enough water? The hikes vary in severity, but you have to get to the top of these mountains somehow, so having water is crucial.
  • Are you well equipped? Most of the routes are in good condition, so you won’t need any special equipment. But if you have hiking boots, it is better to use them.

Table Mountain hiking trail distance

The most famous routes are: Platteklip, which takes about 2 hours to complete, and Skeleton Gorge, which can be walked in 4 hours. There are also trails that take 2 to 6 days to complete.

They also allow you to visit the surrounding Kirstenboch Botanical Garden. The Hoerikwaggo route, which is often chosen, stretches for 97 kilometers, but is the most impressive. It is very important to stick to the path set by the trails, many tourists have fallen into the abyss in a bid to shorten the passage time.

Table Mountain hiking

Best Table Mountain hikes

There are several possibilities to get to the completely flat top of this magnificent mountain. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages but I have a preference for one of the ways! So here are the main possible routes:

Skeleton Gorge Trail

The most beautiful hiking trail I encountered while in Cape Town was the Skeleton Gorge Hike. The trek starts in the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens and ends at the cable car. It will take you about 3.5 hours, but it can also take 5 hours if you plan on taking photos and taking your time.

The hike is certainly not the easiest, but it is accessible to active people. Most of the hike is actually pretty easy, but at some point you will find yourself climbing into a creek. This makes the hike more fun but also more challenging for people who are not used to this kind of activity.

What to Bring for Platteklip Gorge Climbing
As previously stated, climbing through Platteklip Gorge is not difficult. We don’t need complicated harnesses, helmets, or specialized knowledge. What will be helpful?

  • trekking shoes (breathable in summer, built-up in winter),
  • filter bottle,
  • food (can be protein bars, chocolate),
  • a map of the trail or an app on your phone with a map,
  • first aid kit,
  • written down in the phone and the number to the emergency center,
  • a baseball cap, sunglasses, and breathable clothing.
A Complete Guide to Table Mountain Hiking: Trails, and Tips

Arrival at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are easily accessible from the city center in 15 minutes with an Uber. Upon arrival, you will have to pay 70 rand (€5) for entrance to the gardens, but it will be worth it. In this more than 100-year-old garden, you will find many endemic plants from South Africa and the Western Cape. A perfect place for all nature lovers or amateur botanists.

Climbing the stairs

After having strolled through the gardens for a while and contemplated all this exceptional flora, it is time for you to start your ascent.

The first 500 meters are relatively easy, but then you will start to climb the stairs. If you usually take the elevator, you won’t like this part, but somehow you will have to climb to the top of this mountain.

Plus, you’ll find yourself in a beautiful setting because inside Skeleton George, the vegetation looks like an enchanted forest, with fallen trees, mosses, and the sound of birds you’ve never heard before.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

The hidden waterfall

After about 1.5 kilometers of walking, you will also have the opportunity to take a break at a small but beautiful waterfall. Listen to the sound of the water, and you shouldn’t miss it.

After the break, you’ll continue with some stairs, but your view of the city will improve with every meter you climb. After another mile, my favorite part begins.

On your marks, get set, climb!

First, you’ll have to climb wooden ladders that you’ll find attached to a stone wall, and then climb up the dry creek. You’ll have to get to the top by climbing over fallen trees and massive rocks, which is what makes this hike so unique and adventurous.

But once you get this part right, the hike becomes a breeze. No more stairs; from now on, you’ll just have to walk up a winding trail that will lead you to the first part of the summit. at the halfway point. Time for another break.

A beach perched on top of a mountain

You will come to a crossroads where you will have to turn right to reach the cable car; if you continue straight on for about 500 m, you will reach a beach.

You are probably wondering, “A beach on top of a mountain?” Yes, a beach. The De Villers water reservoir and the surrounding sand create a little paradise on top of this unique mountain range.

After sunbathing at the beach, it will be time to finish the hike, as you have made it to the top but still have half of the hike to go.

A Complete Guide to Table Mountain Hiking: Trails, and Tips

The last few meters

What I loved about this hike was the variety of landscapes and plants that you come across. At the top of the mountains, the vegetation is quite different, and you will find mostly small bushes that have managed to survive on this rocky surface.

The trail will take you straight to Maclear’s Beacon, a triangulation post that marks the highest point in the Table Mountains. From this point, you will already see the cable car and have a short distance to go. The cable car will finally pay for all the stairs at the beginning as you will have a great view of the whole city.

The perfect view

It’s the perfect place to get those iconic vacation photos you probably want to take, or just to sit and soak up the moment for a second.

For me, this was definitely one of the places I went when I wanted to realize I was really in South Africa.

A Complete Guide to Table Mountain Hiking: Trails, and Tips

Hiking Table Mountain without a guide

It is important to take the necessary precautions and to be well prepared, even if the mountain seems generally docile. Make sure you are well informed about sudden weather changes, always hike in a group and don’t forget water and warm clothing. You may want to hire an experienced guide or hiker to accompany you.

Before entering the trail, there is a notice that the walk up the mountain should be done in groups of at least three due to robbery attacks. Friends also warned me that such situations do happen. Apparently, more often than not serious accidents occur.

Other trails are less frequented and certainly on them the risk of encountering some unpleasantness may be greater. You should also read my article on safety in Cape Town.

Table Mountain is also the habitat of predators such as eagles, caracals, wildcats. Once upon a time there were both lions and leopards here. Due to human activity, they have not been seen for at least a century. The trail through Platteklip Gorge is one of the safe ones in terms of animals – there are too many people hanging around.

Conclusion

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Cape Town? Table Mountain is the answer for most people all over the world.

It’s arguably South Africa’s most famous landmark, but few people realize it’s also a hiker’s paradise, with a plethora of trails, stunning vistas, and all the interesting things you can learn.

And it’s also located within a National Park! All of this takes place in the heart of South Africa’s enthralling Mother City.

Table Mountain is more than just a jumble of rocks overlooking a bay; it is a protected National Park with remarkable features that make it an ideal destination for nature enthusiasts. It is deserving of more than a cable car ride up to enjoy the view.


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Ultimate Guide to Table Mountain Hiking:Trails and Tips

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