Margherita Ragg is one half of the dynamic duo behind The Crowded Planet. A long-term traveler, she explores the world and shares her love of the great outdoors.
Finding nature in cities is one of my favorite things to do when I travel. I enjoy exploring cities, but nothing makes city breaks better than finding a little bit of nature to escape the bustle and traffic.
When it comes to urban nature, Cape Town is hard to beat. The South African city is not only blessed with miles of coastline, including wild surf beaches, but it is also located right next to Table Mountain, the famous flat-topped mountain overlooking the city. Cape Town is home to a wonderful botanical garden. And, it’s within day-trip distance from Cape Point National Park, where you’ll find the famous Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern point on the African continent, as well as several scenic hikes.
I recently spent two weeks in South Africa, one at the beginning and one at the end of a three-month adventure around Southern Africa. Even though I visited in autumn and winter, we had nothing but wonderful sunshine and mild temperatures, perfect for hiking. Here are my 5 favorite hikes in and around Cape Town. Stunning views guaranteed!
Skeleton Gorge, a strenuous 3.8 mile hike gaining 3300 feet in altitude, is one of the best hikes to the top of Table Mountain. The trail head is located inside Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, another wonderful destination to escape the city. This hike is one of the best to explore Cape vegetation. The first half of the hike follows a forested ravine. The trees get sparser as you approach the summit, and the forest is replaced by fynbos, a type of shrub land unique to the Cape. The trail ends at Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain at 3558 ft. It takes about 3 and a half hours to complete the trail. If you’re too tired to walk back you can catch the Table Mountain Cableway instead; the top station is about half an hour away from Maclear’s Beacon.
Across the Top of Table Mountain
If climbing over 3000 feet in one day is a bit too much for you but you still want to enjoy the sprawling vistas from the top of Table Mountain, you can catch the Cableway and hike along the flat top of the mountain. A round trip from the top station to Maclear’s Beacon and back takes approximately two hours. Plan more time and enjoy the viewpoints along the cliffs.
An easier – but no less scenic – alternative to Table Mountain is hiking to the summit of Lion’s Head, a rocky hill that rises approximately 2000 feet above sea level. The main advantage of hiking Lion’s Head is the incredible views over Table Mountain, Signal Hill and Camps Bay. This is another hike that on paper is supposed to take just over an hour, but you may find yourself taking two or more just because it’s so stunning. To hike Lion’s Head, catch an Uber to the trail head.. There are two ways to the summit. The quicker one makes use of chains and ladders;s use the alternate path if you’re afraid of heights.
Thomas T. Tucker Shipwreck Trail
Before taking its current name, the Cape of Good Hope was known as the Cape of Storms because rough seas and treacherous sailing conditions caused several shipwrecks all along the Atlantic Coast of South Africa. Shipwreck remains can still be seen on the beaches of Cape Point National Park, the park on the southern edge of the Cape Peninsula. The Thomas T. Tucker Shipwreck Trail takes its name from an American warship that wrecked on the rocks in 1942. The hull can still be seen on the beach, and it’s inhabited by various kinds of birds. The 2-mile trail begins at the Oliphantsbos parking lot and can be easily covered in an hour and a half.
This hike is a true local secret. Drive to Simon’s Town in the southern part of the Cape Peninsula, and follow the main road. After you pass a gemstone factory, turn right and follow the M66 up the hill. At the top of the hill there’s a sign for the navy base, and about 100 meters after that you’ll find a sign marking the start of the trail, where you can leave your car. The hike to the dam takes about twenty minutes and crosses some wonderful fynbos, with views over the surrounding hills. The dam at the end of the trail is an ideal spot for a refreshing dip, before heading back to the city.
Tips for Hiking in Cape Town
You can hike year round in Cape Town, you just need to choose the right hike for your needs and fitness level. For instance, a hike like Skeleton Gorge may be hard to manage during the hot season, but hiking along the top of Table Mountain or even up to Lion’s Head will be ok.
Make sure you take plenty of water, as Cape Town is very dry and you’re unlikely to encounter streams or places to buy water along the way. When it comes to clothing, wear layers. Summits can be very windy in Cape Town, and you may find yourself shivering once you get to the top. Convertible, zip-off hiking pants are a great idea. On top, layer a technical t-shirt, a merino sweater and windproof jacket, or even a fleece if you’re hiking in Cape Town in July or August, the coldest months.