With fun, relatively short hikes being a big part of many of our global private tours, Cape Town offers three contrasting options that we have enjoyed during our last two Lynch family visits. Long walks are good for conversations and work as a great digestif. The best way to get the most out of your change of scenery, is by leaving the tracking gadgets behind and sharing a friendly greeting with fellow hikers along the way. Please enjoy perusing our brief hiking overviews of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and Chapman’s Peak!
We fully agree with Trinity College professor Shane O’Mara’s observation of the remarkable benefits of walking: “Walking improves our moods, our clarity of thought, our creativity, as well as our humanity and connectedness to our social and natural worlds. Walk we must and walk we should!”
Table Mountain Trails
Table Mountain is arguably the most recognizable landmark in Cape Town. As its name suggests, the mountain top is a long and flat plateau towering over the city below. A hiker’s paradise, Table Mountain offers much to those who welcome the adventure. There are three different trails for all levels of hiking experience, ranging in terrains from easy to moderated and difficult. Cape Town’s world-class Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens can be explored en route, boasting flora and fauna native only to this area. If hiking is not preferred, there is also the option to take a cable car up and down the summit without much physical effort necessary. It is important to note that high winds and inclement weather can restrict cable car service. High winds, especially during the June to August season, can also make hiking much more challenging! Whichever way you choose to explore Table Mountain, you are sure to have an experience of a lifetime!
Table Mountain Trail 1: Platteklip Gorge Trail
- Hiking Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Length of Hike: 1-2 hours depending on physical fitness
- Distance: 1.25 miles
- Elevation: 2,360 feet (719 meters) above sea level
The Platteklip Gorge Trail is the most popular and direct route to the peak of the mountain. The climb is fairly steep but feels more moderate than easy due to its direct path with no zig-zags. Due to the more abrupt change in altitude, it can become tiring more quickly, but hikers can take it slow and stop to catch their breath to enjoy stunning views of Cape Town, becoming even more pleasant the higher they get. Although this trail is the fastest due to its direct route, it is also the most crowded. The trail is also exposed to direct sunlight, so be sure to bring along water and sunscreen!
Table Mountain Trail 2: India Venster Trail
- Hiking Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult
- Length of Hike: 2-4 hours (one way)
- Distance: 1.5 miles
- Elevation: 1,850 feet (564 meters) above sea level
The India Venster Trail leads hikers up the front face of Table Mountain, offering the best views of the city below. Located directly under the cable car route, you’ll have no trouble with getting lost or straying from the path. Although it is a simple and direct layout, it is known as the most challenging of the trails up the mountain. However, the difficulty brings great rewards! Hikers have deemed India Venster as “more scenic and interesting” than the less demanding Platteklip Gorge Trail, and noting the panoramic views are second to none. Hiking up the trail is surprisingly easier than hiking back down, which is far more dangerous due to its steep and slippery terrain. Due to the length of time it takes to reach the peak and the taxing physical demand, we recommend hiking your way up and then returning to the base of the mountain via cable car.
Table Mountain Trail 3: Skeleton Gorge Trail
- Hiking Difficulty: Moderate
- Length of Hike: 3.5 hours to Maclears Beacon, plus another 45 minutes to the upper cable car station (one-way)
- Distance: 3.9 miles
- Elevation: 2,103 feet (641 meters) above sea level
The Skeleton Gorge Trail is the perfect route to take for hikers looking for that burst of nature and a leisurely trek upwards. This route begins right off of Cape Town’s world-class Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, a beautiful way to kick start your adventure. Along the way, you will journey through lush jungle, an emerald ravine, and moss-covered slopes. A hidden gem along the way is the mile-high beach in which visitors can take a break from their hike and relax among the serene nature surrounding them. Although this is an inland hike, eventual city views will also be enjoyed. If taking this trail, we recommend hiking up one way and taking the cable car back down, however, you can hike down the same route if preferred and not time-constrained.
Lion’s Head Mountain
- Hiking Difficulty: Moderate
- Length of Hike: 2-3 Hours (depending on trail taken)
- Distance: 2.6 miles
- Elevation: 2,194 feet (669 meters) above sea level
Considered the most popular hike in Cape Town, Lion’s Head Mountain is a moderate level adventure rewarded with stunning views from atop. The 2.6-mile hike takes an average of two to three hours to complete, depending on which route you decide to take. Although the trail is clearly marked, the most physically challenging route requires hikers to advance through intimidating metal ladders and climbing chains in order to ascend the artificial rock face. For those that wish to have a less challenging experience or perhaps suffer from acrophobia, you may skip this portion and trek on a slightly longer roundabout path. In addition to the staggering views, there are even more unique and beneficial aspects to hiking at Lion’s Head. On the evening of a full moon, you’ll notice a line of flickering torches making its way up the mountainside along the trail. It is quite a breathtaking experience to witness a starry night sky, a full and bright moon reflecting off the sea, and a mountainside of its very own “stars” to complement Mother Nature. To amplify this experience, hikers can make their way to the little cave above the hiking path for a picture-perfect picnic at sunset to revel in a romantic and nature-filled ambiance. Even if you happen to miss a projected full moon date, a picnic at the cave for any sunset will offer nothing short of stunning pictures and a memory to last a lifetime!
Chapman’s Peak Mountain
- Hiking Difficulty: Moderate
- Length of Hike: 1.5 hours (each way); appropriate for ages 10+
- Distance: 3.1 miles
- Elevation: 1,320 feet (402 meters) above sea level
Known as “Chappie” by locals and located 16 miles south of the city, Chapman’s Peak is one of Cape Town’s most famous landmarks and, of course, presents an amazing opportunity for hikers. The path (from Hout Bay) begins with a steep incline, which will take about 30 minutes to clear along a stream. Followed by rock steps, this path is well maintained and easy to navigate. The next junction takes about the same length of time, winding itself around the lower peak offering lots of flora and a less steep incline. It is at this point that you will be exposed to beautiful views of Hout Bay below! Be sure to keep an eye out for indigenous trees, lizards, and even black or fish eagles. The final stretch takes another half hour, but its back to steep terrain and a short rock scramble to pass near the top. Once you’ve cleared that bit, you’ll be at the peak where you will find plenty of large/flat areas to enjoy the views and perhaps a picnic lunch. The summit has 360-degree views of land and the Atlantic Ocean, allowing visitors to revel in the Peninsula and all its glory!
Note: If you are not interested in hiking, Chapman’s Peak Drive is a great alternative that has been deemed one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world!