Hiking Table Mountain, the Mother City’s Icon

Hiking Table Mountain, the Mother City’s Icon

Walking one of the many trails that crisscross Table Mountain is practically a rite of passage for Capetonians, and an absolute must-do far any remotely fit visitor to our fair shores. Cape Town’s flat-topped, megalithic icon not only offers up a decent challenge for fitness enthusiasts, but also, for anyone and everyone, spectacular views and an experience in nature you literally cannot replicate anywhere else on Earth.

Before you do embark on a hike anywhere in the Cape, it’s best to acquaint yourself with the recommended safety guidelines. We have provided these for you to read through at the end of this blog. Without further ado, here are Table Mountain’s best-loved hiking trails….

1. The Pipe Track

The Pipe Track

The Pipe Track is an easy hiking route that starts at the intersection of Tafelberg Road and Kloof Nek on the foothills of Table Mountain, and strikes from north to south along the slope’s natural contour. The route is popular because it’s an easy walk for people of all ages (including dog-walkers) and yet the rewards are gorgeous, sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and the seaside suburbs of Camps Bay and Bakoven, which unfurl beneath your lofty vantage point. At your back are steep sandstone cliffs and lush ravines that plunge into the western flank of Table Mountain.

Hike difficulty: Easy, though long if you take the trail to its furthest extent.

Approximate trail length: The full length of the hike is 6 km, one way (to Corridor Ravine) and about 4,5 hours return.

What’s special about the Pipe Track? The views are wonderful but we especially love the pristine montane fynbos you discover embracing the trail.

Any special warnings? The Pipe Track is shaded in the mornings but, because it is west facing, it receives a lot of sun during the day so it can get uncomfortably (and dangerously hot) on those warmer summer days. Come prepared!

2. Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail

Skeleton Gorge offers a thrilling hike through emerald ravines, thick vegetation, and steep mountainous terrain, ending at MaClear’s Beacon, the highest point of Table Mountain. The starting point for the hike is at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens but the real “meat” of the route begins at the intersection of Skeleton Gorge and the Contour Path. The first hour of the hike involves a steep forest climb on stone and log steps, followed by a series of wooden ladders over steep rocks. There’s so much in terms of natural beauty to soak up here, from the mountain’s shy, endemic birds to truly splendid views of the city.

Skeleton Gorge

Hike difficulty: Moderate to hard. Skeleton Gorge is a long hike and has occasional steep and strenuous passages.

Approximate trail length: About 4 km to McClear’s Beacon, which can take fit hikers 2 hours to reach or, for the less fit who take plenty of breaks, ±4 hours.

What’s special about Skeleton Gorge? Being a gorge hike, the route is shaded nearly all the way to the top, which makes it a cooler option for the hot summer months. It’s also staggeringly beautiful at the top!

Any special warnings? Parts of Skeleton Gorge are slippery, even in summer; take special care after rain and in winter. In fact, it’s best to avoid this route during and immediately after heavy rain.

3. India Venster Trail

India Venster Trail

India Venster is, debatably, the most gorgeous half-day route one can take to the summit of Table Mountain. Striking directly up the imposing and dramatic north-facing slope of the mountain, the hike leads explorers through a steep, boulder-strewn, fynbos-carpeted landscape with panoramic city and ocean views. In places, the route requires a bit of scrambling through narrow spaces and over boulders so it’s for the more ambitious of hikers. The route starts to the right of the cable car’s lower station (on Tafelberg Road) and climbs quickly to the contour path. From there, India Venster really takes off! Just follow the yellow footsteps all the way to the top of the mountain.

Hike difficulty: Difficult for its steepness, obstacles, and exposure to heights.

Approximate trail length: About 3 km but it can take upwards of three hours to complete due to its gradient.

What’s special about India Venster? It offers the thrill of great heights, the adventure of striking up a steep mountain face littered with boulders, and heart-breakingly beautiful views of Cape Town.

Any special warnings? India Venster is not to be trifled with. It’s steep, demanding, and all precautions should be taken to avoid dehydration and sun over-exposure. With adequate preparation, however, it’s an unforgettable hike!

4. Kasteelspoort Hiking Trail

Kasteelspoort Hiking Trail

The Kasteelspoort trail is an exhilarating and fairly long hike that embarks from the Pipe Track starting point above Camps Bay. Alternatively, you could park in Theresa Road and walk up the Jeep Track and from there, to the Pipe Track. Once on the Pipe Track, you just take the Kasteelspoort turn-off to enjoy 3 to 10 kilometres’ of gorgeous peninsula scenery, fynbos, and fresh ocean breeze. Travelling up the Twelve Apostles side of Table Mountain, the hike ends at the summit for even more rewarding views.

Hike difficulty: Moderate the difficult – it can be challenging for the less fit hiker.

Approximate trail length: Depending on how far you go, the trail is between 3 and 10 km long to the summit. Once there you may take a little longer to wander around. All in all, it should take just under five hours of leisurely-paced walking.

What’s special about the Kasteelspoort Trail? It’s the perfect blend of challenge, stunning scenery, and reward because once you get to the top, you can actually walk around and explore the summit.

Any special warnings? Similar to the Pipe Track, this route is shaded in the mornings and receives direct sunlight throughout the day. It is, however, quite a bit more taxing so hiking early in the morning is recommended (and bring plenty of water with you!)

*Special Tip: For longer, more strenuous hikes you should pack as much as 3 litres of water to keep you hydrated. To keep your back-up bottles nice and cold throughout your hike, freeze them before you leave home.

5. Platteklip Gorge Hike

Platteklip Gorge Hike

Embarking from Tafelberg Road, about 1.5 km past the lower cable car station, Platteklip Gorge hike follows the natural cleft in Table Mountains’ city-facing countenance. The path has been well constructed with anti-erosion gabions and stone steps but it is hard. Why? Because it goes straight up, for 3 kilometres. Imagine climbing stairs for 3 kilometres. That’s Platteklip Gorge for you.

So why do it?

Platteklip Gorge takes the most direct route to the top of Table Mountain and it’s for the thrill of the climb, its dramatic steepness and imposing cliffs, and beautiful views that it’s become the most popular too.

Hike difficulty: Difficult - your butt and calves will HURT afterwards!

Approximate trail length: It’s only about 3 km in length but it’s straight up, so it can take 1 hour for the super fit and up to 3 hours for the more human of us.

What’s special about Platteklip Gorge? Aside from the challenge of it all, there’s a river en route (and who doesn’t love encountering a river on a hike?)

Any special warnings? Don’t underestimate this hike! In summer, the route can be extremely hot and windy and in winter, extremely cold and windy (that’s Cape Town for you). Always pack enough water, sun protection, and warm, wind-proof clothing, even in summer.

The Ten Basic Rules of Mountain Safety

Basic Rules of Mountain Safety
  1. Don’t hike alone; four is the ideal number.
  2. Choose your route carefully and stick to it. Allow yourself enough time - start early. Inform someone of your route and what time you’re expected back.
  3. Choose a hike leader and walk at the pace of the slowest member.
  4. If lost, don’t split up. Rather try to retrace your steps. Remember that climbing down is more difficult than climbing up.
  5. Always take waterproof clothing, even in mid-summer, and wear walking shoes or hiking boots. Wear a hat or cap and sun block in summer. The weather in Cape Town changes rapidly.
  6. If lost or forced to stop because of bad weather, stay together and remain in one place. Find the closest shelter from wind and rain.
  7. In case of injury, take time to assess the situation. Then send two people for help and let the third remain with the injured person. If possible, mark the position on a map and send it with those going for help.
  8. Stick to well-used paths and read any warnings. Don’t take shortcuts and especially don’t wander into ravines.
  9. Always take enough water (especially in summer) and food in case of a delay. Watch the weather and time, and turn back before you start running late or if bad weather threatens.
  10. Take a fully charged cell phone. Some parts of Table Mountain do not have reception, but you will always be able to reach a place where you can use a phone more quickly than if you wait to get to a landline.

Three Rules for Personal Security

  1. Do not attract unwanted attention by openly displaying cash, cameras, or other valuables.
  2. If you are confronted by a criminal, don't resist. Hand over your goods as resistance might incite violence.
  3. Program emergency numbers in your cell phone before your hike.