Guide to hiking in Cape Town
Guide to hiking in Cape Town

Cape Town is the ultimate hiking paradise. Boasting an incredible variety of beautiful and thrilling hiking trails, ranging from beginner to advanced, there is something for every avid hiker at heart. Even if you’ve never hiked a day in your life, Cape Town’s thriving hiking scene welcomes you with open arms. However, before you embark on your ultimate Cape Town hiking adventure, it is important to be fully prepared for what lies ahead. Especially if you’re a hiking first-timer or looking to take on one of Cape Town’s more challenging and adrenalin-inducing hiking trails.

We’ve put together an essential guide to hiking in Cape Town filled with all the need-to-know information and hiking safety tips and guidelines. This way you’ll not only be properly prepared but enjoy every second of your hiking experience.

PLAN AHEAD

It is a great idea to look at a map of your hike before you take off. This way you have a general idea of what lies ahead and where you need to go. When hiking, always take the well-trodden path and stick to the trail. Don’t wander off the beaten path. Take note of signs that warn of danger ahead, and most importantly, don’t ignore them! Even if you are an experienced hiker, Table Mountain National Park rescue missions happen far more often than you think.

It’s important to plan your hike accordingly and allow for enough time to ascend and descend the mountain. Remember to factor in additional time to roam free and explore the summit, sit back, relax, and catch your breath, soak up the sensational views and celebrate and enjoy the accomplishment.

CHOOSE THE RIGHT TRIAL

There are a myriad of hikes in and around Cape Town. It is incredibly important that you choose the ideal hiking trail that is best suited to your hiking group’s experience, fitness, and skill level. Never take on more than you can handle. If it is your first-time hiking in Cape Town, make sure you do your research beforehand. First-time hikers should also stick to less daunting and more well-known trails such as Lion’s Head, the Pipe Track, Kloof Corner or Platteklip Gorge if you’re looking to push your limits a bit and conquer the all-mighty Table Mountain. Although all these hiking trails comes with their own set of risks and challenges, and you still need a certain level of fitness to complete them, these trails are well trafficked and established.

Guide to hiking in Cape Town
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If you’re an experienced hiker looking to tackle something a little more thrilling, Cape Town certainly has its fair share of exhilarating and adventure-packed trails to choose from. Many of these require some skilled rock scrambling, and offer serious exposure – they are therefore only reserved for the most skilled and knowledgeable hikers.

HIKE IN A GROUP

For safety reasons, it is always best to hike in a group. There are several real risks when out hiking, and even a simple slip and fall on a well-marked path can be deadly for a solo hiker. A group of 2 – 4 people are ideal. Never split up, always stick together, and adjust to the pace of the slowest hiker. That way everyone remains on track and there is a sense of motivation and comradery among the group. It is also important to always tell someone about the intended route you’re planning to take as well as your expected time of return. That way, if something goes wrong, the person with the details will know where to start and spring into action.

If you can’t rally enough people to join in on your hike, consider joining one of the city’s popular hiking clubs. These are often free or donation-based and are led by friendly, welcoming leaders who’ll guide you along some of the city’s famous routes.

If it is your first time hiking in Cape Town or if you are not familiar with the mountain or specific trail you are planning to hike (especially if it is one of Cape Town’s more challenging hikes), it’s important to hike with someone who is familiar with the route. There are several guides who can lead you safely up the mountain and help you tackle some of the more obscure routes.

BE PREPARED FOR ANYTHING

The best advice you’ll ever receive when deciding to embark on the ultimate Cape Town hiking adventure is to be fully prepared for absolutely anything. Make sure you take more than enough water along (at least a 1.5L bottle or two per person) as there are seldom water points found along any of Table Mountain National Park’s hiking trails.

Cape Town is also known for its wildly unpredictable weather patterns, which means hiking conditions can change rapidly without any warning. It’s important that you always take something warm along, even if you start your hike in the scorching heat of a mid-summer day. Sunblock, a hat/cap, proper hiking attire and shoes is absolutely essential. It’s also a great idea to check if the weather is hike-friendly the night before. However, regardless of what the weather report says, we highly recommend you be as prepared as possible – the Mother City sure has a way of surprising you when you least expect it.

It is essential that you be mindful and observant of any sudden changes in the weather. Turn back immediately if bad weather threatens, or if you’re battling on the chosen route. Don’t just push through for the sake of trying to make it to the top. 

KNOW WHAT TO DO IN AN EMERGENCY

Unfortunately, emergencies on Cape Town’s mountains are a reality that all hikers need to consider. In the event of an injury, threatening weather conditions or an emergency, stay in one place and find a spot that offers some form of shelter. In the case of an injury, do not move the injured person unless they are in a dangerous position. Don’t leave the injured person alone or unattended. If possible, send two people for help (depending on the number of people you’re hiking with), while someone remains behind to supervise. When you do go looking for emergency help or assistance, make sure you take detailed notes of where the injured person is, as well as look out for landmarks to navigate your way back to the spot.

In the case of a snakebite (Table Mountain National Park is home to prolific wildlife and reptile species), immobilise the person immediately and lay them flat on their back. Do not give them any food or water. Get help and most importantly keep the victim as calm as possible – one of the top factors in the progression of snakebite symptoms is shock and adrenaline.

In the event of contact with the blister bush (a plant resembling common celery) cover the area from sunlight. This will avoid skin irritations and the eruption of blisters.

If you get lost anywhere along your hiking route, stop, and retrace your steps. If you can’t find your original path, move down broad, open slopes. If conditions become more threatening as you go, revert to taking shelter and seeking help.

IMPORTANT EMERGENY NUMBERS

Although the Cape is rich in natural beauty, visitors are urged to take all the necessary safety precautions when hiking or exploring secluded areas. Your safety should always be top priority. In the case of an emergency, the city has an impressive mountain rescue team, and they’ll swoop in and pick you up, or hike to your position if needed. Those venturing into the Table Mountain National Park should have the following emergency numbers on hand:

  • Emergencies: 021 480 7700
  • Medical emergencies from a cellphone: 112
  • Table Mountain National Park: 021 957 4700 / 0861 106 417
  • Wilderness Search and Rescue: 021 948 9900

@safetymountain is also an incredibly useful resource for hikers. This free safety tracking service allows you to notify local trackers of your contact details, intended route and travel time via WhatsApp. You are also able to provide hourly updates on your progress as well as notify trackers when you are safely off the mountain.

ALWAYS BE RESPONSIBLE

Guide to hiking in Cape Town

It is important to be respectful of the Table Mountain National Park’s environment, biodiversity, and wildlife. Please don’t litter, feed any animals, or disturb the wildlife on your hike. Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.

A simple rule is to take everything you brought along, back with you. A good idea is to take a small ‘rubbish’ bag or container along with you and to discard of all your litter once you get back down. Smoking or lighting any kind of fire is not permitted under any circumstances. Wildfires can cause loss of life, land, and property. Do not throw cigarette butts anywhere.

BE AWARE OF CRIME

Unfortunately, there have been incidents of crime on Table Mountain over the years. Given the vast nature of the mountain, with dozens of entry points, it’s almost impossible to police comprehensively. Some criminals take advantage of this. There’s no way to fully mitigate against this risk, though officials suggest going in large groups, sticking to well-populated routes, and avoiding walking after dark. It’s important to be highly alert of your surroundings at all times. Leave behind all unnecessary valuables, such as passports and large amounts of cash and jewellery.