Best dams and rivers for swimming in Cape Town
Photo credit: Julian Knutzen

If you’re looking to take a cool and refreshing dip away from the large crowds, sand and sea water, Cape Town’s exciting variety of dams and rivers are the perfect place to do just that. Let’s be honest, what’s more thrilling than plunging into a crystal-clear rock pool in one of the most beautiful locations and natural gems in the Western Cape?

Here are some of the best dams and rivers for swimming in Cape Town, all of which deserve a prime spot on your bucket-list.

#SILVERMINE RESERVOIR

Located in the Table Mountain National Park, between Hout Bay and Noordhoek, the Silvermine Reservoir is a fan-favourite spot for cooling down when the Mother City heat starts rising – Undoubtedly making it one of the best dams and rivers for swimming in Cape Town. The Silvermine Reservoir is open to everyone. Besides enjoying a refreshing swim in a stunning location, there are loads of picnic spots scattered around the reserve, making it the perfect place for a fun-filled family day out. There is a 1km trail around the reservoir with a boardwalk that’s easily accessible for wheelchairs and prams.

**Important note: As there are no lifeguards on duty, swimming in the Silvermine Reservoir is done at your own risk.

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 50 minutes
  • Where to find it: Silvermine Reservoir in Table Mountain National Park (via M3)
  • Opening times: Daily, 8am – 5pm (May to August) | Daily, 7am – 6pm (September to April)
  • Contact details: 021 712 0527 | [email protected] (Table Mountain National Park)
  • Dog-friendly: Yes, but dog walkers require a Level 1 My Activity Permit | Contact Tokai Plantation Office at 021 712 7471 for more information
  • Cost: Conservation fee (rates valid until 31 October 2020): R32 (SA citizens and residents with ID); R16 (SA children, 2 – 11 years) | R64 (SADC nationals with valid passport); R32 (SADC children with valid passport) | R128 (international visitors; standard conservation fee); R64 (international children; standard conservation fee)

#KLEIN RIVER

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowds, a visit to Klein River should definitely be on your bucket-list. Located in Stanford, approximately 2 hours from Cape Town, this tranquil river passes through the Akkedisberg Pass and the lush meadows of Stanford on its way to the estuary (Hermanus Lagoon). It’s calm and refreshing waters is perfect for cooling down on a hot summer’s day filled with adventuring and exploring. The Stanford Wandelpad walking trail meanders along the Klein River, and is easily accessible from several points. However, a map is available at the local tourism bureau just in case.

**Tip: The bottom of King Street is particularly convenient and an ideal location due to the nearby shaded lawns that make for an incredible picnic spot.

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 2 hours
  • Where to find it: King Street, Stanford (via N2 and R43)
  • Opening times: Always open
  • Contact details: 028 3410 340 | [email protected]
  • Dog-friendly: Yes
  • Cost: Free for swimming

#CRYSTAL POOLS WATERFALL

If taking a dip in the Crystal Pools Waterfall is not on your Cape Town adventure bucket-list, go ahead and add it right away! Located approximately 90 minutes outside of Cape Town, the Steenbras Nature Reserve offers hikers, adventurers and anyone looking to explore the great outdoors the ultimate escape from the hustle and hype of the city.

The Crystal Pools Hiking Trail starts on the R44, just after you’ve crossed the bridge over the mouth of the Steenbras River. The hiking trail is filled with indigenous fynbos, beautifully lush surroundings, and incredible views right throughout. The first pool is located about 45 minutes from the start of the trail.

Besides taking a refreshing dip in the cooling waters, you can also enjoy a lovey picnic under the shade and take a moment to relax and recharge. If you’ve got some extra energy left in your hiking ‘tank’, we highly recommend you continue your journey to the second pool – you will definitely be well rewarded for your extra effort! Boasting some seriously cool swimming and kloofing opportunities as well as a waterfall, it promises to be one exciting adventure you won’t soon forget.

**Tip: This hiking trail is very doable for anyone who is reasonably fit, however it is slightly more challenging for those who are not in tip-top hiking shape. While the half-day hike takes you through rocky, but generally flat terrain, with an amazing waterfall all the way at the top, it is quite a trek. It is thus important to make sure you are well prepared and have plenty of snacks, water, and energy to get there.

**Important note: To ensure that the hiking trails don’t get too crowded, a maximum of 50 people are allowed per day. It is essential to book as early as possible to avoid disappointment.

  • Distance from Cape Town: 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Where to find it: Steenbras Nature Reserve (via N2 and R44)
  • Opening times: 7.30am – 2.30pm (office hours) | 6.30am – 7pm (hiking trails may differ slightly according to sunrise and sunset)
  • Contact details: 021 444 6927 | [email protected] (bookings must be done via email, at least 3 to 5 working days before your visit) | 021 957 4725 (emergency number)
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Cost: R75 per person

#BEAVERLAC

Another top dam and river for swimming in Cape Town is Beaverlac located in the Beaverlac Campsite in Porterville, approximately 2.5 – 3 hours from Cape Town. The lush and tranquil Beaverlac Campsite is situated in the stunning Groot Winterhoek Mountains, famous for its waterfalls and crystalline rock pools. Besides enjoying a cool and refreshing dip in the dam, this nature lover’s paradise boasts a few hidden gems and thrilling adventures you simply can’t pass up. From a variety of exhilarating hiking trails to going on the ultimate cave exploring expedition (some of the caves are decorated with rock art dating back thousands of years), your visit promises to be filled with tons of adventure, thrill, and scenic beauty.

**Tip: As Beaverlac no longer allows day visitors, you will have to book a spot at the campsite or one of the cabins | Bookings can be made online and pay cash at the gate.

  • Distance from Cape Town: 2.5 – 3 hours
  • Where to find it: Beaverlac Campsite, Porterville (via N7)
  • Opening times: Daily, 7am – 9pm
  • Contact details: 022 931 2945
  • Dog-friendly: Dogs are allowed in the campsite, but not in the rock pools where people are swimming
  • Cost: Entrance fee: R30 per car | Camping rates: R75 (per adult per night); R45 (children 4 – 17 years); free (children 0 – 4 years); R50 (per dog per night) | *Prices are subject to change

#JONKERSHOEK NATURE RESERVE

The Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is another Cape Town natural gem that should be on every nature lover’s bucket-list. The Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, which includes the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, is located close to Stellenbosch in the southwestern Cape. Besides stunning natural surroundings, the reserve is home to the imposing Jonkershoek mountains as well as portions of the upper Jonkershoek valley.

The Jonkershoek Nature Reserve boasts two popular and equally thrilling hiking trails, both of which offer beautiful views of the valley and wine farms below. In addition to enjoying a bucket-list worthy hiking experience, taking a dip in the clear river water is by far one of the highlights of visiting the reserve. The riverbanks under the shade of ancient trees at Assegaaibosch also makes for the perfect picnic spot.

**Important note: Only 80 people are allowed into the Assegaaibosch picnic area per day to help with conservation efforts. Admission is on first-come-first-served basis. No alcohol is allowed into the picnic area.

  • Distance from Cape Town: 1 hour
  • Where to find it: Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Jonkershoek Road (via N1), Stellenbosch
  • Opening times: 7:30am – 4pm
  • Contact details: 087 087 4118 (reserve office) | 087 087 8250; [email protected] (permits)
  • Dog-friendly: Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves
  • Cost: R50 (adults) | R30 (children)

#GROOT WINTERHOEK WILDERNESS AREA

The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area is a small conservation area located a mere 120km north of the city of Cape Town. Known for its untamed beauty, rugged landscape and rich heritage, the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area is a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts. Besides boasting one of the best dams and rivers for swimming in Cape Town, this natural gem has so much more to offer!

From stunning fynbos landscapes, interesting rock formations, and refreshing clear water rockpools to ancient rock paintings by the San and Khoi people, there is an endless variety of hidden gems to discover and explore. The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area is also a popular destination for hikers, mountain bikers, and adventurers. Plus, with plenty of places to stop for a refreshing swim, everyone is invited to join in on the fun.

**Important note: Groot Winterhoek Wilderness was closed due to the fires; however part of the reserve has been reopened to the public, including day hiking trails such as De Tronk to Die Hel.

  • Distance from Cape Town: 1.5 – 2 hours
  • Where to find it: Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area (via R44, R365 and Dasklip/Cardouw turn-off), Porterville
  • Opening times: Monday – Friday, 7.30am – 4pm (office hours)
  • Contact details: 022 931 2860 / 022 931 2315 (reserve office) | 087 087 8250; [email protected] (permits)
  • Dog-friendly: Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves
  • Cost: R50 (adults); R30 (children)

#KROM RIVER TRAIL

There is no doubt that the Western Cape is home to some of the most beautiful nature reserves in the country, with the Limietberg Nature Reserve being one of them. Located approximately an hour from Cape Town, the Limietberg Nature Reserve boasts some of the best hiking trails in the Western Cape – with the Krom River trail being a definite stand-out. This exhilarating hiking trail is a fan-favourite among avid adventurers and thrill seekers as it guides you past waterfalls and deep, translucent rock pools that are clear enough to snorkel in. While the water may be ice-cold, it will certainly be a welcomed relief after enduring a long hike in the gruelling heat.

**Important note: As you will have to make your way through the Huguenot tunnel to reach the Krom River Trail, you will need to pay a toll fee to get through. You will also need a permit. Permits can be purchased at Du Kloof Trout Farm (just after the tunnel on your left) or from the CapeNature booking office. Only 24 permits are issued per day to prevent overcrowding, so it’s important that you plan ahead.

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 1 hour
  • Where to find it: Du Toitskloof (to the left after the Worcester exit of the Huguenot Tunnel), Limietberg Nature Reserve (via N1), Paarl
  • Opening times: Daily, 8am – 6pm
  • Contact details: 021 871 1535 / 087 087 4145 (reserve office) | 087 087 8250; [email protected] (permits)
  • Dog-friendly: Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves
  • Cost: R50 (adults); R30 (children)

#SUICIDE GORGE

The infamous Suicide Gorge is one of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve’s most thrilling hiking trails. While it offers hikers a bucket-list worthy hiking adventure and sensational panoramic views throughout, it is only to be attempted by hardy and experienced hikers. This exhilarating Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve hiking trail takes you high up into the mountains, and then right down through the gorge (hence the name).  As you’ll be getting sufficiently wet throughout your hike, we highly recommend you take the appropriate gear along, including lightweight hiking shoes, a swimsuit, and a change of clothes – just in case things get a bit wet and wild.

Much of the 16.2km hike involves slip-sliding your way along the natural waterslide. At certain points throughout your hike, you may be required to leap off cliffs (some as high as 14 metres) into the pools below. Thus making it one adrenaline-boosting, thrill-inducing, adventure experience to say the least – perfectly suited to experienced hikers and die-hard adrenalin junkies. However, if you prefer a less intense and daring experience, the nearby Riviersonderend Route offers a similar challenge, but with fewer drops – the highest drop being seven-metres. Whichever route you choose, it promises to be an exciting and unforgettable adventure nonetheless!

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 90 minutes
  • Where to find it: Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve (via N2 and R321), Grabouw
  • Opening times: Daily, 8am – 4pm (1 November – 30 April) | Closed (May – October)
  • Contact details: 028 841 4301/02 (reserve office) | 087 087 8250, [email protected] (permits)
  • Dog friendly: Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves
  • Cost: R325 per person (for Suicide Gorge and Riviersonderend Route, cost of permit included)

**Important information:

  • The Suicide Gorge and Riviersonderend Route may be closed at any time at the discretion of the reserve management (due to inclement weather or other unsafe conditions).
  • Hikers are advised to start early (no later than 9am) and must be out of the reserve by 4pm.
  • Groups must be guided by a registered and experienced kloofing guide. Contact CapeNature for information about guides.
  • No children under 12 are allowed on this trail.
  • As the routes are popular, advance booking is advisable.
  • Maximum capacity for each kloofing route is 30 people per day.
  • The reserve office is only open on weekdays, but there is a staff member will be on duty seven days a week.

#PALMIET RIVER

The Palmiet River is located in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, one of the Western Cape’s most beautiful natural wonders. Besides being one of the best rivers for swimming in Cape Town, the river feeds the apple farms of Grabouw before passing through the town of Kleinmond. The best way to reach the Palmiet River is via the Palmiet River Trail in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve. It is also a great spot for hiking and exploring the nearby sandy coastline.

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Where to find it: Kogelberg Nature Reserve, via N2 to Kleinmond or via Gordons Bay and Clarens Drive
  • Opening times: Daily, 7:30am – 4pm (gate closes at 7pm)
  • Contact details: 087 288 0499 (reserve office) | 087 087 8250; [email protected] (for permits)
  • Dog-friendly: Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves
  • Cost: R50 (adults) | R30 (children)

#BREEDE RIVER

The Breede River is one of the most popular rivers for swimming in the Western Cape. While it may take approximately 3 hours to get there, it is well worth the drive.  Located in the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam, the Breede River flows east from the Ceres mountains in the Western Cape down into the Indian Ocean, watering the famous winelands of the Breede River Valley along the way. Besides offering easy access to the river, the Bontebok National Park provides visitors with an endless variety of exciting things to do. From swimming, canoeing, and angling (if you have the necessary permit), to hiking, exploring, and enjoying a picnic or braai, it’s the perfect destination for an adventurous and fun-filled day out.

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 3 – 3.5 hours
  • Where to find it: Bontebok National Park near Swellendam (via N1 and R60)
  • Opening times:  Daily: 7am – 6pm (May – October) | 7am – 7pm (November – April)
  • Contact details: 028 514 2735 | [email protected]
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Cost: Conservation fees (rates valid until 31 October 2020): R46 (SA adults); R23 (SA children, 2 – 11 years) | R66 (SADC nationals with valid passport); R33 (SADC children with valid passport) | R132 (international visitors; standard conservation fee); R66 (international children; standard conservation fee)
  • Important note: To qualify for SA rates, you must be able to prove you are an SA citizen by presenting a valid SA ID, passport, or driver’s license

#MAALGAT

Situated just 3 hours outside of Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness is considered one of the most undisturbed regions of the Western Cape. With burnt ochre mountains, jagged sandstone rock formations and ancient San and Khoi rock art, it will feel like you’ve escaped to another world entirely. In addition to its vast untamed beauty, the Cederberg Wilderness boasts some of the most magnificent hidden gems. Among them is Maalgat (aka “Hippo Pool”), a natural swimming pool. Maalgat is unlike anything you’ve seen before, undoubtedly making it one of the best dams for swimming in Cape Town.

Maalgat can be accessed via a 30-minute hike downstream from the Sanddrif camping site. Although there is no shade around the rock pool, the cool rock pool water is beyond refreshing – this makes taking a dip hard to resist. For the adventurers and thrill seekers, there are various natural rock platforms around the Maalgat rock pool from which you can leap into the cool water.

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 3 – 3.5 hours
  • Where to find it: Sanddrif Private Holiday Resort, Clanwilliam (via N7)
  • Opening times:  Monday – Friday, 8am – 12:30pm; 1:30pm – 6pm | Saturday, 8am – 12:30pm; 1:30pm – 5pm | Sunday & public holidays, 9am – 12pm; 4pm – 6pm
  • Contact details: 027 482 2825 / 044 004 0060 | [email protected]
  • Dog-friendly: Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves
  • Cost: R40 (adults) | R25 (children 2 – 13 years)

**Important note:

  • Permits can be obtained from Sanddrif Reception Office during office hours, or they can be arranged by telephone.
  • Permits for Maalgat will not be issued to day visitors during school holidays and long weekends.
  • Sanddrif Holiday Resort reserves the right to refuse requests for permits if it is considered too late in the day, or if the weather is considered unfavourable.

#THE BERG RIVER

The Berg River is located in the Berg River Resort in the beautiful winelands’ town of Franschhoek, only 50 minutes outside the city of Cape Town. Besides its picturesque location, the Berg River Resort is an amazing family-friendly resort, jam-packed with tons of fun activities and adventure experiences, including swimming and leisurely canoeing. For die-hard adventurers, river dipping in the berg river is right up your alley! However, if taking a refreshing dip in the cool river waters is not quite your thing, there are two swimming pools at the resort: a 3.5-metre-deep Olympic-sized pool as well as a smaller pool that’s perfect for the little ones. Not to mention a waterslide! A visit to the Berg River Resort promises to be tons of fun for the whole family!

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 50 minutes
  • Where to find it: Berg River Resort, R45 (via N1), Franschhoek
  • Opening times: 8am – 5pm
  • Contact details: 021 001 8805 | [email protected]
  • Dog-friendly: No
  • Cost: R100 – R120 (day visitors, depending on season); free (children under 3); R100 – R120 (per vehicle, depending on season)

#WITTE & WOLWEKLOOF RIVER

The Witte and Wolwekloof River located within the Tweede Tol Campsite near Bainskloof Pass is undoubtedly one of the best dams and rivers for swimming in Cape Town. The Tweede Tol campsite is particularly popular among avid hikers, explorers, and adventures, as it gives them access to a variety of thrilling hiking trails and cool swimming spots in the lush Limietberg Nature Reserve. While day-visitors to the campsite can gain access to the Witte River, overnight visitors are in for an extra special treat as they have exclusive access to the tranquil Wolwekloof River swimming holes too! Making an overnight stay at the Tweede Tol Campsite well worth it!

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 2 hours
  • Where to find it: Tweede Tol campsite in Limietberg Nature Reserve (via N1)
  • Opening times:  8am – 4pm (reserve office hours)
  • Contact details: 021 8711 535 / 087 087 4145 (reserve office) | 087 087 8250, [email protected] (for permits)
  • Dog-friendly: Pets are not allowed in CapeNature reserves
  • Cost: Day pass: R50 (adults); R30 (children) | Overnight fee (excludes cost of camping accommodation): R40 (adults); R20 (children)