Skeleton Gorge Hike – Table Mountain
Going on a Table Mountain hiking adventure is undoubtedly considered one of the top things to do in Cape Town. Standing at 1 085m at its highest point of elevation, the mountainous giant of the Cape Town skyline is not only considered one of the Mother City’s most iconic landmarks, but one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature too. This makes hiking up Table Mountain an exhilarating bucket-list worthy experience you won’t soon forget.
While there are a few ways to make your way up Table Mountain, Skeleton Gorge is one of the most popular. To ensure you are fully prepared to conquer Skeleton Gorge, here is everything you need to know about this Cape Town hiking trail.
Skeleton Gorge Hike Overview
Moderate – High
Moderate – High
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Upper Aerial Cableway Station | Maclear’s Beacon
Approximately 2 – 4 hours one way (depending on fitness)
Conquering Skeleton Gorge: How difficult is it really?
- Difficulty level: Hard
- Fitness level required: Medium – high
Skeleton Gorge is long, steep, challenging and certainly commands a certain level of fitness to conquer its summit. Although it’s unique name can scare some, there’s no need to fear. The trail is far less scary than it might seem from the name, but it is not a walk in the park.
The trail starts in the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens and you will find yourself strolling next to gorgeous wild flowers as you make your way to the trail head. Before you get there you will enter the mountain forest region of the gardens as the trail climbs it’s way higher up the mountain. While still in the botanical gardens the paths are generally wide and well maintained with a steady gradient.
As you get higher up the trail to the trail head proper the steepness of the trail increases until you reach the sign posted trail head that cuts off the flatter contour path and heads straight up the mountain. Once here the trail will turn into a series of earth, wood and rocky steps that lead up the mountain. There are a few sections which contain wooden ladders that you need to climb over to ascend the large rocky boulders that litter the gorge.
Along the way you will be rewarded with spectacular sweep-you-off-your-feet views.
In order to hike Skeleton Gorge you need to be comfortable with a strenuous hike up 611 m of wooden, rock and earth steps to the summit. This requires a fair amount of cardiovascular fitness. We wouldn’t suggest this as your first hike ever and if you are nervous of the effort required we could suggest some more moderate hikes and walks around Table Mountain.
There are many routes up and around the mountain each one catering to different fitness and experience levels.
Skeleton Gorge Trail Map
Where does the Skeleton Gorge Hike start & end?
- Start point: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
- End Point: Maclear’s Beacon or Upper Cable Way Station
The beautiful forest like start in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens makes Skeleton Gorge one of the most picturesque hikes in South Africa. In order to access the Skeleton Gorge hiking trail, you will need to pay the regular entry fee to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (Adults: R75 | Scholars (6-17 years old): R20 | Children under 6: Free). However, in addition to enjoying a thrilling hike up Skeleton Gorge, you also get to explore all the beauty and natural gems Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens has to offer.
The end point of the Skeleton Gorge hiking trail is the famous Maclear’s Beacon. The highest point on Table Mountain. It offers one of the most incredible panoramic views on Table Mountain and it is an awesome achievement to reach the summit. Make sure you take a moment to take it all in. You are going to want to remember this spectacular view and epic hiking experience for years to come.
How to get to the start point of the Skeleton Gorge hiking trail
There are several travel options to reach Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. In addition to renting a car or making use of your own transport, you can make your way to Kirstenbosch by means of the Hop-On-Hop-Off City Sightseeing bus.
The Hop-On-Hop-Off City Sightseeing bus goes to all the areas main tourist locations including Kirstenbosch and the Table Mountain’s Lower Cable Car. Taxis and Uber rides are also readily available. In addition, you can take the MyCiti Bus to the Cable Car Mountain Station, or the Golden Arrow Bus to Kirstenbosch.
**Basic directions: The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens lies 13km from the Cape Town city center. From the city, take De Waal Drive (M3) in the direction of Muizenberg. At the first traffic light intersection turn right (southwards) into Rhodes Drive (M63) and follow the signs to Kirstenbosch. Once you’ve paid your standard entry fee, make your way to the base of Table Mountain and follow the sign saying Skeleton Gorge hiking trail. Let your epic hiking adventure begin!
The Route: What can you expect to experience when hiking Skeleton Gorge?
- Approximate route distance: 5km
- Elevation: 611 m
Although this Table Mountain Hiking trail is only 5km, it is not to be underestimated. The Skeleton Gorge trail starts off with a steep ascent from the 310m ( above sea level ) contour path that runs above Kirstenbosch and takes you up the back of Table Mountain. As you’re surrounded by indigenous forests and shaded tress, the first half of your hike will feel like you’ve escaped to some far away jungle. Making it a popular choice for nature lovers from all around the world.
Although the scenic beauty of this hiking trail is unparalleled, prepare for a tough climb as you work your way up to the highest point of ascent, Maclear’s Beacon. You will need to do some rock scrambling, wooden ladder climbing and overcome a few rockfalls before you reach the top. Footing can be difficult when making your way through this portion of the hike, so be sure to take extra precaution and wear proper hiking shoes.
Once you clear the forest, the terrain becomes less steep in sections, allowing you to enjoy the incredible views and amazing sights along the route. You will be well rewarded for your hard graft and hiking efforts, as Skeleton Gorge is known for it’s the variety of hidden natural gems and cool secret spots along the way. A catch-your-breath break on the aptly named Breakfast Rock or a quick chill session on the ‘beach’ at the top of the mountain next to the reddish Hely-Hutchinson reservoir, are just a few of our Skeleton Gorge favourite things to look out for. Although you’re not allowed to swim in the reservoir, it truly is quite a spectacular sight to see.
On your way you will also encounter a stream, typical mountain fynbos (which forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom) and some interesting rock formations before reaching Maclear’s Beacon. Once you reach this iconic end point of your Skeleton Gorge hiking adventure, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy the magnificent view of Robben Island, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mother City in all her glory. You’ve definitely earned it!
There is the additional option to walk on to the Upper Cable way station and take the easy way down or to choose from one of the hiking routes you can opt for as a descent.
What is the average time to reach the Skeleton Gorge summit?
- Average time to the top: Approximately 2 – 4 hours one way
As Skeleton Gorge is known as one of Table Mountain’s more challenging hikes, prepare yourself for a bit of an extended climb. The average time to reach the top is anywhere between 2-4 hours (one-way). Depending on your fitness and hiking experience level, as well as the number of breaks you take to admire the captivating Skeleton Gorge surroundings and hidden gems along the way. But we certainly don’t blame you one bit! Skeleton Gorge’s beauty, adventure and thrill-seeking spirit has been known to capture the hearts of even the most avid hikers from around the globe.
You can choose whether to walk to the Upper Cableway station, ride down and then catch transport back to your car or hotel, or you can hike down. This will extend your hiking time depending on which option you choose.
Important to know when hiking Skeleton Gorge
- Skeleton Gorge is undoubtedly one of Table Mountain’s most sought-after hiking trails, mainly due to its beautiful surroundings and variety of cool natural gems located along the route. So, be sure to keep your eyes open for them. The Breakfast Rock, the ‘beach’ at the reddish Hely-Hutchinson reservoir at the summit, streams and rock formations are just a few not-to-be-missed sights. Not to mention a visit to the big cairn that marks the highest point on Table Mountain at Maclear’s Beacon.
- As it’s a bit of a long hard hike to the summit, it’s very important to pack plenty of water (as nothing will be available on the hike). Tons of power snacks are also highly recommended to keep your energy levels high throughout.
- It is essential that you wear the right hiking gear and be fully prepared for ALL weather conditions. This is Cape Town after all, which means the weather can flip at the drop of a hat – so be ready for anything. While your hiking adventure might start off sunny it certainly doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way. It is recommended that you take a jacket or warm piece of clothing along on any Cape Town hike – Just in case! As you never really know which way the Cape Town weather will sway.
- As Skeleton Gorge requires you to make your way through some forested areas, parts of the gorge can be quite slippery, even during summer. It’s therefore recommended to avoid this route during and immediately after heavy rainfall. As its considered a long and challenging hike with several rockfalls, obstacles and ladders to overcome before reaching the top, a high level of fitness is required before taking on the Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail. It is therefore not a recommended hiking route for children or first-time hikers.
- It is ESSENTIAL to take extra precaution when you find yourself hiking in less than ideal weather conditions.
- SANParks has reported several rescues at this site as people often underestimate the challenging nature and difficulty of this hike as well as the extreme level of fitness required to reach the summit. It is crucial that you are properly prepared for the hike ahead – You are hiking the all-mighty Table Mountain after all.
- It is important to make sure that if you do plan on taking the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway back down after your hike that you don’t miss the last cable car going down. It is therefore extremely important to plan your hike and timing perfectly.
- It is absolutely CRUCIAL that you never hike alone on any of Table Mountain’s hiking routes for your own safety. Safety first, always!
- Above all, a cool adventurous hiking spirit is an absolute must when hiking the iconic Skeleton Gorge!
Alternative routes down from the summit of Skeleton Gorge
As Skeleton Gorge is a very strenuous hike, you can opt to take a different route down just in case you’re feeling the after-effects of your climb. If you’re still supercharged and ready to go, you can choose to make your way down the Skeleton Gorge hiking trail the same way you came up. Otherwise, there are a few alternatives you can take.
If you’ve still got some hiking fuel left in the tank, Nursery Ravine provides an easier alternative route that also joins up with Kirstenbosch’s contour path. This makes them a popular pairing. With one trail being used for ascent and the other (preferably Nursery Ravine) being used for descent.
When you reach the Hely-Hutchinson Dam, the best is to follow the southern leg at the intersection (working your way left, past the dam), to the top of Nursery Ravine. The descent of the ravine will bring you back to the 310 m contour path above Kirstenbosch Gardens. From here, it is a gentle downhill walk to Kirstenbosch. Another option is to take the Platteklip Gorge route down, which is considered a far less strenuous route. Yet still filled with all the same beauty and incredible views you’d expect.
But, if your legs have suddenly turned to jelly and the thought of enduring an entire hike down Table Mountain just doesn’t seem possible, you can choose to walk to the Table Mountain Cableway station. As it’s mostly flat terrain, it will take you approximately 45min – 60min. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy a thrilling Aerial Cableway ride down the mountain. Which is undoubtedly another bucket-list worthy experience everyone who visits Cape Town should get to experience at least once.
Most people like to start their hikes early in the morning around 6:30 to 7:30 am. The starting time will depend on the time of year, as the sun only starts rising around 7:30 am during the winter months. The hike takes approximately 2 – 4 hours one way. The time you spend at the top of the mountain will be entirely up to you. After you’ve explored the top, you can take the cable car down and watch the scenery as you descend.