Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail
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Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail: The ultimate guide to hiking Skeleton Gorge

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail - Secret Cape Town
Photo credit: Flickr: Vaughan Leiberum

Going on a Table Mountain hiking adventure is undoubtedly considered one of the top things to do in Cape Town. Standing tall at 1 085m at its highest point of elevation, the giant of the Cape Town skyline is not only considered one of the Mother City’s most iconic landmarks, but one of the New7Wonders of Nature too. Thereby making hiking up Table Mountain an exhilarating 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 top Cape Town hiking trail.

Conquering Skeleton Gorge: How difficult is it really?

  • Difficulty level: Hard
  • Fitness level required: Medium – high
Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail - Secret Cape Town
Photo credit: Flickr: Graeme Churchard

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 even the most avid hikers, there’s no need to fear. This top Cape Town hiking trail is far less scary than it might seem at first glance. Don’t get us wrong, hiking up Skeleton Gorge is by no means a walk in the park. But it definitely is every bit as thrilling and exciting as it is challenging! And although it may require some sweat and hard work, you will be well rewarded in the end. Not to mention the spectacular sweep-you-off-your-feet views you’ll be able to enjoy all the way throughout your hike.

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail
Photo credit: Flickr: Graeme Churchard

Due to its challenging nature, Skeleton Gorge is not recommended for first time. But, don’t let that detour you from your newfound Cape Town hiking love affair. Table Mountain has an endless variety of incredible hiking trails to choose from. With each one catering to different fitness and experience levels. Pretty soon you’ll be conquering Skeleton Gorge like a real hiking pro.

Where does the Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail adventure start & end?

  • Start point: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
  • End Point: Maclear’s Beacon
Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail - Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Photo credit: Flickr: Graeme Churchard

The beautiful forest like start in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens makes Skeleton Gorge one of the most picturesque hikes. And definitely one of the most sought-after hiking experiences for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts from around the world. 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 gem Kirstenbosch Gardens has to offer.

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail - Maclears Beacon

The end point of the Skeleton Gorge hiking trail is the famous Maclear’s Beacon. The highest point of ascend on Table Mountain. Therefore, providing you with one of the most incredible panoramic views you have ever seen. 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 many years to come.

How to get to the start point of the Skeleton Gorge hiking trail

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail - Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

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.

Which 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 Mountain Station, or the Golden Arrow Bus to Kirstenbosch.

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail: The ultimate guide to hiking Skeleton Gorge - Map

Basic directions: The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens lies 13km from the Cape Town city centre. 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: 3km
Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail
Photo credit: Flickr: Graeme Churchard

Although this Table Mountain Hiking trail is only 3km, it is not to be underestimated. The Skeleton Gorge trail starts off with a steep ascend from the 310m contour path above Kirstenbosch up the back of Table Mountain. As you’re surrounded by indigenous forests and shaded tress, the first half of your hike will almost 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 ascend, Maclear’s Beacon. You will need to do some rock scrambling, ladder climbing and overcome a few rockfalls before you reach the top. Footing and gripping 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. Thereby allowing you to enjoy all the incredible views and amazing sights along the route. You will be well rewarded for your hard graft and hiking efforts. Because if there’s one thing 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 reddish Hely-Hutchinson reservoir at the summit, 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.

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail
Photo credit: Flickr: Simon Pearson

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!

What is the average time to reach the top of the Skeleton Gorge summit?

  • Average time to the top: Approximately 2 – 4 hours one way
Photo credit: Flickr: Graeme Churchard

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 an 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.  

Good-to-know information, cool facts & top tips when hiking Skeleton Gorge

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail
Photo credit: Flickr: Matt Pelletier

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 right throughout. It is also 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. But, 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 the Skeleton Gorge trail at certain points. This makes them a popular pairing. With one trail being used for ascent and the other (preferably Nursery Ravine) being used for descent.

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail
Descent into Nursery Ravine | Photo credit: Flickr: mallix

When you reach the Hely-Hutchinson Dam, the best is to follow the southern leg of 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.

Skeleton Gorge Hiking Trail - Table Mountain Aerial Cableway

Important to know when hiking Skeleton Gorge

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.