Top mountain passes in the Western Cape - Chapmans Peak Drive

The Western Cape is blessed with a glorious and diverse topography, where scenic mountain passes are as abundant as they are varied. Each mountain pass boasts spectacular views, stunning surrounding scenery and incredible hidden gems and secret spots to discover along the way.

Here are some of the top mountain passes in the Western Cape, all of which deserve a prime spot on your Cape Town bucket-list.

#1 CHAPMAN’S PEAK DRIVE

  • Distance from Cape Town: +/- 30 minutes
  • Where: M6 | Chapmans Peak Drive, Atlantic Seaboard, Cape Town
  • Best time: Best during daylight hours | Particularly beautiful at sunset

Named one of the most magnificent coastal drives in the world, Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of Cape Town’s most sought-after attractions. Affectionately known as ‘Chappies’ by Cape Town locals, this captivating coastal road ribbons along the Atlantic coastline between Hout Bay and Noordhoek. Besides showcasing some of the most sensational views over the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll pass rugged mountains, picturesque white-sand beaches, and vibrant fishing harbours on your way.

Look out for: Chapman’s Peak Drive is known for its amazing hidden gems scattered along the route. Two of its hidden gems include the waterfall walk and the secret Look-out Cave. The waterfall walk is perfect for nature lovers and adventurers and is found just before you reach the toll gate on your way towards Noordhoek. Besides being one of Chapman’s Peak Drive’s most beautiful hidden gems, the Lookout Cave is one of Cape Town’s coolest secret caves and best sunset spots.

Like all the Mother City’s best kept secrets, you may need to wander a little off the beaten path to find it. Make your way along Chapman’s Peak Drive until you reach the famous Chapman’s Peak Lookout Point – This is where the real adventure begins! Positioned just below the pass, you’ll have to climb over the railing and carefully make your way down the mountainside to reach the Lookout Cave. Once you’ve reached this cool secret hideaway and stunning sunset spot, it’s time to sit back, relax and soak it all in. The sheltered sand-stone cave boasts the perfect view over Hout Bay and Atlantic Ocean. An extra bonus is that it has enough space to enjoy a picnic and a few sundowners paired with one hell of a view.

Besides these two must-visit secret spots, there are a variety of look-out points and picnic sites located at various points along the drive. They include tables and seating, paired with spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. Chapman’s Peak Drive is also known as one of the best places to spot the beloved members of Cape Town’s Marine Big 5. Make sure to keep a look-out for Cape Fur Seals, Dolphins, Southern Right Whales and African Penguins.

  • Cost: Chapman’s Peak Drive is a toll road, and as such requires as toll tariff fee. Each category of vehicle pays a different tariff and the tariff is applicable in each direction. The tariff fees are: Light motor vehicles: R52 | 2 Axle Heavy Vehicles: R207 | 3 & 4 Axle Heavy Vehicles: R518 | Special tariffs are available for owners of a SANParks Wild Card | The Chapman’s Peak Day Pass grants free access to the section of the road stretching from the Hout Bay entrance to the Day Pass Control Unit (about a 2.7 kilometer drive), allowing members of the public to visit the picnic areas and viewing points without having to pay a toll – It is only valid during daylight hours.
  • Important note: Chapman’s Peak Drive may be closed during severe weather, or because of road maintenance. Contact the customer service line (021 791 8220) or visit their Facebook page or website to check the current status.

#2 BAINSKLOOF PASS

  • Distance from Cape Town: Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Where: R301/3 | Bainskloof Pass Connects Ceres and Wellington, Breede River Valley / Winelands, Western Cape
  • When: Best during daylight hours

Bainskloof Pass is another top mountain pass in the Western Cape. This scenic mountain pass snakes up the R301/3 above Wellington, boasting some of the most magnificent views and scenic surroundings. On a clear day, you will be able to see the renowned Table Mountain in the distance, along with the captivating Cape Winelands spread out below you. Declared a National Monument in 1980, the Bainskloof Pass lies within a nature heritage site, and forms part of the Limietberg Nature Reserve. Nature lovers are in for a real treat when taking a drive along this stunning stretch.

  • Insider tip: Besides its unapologetic natural beauty, this area is great for camping, and swimming in the crystal-clear river streams.
  • Look out for: The Bainskloof Pass and its surrounding area is home to a glorious diversity of indigenous fauna and flora. Visitors will be able to enjoy incredible sightings of over 182 bird species, otters, jackals, leopards, Cape honey badgers, various buck, and endangered frogs and fish. This makes the Bainskloof mountain pass a must-visit destination for all nature and wildlife lovers.
  • Fun fact: The Bainskloof Pass is one of South Africa’s most picturesque and masterfully constructed passes. It was completed in 1854 and covers 30km, including some hair-raising turns, which makes the drive equally as exhilarating as it is beautiful.

#3 FRANSCHHOEK PASS

  • Distance from Cape Town: Approximately 1 hour 10 minutes
  • Where: Franschhoek Pass, R45, Lambrechts Road, Franschhoek, Cape Winelands, Western Cape
  • When: Best during daylight hours

In terms of scenery, sheer drops, and panoramic views, the Franschhoek Pass is tough to beat. Its no surprise that it is rated by locals and tourists as one of the must-dos of the valley. Also known as Lambrechts Road, the Franschhoek Pass follows the path of least resistance along the Middagskransberg, tracing the northern edge of the Franschhoek Mountains between the Wemmershoek Mountains and the Franschhoek Valley.

The Franschhoek Pass is one of the more heart-stopping mountain passes of the Western Cape when it comes to views and vistas of the surrounding valleys, gorges, and mountains, particularly the drop down to the Franschhoek River from the summit. Besides being one of the top mountain passes in the Western Cape, the Franschhoek Pass is renowned for its truly spectacular views. From admiring the lush meadows and vineyards of the Franschhoek Valley to stunning views of the oasis of greenery surrounded by mountains, it will almost feel like you’ve escaped to a whole new world entirely.

Look out for: When taking a drive along the Franschhoek Pass, be sure to keep a lookout for the entrance to the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve, which is accessed from the Franschhoek Mountain Pass. A visit to the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve is an absolute must for nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts. Hikers will be able to enjoy one of its many exciting hiking trails that pass by flourishing fynbos fields and tranquil mountain streams (which are usually in full flow during Cape Town’s winter rainy season). Not to mention the beautiful views of the mountains and Franschhoek Valley hikers can admire along the way.

Besides enjoying an adventure-filled visit to the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve, you will find various viewpoints along the Franschhoek Mountain Pass route. These stopping points are great for taking a break, relaxing, and soaking up all the sensational views around you. It’s also the perfect place to capture some stunning snapshots and photographs off the picturesque surroundings.

  • Fun fact: A hundred and fifty years ago the Franschhoek Pass was known as Olifantshoek, or Elephants’ Corner after the now mythical herds of elephant which once roamed these valleys and mountains. Many believed that these elephants used this route to move from one valley into the next as the seasons changed.

#4 DU TOITSKLOOF PASS

  • Distance from Cape Town: Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Where: Du Toitskloof Pass, Between Paarl and Worcester, Winelands / Breede River Valley, Western Cape
  • When: Best during daylight hours

Another top mountain pass in the Western Cape that should be on everyone’s Cape Town bucket-list is the Du Toitskloof Pass. The picturesque Du Toitskloof Pass lies on the R101 between Paarl and Worcester, although, these days, many people may not realise that they are actually on the pass as they opt to use the Huguenot Tunnel, which means you shave a significant 11 kilometres off the original drive. However, you can still scale the heights of this impressive pass that used to be part of the N1.

The Du Toitskloof Pass is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the Western Cape as it winds its way up the side of the mountain, boasting spectacular views over the Paarl valley. It also showcases a unique perspective of Paarl rock one would not usually see. As you continue to scale the pass, the full significance of its dexterity becomes increasingly obvious as you notice the sheer mountain peaks and cliff faces looming above you – it truly is quite remarkable!

  • Insider tip: We highly recommend you take the time to stop once you have crested the pass. On a clear Cape Town day you will be well rewarded with a stunning view of the tall-standing giant of the Mother City skyline, Table Mountain, as well as a beautiful view over the Paarl Valley.
  • Look out for: There’s a variety of beautiful viewing sites and picnic spots overlooking the Paarl valley located along the Du Toitskloof Mountain Pass. It’s a great idea to pack a picnic basket, sit back, relax, and soak up all the stunning views and surrounding scenery. There are however several troops of baboons that patrol the area, so be sure to keep a lookout for them – And, please don’t feed them!
  • Fun fact: The Du Toitskloof Pass is 48 km long and scales 820 metres in height. It was named after a Francois Du Toit, a 17th century Huguenot pioneer who settled in the foothills of the mountain.

#5 CLARENCE DRIVE

  • Distance from Cape Town: Approximately 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Where: Clarence Drive Scenic Route, Clarence Drive, R44, Kleinmond, Cape Overberg, Western Cape
  • When: Best during daylight hours | Particularly beautiful at sunset

Considered by many to be one of South Africa’s most scenic coastal drives, Clarence Drive is every bit as thrilling and beautiful as Chapman’s Peak Drive, without the cost of a toll fee. This captivating coastal drive is located between the windswept hamlet of Rooi-Els and the naval town of Gordons Bay, which nestles in the north-eastern crook of False Bay in the shadow of the Hottentots Hollands mountains. Forming part of Route 44, Clarence Drive is a stunning 21km stretch that hugs the picturesque Cape coastline all the way, with the majestic Hottentot Hollands Mountains on one side, and the ocean on the other – showcasing the very best of both!

If you’re up for a bit of thrill, taking a drive along Clarence Drive is right up your alley! This top Western Cape mountain pass consists of approximately 77 bends, numerous wide curves, and a couple of sharp corners of which four are in excess of 150 degrees – It is bound to get even the most avid thrill seekers adrenalin pumping! The road is in excellent condition and regularly attracts tourists, locals, bikers, and cyclists looking to enjoy all the sensational scenic views and everything else Clarence Drive has to offer.

  • Insider tip: Besides being crowned one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world, Clarence Drive is particularly beautiful before and during sunset. Undoubtedly making it one of the best sunset spots in Cape Town.

Look out for: Flanked by dramatic coastlines and the majestic Hottentots Holland mountain range, the pass offers awesome picnic and viewing spots. This gives visitors the perfect opportunity to find a beautiful spot along the route and enjoy a delicious picnic paired with stunning views. As Clarence Drive is known to be particularity beautiful at sunset, we highly recommend taking a sunset drive along this captivating coastal road.

Clarence Drive is one of the best scenic drives to spot Southern Right Whales as well as enjoy other incredible marine life sightings. If you’re an avid nature lover, keep an eye out for wild Proteas as well as various indigenous fauna and flora found in the area. Clarence Drive is also known to attract keen local and international surfers as Kogel Bay (or Cool Bay) and Dappat se Gat, two of Cape Town’s coolest surfing spots, are found along the route.