Hiking Table Mountain – Short Walks
With Spring kicking in, the great outdoors give us a big call to come and explore. Table Mountain National Park is the only one in the world surrounded by a city, which gives us a huge number of access points and limitless opportunities to choose from.
In addition to the seasons’ moderated weather, it is also the perfect timing to enjoy our unique indigenous flora, mainly the internationally known, our national flower, the Protea.
South African National Parks (SANParks) marks 5 main routes along the park which can be experienced one short walk at a time. Although there are rangers along the paths, hiring a guide, especially if you are a visitor, is highly recommended.
The 5 most popular hiking routes:
Use one of the recommended routes to enjoy the wonders the park has to offer. Please be aware that more people die on Table Mountain than Mount Everest. Table Mountain is a mountain, not a hill! Please respect and enjoy our mountain.
Lion’s Head Walk offers a great view at every turn.
The easy spiral walk starts on Signal Hill Drive, below Lion’s Head. The view from its 669m summit offers a breathtaking 360-degree sweep taking in the city bowl; Devil’s Peak and the famous front face of Table Mountain; the majestic Twelve Apostles; the stunning scenery of the Atlantic seaboard from Oudekraal through Bakoven, Camps Bay and Clifton to Sea Point and Green Point; Table Bay, and of course, Robben Island.
The short and relatively easy walk to the top of Lion’s Head is necessary for those wanting to enjoy the very best that the Park has to offer.
WARNING: It is a Cape Town tradition to hike to the summit of Lion’s Head to toast the full moon as it rises over the distant Hottentots Holland mountains to the east. On these festive occasions, the summit can be very busy. If you decide to join in the fun, please remember alcohol, darkness and the initial steep descent can be a very dangerous combination.
Distance: about 2km one-way
Time: 1hr – 1hr 30mins up
Rating: easy with some minor rock scrambling
Children: yes but may require help at the chains
Dogs: Are not recommended.
Water: none available along this route
The Pipe Track Walk
This walk starts at the junction of Tafelberg Road and Kloof Nek. The Pipe Track is precisely what it says: a path constructed to service a pipeline running below the series of peaks known as the Twelve Apostles. This pipeline was built to carry water from Disa Gorge in Table Mountain’s Back Table, via the Woodhead Tunnel through the mountain in Slangolie Ravine, to the Molteno Reservoir in Oranjezicht to help slake the thirst of the booming, late 19th century Cape Town.
In several places the path is very stony, but it is an easily accessible and popular walk, with many locals making regular use of certain sections; it is part of the Atlantic seaboard way of life.
WARNING: The Pipe Track is very exposed to the hot afternoon sun in summer; it is at its best early on summer mornings.
Distance: about 6km one-way to Corridor Ravine
Time: 4hrs – 4hr30mins return
Rating: easy to Slangolie, moderate to Corridor
Children: yes, but the full route is tough
Water: tap at the start; take lots in summer
Platteklip to Upper Cableway Station- The “highway” to the top
Up – relentlessly up! That’s the only way to describe the path in Platteklip Gorge. It’s the most direct route to the top of the mountain and the most popular. However, it is not a route to be trifled with; the going can be tough.
The walk starts on Tafelberg Road and ascends the main gorge that divides the front face (Africa face) of Table Mountain. The path is well constructed with stone steps and anti-erosion gabions, and is not difficult to negotiate at any point. However, it is steep, and the best way to tackle Platteklip is slowly – don’t try to rush it, and frequent stops will give you a chance to look back at the great view of Cape Town and Table Bay below.
Allow sufficient time for walking down, even if your plan is to come down with the cableway. Rapid changes in weather conditions often cause the cableway to shut down unexpectedly, leaving hikers stranded in darkness at the upper cable station.
WARNING: Don’t underestimate Platteklip Gorge, which can be extremely hot and/or very cold and windy. The temperature at the top can be much lower than on Tafelberg Road, with an icy wind blowing, even in January and February. Always take enough water, a hat, sun block and warm, windproof clothing with you – even on hot summer days! REMEMBER to get your one-way down ticket for the Cable Car at the bottom. There is no way to get a ticket once you reach the top.
Distance: about 3km up!
Time: between 1hr for the super fit to 3hrs for the slow
Rating: moderate to tough, depending on fitness and weather
Children: older children yes, but it is demanding
Dogs: not recommended, and not on the cableway
Water: always take plenty of your own, especially in summer
Upper Cableway Station to Maclear’s Beacon Walk
This walk is a must if you want to be able to say you’ve stood at the highest point on Table Mountain, even if at 1 088m it is only 21m above the Upper Cableway Station.
From the Upper Cableway Station, choose the main path leading to the diagonally opposite corner of what is known as the Western Table – look for plaques as guide marks to make sure you’re on the right track. It will take you 10 to 15 minutes to walk across to the point where chains and poles have been provided to assist the short climb down the rocky steps at the edge: it is not difficult. Do not attempt to climb down at any other point! The path to Maclear’s Beacon is marked by painted yellow footprints.
WARNING: Do not attempt this walk if there is low cloud or mist on the mountain. It is very easy to become disoriented and to lose your way.
Distance: 5.5km overall
Time: 45mins to an hour one-way to Maclear’s Beacon
Dogs: not recommended
Water: none available along this route
Skeleton Gorge to Maclear’s Beacon: The Smuts Track
The Smuts Track is one of the most popular walks on Table Mountain, and especially in summer when the Afromontane forest offers shade almost all the way up skeleton Gorge, the toughest section. The climb is steep and unrelenting, although not difficult or requiring more than the ability to climb a wooden ladder and negotiate a few rocky steps. However, many people underestimate the effort required, particularly when they go all the way to Maclear’s Beacon. Be prepared; don’t make the same mistake.
The walk starts in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, but the heart of this route begins at the intersection of Skeleton Gorge and the Contour Path. The first 40 to 75 minutes is spent in the forest climbing log and stone steps. About two-thirds of the way up a series of wooden ladders eases the way over steep rocks, which can be slippery when, wet.
WARNING: Parts of Skeleton Gorge are slippery, even in summer; take special care after rain and in winter. Avoid this route during and immediately after heavy rain.
Time: from 2hrs for the super-fit to 4hrs for the less-than-fit (one-way)
Rating: moderate, no shade in the second half
Dogs: not recommended
Water: mountain streams usually flow, but it’s best to take your own
The Table Mountain National Park is a World Heritage Site, and an ecologically sensitive area with plants and animals that occur nowhere else in the world – please treat it with respect and help Park’s staff conserve this globally unique and much-loved environment.
- Take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints. Don’t pick, break or trample any plants or flowers, or remove seeds, rocks or plants.
- Don’t feed, touch or harm any of the animals or birds in the Park – dassies, baboons and even the African Penguin all have ferocious bites!
- Wild fires can cause loss of life and property. Never light fires anywhere other than in designated braai (barbecue) areas. Do not throw cigarette butts anywhere.
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