If you’ve been on a hike in Cape Town, then you know how unique hiking here is. Most of the trails wind up some part of the Table Mountain peninsula, which means you start with an immediate incline. Ten minutes in and you are breathing heavily and getting red blotches all over your face from the pound of sweat you’ve just shed. You look up at the never-ending trail ahead that includes chains, stairs, rock scrambles and sheer cliffs.
Just when you feel fed up and ready to turn around, you reach a clearing and look out. All aches, breaks and bruises fade from mind as you come face to face with the rolling sea, the lush mountain peaks and the sparkling city below.
Does this sound similar to your hiking experiences in Cape Town?
If so, then you already know how addictive it gets. Though you may hate how challenging hiking here can be, you know the views will be well worth it – which is why you continue to search for the next great hike. Look no further, as our VAC staff have put together a list of our favorite nearby trails that you can easily get to from Observatory.
1. Lion’s Head (Oliver’s favorite)
This is probably the first hike you will do in Cape Town. As you wrap around this prominent peak, you’ll get incredible 360° views of the city, sea and Table Mountain. By locals’ standards Lion’s Head is an easy one hour hike, but don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t work up a sweat and have some wobbly legs afterwards. Oliver’s favorite section is clambering up the chains. Be sure to bring your camera and a picnic for when you get to the top – you’ll want to celebrate!
How to get there: From Obs, you can take the train to Cape Town station and then grab the MyCiti bus to Kloof Nek Road and walk up to the trailhead. The easiest way to get there though is with an Uber or cab from Obs directly to the trailhead.
Check out former intern, Julia Roth’s video of her Lion’s Head sunrise hike.
2. Skeleton’s Gorge (Thomas’ favorite)
If you’re looking for an all day adventure to the top of Table Mountain, then Skeleton’s Gorge is the trail for you! It starts from Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden through a jungle-esque ravine up to the Smuts Track path. This leads you to Maclear’s Beacon (the highest point on the mountain) and from there you can follow the summit all along to the cable car station where you can take a ride down or hike down if you’re still feeling fit as a fiddle. Thomas likes the dense lush forest that Skeleton’s Gorge offers and that you truly feel like you’ve conquered Table Mountain afterwards.
How to get there: Take an Uber or cab from Obs to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where you’ll need to pay the R50 entrance to Kirstenbosch. If you go all the way to the cable car then you’ll need about R120 for a ride down and money for a cab home. It is still completely worth all the fees!
3. Platteklip Gorge (Sean’s favorite)
A quicker way to get to the top of Table Mountain is Platteklip Gorge, which runs parallel to the cable car line. Platteklip has the reputation for being relatively short (about 1 hour to get to the top) but gruelling. The hike is basically a stairmaster made of rock, but it does spit you out right near the cable car which you can take back down to the bottom instead of hiking down. Sean’s enjoys trying to break his personal record up each week which he does by hiking Platteklip every Monday evening with Oliver and Leanne.
How to get there: From Obs, take the train to Cape Town station and then grab the MyCiti bus to Kloof Nek Road, then change to the lower cableway Myciti bus line. The easiest way to get there though is with an Uber or cab from Obs directly to the trailhead.
4. Devil’s Peak (Athena’s favorite)
The breathtaking view we get here in Observatory is of Devil’s Peak. Many people look at this beautiful peak, but surprisingly few actually hike it. There are multiple ways to get up, but the most marked one is at the end of Tafelberg Road (the cable car road). There is a trail marker for Devil’s Peak and you just follow that trail all the way up about 1.5 – 2 hours. You can just go to the top and then down the same way you came or you can take the trail across the saddle and down to Rhodes Memorial/University of Cape Town. Athena’s favourite part of the hike is finishing at the Rhodes Memorial restaurant and eating some malva pudding!
How to get there: Take an Uber or cab to the end of Tafelberg Road for the most well-marked trailhead.
5. Deer Park (Anna’s favorite)
This is one of Cape Town’s best kept secrets. At the base of Table Mountain below Tafelberg Road (the cable car road) is Deer Park. It is a combination of hiking and mountain biking trails that intersect and loop for however long you want to go for. Anna loves this area because she can walk there from her house! There is also a wonderful little stream with picnic spots all along it.
How to get there: From Obs, it is best to take an Uber or cab. They may get confused and take you to Deer Park Cafe, which is at the bottom of the road that leads to the hike.
6. Boomslang Caves aka Kalk Bay Caves (Andrew’s favorite)
This hike is the furthest from Obs but you can still get to it by train. Once you are at the trailhead, it is about a 45 minute hike straight up and then you will look for the Boomslang Cave sign. You will then get on your knees and crawl into the darkness, so be sure to bring a head torch! Andrew loves taking new people on this hike and seeing their reactions when they get inside the caves. Note: this hike should only be done with people who have gone on it before. It is also still under renovations from the fires earlier this year.
How to get there: Take the train from Observatory all the way to Kalk Bay (about 40 minutes). From the Kalk Bay train station, cross the street and find the sets of stairs that lead towards the mountain. Follow these stairs to Boyes Drive and then look for Echo Valley trail signs.
Other staff favourite hikes:
Feeling brave? Try completing the Three Peaks Challenge in one day. This includes Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain (Platteklip Gorge), and Lion’s Head.
Mountain safety: It is important to remember that Table Mountain is a mountain and the weather can shift dramatically within a few hours. Never hike alone, always stay on the trail and be prepared with enough water. Save the mountain rescue number in your phone: 086 110 6417. For more safe hiking tips, check out Table Mountain National Park‘s website.