If you’re planning a trip to South Africa you should definitely put the Table Mountain hike in Cape Town on your to-do list. You should save at least half a day to visit the flat-topped peak during your time in the Western Cape.
Included in the world’s new 7 Wonders of NatureTable Mountain is, undoubtedly, one of the most iconic symbols of South Africa worldwide, a giant rock that watches over the puzzling city of Cape Town.
Over 1 million tourists and locals visit Table Mountain every year, and the number is going up. Every year, Table Mountain National Park is among the top three most visited National Parks of South Africa, competing with Kruger and Addo for the highest number of visitors.
If you are keen on hiking Table Mountain, continue reading to discover how to reach the top. In this post, you will find information about the easiest hikes, and the more challenging ones.
We’ll also dive into a bit of history, interesting facts, and tips so you’ll know everything you need to know to make the most of your hike.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Things To Do In Cape Town.
Some Background Information About Table Mountain
The area where Table Mountain National Park is located has been inhabited at least since the Stone Age, 30,000 years ago.
The Khoi and the San people, the original inhabitants of the area, hunter-gatherers famous for their “click language”, call the Table Mountain “Hoerikwaggo” or “Huriǂoaxa”, Mountain in the Sea. They believed Tsui or Goab, their God, lived there, so the mountain was a holy place.
Another legend says that Tixo and Djobela, god and goddess, had a son called Qamata, who created the world. To protect the dry land from the Great Dragon of the Sea, four giants were placed at the four corners of the earth and then transformed into rocks.
Umlindi Wemingizimu was the giant rock protector of the South, what we now call Table Mountain.
The Portuguese explorer Antonio de Saldanha, in 1503, changed its name to Tabao de Cabo and in 1652, the Dutch settlers started calling it Tafelberg.
You should also read my post 16 Best National Parks In South Africa.
What You Need To Know About The Table Mountain Hike
Hiking Table Mountain is an incredible experience. From the top of the mountain, 3,500 feet (1,080 meters) above sea level, you’ll have a spectacular view of other Cape Town landmarks, such as Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, Robben Island and, of course, the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
The fauna you’ll get to see along the way is exceptional too: you’ll walk among the unique Cape fynbos (the natural bush of the Western Cape) and King Protea, the national flower of South Africa since 1976.
Other than flowers, you’ll also see ruins, waterfalls, caves and, if you are lucky, the Table Mountain ghost frog – an endangered species found only in this National Park.
Overall walking distance / time
Honestly, the overall walking distance and time it takes to complete your Table Mountain hike varies!
You can decide to take a steep but quick trail to go up and a more gradual path to descend or the opposite. Or, of course, you can decide to take the same path in both directions. You can also go up on foot and down with the cable car (more about that in a bit).
It all depends on your abilities and the time you have available. The good news is that you’ll never run out of things to see
If you decide to opt for the cable car, I suggest you book your ticket online to skip the line, especially during the weekends and national holidays. More information about this option will be provided at the end of this post.
On average, half a day is enough to reach one of the viewpoints located at the top of Table Mountain, and to descend. In general, the average distance covered during a Table Mountain Hike is 4 to 7 km (2.5 to 4.3 miles).
The time needed depends on how gradual the ascent is. Also keep in mind that the top is flat but you’ll often stop to take pictures of the amazing view. If you don’t want to run you’ll need at least 4 hours for the hike.
Hiking Table Mountain independently
Hiking Table Mountain without a guide is entirely possible. There are plenty of resources online and hiking trails are present in all the main map apps. We hiked independently but there are certain rules you must observe for safety reasons.
First of all, I suggest you don’t attempt to hike Table Mountain alone: tourists and hikers have been attacked in the past, especially in the early morning or after sunset, when fewer people are around.
Also, there are places with vertical cliffs and drops, dangerous in the dark or in case of a sudden change of weather. If you are a solo traveler, try to join a group at the entry points or from your hotel or hostel.
Make sure to read my post Why Hiking Alone Is A Bad Idea.
Most of the hikes in this guide are interconnected so you can easily create your own path according to your fitness level, available time, and weather conditions. Just make sure to stay on the marked trails to avoid getting lost.
Our hike lasted about 7 hours. We entered from the Pipe Track, part of the longer Contour Trail, on the North part of the mountain. We then joined the Kasteelspoort Hiking Trail which took us to the old Cable Way viewpoint on a very windy day.
We kept following the route to Echo Valley. This part of the trail includes metal ladders and lousy canopies, honestly a bit scary but I am not the bravest person on the planet. That bit of panic is worth it, from here you’ll have a view of the entire peninsula.
Remember that the cable car can be closed at any moment and without notice due to heavy winds (it happened to us); so it is important to plan enough time for the descent in case you will need to walk down. You should also check the wind/weather forecast to have at least an idea of what you can expect.
We had to take the Platteklip Gorge trail to descend, which was actually steeper than what we’d have liked.
Hiking Table Mountain with a guided tour
There are many guided tours available to hike Table Mountain; most of them we’ll pick you up at your accommodation. The benefit of joining a guided hike is that the company will take care of everything and it is significantly safer than going alone.
The following are the best options for guided Table Mountain hikes:
Cape Town: India Venster Table Mountain Hike – This is probably the best trail to get incredible views of the entire city, West Coast, Robben Island, the Twelve Apostles and the mountains around Table Mountain.
Cape Town: 2-Hour Table Mountain Hike via Platteklip Gorge – This guided hike follows the shortest trail to the top of Table Mountain, so it is perfect if you are not too keen of a hiker.
How to avoid the crowds and 3 bonus hikes
There are 5 main hiking trails that reach the top of Table Mountain, each more or less crowded depending on the time of year, and of day.
The best way to avoid the crowds is to choose the right time of the day and the right trail. If you have the possibility of doing so, avoid hiking Table Mountain during the weekend in peak season.
You can also decide to hire a local guide, they’ll know which trail to follow and how to make your Table Mountain hike as comfortable and as little crowded as possible.
The most straightforward way to reach the top of Table Mountain is the Platteklip Gorge, on the north face of the mountain, along the Tafelberg Road. The starting point is 1.5 km (little less than a mile) from the cable car station.
The elevation gain is 671 meters (that’s more than 2,201 feet) in 2 km (1.2 miles), which means it is a very steep path, basically a giant staircase but, at the same time, the fastest way to climb the mountain.
Once you arrive at the top of Platteklip Gorge, the upper cable car station is only 800 meters (roughly half a mile) away along a mostly flat trail.
India Venster path
The most challenging Table Mountain Hike is, undoubtedly, the India Venster path.
This epic ascent starts at the cable car station along Tafelberg Road, and goes up through a few tricky sections including staples and scramble trail parts.
So, if you are scared of heights, probably this is not the best choice for you. Toward the end, the path becomes more flat.
Easiest Table Mountain Hike: Newlands Forest Hiking + Skeleton Gorge
On the East side, you can hike the Table Mountain via the Newlands Forest Hiking Trail (you can also enter from Rhodes Memorial or from the beautiful Kirstenbosch Gardens).
This trail is about 2 hours long and passes the indigenous Afromontane forest and the more recent pine tree forest. You can also get on this trail from the Contour Path, one of the main hiking paths through the forest.
If you are in Cape Town during the summer, December to March, it can be really hot, up to 30°C (86°F). In those days, I suggest you take the Skeleton Gorge/Nursery Ravine hiking trail, an easy way to climb, and mostly in the shade.
Alternatively, the easiest way to hike Table Mountain (besides taking the cable car) is Constantianek. From the parking lot, you can walk along the jeep track that goes to the top of the mountain.
How to get to the beginning of the trail
There are several trails that will take you to the top of Table Mountain. All the starting points are easy to find. If you have a car, just write the name of the trail on Google Maps or any other app and follow the directions.
I actually think that the less stressful and safest way to get to the beginning of the trail is to take a meter taxi, Uber or Bolt. This way, you can enter the National Park from one point and exit from another without having to find a way to get to where you parked your car.
You can also decide to use the hop-on hop-off bus, which runs every 30 minutes, or a MyCiTi bus, from the City Center to the Upper Tafelberg Road stop.
Consider that the Cable Car Station and hiking trails are about 1-hour walk from the city center.
When to hike Table Mountain
The best time of year to hike Table Mountain is the spring, especially August and September, the peak of the blooming season when the flatted top becomes a carpet of wildflowers and stunning proteas.
We hiked the mountain at the beginning of February and could still see several protea flowers, so we can only imagine how beautiful the landscape would be during the peak of the blooming season.
If you hike during the summer, starting early in the morning will help you avoid the hottest hours. South Africa is affected by prolonged drought and wildfire, so make sure to check the safety of the mountain before you hike.
For example, Lion’s Head, one of the most iconic peaks around Table Mountain National Park (entrance in Signal Hill Road) was closed during our visit due to a fire that hit the mountain.
If, instead, you hike in winter, consider the weather can change rapidly at the top, it can be windy and rainy, or you can be in the clouds and not enjoy the view at all – in fact, you might be unable to see beyond a few feet, and it would be very easy to get lost.
Essentials for your Table Mountain hike
Even though Table Mountain is one of the most visited spots in South Africa, you probably won’t meet a lot of people, especially as you move away from the cable car stations; so bring everything you need with you.
This is a selection of items you will need:
- Rain/Wind Jacket – the weather can suddenly change, do not trust the sunny day at the bottom of the mountain, it can be cold and windy at the top, especially in autumn and winter.
- Good hiking shoes or boots – it’s always better to be fully equipped.
- Sun cream – even if you think the sun is not that hot, remember you are above 3,500 feet (1,080 meters) above sea level which means you can easily get sunburnt.
- Hat and sunglasses – they will protect your eyes and your skin.
- Water – there are water springs on Table Mountain but they are not always easy to find and they can be dry during the summer months.
- Enough food and snacks for the hike.
- A GPS or reliable maps on your phone – it’s definitely better to have a map you can check offline, as reception is not always good along the hike.
- A good camera – the views are incredible and you’ll want to take photos!
- A power bank to charge your phone on the go.
- Mosquito repellent.
- A torch – just in case!
You should also read my post What To Wear In South Africa.
Food and drinks
During peak season, you’ll find stalls selling food and drinks at the Upper Cable Station (they sell things such as hot pies on colder days, or ice cream), but it’s always a good idea to bring enough water and some snacks with you.
Once you get to the top, there also is a Table Mountain Café at the Upper Cable Car Station. It’s a bit overpriced, which is understandable considering the location.
In any case, it’s better to bring enough water and some energy bars and sandwiches with you in case you get hungry during the hike.
Other ways to reach the top
You don’t actually have to hike Table Mountain to reach the top. In fact, if you are not feeling up for the challenge you can simply take the cable car, which was completed in 1929, to reach the top: it will take you all the way up in a matter of minutes.
The main downside to it is that you have to book the ride in advance, or else wait in line at the ticket counter, and that even then there may be a line to get on.
To get your cable car tickets, click here.
The cable car rotates so you don’t need to worry about the views: everyone on board will be able to catch a glimpse of the magnificent views.
While you are better off getting cable car tickets beforehand, you also need to check the weather broadcast before going. The cable car stops whenever it is foggy (which actually often happens) or too windy.
For a guided tour of Cape Town that also goes to Table Mountain, click here.
Other hikes in Cape Town
Officially, hikes like Devil’s Peak and Lion’s head are not part of Table Mountain but they are amazing and absolutely worth it. You can simply hike Lion’s Head from the parking lot and enjoy a 360° view from the top: it is also a very special trail during the full moon.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Hiking Lion’s Head.
If you are planning a trip to the Cape Town area, these other posts will come in handy:
- The Best Day Trips From Cape Town
- Where To Stay In Cape Town
- The Best Airbnbs In Cape Town
- The Best Tips For Visiting Cape Town
- The Best Places To Visit In South Africa
- Is Cape Town Safe For Tourists?
This was post contributed by Elena Stefanin and Daniele Giannotta, who are traveling around the world by bicycle since 2014. On their website Cycloscope they write about cycle touring, bikepacking, road trips, and backpacking with an eye on anthropology.