Full disclosure: I’m not an expert on hiking nor Table Mountain. I will say that Pete and I explored the mountain in a couple different ways, and I wish I had a post like this to read before we started our hike so we knew what to expect. Here’s some advice we’d like to share if you’re thinking about hiking Table Mountain.
First things first – here are the trails we took up and down Table Mountain:
Skeleton Gorge to Smuts Track – 1 hour
Smuts Track to Maclear’s Beacon – 2 hours
Maclear’s Beacon to Platteklip Gorge – 45 minutes
Platteklip Gorge to Tafelberg Road – 45 minutes*
*Alternatively, 15 minutes if you want to take the cable car down instead of hiking down the gorge
All in all, we hiked up, across, and down the mountain in about 5 hours, including plenty of breaks.
Start & Finish
Skeleton Gorge starts within Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The gardens have great signage, so follow the signs for Skeleton Gorge. If you have extra time (or get a little lost), definitely check out the gardens – they’re gorgeous!
You will have to purchase a ticket to enter the gardens – R60 per adult.
If you decide to hike down Platteklip gorge, you’ll end up at Tafelberg road. If your legs feel like jelly (or you just want the experience) and you take the cable car down, you’ll end up at the lower cable station. You can request an Uber from either place. If you want to hail a taxi, you’ll find them by the lower cable station.
Why This Route?
Shade. After hiking Lions Head in the beating sun, we did a little research to find a way we could hike Table Mountain in the shade. Skeleton Gorge is mostly in a shaded forest, which we definitely appreciated.
Avoid crowds. Platteklip Gorge is probably the most popular/common way of climbing up the mountain. It basically takes you directly to the cable car station. This means that a lot of people climb this route. It was very crowded and offered little shade – we were glad we chose Skeleton Gorge to ascend.
See the most of the mountain. By taking the not-so-beaten path, we were able to see a lot more of the mountain. And here’s what we saw…
I was incredibly unprepared for this hike, mentally and physically (lol). The trail was basically straight up…the entire way. Think wooden makeshift steps, rock staircases, and ladders. We were pretty drained, sweaty, and breathless when we finally reached the top.
The trail itself is very well maintained and quite pretty. We were so grateful for the constant shade. We also barely saw anyone else the entire time, and the people we did meet were very encouraging!
Once we finally get to the top of Skeleton Gorge, the relatively flat trails were so inviting. We were met with sun, but also a nice breeze that kept us cool. Smuts Track will take you to Maclear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain.
After the Skeleton Gorge, we really didn’t want to go up any more, but we’re glad we did. This track was by far my favorite part of the hike! In the brief research I did before going on this hike, I skimmed past things that talked about “flora and fauna.” Psh – who cares, right? Well, turns out I do!
The flora and, heck, the fauna too (I actually have no idea which one is which…) were totally gorgeous – so many different types and colors.
Plus, the views from Macler’s Beacon were totally worth it.
Once you reach the highest point, you can deeply exhale and pat yourself on the back – no more up for you! From here, it was a peace of cake. You basically walk across the entire plateau on your way back to the cable station.
We took the “alternate path” on the right and some parts of this path got dangerously close to the edge, which was actually really cool and allowed us some fantastic views of lions head.
If you thought Skeleton Gorge was bad, just wait til you experience Platteklip Gorge. It’s basically a rock staircase that goes straight up the mountain (with itty bitty switchbacks) – with no tree cover. Plus, there were tons of people going up and down, the path is pretty narrow, and the rocks can get very slippery from dust/sand.
We’re glad we took this route down – it saved us some money and also gave us a new perspective of the mountain. However, I’m writing this the day after and my calves are reeeeeally tight. If you don’t think your legs can handle more hiking, don’t push it! Take the cable car – it’s a really fun experience anyway.
Uber from downtown to Kirstenbosch: R106 ($7.90)
Kirstenbosch entrance fee: R60 for each adult ($4)
Uber from Platteklip to downtown: R45 ($3.35)
If you decide not to hike down Platteklip gorge, you can take the cable car down. A one-way ticket costs R135 ($10).
Bring sunscreen. Yes, the first part of the hike is shady, but the rest is not. I didn’t follow this advice and my poor chest and shoulders are hurting for it.
Bring water. While there are water fountains in Kirstenbosch, you won’t see any until you get to the cable station.
Bring snacks. 5 hours is a long time and you don’t want to risk getting hangry!
Bring your camera. (Of course) You’ll want to document these views!
There is a guy who sells snacks & cold drinks at the entrance to Platteklip. For 25 rand, you can purchase the most refreshing Powerade you’ve ever had.
If you have the time and the stamina to hike for 5 hours, I’d highly suggest the route that we took and outlined above. We spent lots of time in the shade, avoided crowds, and saw a lot of the mountain. Plus, it was great exercise!
Do you have any other advice for hiking Table Mountain? Disagree with my suggestions? I’d love to hear!