Combine a scenic hike with a refreshing dip and experience a treasure trove of natural waterfalls and rockpools across the Western Cape.
Part of the charm of living in a country with a diverse topography like South Africa is the endless array of outdoor adventures and activities on our doorstep. With towering mountains, flowing rivers, ocean-fed lagoons and striking vegetation-filled gorges and valleys, there’s no end to the series of immersive rockpools, riverines and waterfalls. While you could find these hidden gems all across the nation, the Western Cape in particular is home to a number of Insta-worthy, unforgettable and truly magical natural water wonders. All day-long adventures and accessible by a drive and scenic hike, you’ll want to pack your walking boots, a swimming costume, sun lotion, water bottle and snacks! Where will you go first?
Important safety note from SANParks: Please do not carry valuables with you when out hiking and ensure that you have indicated to someone when to expect you home and what route you are taking. Hiking, Trail Running and the like in the mountains and preserves should always be done in a group and we ask that you do not venture out alone. Always take waterproof clothing, even in mid-summer, and wear walking shoes or hiking boots. Wear a hat or cap and sunblock in summer. Weather changes rapidly.
Crystal Pools is one of Gordon’s Bay and Cape Town’s best-kept secrets and bucket-list adventure destinations. Just 90 minutes outside of Cape Town, Crystal Pools has incredible hiking trails which lead to a series of mountain pools situated within a beautiful valley known as the Steenbras River Gorge. You need to book your permits ahead of time and these will be checked on arrival. Once you’re in, you’ll need to follow the little yellow footprints to ensure you stay on the path. The trail is lush with indigenous fynbos, and there are large boulders along the route. In addition to swimming and kloofing, going cliff jumping/jumping off of the rocks into the Crystal Pools attracts adventure junkies and thrill seekers from around the world!
Spending the night? Book at Klein-Hangklip.
Krom River Trail
The Limietberg Nature Reserve in the Du Toitskloof mountains, near Paarl, offers some of the best hiking trails in the Western Cape. Nine hiking trails wind through the 117,000 hectares of fynbos, indigenous forest, valleys, and rugged and steep kloofs. One of these trails is the Krom River Waterfall hiking trail which is considered one of the most popular and scenic hikes in the reserve. Depending on how long you stop and swim, the hike will take about 5 hours to finish. The route leads to the Krom River waterfall where you can enjoy swimming in the cold water after the hike and before heading back home. This is not a circular route so you will have to traverse the same path to return to the starting point. Along the hike, you will cross the beautiful Krom River several times. From the first waterfall, you can proceed to the second waterfall which is even more spectacular than the first one – where a large natural pool welcomes you to a well-earned dip.
Spending the night? Book at Springsteen Cabins Rawsonville.
This 1.3-km loop trail near Noordhoek in the Western Cape is Generally considered an easy route, taking an average of just 17 minutes to complete. This is a very popular area for walking, so you’ll likely encounter other people while exploring. The trail is open year-round and is beautiful to visit anytime. Located in the central section of the Table Mountain National Park, Silvermine offers some of the best hikes in the Park with beautiful fynbos landscapes. There is plenty to take in, in and around Silvermine – a short and wheelchair-friendly boardwalk around the dam, a beautifully therapeutic river walk, a light walk to the Silvermine waterfall, bird spotting, picnics, dog walking and mountain biking, to name but a few. While the most common thing to do at Silvermine is to have a braai or a picnic and a swim at the dam, the reserve also has brilliant hiking trails and top-rope climbs.
The Waterval farm is proclaimed a private nature reserve, and both Waterval and the neighbouring farm, Laatson, are situated at the foot of the Olifantsrivier Mountains about 4km from the town centre of Porterville. The hiking trail takes you on a route past 22 waterfalls surrounded by indigenous fynbos and 47 indigenous trees! Wildlife like the Klipspringer, Cape Leopard, and Ribbok can sometimes be spotted and there are many opportunities for bird watching on the way. The waterfalls are fed by springs all year round, and freshwater bass fishing can be done in the farm dams. As of now, the farm is only a maximum of 20-day visitors/hikers over the weekends at a time, so you’ll need to phone the Waterval farm office to book a day visit/hike beforehand. Only pre-booked day visitors will be allowed entry, but the extra steps will be well worth it!
Spending the night? Book at Vrolikheid Landgoed.
Fairy Glen Nature Reserve
Fairy Glen Nature Reserve, tucked away in the countryside region of Worcester, is a captivating haven for hikers. Offering an array of trails catering to diverse skill levels, ranging from leisurely strolls to invigorating treks, it showcases the untamed magic of the area. The pathways meander through indigenous fynbos and lush woodlands, treating adventurers to breathtaking vistas of the encircling peaks and rolling valleys. A standout feature of the reserve is the enchanting Fairy Glen Waterfall, a stunning oasis where visitors can plunge into the refreshing pool or simply kick back in the sun with a good book and snack. With well-defined trails and amenities like picnic spots and restroom facilities, the reserve ensures a seamless and enjoyable outdoor experience for all.
Spending the night? Book at Bosjes Herehuis.
The Boesmanskloof Hiking Trail, also known as the Greyton-McGregor Hike, offers an incredible scenic journey through the captivating landscapes of the Riviersonderend Mountains, within the Robertson Karoo region of the south-western Cape. This trail serves as a link between the charming villages of McGregor to the north and Greyton to the south, traversing the Riviersonderend Conservation Area. The beauty of the natural surroundings knows no bounds, with the trail winding through lush fynbos and showcasing a variety of protea and Erica species. Along the way, hikers are treated to Oakes Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls and inviting pools perfect for a refreshing swim. Keep a lookout for indigenous wildlife, including baboons, klipspringers, and common duikers, while bird enthusiasts can spot malachite sunbirds, Cape sugarbirds, and various birds of prey soaring overhead.
The Jonkershoek Waterfalls trail stands as a beloved hiking destination in the Western Cape, located within the Jonkershoek Mountain Reserve, a revered segment of a World Heritage Site. Situated near Stellenbosch, this trail is dotted with abundant watering holes, picturesque picnic spots, and breathtaking vistas, making it an ideal outing for families year-round. Beyond hiking, visitors can indulge in an array of activities such as mountain biking, birdwatching, and marvelling at the diverse array of wildflowers. Embarking on the Swartsboskloof Trail initiates with a challenging ascent, ascending more than 900 meters over the initial 4.5 kilometres. However, the effort is rewarded with incredible panoramas as the trail levels off, providing a ton of opportunities to soak in the surrounding beauty. As the path winds downward, hikers are greeted by a gorgeous waterfall, inviting them to enjoy a (probably much-needed) revitalising dip during warmer weather.
Spending the night? Book at Camissa Farm.
There’s plenty to do in Groot Winterhoek, including various day and overnight hikes, crystal-clear mountain pools and mountain biking. Just 120 kilometres north of Cape Town, this small conservation area is well-known for its rugged landscape and rich heritage. Among the interesting rock formations, exquisite fynbos and clear-water rockpools, you’ll find ancient rock paintings by the San and Khoi people. It is very popular with hikers and mountain bikers, and there are plenty of places to stop for a refreshing swim. This beautiful spot near Beaverlac is home to a gorgeous landscape of colourful fynbos, mountain vistas, waterfalls and lush mountain pools. Groot Winterhoek is a Wilderness Area which means you can wild camp within the reserve. Organising an overnight hike here is fairly simple and requires very little prior planning. Permits can be bought onsite on the day so this is an easy one to plan last minute.
Spending the night? Book at Duikersdrift Winelands Country Escape.
On the outskirts of Wellington, within the beautiful Limietberg Nature Reserve, lies one of the Western Cape’s most enchanting hiking destinations. Just over an hour from Cape Town, along the scenic Bainskloof Pass, the Bainskloof Waterfall hike is tailored for families and friends seeking a day of adventure. The Witte River meanders through this picturesque landscape, dotted with stunning natural rock pools. Upon reaching the river, the route invites walkers to traverse the rocky landscape towards the upstream pools. While at times it may be tricky to navigate the rocky terrain, the refreshing swim that awaits you is well worth the extra bit of effort! For those seeking a quick cool-off on scorching days, several closer pools downstream offer the perfect spot to dip. While the scenery is incredible and the atmosphere tranquil, shade is limited, so make sure to bring a hat and lots of sunscreen/water.
Spending the night? Book at La Ferme.
Drupkelders, loosely translated as Dripping Cellars, is the highlight of this hiking 5.6km out-and-back hiking trail within the Knysna forest. The trail winds through lush indigenous forests, culminating in the discovery of magnificent rock pools along the Homtini River. These expansive pools, known for their deep, cola-coloured waters, provide a refreshing oasis for a swim on hot summer days. Due to the exclusivity of this natural gem, access is limited to 12 people per day and requires a SANParks permit for entry which officials may request upon arrival at the rock pools. The trail commences at the gate entrance of Forest Edge Nature-lovers Retreat, promising a memorable and enchanting outdoor excursion. Don’t miss the opportunity to climb alongside the waterfall, leading to another series of pools!
Spending the night? Book at Forest Edge.
Half-Collared Kingfisher Trail
Known for its moderate challenge and spectacular beauty, this 3 to 4-hour hike near Wilderness along the Garden Route is a popular destination for hiking, running, and leisurely walks, offering encounters with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Best experienced from March through June, this trail leads you along a shaded path beside the river, culminating in a refreshing waterfall perfect for swimming. The trail features wooden decks and bridges that wind through the lush forest canopy, providing a delightful family-friendly outing. As you head towards the river, keep watch for fish swimming in the pristine waters. Cross the river via stepping stones or a pontoon and follow the path along the eastern bank, where you’ll discover a gorgeous boardwalk offering unparalleled vistas of the river and its surroundings. Delight in the opportunity to cool off in the waterfall’s inviting pools, and enjoy a well-earned picnic with a view.
Spending the night? Book at Reflections Eco-Reserve.
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