Review
Overnight Hiking. Source: Andrew Thompson
Overnight Hiking. Source: Andrew Thompson
  • Multi-day hikes offer the best escape from city life.
  • There are dozens of famous routes to choose from throughout South Africa.
  • These routes lead you through incredible scenery - and some will even offer up sightings of wildlife, including the Big Five.
  • Here are nine routes to consider if you're looking for more than a day walk in your province.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South Africa is a dream destination for hikers, and there is no shortage of day walks in each of the country’s provinces. But even though such short walk options are easily accessible, it’s the longer multi-day treks that offer constantly shifting views, often require slightly more endurance, and offer true escape from city life.

Depending on where you’re based, you'll find overnight trails that offer towering peaks, iconic coastal views, stark desert scenery, or overnight walking safaris through Big Five country. Most provinces have several notable overnight hikes to choose from, particularly those in the mountainous regions, but if you’re struggling to pick, the following might be the best to position atop your overnight trail list in South Africa.

Western Cape

The Otter Trail (41km / 5 days)

Otter Trail overnight huts. Source: Andrew Thompso
Otter Trail overnight huts. Source: Andrew Thompson

The Otter Trail is South Africa’s most renowned overnight hiking trail.

The trail technically starts in the Eastern Cape, but crosses over and finishes in the Western Cape - and it’s the latter that most often claims it as its own.

There are several close overnight hiking trail competitors, some even within each of these provinces, but few trails in the world can match the shifting scenic coastal views, adventure, and sense of achievement that the Otter Trail dishes up over its five sometimes gruelling days. Accommodation is in simple ocean-side huts, and hikers must book their spot on the trail through South African National Parks, often several months or years in advance.

Eastern Cape

Amatola Hiking Trail (100km over 6 days)

The Amatola. Photo: Toast Coetzer
The Amatola. Photo: Toast Coetzer

The Amatola Hiking Trail is famous for its difficulty - it’s earned its reputation as the toughest in South Africa for a reason. But challenge aside, the sheer diversity of the scenery that you’ll encounter as you traverse the 100 kilometres between Maden Dam and Hogsback basin means it’s more about the achievement.

Each day delivers between 10 and 20 kilometres of hiking, which take you through forests, and to waterfalls and various natural swimming pools. There are overnight huts at each stopover point - and Amatola trails can arrange accommodation, shuttles, and slack packing options for you.

KwaZulu-Natal

Giant’s Cup Trail (60km over 5 days)

There are several famous hikes worth considering in the Drakensberg, many of which are famously gruelling. Although the famous Giant’s Cup Trail is not exactly a walk in the park, it offers an accessible mix of solid hiking days, and some truly spectacular and constantly changing views.

KZN Wildlife manages the hike, and there are huts located along the trail, which saves the burden of carrying your own tent, and each of the five days requires around 10 to 12km of hiking.

Gauteng

Rustig Overnight Hiking Trail (18km over 2 days)

Gauteng has several day hiking options available, but it’s somewhat devoid of famous overnight trails. But two options in the Magaliesberg mountains, managed by Rustig, hold something of an answer for those looking for two-day hikes in the province.

The longest trail on offer is between 15km and 18km, depending on your choice of route, and includes an overnight stay in an equipped hut suitable for eight people.

There’s also a shorter 13km hiking trail that offers a completely off-the-grid overnight experience.

North West

Kgaswane Summit Trail (25km over 2 days)

Kgaswane Mountain Reserve, managed by the North West Parks and Tourism Board, is located on the northern slopes of the Magaliesberg mountains. The park is home to the Summit Trail, one of a limited number of overnight hiking options in the province.

It’s a two-day overnight trail that covers 25km through the park along accessible walking trails. The route traverses a beautiful basin and offers rock pools, waterfalls, panoramic views, and an antelope population of over 800.

Northern Cape

Vensterval Trail (4 days)

The Vensterval Trail is located in the stark and beautiful |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, and although not quite as famous - or infamous - as the nearby Fish River Canyon, it still offers a remarkable hiking experience if you can jump through the administrative burdens.

During the flowering season between June and October hikers will encounter carpets of famous wild flowers, and birders can keep their eyes out for some 200 species.

The four-day trail is only open between April and September, but a lack of qualified guides means, according to SAN Parks, that you’ll have to bring your own and apply for permission.

Free State

Sporekrans Hiking Trail (18km over 2 days)

The Sporekrans Hiking Trail is a relatively short but tough 18km overnight trail in the eastern Free State. The trail is set in the Bergdeel Private Nature reserve, home to the Witteberg Mountains and more than two dozen game species, and is a short drive from the town of Bethlehem and three hours from Johannesburg.

Hikers overnight in the base camp, and in a cave specified along the route equipped with basic log beds.

Limpopo and Mpumalanga

The Kruger Trail 

The Kruger Trail bills itself as “the ultimate wilderness experience”, and given its epic north to south Kruger Park route it’s a claim that would be hard to refute. The trail starts in the far north of the park at Crook’s Corner and covers 650km, through Big Five territory, down to the south of the reserve. It’s not a trail completed in one walking, but instead systematically in six legs of approximately 100km, over the course of three years.

The trail is an initiative of the SANParks Honorary Rangers, and launched its first legs in 2019.

If you’re looking to hike more manageable chunks of the Kruger National Park, there are also three popular overnight backpacker trails - Lonely Bull Trail, Olifants Trail, and Mphongolo - which are unsupported overnight walks through different regions of the park. Backpackers walk either specified or largely spontaneous routes with the aid armed guides, overnight in their own tents, and must follow the park’s strict leave no trace policy.

Lonely Bull Trail in Kruger Park. Source: Andrew T
Lonely Bull Trail in Kruger Park. Source: Andrew Thompson

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