A trip to Cape Town isn’t complete without a visit to the top of Table Mountain. The large flat peak dominates Cape Town’s landscape from below and offers stunning views of Cape Town from above. There are many ways reach the top, including riding up in the cable car, or selecting from several hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty.
Because we enjoy a challenge, we decided we’d strap on our boots and make the trek to the top. But how much of a challenge? Sean, being an experienced rock climber, wasn’t too concerned. I, on the other hand, have a hefty fear of heights, and wasn’t looking for an “opportunity” to work on that particular issue. We first looked at the India Venster trail, described as a 3.5 hour hike with some portions having sheer drops on either side and needing to pull yourself up 15 foot sections of rock cliff using metal rungs. My vote on this one was a “no.” I was similarly a “no” on the 6 hours Hiddingh-Ascension option. This path is considered one of the most challenging due to steep terrain, difficult scrambles and the need to traverse several sections on narrow paths with sheer drops. In the end we decided to try 2 routes that would be challenging physically without causing my palms to sweat.
Platteklip Gorge is the most popular hiking route to the top of Table Mountain. The trail can be found either at the base of the table car which rounds the mountain and joins the route to the top, or by starting at the trail head past the lower cable car station. From here get ready for a steep trek rewarded along the way with some stunning views.
The trail is like a giant stone stairway that climbs steeply to the top. In places, the rock “steps” are pretty large which makes them more of a challenge for those, like myself, with short legs. The other challenge is that for almost the entire ascent, Platteklip Gorge is devoid of trees so you are constantly exposed to the sun, so plan accordingly. it takes on average about 2 1/2 hours to reach the top.
As we reached the top, after the last scramble up what felt like a stair-climber workout at the gym that will somehow never end, the summit suddenly appeared. It’s fun watching people round the last bend, sweating, looking around expectantly for yet another steep climb, saying aloud hopefully, “have we made it?” And then being greeted by spectacular views and a very short trip to the end. The feeling of accomplishment and photos at the top are well worth all that effort.
Our favorite Table Mountain picture from the top, however, features this a little animal called the Rock Hyrax, more familiarly known as the “dassie.” There are often several dassies roaming around near the tram, and they will be more than willing to sit for a photo in exchange for a small snack. Surprisingly, these animals that look like large rodents, are closely related to the African elephant.
Smuts Track Through Skeleton Gorge
An alternative route up the mountain is via Smuts Track. This is a similarly challenging hike to Platteklip Gorge, but has some stark differences. The trail starts in Cape Town’s picturesque Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
From here the trail travels upward through a steep wooded trail within Newlands Forest. There is some scrambling required over a mostly-dry rocky stream and climbing on a series of ladders in one particularly steep area where footing is poor.
Once clearing the forest the terrain becomes less steep in sections and the reward of beautiful views of Cape Town and its coast are now yours.
The trail peaks at Table Mountain’s highest point, Maclears Beacon, after about 3 1/2 hours of hiking. After meeting very few people during the hike, the area suddenly became busier with tourists who had arrived after taking the cable car to the top. It’s about a 30 – 45 minute hike to the cable car over mostly flat terrain (which makes sense given the shape of the mountain).
During both hikes we found ourselves happy to be done, and glad to pay for a ride down on the cable car! The views, no matter how you decide to reach the top of Table Mountain, are not to be missed.
How do I get Down From Here?
Once reaching the top, the most popular way to get back to the bottom is taking the cable car, if the cable car is running. Be prepared for the fact that weather changes quickly on the mountain, which is often covered by a layer of cloud (known as the “table cloth”). The area is often prone to extremely high winds. So even though the cable car may be running when you start your climb, it may have shut down by the time you reach the top, so be prepared to hike back down if necessary. Tickets can be purchased at the gift shop at the top, or in advance below.
Reaching the Trail Heads
There are several ways to get around Cape Town. The Hop-On Hop-Off bus goes to all of the areas main tourist areas including Kirstenbosch and the Table Mountain’s Lower Cable Car. Taxis and Uber rides are also readily available. You can take the MyCiti Bus to the Cable Mountain Station, or the Golden Arrow Bus to Kirstenbosch. We opted to rent a car from Around About Cars and got a great price on a car that allowed us to get around Cape Town as well as exploring the Eastern and Western Cape. If you decide to rent a car, we can highly recommend them (but remember, drive on the left!).
Before You Go
Remember to take sunscreen and plenty of water. Dress in layers as the weather can change rapidly. Food is available at the top of Table Mountain but bringing along some food for the trail, especially for the longer hike, is a good idea. There is food for purchase at the lower cable car station. You can find out whether the cable cars are open and current wait times at the official Table Mountain page.
Coming soon! Our guide to what to do, see and eat in and around Cape Town, our thoughts after spending a week in the Stellenbosch wine region, and 10 days spotting game in South Africa’s Kruger Park.
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