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Table Mountain Hikes: Platteklip Gorge vs Skeleton Gorge

Table Mountain Hikes: Platteklip Gorge vs Skeleton Gorge

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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 to reach the top, including riding up in the cable car or selecting from several hiking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. 

Lion's Head Tram

Table Mountain Tram with View of Lion’s Head.  Lion’s Head Hike is another fantastic trek in Cape Town.

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-hour 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. 

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Table Mountain Hikes

Platteklip Gorge

platteklip gorge

Steep rocks of Platteklip Gorge, Table Mountain

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 trailhead past the lower cable car station. From here get ready for a steep trek rewarded along the way with some stunning views. 

Cape Town from Table Mount

View of Cape Town from Platteklip Gorge

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.

Table Mountain Hike

Steep stone steps on the climb to the top of Table Mountain

 

View from Table Mountain

View from Table Mountain

 

Table Mountain Hike

Exposed hike up Table Mountain with rewarding views and scenery the entire way!

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. 

Table Mountain

Sean at the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

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.

Cape Town Rock Dassie

Dassie on Table Mountain

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.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Cape Town’s Stunning 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. 

Skeleton Gorge

Beginning of the Trail to the Top of Table Mountain from Skeleton Gorge

 

Steep Skeleton Gorge Trail

Shady Forest Path Up the Steep Skeleton Gorge

 

Ladder on Skeleton Gorge

Ladders and Scrambles up Stream

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.

MacLears Beacon

Climbing to MacLears Beacon

Table Mountain Protea

South Africa’s National Flower – the Protea

 

Table Mountain View

Rewarded by stunning views on the Table Mountain Hike

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). 

Table Mountain Trail

Rocky but Mostly Flat Trail Across Table Mountain

 

Wooden Path on Table Mountain

Wooden Path Along the Top of Table 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. 

Table Mountain Summit

Celebrating at the summit of Table Mountain

How do I get Down From Here?

Table Mountain Summit Tram

Cape Town Table Mountain Tram

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 area’s main tourist areas including Kirstenbosch and 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 explore the Eastern and Western Cape. If you decide to rent a car, we can highly recommend them (but remember, drive on the left!).

Around About Cars CT

Cape Town Car Rental

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.

Here are some additional posts about travel in Southern Africa that you might enjoy!

Danielle

Sunday 18th of August 2019

Thanks for the tips! We are planing to start in Kristenbosch Gardens and take the cable down (if available) on our trip to Cape Town next month. How did you get back to your car in Kristenbosch?

Sean

Wednesday 21st of August 2019

We actually didn't have a car - we used Uber to get to the start of the hike, and took a taxi back. There are plenty of taxis waiting at the cable car station.

Liz

Monday 29th of July 2019

This is so helpful! Thank you! Liz

Gourab Roy

Thursday 25th of July 2019

Hi, This is a wonderful post, quite helpful with details and pictures. Did you guys hire a guide for the hike or did you do it on your own?

Regards Gourab

Jen

Friday 26th of July 2019

Thank you for your kind comment. We actually just did the hike ourselves, no guide necessary.

Fernanda

Monday 31st of July 2017

Loved the post! I'm going to hike Table Mountain this weekend but the cable car is not open. Which route do you recommend to go up and down?

Sean

Monday 31st of July 2017

We're glad you liked the post. We definitely recommend taking the cable car down, but if isn't running, you have a couple of options. If you don't have your own car, you can take one route up and another down - we'd recommend starting at the botanical gardens for the uphill and taking the gorge down. But, if you have to return to the same place (because of transportation), Platteklip gorge can't be beat!