Cape Town and Table Mountain hiking tips

As hikers and qualified mountain Guides, people ask us many questions about hiking, Table Mountain, and Cape Town in general. What should I wear when wanting to hike Table Mountain? What should I bring along? Do I need a rain jacket? Are there dangerous animals on Table Mountain? What other hikes are there in Cape Town? The list goes on and on. To make it easier for you, and for us, we have compiled your questions, and listed them below – including some of our best Table Mountain hiking tips. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we have not listed and answered your question.

Cape Town and Table Mountain hiking tips

Do I really have to have a guide to Hike Table Mountain?

No, you don’t have to have a guide when hiking Table Mountain. One of our best Table Mountain hiking tips though, is to have a qualified mountain guide by your side. We know so from experience. Firstly, guides are a never-ending source of information when it comes to Table Mountain and Cape Town. This means that besides enjoying a Table Mountain hiking adventure, you will be able to ask them any question you have about this part of the world. About how Table Mountain was formed, for instance, what animals live there, and what role Table Mountain played in Cape Town’s rich and vibrant history. Secondly, guides will provide you with travel tips about what else to do with your holiday, from a local’s perspective. Thirdly, and most importantly, having a mountain guide by your side has practical advantages. Table Mountain is a very large mountain with hundreds of trails that sometimes flow over into one another. Every year, dozens of people get lost because they don’t know the trail and the environment. Others get hurt, sometimes very seriously. Then there is the weather. Cape Town is called the Cape of Storms for a reason. Here, a bright blue sunny day can turn into a raging storm in less than an hour, complete with icy mist and rain. Having an experienced mountain guide helps prevent tragedies associated with these and other scenarios.

What do I need to bring when I want to hike with you?

You need to bring the following at all times, simply because the weather tends to change a lot: a hat, a warm top, wind breaker, comfortable closed walking shoes, comfortable short/long pants. Please do NOT wear jeans, skirts, high heels, flip flops, sandals, and platform shoes. Apart from that you need to bring (to be carried in a back pack):

A minimum of 1.5 litres of water (2.5 litres on hot days)

Food and snacks

Camera

Sunscreen

Do I need to bring warm clothing even though it is hot at ground level?

Yes, a warm fleecy top and a wind breaker is a must. Whilst it can be nice and warm at ground level, the temperatures and climate on top of Table Mountain can be completely different. Cloud cover usually means icy cold winds and wet conditions.

Do I need to bring water and how much?

We advise at least 1,5 litres of water per person. On hot days, we suggest bringing a little bit more.

Why do your hikes start so early?

Not all our hikes start early but it’s something we advise. Starting early makes for a more enjoyable hike. Temperatures in Cape Town, particularly in the summer months, can rise to 35 deg Celsius. Excessive heat makes a hike unnecessary tough and  unpleasant, and will ruin your experience. When you’re dripping with sweat and weak from overheating, you don’t really appreciate the views and surroundings either. Another advantage of starting early is that you are down by around midday (lunch time) giving you plenty of time for sightseeing and other tours.

How do I get to the start of your hikes?

If you don’t have a rental car, you can order an Uber (by downloading the app on your phone and following the prompts), or booking a meter taxi. Please only use branded meter taxis like Seapoint Taxis or Excite Taxis. But don’t worry about the logistics just yet. We will help you to get where you are supposed to be on time.

I’ve heard of people being mugged on the mountain. Is this true?

Nowhere in the world is your safety guaranteed. As hikers we need to be vigilant and observe our surroundings. Leave nothing to temptation, so don’t wear excessive or expensive jewellery. You don’t need that on the mountain in any case.

Our stay in Cape Town is very short. What's the quickest hiking route up?

Then Platteklip Gorge route is the way to go. The distance is about 3km up and time between 1 hour for the super fit to 3 hours for the slow hikers. The rating is moderate to tough, depending on fitness and weather. However, if you’d add an extra half an hour to the trip up, then why not join us for an India Venster hike? The views are much better, the terrain is splendid, and this trail is far less busy than Platteklip Gorge.

How long does it take the Cablecar up Table Mountain and hike down?

The Cablecar ride is 4 minutes either way. To hike down takes between 1.5 – 3 hours depending on which route you choose and how fit you are. Please remember to bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a charged cellphone.

If I only have a morning free. Can I make it to the top of the mountain?

If you are reasonable fit, you will be able to make it. We advise you to start early to beat the sun. From town side, your best best bet is Platteklip, which is a very straightforward walk. You won’t be able to get lost. It will take you approximately 2 to 3 hours to get to the top, depending on how fit you are. But why not contact us and see if we can’t take you and your friends up India Venster, which is a far more exciting route, and doesn’t take much longer than Platteklip. If we start at 7.30am, you should be down by 11am. We suggest you to take the Cablecar down.

How long should I reserve for a leisurely Table Mountain experience, all in all?

A safe bet would be about 4 to 5 hours depending on which route you want to go up. An average hiker should get up for instance  India Venster in around 2.5 to 3 hours (including picture and snack breaks). You’d want to spend around half an hour to an hour exploring the summit, which is really worth it. Whilst a trip with the Cablecar takes 10 minutes, there may be a queue which could put a delay on your plans.

I love hiking, but I am also into trail running. Can I run on Table Mountain?

I am into trail running too, and can inform you that the mountain is pretty active in this department. Apart from the hiking trails that lead to the top, there are hundreds of trails on Table Mountain’s summit to choose from. Some are easy, others are more technical. I am more than happy to organise a trail running adventure for you. Contact us for more info.

Table Mountain FAQs

What and where is Table Mountain's highest point?

The highest point on Table Mountain (1086m) is Maclear’s Beacon, about an hours walk from the upper Cable car station.

Where does the name Maclear's Beacon come from?

Maclear’s Beacon, a large cairn (pile of rocks) was built by Sir Thomas Maclear in 1865. It was not built to mark the height of Table Mountain, but to assist in measuring the curvature of the earth.

What is there to do and see on top of Table Mountain?

There is plenty to do and see on top of Table Mountain. You can walk to Maclear’s Beacon, which will take you an hour or you can explore the Valley of the Red Gods, which is stunning, particularly when the King Proteas are in bloom. Then there are the dams and the Waterworks Museum for you to have a look at. Should you want to hike on your own, then we’d advise you to buy a Slingsby Table Mountain map at the lower Cablecar station or at any Cape Union Mart.

Do you know how old Table Mountain is?

The rocks on Table Mountain are over 600,000,000 years old, making Table Mountain one of the oldest mountains in the world.

Are there caves on Table Mountain?

Yes, there are many caves on Table Mountain. The biggest one is Wynberg cave. Other caves include Elephant’s Eye Cave, Kasteelspoort Cave, and Woodstock Cave.

Are there any animals on Table Mountain?

Yes, there are animals on Table Mountain. There is the famous Rock Hyrax (known as Dassies), various rare frog species, tortoises, around 20 species of snakes (don’t worry, you will rarely see them as they are more scared of us than vice versa), all sorts of lizards, birds, porcupines, and mongoose. We also have Tahrs, a reclusive mountain goat with a long shaggy mane.

I was told there are water dams on top of Table Mountain?

Yes, there are five dams on top of Table Mountain: Woodhead Dam, Hely-Hutchinson Dam, Victoria Dam, Alexandra  Dam and De Villiers Dam. The construction of the first one (Woodhead) was completed in 1897. Cape Town used to depend on these water reservoirs for water, but today these dams contribute only around 5% of the city’s water. There is a museum in between Woodhead and Hely-Hutchinson (that is where Skeleton Gorge ends), which houses all sorts of old memorabilia dating back to when the dams were built, including narrow gauge steam engine. hand tools, instruments, photographs and the original well-preserved steam locomotive that was used to haul equipment from the old cableway at Kasteelspoort.

I hear the plants on Table Mountain are pretty special. How so?

Table Mountain lies smack-bang in the middle of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is the smallest and most diverse Floral Kingdom in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 70% of all plants that are found on the mountain are endemic, meaning they aren’t found anywhere else.

Is it safe to drink the water from the streams on Table Mountain?

The water on top of Table Mountain is safe to drink. However you are advised to bring your own bottled water. In summer, many of the streams have dried up and one can’t rely on them as a definite source of water.

When did the Table Mountain Cableway start operating?

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway opened in 1929. Today each of the two cars can carry 65 passengers at a time. Between then and now, it has transported over 24-million people to the summit of Table Mountain. Whilst hiking up Table Mountain is more fun, a trip with the cable car is definitely worth it, among other things due to the fact that the floor of the circular cabin rotates to allow travellers 360° views.

How much does a Cablecar ticket cost? Do they offer discounts?

At the moment, standard (adult) single and return tickets cost respectively R135 and R255. Children (aged 4 – 17) are charged  R65 for a single and R125 for a return. Tickets can be bought at the kiosk or online. The Cableway has Birthday, Senior Citizen and Student specials, and in summer they have a very popular Sunset Special.

What else can you advise me?

One of the best Table Mountain hiking tips is very simply to enjoy your time out and about, to take plenty of pictures, and to take your time whilst doing so.

Cape Town FAQs

How often does it rain in Cape Town?

Cape Town normally receives about 788mm of rain per year and because it receives most of its rainfall during winter (June-August) it has a Mediterranean climate. It receives the lowest rainfall (15mm) in February and the highest (140mm) in June.

And what about the temperatures? Does is get cold in Cape Town?

The average midday temperatures for Cape Town range from 15.5°C in July to 25.9°C in February. The region is the coldest during July when the mercury drops to 7.4°C on average during the night.

I forgot my hiking shoes / rain jacket. Where can I buy some in Cape Town?

There are various shops in Cape Town that sell hiking shoes, backpacks, rain jackets, windbreakers and other hiking gear. Cape Union Mart (Waterfront, Canal Walk, Cavendish) for instance. Then there is Sportsman’s Warehouse, and Mr Price Sports.