A Guide to the Best Hikes in the Drakensberg, South Africa

October 9, 2017

Cathedral Peak in the Drakensberg. Photo by beardandcurly.com.

— by Timon & Yana Peskin

South Africa is an incredibly diverse country with beautiful coastline, animal packed safaris and plenty of mountain porn. After exploring Table Mountain and Cape Town, we set off in our rental car. Destination… Drakensberg. Passing through the wine country and the famous Garden Route, we arrived into the mountainous foothills of this incredible range. We felt right at home and were ready to explore the most beautiful area of South Africa.

The Drakensberg is a mountain chain that runs 1,000 kilometers along the Southern African plateau and surrounds the small nation of Lesotho. The rugged mountain peaks offer some epic hikes. There are some areas with crowds, but for the most part, solitude seeking hikers will be easily pleased. From short walks, to adventurous day hikes to multi day treks, the Drakensberg offers it all.

Drakensberg countryside. Photo by beardandcurly.com.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the Drakensberg is during the Spring and Autumn months. November is the best month for fauna growth. March through June offers great weather and vibrant green colors after the summer rain. The summer is the rainy season and afternoon storms are common at high peak locations. The winter months have snow at higher altitudes and can get very cold.

Best Hikes in the Drakensberg

Hiking in Monks Cowl. Photo by beardandcurly.com. Monks Cowl

There are many hikes within Monks Cowl, from short day hikes to overnighters. The Blindman’s Corner hike via the Sphinx is an excellent day hike which takes 4-hours return. The hike starts from the Monk’s Cowl parking lot at the very end of the road in Champagne Valley. If time permits, camping is available just past Blindman’s Corner.

Cost: 50 rand per person (~$3.50 USD)

Cathedral Peak. Photo by beardandcurly.com.

Cathedral Peak

There are some places on our travels that truly resonate with us. This hike was one of those places. It is truly unlike any other place on earth.  Our hike started up the summit route to the Contour Path, and down One Tree Hill. At one point, we lost the trailhead and had to bushwhack up the side of the mountain. After 5 hours, the weather turned and started pouring rain on us. To see these lush green covered mountain peaks was oh so worth it! The total hike was 7 hours return.

Cost: 110 rand per person for entry and parking (~$7.68 USD)

Tip: The cost of the parking comes with a coupon reimbursing 30 when spending 50 rand at the hotel.

Gudu Falls. Photo by beardandcurly.com.

Gudu Falls

The Gudu Falls is an easy 3-hour return hike. To make a loop, add going up the Crack and down the Mudslide to make this an adventurous 6-hour hike. Views from the top of the Crack are amazing. The highlight for us was hiking down the Mudslide which entailed various ropes and wooden ladders.  It felt like a hobbit might jump out and join us.

Tugela Gorge. Photo by beardandcurly.com.

Tugela Gorge

This 8-mile hike is easy and ends at a beautiful gorge. The hike isn’t spectacular, but the gorge at the end is lovely. Be sure to check out the ladder leading up the side of the gorge to a swimming hole. Another option is to hike directly into the gorge which requires wading through water to reach the swimming hole. For best views hike into the gorge.

Cost for the previous two hikes: Entry to the national park is 40 rand per day/person and 45 rand per day/vehicle. Camping within the park for 1 night includes the cost of 2 days, basically making the camping free. Camping at Mahai Campsite is 110 rand per person.

On top of the Amphitheatre. Photo by beardandcurly.com.

Amphitheatre Rim

Wow what can I say about this hike?  It is AAHHHmazing! This is the most popular hike in all of Drakensburg and for good reason.  It is so breathtaking.  Although there are plenty of hostels and hotels that offer tours, it can easily be hiked alone. You won’t find solitude exploring this area but it is completely worth it. Make this hike a loop by going up the chain ladders and down the gorge. Be aware going on the chain ladders can be quite terrifying if afraid of heights. The views from the top are stunning!

Cost: 110 rand per person for entry and parking (~$7.68 USD)

Tip: The dirt road to the start of the hike can be quite rough. However, we could drive with a normal/small car.  In case of rain organize transport with Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge.

Don’t Miss: Golden Gate National Park is just a short drive from the Amphitheater and worth a stop. It is known for its wonderful colors and sandstone rock formations. It is free to drive on highway R712 which cuts through the National Park and offers several scenic areas and chances to spot wildlife. Camping is available at Glen Reenen Rest Camp situated below the spectacular cliffs.

Golden Gate National Park. Photo by beardandcurly.com.

Campsites and Backpackers

(prices per person unless noted)

  • Khotso Backpackers in Underberg – 90 rand
  • Highmoor KZN – 130 rand per campsite (2 adults), 65 rand for additional adults
  • Inkosana Lodge in Champagne Valley –  125 rand
  • Mahai Campsite in Royal Natal (Amphitheater Valley) – 100 rand no electricity, 110 rand with electricity
  • Karma Backpackers in Kestell –  100 rand
  • Glen Reenen Rest Camp in Golden Gate National Park – 200 rand per campsite (2 adults)
  • Clarins Inn Backpackers in Clarens – 100 rand

About the Authors

Timon Peskin and Yana Peskin are guest contributors and currently traveling the globe. They quit their jobs in 2015 and have not looked back since. From Africa, the Middle East, New Zealand, Australia, and Asia, they continue to publish articles on their backpacking experience. For more on their blog, check out www.beardandcurly.com or follow them on Instagram @beard_and_curly.

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1 comment

  1. Abby ketcham Reply October 27, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    This information is really very good. Thanks for sharing.

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