For months prior to arriving in South Africa visions of our final adventure in Cape Town began dancing in my head. Every guidebook suggests a visit to Cape Town must include a Table Mountain cable car ride to the summit of the famous flat top peak. Why ride when you can hike taking in all the glorious views? Hiking Table Mountain and riding back down via cable car seemed like a far better way to experience the iconic Cape Town landmark.
I admit that prior to departing for Africa I did minimal research on walking up Table Mountain. How difficult could it be to find information once we were in Capetown? As one of the major tourist attractions in South Africa, Table Mountain hike routes would be everywhere I reasoned.
Come the evening prior to our hiking Table Mountain I am proven completely wrong. Internet searches turn up handfuls of routes. Some describe the hiking trails on Table Mountain as life threatening. Others say they are easy. Start locations are given vague descriptions as somewhere near the cable car station. Still others say book with one of the many Cape Town tours.
From our experience the day of hiking Table Mountain we hope these tips will help others find their way safely to the sandstone table top summit.
10 Tips Before Hiking Table Mountain
Get off to the right start on Table Mountain
With so many different Table Mountain hike routes, the information can be confusing as to where the hiking trail starts. The Platteklip Gorge hiking route is the most direct route up Table Mountain. You can guess that means it is one of the most challenging due to the steady climb.
The beginning of the hike is NOT at the Table Mountain cable car station. You can start there but that will add a long traverse across the mountain. Drive past the Cape Town cable car station approximately 2 kms (1.25 mi) to the Platteklip Gorge parking lot.
If you are driving yourself, and plan to hike one way and ride the cable car the other, you will need to take the traverse trail either at the beginning or the end of your hike.
Go with a friend or group
Besides it being more fun walking up Table Mountain with a group, it is definitely a safer option. If your friends are not keen on hiking there are numerous Cape Town tours. Information about hiking tours can be obtained through the visitor centres or from the staff at your accommodation.
Stay safe hiking Table Mountain
Let someone know where you are going to be and when you will be back. Take a cell phone with you should you need to call for help. If you do get lost stay where you are.
Prepare to be very hot
Get an early start climbing Table Mountain. The South African sun will be relentless once it comes around the front face of the slope. Bring a back pack to carry plenty of water. Apply sunscreen with high SPF often.
Prepare to be very cold and wet
Weather changes on Table Mountain can be extraordinarily dramatic. Our day went from blistering heat under clear skies to shivering in wind and mist. Bring layers and a rain jacket no matter how brilliant the weather looks at the start of the day.
The locals refer to the cloud cover as the mountain having its table cloth on. A cold and wet tablecloth I might add.
Take a Table Mountain hiking trail map
Maps are available at Cape Town tourism visitor information centres. Have a good sense of where you are going on the mountain. When the clouds blew in we could barely see each other.
Stay on the Platteklip trail
There are signs to watch for on the Platteklip Gorge route. With many trails on the mountain be watchful for signs. Most of the Platteklip route is made up of stone steps. If you are walking on a path grown over by grass you are off route.
Take plenty of food
Do not attempt this hike without packing high energy snacks. We hiked to the top of Table Mountain in under two hours. However it would have been longer if the weather had turned rainy earlier. The climb is steep with an elevation gain of 853 m (2800 feet). I get hungry just thinking about that hike.
High heels for the downhill are not appropriate
The recommended route for visitors descending on foot from the top of Table Mountain is the Platteklip Gorge route. If you choose to ride the cable car up and hike down, our hiking advice is the same.
We met a group of young families who were headed down as we were about 10 minutes from the top of Cape Town’s towering peak. The women with high fashion purses and high heels and the men asking if it was much farther. With the weather turning to rain we still wonder about what must have been an epic descent.
Know where your Table Mountain hike ends
For those who choose to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain and hike down this one is vital. Be aware if you hike down the Platteklip Gorge route you will end up two kilometres away from the cable car station.
Watch for the sign pictured above to turn off the Platteklip Gorge route and head toward the cable car station on the traverse across the mountain.
We chose to be dropped off at the Platteklip Gorge parking lot to begin our hike up Table Mountain and rode the cable car down.
Would hiking Table Mountain be for you? Click the video below to see portions of our climb up Table Mountain. Note the bright blue sky at the start and less than two hours later the can-barely-see-in-front-of your-face weather.
Will you be hiking Table Mountain or shall we drop you off at the cable car?