South Africa Adventures’ Best Hiking Trails in the Drakensberg
South Africa is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and we have hand picked the best hiking trails in the Drakensberg just for you! Discover the immense beauty and serenity of hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains. From misted mountain passes to enchanted fern forests and cascading waterfalls, to vast open space. There will be moments when you think you are dreaming-having stumbled into a fantasy world that will ignite not only your senses but open up Pandora’s Box of imaginative splendor.
It is no wonder Tolkien was inspired by these ‘Dragon Mountains” to create the Misty Mountains in his world famous book. To hike the Barrier of Spears you are going to need to be prepared. The best hiking trails in the Drakensberg are multi day hikes that cover more than 40km with elevation gains of over 2000m on some of the routes. And the hiking is way different to other hikes within South Africa.
If remoteness and solitude is what you seek, the Drakensberg is a must for any avid hiking enthusiast. In fact on most of our hiking tours, we are the only hikers on the mountain. And the routes are also not very defined. So navigation and an intimate knowledge of the area are key in the ultimate success and safety of the hike. And accommodation is not in the Hilton. On all of these routes we make use of tents or caves. This also means that there are no showers, toilets or baby sitters to come and tuck you into bed with your favorite teddy bear. Hiking the proper way!!
Our passion and home is the Drakensberg. Let us take you on an adventure of a lifetime, in your drop-jawed stupor, to the best mountain terrain in South Africa. You’ll need a backpack, sleeping bag, jacket, good boots, and of course….a hunger for adventure. Hike one route or make it part of your bucket list to hoof them all. We can’t promise you’ll want to leave, but you won’t leave the same.
Not only have we been guiding in the Drakensberg for over 10 years, but most of our guides have also been brought up in these incredible mountains. And yes, we have our favorite routes. But what are the best hiking trails in the Drakensberg? This article is based not only on our preferred choices, but through the feedback of our clients throughout the years. Are the routes challenging? Oh yes. Is that not what climbing mountains is all about? The sense of accomplishment is not the same without the added ingredient of pushing yourself in an incredible and majestic mountainous environment. But be aware…you need a proper understanding of the terrain, navigation and conditions in order to make a success of the hikes.
So what are the best hiking trails in the Drakensberg as voted by our clients?
This hike is the only hike that does not fall into the jurisdiction of the Natal Parks Board. It is also one of the most incredible areas to hike as it is less frequented by hikers. The Mnweni area is still pretty rural. The start of the hike takes trekkers through the Zulu village and gives one the sense of going back in time. In terms of scenery, the Mnweni Circuit boasts a couple of incredible areas of immense beauty. The first part of the hike sees us edging our way up the Mnweni Pass to one of the best caves in the Drakensberg-Ledgars cave.
The views from here are mind-blowing to say the least. The second part of the hike involves a descent down Rockeries Pass. As we approach the start of the Pass, hikers are rewarded with a beautiful view of Cathedral Peak in the distance. The total distance of the Mnweni hike is about 46km with over 2000m altitude gain. Fitness leveled needed for this hike? Moderate for sure. This route can be quite a challenging hike for novice hikers.
This hike is pretty unique in that hikers get to summit the only ‘non-technical-free standing’ peak in the Drakensberg. The last 200m of the hike sees hikers ‘scrambling’ up a few hairy spots. Although rope isn’t really needed, we strongly advise it. There can be a few pieces that may be challenging for some and the rope will definitely come in handy for some of the sections. If it is raining or the upper slopes are wet, access to the summit is not likely.
The hike can be done in a day but would require a pretty good level of fitness as you would be on the mountain for at least 12 hours. We use this route as an introductory hike for novice hikers. We have split the hike into 3 days/2 nights with an overnight in a cave for a more enjoyable experience. The distance is not too severe, only covering about 25km. But the elevation gain is over 2000m.
This hike is situated in the Central Drakensberg in the Champagne Valley. And yes you may bring your Champagne on the hike…if you are willing to carry it. The hike covers about 45km with an altitude gain of over 2200m. The hike is usually done over 3 days/2 nights. Our modus operandi on this route is setting up a ‘base’ camp at Keith’s Bush Camp for 2 nights.
On the second day we ditch the heavy backpacks and male our way up Grays Pass to the Summit of Champagne Castle-the second highest mountain in South Africa. Quite a nice Pass to test your limits if you are looking at climbing Kilimanjaro as we go up and down the Pass in one day. The altitude gain and distance sort of simulate the summit day on Kili. Obviously 2800m lower though. This hike requires a moderate level of fitness.
This hike should be on every hikers bucket list. Why? Because you get to summit the highest peak in South Africa!!! Surely just that fact allows it to gain status as one of the best hiking trails in the Drakensberg. But be aware!! The hike is a challenge and a moderate level of fitness is definitely required. The hike covers nearly 60km over 4 days/3 nights-The second day being the toughest as we make our way up Judges Pass to the highest cave in the Drakensberg-Upper Injasuthi. Our descent, once we have been crowned as the ‘highest’ people in South Africa is usually via Leslies Pass-A spectacular and extremely tough Pass that sees up drop over 1500m in altitude to our humble abode for the night.
Now this is a hike that has to be done!! Although there is a set route, our preferred route is to hike along the escarpment as long as we can. The hike starts at the Sentinel in the Amphitheatre region and makes its way in a Southerly direction towards Cathedral Peak. The views are incredible. Especially as we make our way around the Mnweni Cutback.
Distances vary depending on the route taken. But it would be fair to say between 60-70km over 5 days/4 nights. Navigation, an understanding of the terrain and conditions are key for safety on this hike. We have predetermined ‘escape’ routed down the various Passes in case of emergencies. We also recommend a satellite phone in case of medical emergencies. Another factor would be deciding on the best time to do the hike. Summer brings the thunderstorms and lightning. Winter brings extreme cold and possibly snow.
Why book a hike with South Africa Adventures?
We take the away the hassle of organizing the hike yourself!! We provide tents, hiking equipment, transport, food and the of course…..the guide who will not only show you the way but will make sure you are safe and have a mind-blowing hiking experience!!