Best time to hike Drakensberg
Hello!!! My name is Darren and I have been leading hiking tours into the Drakensberg for the past 10 years. In fact my first ever hike into these majestic mountains was at the tender age of 10. My brother and I spent a whack of time exploring these ‘Barriers of Spears’. My passion for the Drakensberg eventually blossomed into the creation of an Adventure Travel business. These are my thoughts on the best time to hike. A common question we always get asked: When I the best time to hike in the Drakensberg mountains, South Africa’s number one trekking destination?
Since our inception, we have been leading organized treks into the Drakensberg for over 10 years with over 400 tours. So yes we have been through all kinds of weather conditions. Yes there are the traditional seasonal statistics that come into play that will definitely influence the best time to hike in the Drakensberg which we will explain in detail later in this article. We would love to tell you the answers right now but that would mean you would not continue reading and that would influence our ratings with Google :). What a lot of hikers fail to understand is that mountains seem to have their own set of rules when it comes to weather conditions. This is especially true with respect to the Drakensberg. It is not uncommon to experience four seasons in one day. And we are not talking about the famous hotel chain.
What is the best time to hike in the Drakensberg?
At least we have some good news for you. When you want to hike is all dependent on your perspective I guess. There is no real ‘bad’ time for hiking in the Drakensberg mountains. It is possible to hike throughout the year, expect Christmas day as we try to be at home to get our presents from Santa. However, the various seasons bring with them different hiking experiences.
Autumn hiking in the Drakensberg
‘Autumn’ in the Drakensberg, South Africa is from April to May. This is probably one of the best times to hike. The reason is that the rainy and thunderstorm season is basically over and although the temperatures are dropping they are not that bad. Day time conditions are usually sunny and warm (not too hot like the summer months). The night time temperatures shouldn’t drop to zero just yet.
Pros of autumn hiking
-Less chance of rain
-Abundance of waterfalls and rivers
-Still green and lush
Guide’s tip for autumn hiking
-The weather can still be unsettled and there is still a chance of rain or a random cold front. So being prepared for the worst case scenario is vital.
Winter Hiking in the Drakensberg
The ‘winter’ seasons in the Drakensberg are classified from May to August. The likelihood of rain is slim. Although a random cold front can sweep over the mountains bringing rain and sleet. Snow on the escarpment is common especially from the end of July. Yes, you read right. Snow in South Africa. In fact we have had many a hike where we have been caught in snow with temperatures falling to -12 degrees Celsius. Again, it’s all about perspective. South Africans love snow!! But generally the conditions are sunny on the escarpment. Day time temperatures are between 10 and 18 with night time temperatures dropping to below zero.
Pros of winter hiking
-Minimal chance of rain
-Increased chances of seeing the views
-More efficient energy conservation
-Chance to spoon with your partner to keep warm
Guide’s tip for winter hiking
-The biggest factor to take into account is the cold. Night time temperatures can drop to well below freezing point. The top of the escarpment at over 3000m can reach -12 degrees Celsius and the chances of snow are high. Hiking with the correct cold weather gear is vital for survival. The days are also shorter so we need to plan accordingly so that we get into camp before it gets dark.
Summer hiking in the Drakensberg
The ‘summer’ months in the Drakensberg are from say October to March. (We’ve included spring in this as the season’s sort of overlap). Ah yes, summer in Africa. With is comes hot and humid temperatures and of course…..the infamous Drakensberg thunderstorms and mystical mist. Wow, we should become poets. The rainy conditions are generally twofold. The mountains either get massive afternoon thunderstorms where heavy rain drenches poor hikers. To avoid this we try and leave early in the morning and get into camp before they start. The other weather phenomenon is days of light rain and mist which obviously plays havoc with the views. And if we are lucky enough not to have rain or mist we are submitted to the mercy of the African sun where temperatures can reach over 30 Degrees Celsius. But fear not. With all the rain we are not going to be short of water and the occasional frolic in one of the many waterfalls.
Pros of summer hiking
-Abundance of water
-Extended daylight hours
-Swimming in rivers and waterfalls
-No cold weather gear needed
Guide’s tip for summer hiking
-The biggest concern in the summer months is the rain. Adequate rain gear is a must. Hydration is also one of the most important factors to survival.
And there you have it. I hope this summary of the best time to hike Drakensberg has been helpful to you in planning your South Africa trekking tour. In closing, the weather in the Drakensberg does not follow any hard and fast rules and can be very volatile. But one thing we can guarantee is that we have never had a hiker walk away saying they never enjoyed the magic of the Drakensberg Mountains.