Drakensberg Mountains Hiking Guide

The Drakensberg Mountains is one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa and was our personal favorite. Hiking is plentiful on this mountain range that borders Lesotho, with different valleys and peaks of the Drakensberg to explore. From short walks, to adventurous day hikes to multi day treks, the Drakensberg offers it all.

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Cathedral Peak Hike

AREAS OF THE DRAKENSBERG

South

Underberg is the main town in the south, a charming town surrounded by beautiful rolling hills with plenty of scenic walks. The famous Sani Road originates in Underberg, leading up to the Sani Pass en route to Lesotho. There are many opportunities to hike one of the many trails or take a 4-day horseback tour with Khotso Backpackers to Lesotho. Hungry? Stop at the Underberg Cheesery for some excellent cheese and fresh whole cream yogurt.

Underberg Cheesery, South Africa

Underberg Cheesery

Central

Monk’s Cowl in Champagne Valley and Cathedral Peak are less touristy than Royal Natal and can offer more solitude. The hiking and backpacking is excellent. These two valleys are next to each other, only a 1 hour drive separating them. Champagne Valley is a great place to stay, where there is a supermarket and several accommodations to choose from.

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Views of Cathedral Peak

Monks Cowl Hiking

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

The Blindman’s Corner hike via the Sphinx is an excellent day hike. The hike starts from the Monk’s Cowl parking lot at the very end of the road in Champagne Valley. Pay for the permit and start walking up the car path past the security booth. Look for the sign on the left for the Sphinx trail. After passing through a small forest, the trail will lead up to the Sphinx, a prominent rock with excellent views of the valley.

Monk's Cowl, Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

View from the Sphinx Looking Over Monk’s Cowl

Continue on the path to ascend up to a very large plateau and cross a small stream. From here the trail remains mostly flat trail until Blindman’s Corner, where the path intersects with the Contour Path. From here, turn around and go back to the path just before Blindman’s Corner, called Keartland’s Pass.  The remaining part of the trail is a steep decline on switchbacks that leads back down to the main car path.

Monk's Cowl, Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Monk’s Cowl

Cathedral Peak Hiking

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

The Cathedral Peak summit route to the Contour Path, and down One Tree Hill is a 7 hour hike that may be one of the best hikes in all of the Drakensberg. The trail start from the Cathedral Peak Hotel, passing the trout hatchery. There is a small sign on the right before the hatchery pond with a trail to Cathedral Peak. From here the trail ascends the entire way up to the contour path for nearly 2 hours. Once on the contour path the views are stunning, an excellent place for a snack.

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Cathedral Peak Hike

The trail is flat or slightly downhill on the contour path for an hour until reaching the valley directly beneath Cathedral Peak. Here the valley gets thick with vegetation and very difficult to follow the trail. Look ahead (and above) to see where the path continues, and bushwhack through the shrubs and vegetation back to the path. This took us roughly 30 minutes. Continue on the path for another hour until reaching a valley. Two trails will intersect in the valley, turn left down One Tree Hill path leading to a large plateau. Continue on the trail to the end of the plateau followed by a descent via switchbacks leading back to the hotel. Finish with a cold beer in one of the swanky bars overlooking the gorgeous peaks. The cost of the parking comes with a coupon reimbursing 30 when spending 50 rand at the hotel.

Drakensberg Mountains Hiking Guide

Champagne Valley

 

North

Royal Natal National Park is the highlight in Drakensburg, boasting the famed Amphitheater. There are many trails to hike in Royal Natal. Don’t miss the Amphitheater Rim hike, it is incredible. The Golden Gate National Park is not far away offering different scenery with colorful rock formations and good hiking.

Drakensberg Mountains Hiking Guide, Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

View from hike up to Top of Ampitheatre

Gudu Falls Hike

Cost: 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.

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. Starting from the Mahai campsite, follow the footpath along the stream near the campground entrance. There will be a sign for the Cascades to the right and Lookout Rock to the left. First go right to check out the cascading waterfalls. Then take the trail to Lookout Rock, a steep incline to an excellent viewpoint. Turn right after Lookout Rock and head to Gudu Falls and the Crack. After crossing the stream, turn right. Shortly after crossing Gudu Stream, find the trail on the left that leads to the falls.

Drakensberg Mountains Hiking Guide, Gudu Falls, Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Gudu Falls

After reaching the falls, head back down to the trail. Either turn left to head back to the campsite, or turn right to go to the Crack. Follow the path up the Crack to a large plateau on top. Soak in the views before taking the trail that leads past the top of Gudu Falls and continues to the Mudslide. A steep section of ladders and ropes help down the path that leads back to the main trail. Turn left at the main trail, leading back to Mahai Campsite.

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

The Crack

Thukela Gorge Hike

Cost: 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.

Parking is available near the Thendele Lodge, where the trail for Thukela Gorge begins. Follow the trail along the stream then  cross the stream on a wooden bridge. Continue on this exposed path for several km, passing the Policeman’s Helmet on the right. After 5km, there is a forest and several small valleys that eventually lead to Thukela River. Continue along the river. Just before the entrance to the gorge there will be a ladder bolted into the rock on the right. The ladder leads up the side of the gorge to a swimming hole. The other 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. Once finished take the trail back to the car park.

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Thukela Gorge

Amphitheatre Rim Hike

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

This famous hike does not start in the valley. To reach this hike from the valley, drive around the entire national park to the back of the Amphitheater, which takes about 3 hours. A good option is to stay the night in Kestell, and then drive 1 hour to Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge.  The dirt road is very rough however, we were able to drive it with a 2×4 car. There is a parking area right before the start of the hike.

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Top of the Ampitheatre

From the trailhead, hike up the path, which will leads to several switchbacks. Once the switchbacks are complete, the flat path runs parallel to the base of the impressive Sentinel Peak. Past this peak, there is a path on the left into a very steep gorge. This is an option up to the plateau. However, we recommend hiking this down to make a loop.  Continue on the path for another 30 minutes until reaching the chain ladders. Go up the two sections of the famous chain ladders that lead to the back of the plateau.

Chain Ladder, Amphitheatre, Monk's Cowl, Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

The Chain Ladders

Hike on the trail along the stream to the other side of the plateau that reachs the “Top of the Amphitheatre.” On the top there are views of the Thukela Falls, the second tallest waterfall in the World. From here enjoy the stunning scenery that make this park so famous. To return cross the stream, uphill to the far side of the amphitheatre. The path that leads to the top of the Gorge trail and descends back to the main path. Once back on the main path, head back to the car park to conclude the hike.

Amphitheatre, Monk's Cowl, Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Top of the Amphitheatre at Thukela Falls

Golden Gate National Park

Golden Gate park is just a short drive from the Amphitheatre on way to the very quaint town of Clarens, South Africa. Golden Gate is known for its wonderful colors and sandstone rock formations. Unlike most national parks in South Africa, Golden Gate has a highway (the R712) that cuts through the park. It is free to drive on the highway, which has several scenic areas and chances to spot wildlife. Camping is available at Glen Reenen Rest Camp situated below the spectacular cliffs.

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Golden Gate National Park

Places to Stay for Camping (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

Amphitheatre, Monk's Cowl, Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Camping at Mahai Campsite in Royal Natal

MAPS

Hiking Maps for Monks Cowl area and Royal Natal National Park:

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Monk’s Cowl (Champagne Valley) Map 1

Monk's Cowl (Champagne Valley) Map 2

Monk’s Cowl (Champagne Valley) Map 2

Drakensberg Mountains, Royal Natal National Park, Golden Gate National Park, Champagne Valley, Hiking, South Africa

Royal Natal National Park Map

 

For other articles on South Africa, check out these other posts


 

Check out our guest post on Indie Traveller summarizing the best hikes in the Drakensberg range:

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

 

 

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Drakensberg Hiking Guide

 

 

 

Published on 07/20/2016 by Beard and Curly. Visited from 05/09/2016 to 05/14/2016.

 

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