LivingTravelBest Short Hikes in South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains

Best Short Hikes in South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains

Known in South Africa simply as the Drakensberg, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg mountain range is part of the Great Escarpment and is recognized as the highest in the country. Its impressive peaks rise to a dizzying 11,400 feet / 3,475 meters, and its verdant valleys plunge into shallow streams that run clear and cold over time-worn rocks. The Drakensberg is a place of infinite beauty, where nature reigns under the arch of an uncontaminated sky ruled by the rare bearded vulture. It is a place that inspires the soul, and that acts as the perfect playground for enthusiastic hikers.


The official name of the range combines two different languages: the Zulu word uKhahlamba, which translates to “barrier of spears,” and the Dutch word Drakensberg, which translates to “mountains of dragons.” Although the region’s native Zulu tribes and early Cape Dutch settlers undoubtedly found the mountains formidable, today they are one of KwaZulu-Natal’s biggest tourist attractions. Hiking here is as challenging as you want, as some trails are only a few hours long and others take several days to complete.


In this article, we take a look at three of the best short hikes in the Drakensberg. Those with the time or inclination to tackle longer routes should read the aftermath of this article: Best Medium Hikes in the Drakensberg Mountains and Best Long Hikes in the Drakensberg Mountains. Keep in mind that even on short hikes, it’s important to pack basic survival supplies, including water, food, sunscreen, a cell phone, and a small first aid kit. All trails can be steep in places so proper footwear is essential.


Head the Plowman

Located in the Royal Natal Park, which is itself part of the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg park, Plowman’s Kop Trail is a short, sharp affair from top to bottom. At 4.3 miles / 7 kilometers in length, the trail takes about three hours to complete, with the primary goal of visiting Plowman’s beautiful Kop rock pools. The hike begins at scenic Mahai Campground, whose breathtaking views of the amphitheater’s mighty cliff evoke images of Yosemite’s famous El Capitan Cliff.

Ascend Plowman’s steep, head-shaped Kop Mountain, past several scenic pools perfect for a refreshing dip. Pack your bathing suit and a picnic, and enjoy a day.

Tugela Gorge

This trail begins in the parking lot just below the luxurious Thendele Camp, also located in the Royal Natal Park. It’s about 8.6 miles / 14 kilometers round trip, and takes at least half a day to complete. The first six kilometers are easy, along a relatively flat road that contours over the mighty Tugela River. After that, the trail descends to the river and enters the Tugela Gorge, where large rocks form natural steps past a series of crystalline pools to the upper gorge or tunnel.

When the water is low, it is possible to go through the tunnel; otherwise, use the chain ladders provided to avoid it. At the top, magnificent views of the Amphitheater and Tugela Falls await. These falls are the highest in Africa.

Rainbow gorge

Located in the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Cathedral Peak region, the Rainbow Gorge Trail is an easy 6.8-mile / 11-kilometer hike, and is suitable for families with young children. The trail starts from the parking lot at Didima Camp, then heads uphill to give you spectacular views of the Ndumeni River. Soon it flows down through the indigenous forest full of magnificent birds; before following the river upstream to a narrow gorge flanked by high sandstone walls. At the right time of day, the water dripping down these high walls creates a mirage of sparkling rainbows, while two large rocks trapped between the two appear to defy the rules of gravity.

This is a particularly good trail for photographers.

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