Where to go for the best hikes in Johannesburg and Pretoria
Hike: a long walk especially for pleasure or exercise. (Merriam-Webster)
I never really bothered much with hiking in Johannesburg until we were locked down in our own province. We started looking for parks and nature reserves in Johannesburg and were thrilled to discover that there were many green lungs in the city. I guess that this shouldn’t be a surprise as Johannesburg does lay claim to one of the largest man-made forests in the world. Now, we try to visit a new place to hike in almost every weekend.
It’s great exercise, it doesn’t cost much, and it’s guaranteed to get your heart rate up. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen,and take enough water with to stay hydrated.
Here are our favourite places to hike in Johannesburg and Pretoria (that we’ve done thus far) as well as some nature walks. Most of these also have easy trails that are suitable for younger children, older people and those like me who aren’t fit enough for gruelling hikes. I will update the list as we go along.
1. Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve
“Remember to turn everything off once a week, including your brain and walk somewhere quiet” Anonymous .
Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is the largest nature reserve in Johannesburg. It also has a historical background. Stone-age artifacts have been found here indicating that the reserve was used as a hunting area. Other settlements in the reserve date back to the 1400s. There are several hiking trails, with different difficulty levels, that lead one into the surrounding hills. They include the Dassie Trail (green) which runs from the Mondeor entrance partly along the river, while the Sunbird Trail (red) will give you more of an uphill workout, taking you to the Lookout point along the way. The reserve also has wildlife. We saw a few zebras, wildebeest, springboks, several dassies and yellow mongooses during our hikes there.
Entrance fees – Free
2. Melville Koppies Nature Reserve (Central)
“The human spirit needs places where nature has not been re-arranged by the hand of man.” Unknown
Melville Koppies is a nature reserve and city heritage site in Johannesburg. The East and West sections are open to everyone and dogs are allowed too. The Central section is kept locked because of its archeological sites and unique indigenous vegetation except on Sunday mornings (between 08:00 and 11:30) when open days are currently held. Dogs are not allowed though.
The reserve is a reminder of what the city was like before gold was discovered in 1886 and its geology dates back three billion years. Stone tools were found here which show that Early Stone Age man stayed here around 500 000 years ago. There is an Iron age furnace too. The surrounding landscape changes constantly and the views of the city from the various viewpoints at the top are amazing.
Pre-booking is essential because numbers are limited. To book, email Wendy on [email protected]
Entrance fees: R80 for adults , R40 for scholars
3. Modderfontein Reserve
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein.
This is a peaceful reserve on the outskirts of Edenvale in the East Rand. The hiking is relatively flat. There’s an 8km hiking trail, shorter walks as well as mountain biking trails. The reserve has natural springs, dams, grassland and hills, which you will pass through on your hike. It is also home to a number of animals like antelopes and jackals. If you have older people with you, they can relax on the benches at the waterside without having to hike.
Entrance fees: R30 per adult and R15 per child
4. Cradle Moon Lakeside Game Lodge
“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.” Henry David Thoreau.
This is one of the most scenic hikes in Johannesburg. The hiking trails take you around a beautiful lake and culminate in a “waterfall”. We did the 10km trail. It is mostly easy except for one very narrow pathway around the edge of a hill where one could easily slip and tumble down. Once you’re done hiking, you can relax in the gardens or on the artificial beach, or even go on a leisurely boat ride. You may encounter wildlife on the trail. We saw impalas, springboks and wildebeest. There are cycling trails here too.
Entrance fees – R50 per person
5. Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” John Burroughs
One of South Africa’s ten National Botanical Gardens, the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens is one of the most beautiful places to get back to nature in Johannesburg. Spanning almost 300 hectares, the gardens have over 600 plant species, 220 bird species and some small mammals. It boasts a waterfall and a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles. There are several walking trails winding through the gardens and a 3.5 km long hike. Starting next to the waterfall, it will take you to the summit of the waterfall and around the reserve. Be warned though, it involves some steep ascents.
Entrance fees: Adults – R60 and scholars -R20
6. Kloofendal Nature Reserve
“Not all classrooms have four walls.”
Kloofendal Nature Reserve is a 110-hectare municipal reserve in Roodepoort, on the West Rand, and a historic site. The first payable gold on the Witwatersrand was found and mined in a reef which is inside the Reserve, and a national monument. Near the entrance, you will find a stamp mill which was used to crush gold-bearing rock. Guided nature walks are offered with a wide range of topics, supported by a natural history museum.
The reserve has a dam, bird hide, and a network of about 15km of trails set apart from one another by the varied terrain, where you can hike on your own. We did the longest trail which was 4.8km according to our phones. It was strenuous at times but the views and workout were rewarding.
Entrance Fees: Free
7. Kings Kloof Trails
“I escape into the great outdoors; where freedom’s soul forever roars.” Angie Weiland-Crosby
Kings Kloof is situated on the Laurentia Farm in the Krugersdorp / Muldersdrift area, quite close to Cradlestone Mall. It’s a scenic area with hiking, mountain biking and trail running routes. The well-marked trails range from 6 km to 27 km, and from very easy to very technical. The longer trails offer higher elevation by going up the rocky outcrops where you can get great views. Trails can be combined too and there are “Escape routes” marked in purple on most of them.
As this is a farm, you will walk through areas where there are huge herds of cows grazing. Although you get very close to them – within touching distance – they are quite used to people and not aggressive. You will also go through wooded valleys and forests, across rivers and past a dam. The waterfalls are a highlight here, and apart from the green route, the other trails all go past them.
We did the 12 km Blue Route. It was mostly flat with gentle inclines except near the waterfalls. Along the way, we passed a shedded snake skin although we didn’t see any actual snakes. Some areas of the trails do go in circles, although our biggest issue was with the river and stream crossings, which didn’t feel very safe from a grid perspective (not in terms of security). Other than that, we enjoyed the hike.
Entrance Fee: R40 for adults , R20 for scholars, Grade R and under are free. No dogs allowed.
Open on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays.
8. Hennops Hiking Trails
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” John Muir
Hennops Hiking Trails in Pretoria is one of the most popular hiking trails in Gauteng. It consists of an expansive nature reserve with several hiking, mountain biking and off-roading trails, as well as a historical background. The Hennops river flows through a valley flanked by mountain ranges and the hiking trails start by crossing a meandering river by a swing bridge or an old-fashioned cable car.
Entrance fees: R100 -adults R50 – scholars
9. Adventure Zone Cullinan
“The mountains whisper for me to wander; my soul hikes to the call.” Angie Weiland-Crosby
13 km away from the quaint town of Cullinan, you will find Muningi Gorge, a stunning natural gorge offering a myriad of adventure opportunities which can be booked through Adventure Zone Cullinan. There are 3 hiking trails here: 2 km, 4.5 km and 8 km, which all begin by crossing the riverbed.
We did the latter and it was one of the most challenging hikes in Gauteng we’ve done so far, although the beautiful scenery was sufficiently rewarding. We walked through the gorge for a while crisscrossing the river over the rocks before climbing up a steep pass where we had to clamber up rocks and hoist ourselves over boulders. It was daunting at first, but we did it and left feeling exhilarated that we’d conquered a new level of hiking.
Adventure Zone Cullinan also offers zip-lining, abseiling, clay pigeon shooting, target and tag archery, fire-making, drumming and Amazing Race experiences.
Hiking fees: R100
10. Adventure Zone Voortrekker Monument
“I escape into the great outdoors; where freedom’s soul forever roars.” Angie Weiland-Crosby
The Voortrekker Monument is surrounded by a 340 ha nature reserve, which is home to zebras and other species of plains game. Adventure Zone offers three hiking trails which are 3km, 5km and 8km long, although the longest route is only available as a guided hike on certain days. We did the 5 km trail which begins on the hill where the Voortrekker Monument stands then descends to the grasslands below before heading up again to Fort Schanskop from where there are panoramic views of Pretoria. You can also do archery, quad-biking, fire-making, drumming and Amazing Race experiences here.
Hiking fees: R80
11. Pretoria Botanical Gardens
“You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.” Dr Seuss
This 76 hectare urban oasis in Pretoria is another one of South Africa’s ten National Botanical Gardens. It is divided into two sections by a 50 metre high quartzite outcrop, one facing south and the other north. The mostly indigenous gardens include a cycad garden, medicinal garden, useful plants garden, wetlands and a small waterfall. It is also popular with birding enthusiasts and over 220 bird species have been seen here. You can walk in the level gardens or on the hills if you want more of a workout.
Entrance fees: Adults – R40 , Scholars – R15
Nature Walks in Johannesburg
If you’re looking for an easier, more relaxing walk in nature, here are the most popular nature walks and picnic areas in Johannesburg.
1. Zoo Lake
“Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
This popular picnic and recreation area near the Johannesburg Zoo was first opened to the public in 1908. It surrounds a manmade lake where you can row boats and feed the ducks. The walk around the lake is gentle and pleasant. The lawns are great for picnics and there are play areas for children.
Interesting fact – The Johannesburg Zoo and Zoo Lake were donated to the city in 1904 with the stipulation that the park should be “a Park for the People and remain open to people of all races. Even though this was before apartheid, different races in South Africa were living separate lives at the time.
Entrance fees: Free
11. Johannesburg Botanical Gardens
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” Gary Snyder
Like Zoo Lake, this 81 hectare Botanical Garden is a lovely place for nature walks. Established in 1969 it overlooks the 7,5-hectare Emmarentia Dam. The grassy open spaces are scattered with trees and there are some special gardens like the Shakespeare Garden and the Rose Garden, although these were dry when we visited in winter. The gardens are popular with picnickers, joggers, canoeists and dog walkers.
Entrance fees: Free
What are your favourite nature walks and hikes in Johannesburg and surrounds ? Where should we go next?
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