Skeleton Gorge Hike
A Table Mountain classic, Skeleton Gorge tackles the lush eastern slopes of Table Mountain, offering jungle setting along the first half.
A short detour from the top of the gorge leads to a ‘beach’ at the historic Table Mountain dams. The route tops out at Maclear’s Beacon, highest point on Table Mountain. From there, a traverse across the length of the famous tabletop summit leads to the upper cable station. Skeleton Gorge starts at the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (no doubt contributing to its popularity) and covers a big chunk of Table Mountain. We extend the route up the gorge (Skeleton Gorge) to the summit of Table Mountain.
Skeleton Gorge involves some scrambling. A series of wooden ladders midway up the gorge, somewhat exposed to heights, requires care if you suffer from fear of heights. After rain, especially in winter (June to August), the route gets wet and slippery – almost impassable directly after heavy or prolonged rain. Kirstenbosch Gardens’ opening hours prevents an early start in summer to beat the heat, so the hike often ends up extremely hot from October to March. The ascent is strenuous, more so in summer due to the heat. You need to be in good shape to enjoy the route. It is often either wet and slippery or hot and humid.
The section in the gorge involves a series of ladders: technically easy, but intimidating if you’re afraid of heights. Beyond the ladders, the route follows a boulder-strewn watercourse, straightforward when dry, quite intense when gushing. Once out of the forest the terrain is gentler, but the uphill can feel interminable on a hot summer’s day.
Information & Prices
- Grade: A+
- Duration: 3.5 hours to the summit (add 1 hour to upper cable station)
- Distance: About 7 km / 4.3 miles
- Elevation Gain: 950 meters / 3100 feet
- Cost: R1500 per person
Skeleton Gorge takes in all the floral zones on the mountain: indigenous forest, fynbos (endemic shrub) and marshes. The first 1 to 1.5 hours lead through the forest, reminiscent of tropical jungle: enchanting if you like forest settings, monotonous and oppressive if you don’t. On the upper half, the trail traverses undulating slope carpeted with fynbos, the Cape’s unique and incredibly diverse shrub. The tabletop summit (summit plateau) contains charming marshes and wind-sculpted outcrops. There are no views in the jungle. Views above the treeline are inland, across the rest of Table Mountain and down the Cape Peninsula.
- Diversity (views and vegetation)
- Takes in Kirstenbosch Gardens
- Covers a big chunk of the mountain
- The gorge section offers shelter from wind and sun
- Variations exist on the upper section
- Lots of nature (peace and quiet)
- Very hot in summer due to compulsory late start
- Slippery / treacherous in winter
- No views along first 1 to 1.5 hours
- No sea views
- Indigenous forest (jungle) in the gorge
- ‘Beach’ and historic dams
- Maclear’s Beacon
- Traverse of the famous tabletop summit
- Waterfall / cascades in winter
- Orchids in January and February
Who should consider Skeleton Gorge?
- Appreciate jungle settings
- Possess good fitness
- Keen for a more in-depth experience of the mountain
- Keen to experience the full length of the famous tabletop (without excessive detouring)
- Up for a long and strenuous hike
- Interested in nature and flora
Who should avoid Skeleton Gorge?
- Possess below average fitness
- Not interested in jungle settings
- Not interested in nature
- Fixated on views only
- Possess a high sense of adventure
How fit should I be to enjoy the route?
Average to above average. As with all routes, the less fitness you bring to the hike, the more determination, motivation and grit you need.
Compared to Kasteelspoort, Skeleton Gorge …
- Is slightly more strenuous. When hot, much more strenuous due to the heat.
- Offers jungle setting / inland views on the ascent as opposed to sea views
- Is more slippery in winter and after rain
- Is slightly busier on weekends and holidays
- Involves same technical difficulty (when dry).
Compared to India Venster, Skeleton Gorge …
- Is about 30% more strenuous
- Is less adventurous (less scrambling and exposure to heights)
- Offers no city or sea views on the ascent
- Offers less dramatic topography
- Covers more of the mountain
Compared to Platteklip Gorge, Skeleton Gorge …
- Is about 35% more strenuous
- Involves more scrambling and rugged terrain
- Involves a bit more exposure to heights
- Offers no city views on the ascent
- Offers more nature (peace and quiet)
- Offers more diversity (views and vegetation)