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Skeleton Gorge hike, Table Mountain – a 2023 guide

The Skeleton Gorge hike is probably the most beautiful and the greenest trail to the top of Table Mountain. Unlike other trails, it starts on the “green side” of the mountain in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. It’s the best route to walk on a hot summer day. 

From the start to the end, the trail goes through a lush evergreen forest with many small creeks and streams, massive boulders, and thick tree trunks covered in moss. Once out of the forest, you get amazing views of Cape Town and its surroundings. On a nice day, you can see False Bay and the mountain range along the coast.

Scenery at the end of the Skeleton Gorge hike
The scenery on the top of Table Mountain on the Skeleton Gorge side

After hiking Skeleton Gorge you can relax with a glass of wine or enjoy lunch with a stunning view at one of the Constantia wine farms, The area is just a short 15-minute drive from Kirstenbosch.

Skeleton Gorge route overview

  • Distance – 3,5 km one way, 7 km return
  • Required time – 3-4 hours on average return
  • Total ascent – 600 m
  • Total descent – 600 m
  • Starting point – Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
  • Finishing point – Hely Hutchinson Reservoir on the top of Table Mountain
  • Difficulty – 4 out of 5 
  • Terrain – rocky footpath, boulders, wooden ladders
  • Min elevation – 103 m
  • Max elevation – 712 m

Suggested tours and activities

Our friend on a wooden ladder on the Skeleton Gorge hike
Our friend going down a steep wooden ladder on the Skeleton Gorge hike

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How long is the Skeleton Gorge hike?

Skeleton Gorge is a linear hike to the top of Table Mountain. The total length of the route is 3,5 km from the starting point in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden to the Hely Hutchinson Reservoir on the top or 7 km return.

If you don’t want to descend the same way you can continue the hike on the top of Table Mountain heading towards the Upper Cable Car station. From there you can go down with the cable car or climb down following a different route.

Where does Skeleton Gorge start?

The trail starts inside the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden at the foot of the mountain range. From the entrance head right you’ll see a signpost indicating the direction to Skeleton Gorge. 

Hely Hutchinson Reservoir and a sandy beach on Table Mountain
Hely Hutchinson Reservoir at the end of the Skeleton Gorge hike on Table Mountain

Where does the hike end?

The Skeleton Gorge hike ends at Hely Hutchinson Reservoir on the top of Table Mountain. To get down you can walk the same route or walk to the other side of the mountain and take the cable car down.

To get to the Upper Cable Car station you’ll have to walk another 5 km on the top of Table Mountain. The total distance of the hike is 8,5 km: 3,5 km from Kirstenbosch to the top and 5 km from Hely Hutchinson Reservoir to the Upper Cable Car station. The total elevation gain of this route is 1000 m. The walk on the top is not flat and easy you go up and down a lot. It takes around 4 hours to walk from Kirstenbosch to the Upper Cable Car station. 

You can descend on the Camps Bay side of Table Mountain following the Diagonal Trail or the Kasteelspoort trail. Both routes are 3 km away from the Skeleton Gorge trail.

A map of the trail from the Skeleton Gorge to the cable car station on the top of Table Mountain
The trail on the top of Table Mountain from the Skeleton Gorge to the Upper Cable Car Station

How to get to the trailhead?

Driving is the easiest way of getting from Cape Town to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden where the Skeleton Gorge hike starts. There is a big free parking lot at the entrance to the garden where you can safely park your car. You can rent a car at the airport on arrival and drop it off when you fly out. 

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus stops at the entrance to the garden. It’s the best way to explore the city and visit Cape Town’s top attractions if you don’t want to rent a car.

Skeleton Gorge elevation profile
Elevation profile of the Skeleton Gorge hike

Skeleton Gorge hike difficulty

All routes to the top of Table Mountain are quite challenging due to the steep and long ascent. The Skeleton Gorge is a moderate hike with a steep ascent from the start to the end and a couple of tricky climbs (on the way down) over rocks and boulders. It’s suitable for people with older children. I would compare this route to the Kasteelspoort hiking trail, another route up Table Mountain. Overall hikes on Table Mountain are more difficult than the Lion’s Head hike. If you’re an inexperienced hiker it might be better to walk the Skeleton Gorge with a guide or in a group. 

Skeleton Gorge hiking trail map

Skeleton Gorge trail map
Skeleton Gorge route map starting and ending in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

What is the cost of the hike?

If you hike independently then the entrance fee to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is the only cost involved. The fee is ZAR210/US$11 for adults and ZAR30/US$1,5 for children between 6-18 yo. Prices of a guided Skeleton Gorge hike start from US$60 per person.

Is the route marked?

Yes. The Skeleton Gorge trail is marked with green signposts indicating the direction of the trail. It’s a single trail that is quite self-explanatory you go gradually up on a footpath, wooden stairs, ladders, and over boulders. 

Alya on the Skeleton Gorge hike
Alya walking through the forest on the Skeleton Gorge trail

Do I need a guide for hiking?

No. Skeleton Gorge can be walked independently. No guides or special permits are required. For safety reasons, I would recommend doing a guided Skeleton Gorge hike if you’re a solo traveler and/or not an experienced hiker.

Can you go down Table Mountain through Skeleton Gorge?

Yes. You can climb up and down Table Mountain following the Skeleton Gorge. In fact, if you drive you’ll have to go down the same way to get back to your car. If you descend the mountain following a different trail e.g. Platteklip Gorge or take the cable car you’ll have to get a taxi or an Uber to get back to your car. The Skeleton Gorge is the only route on the Kirstenbosch side of Table Mountain.

A signpost in the botanical garden
A signpost in the Kirstenbosch Botanical garden indicating the directions

When is the trail open?

Unlike other Table Mountain hiking trails (that you can walk at any time) the Skeleton Gorge route can be accessed only during the working hours of the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The garden is open daily; from September to March from 8am to 7pm and from April to August from 8am to 6pm

When is the best time for hiking?

Spring-summer months from October to April are the best time for hiking the Skeleton Gorge. When there is not much rain, days are longer, and there are more people on the trail. Starting in the morning is highly recommended to have enough time to complete the hike and descend before it gets dark. It’s especially important if you’re planning to spend some time hiking on the top of Table Mountain.

Indigenous plants and flowers in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
The scenery in the botanical garden at the end of the Skeleton Gorge hike

Heat is not a big problem here like on the other trails. The significant part of the hike is through the lush forest which means you get plenty of shade. On the top, it’ll be hot in the afternoon but on the way up and down you’re protected from the direct sun.

Hiking the Skeleton Gorge during winter months always make sure you won’t get rain. The trail gets slippery when wet. Overall it’s unpleasant to hike in the pouring rain. Besides, you’ll likely get no views as the top of Table Mountain will be covered in mist.

What is the scenery like?

Scenery wise the Skeleton Gorge is our favorite trail to the top of Table Mountain and one of the favorite hiking trails in Cape Town. The hike starts in the spectacular lush green forest, a ravine with boulders, small creeks, and falls. The trail ends up about 5 km at Hely Hutchinson Reservoir, a water body with a nice white-sand beach. You can go for a refreshing swim or have a picnic on the beach before starting the descent.

The city views from the trail are not as spectacular as on the India Venster hike but are still quite impressive. From the top, you can see Cape Flats, False Bay, Muizenberg, Strand, Gordons Bay, Rooi Els, Hout Bay (if you walk towards Maclear’s Beacon), etc.  Many of these places you can visit as a day trip from Cape Town.

The scenery from the top of the Skeleton Gorge
The view of Cape Town and its surroundings from the top of the Skeleton Gorge

Skeleton Gorge route description

The first 700 m through the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden are quite flat and easy. Once you get to the forest you start the ascent. First, you go up following many wooden stairs for about 1 km. Then you start climbing the gorge over rocks and boulders. The last 900 m are on a slope of the mountain out of the forest on a footpath with a steady ascent. 

For walking down you can follow exactly the same route or take an alternative route around the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. At about 5,5 km at the split, you can follow the Contour Path that will lead you to the Irrigation Dam. From there you can walk through the garden to the exit. 

A sandy beach at the water reservoir on Table Mountain
A white-sand beach on the top of Table Mountain at the end of the hike

What to pack for the hike?

  • Carrying enough water is essential. I would recommend 2l of water per person. 
  • Comfortable shoes.
  • Small day pack.
  • A cap.
  • Comfortable sports clothes.
  • Make sure your phone works and you will be able to make a call in an emergency case. Buying an eSIM card for South Africa might be a good idea if you’re planning to spend some time in the country.
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