Top 15 African Hiking Trails

African Hiking Trails

Welcome to a journey through Africa’s top hiking trails. From the towering heights of Kilimanjaro to the sun-scorched expanse of the Sahara, Africa is home to some of the most extraordinary hiking trails in the world. Hiking enthusiasts can traverse through snow-capped peaks, dense rainforests, deep canyons, and rolling grasslands, each offering unique challenges and rewards.

Africa’s diverse landscapes beckon the adventurous spirit to walk its varied trails, from majestic mountain ranges and lush rainforests to arid deserts and rugged coastlines. African hiking trails offer a plethora of natural wonders and a step into the history and culture that shaped it.

This guide to the top 15 African hiking trails provides vital information on the continent’s most breathtaking hikes.

1. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania: The Summit of Africa

Mount Kilimanjaro - top African hiking trails
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Trail: There are several route options to reach Kilimanjaro’s summit, including Marangu, Machame, Lemosho, Rongai, Northern Circuit, and Umbwe. The Marangu route is nicknamed the “Coca-Cola Route” since it offers hut accommodation along the way. Machame is a steeper but more scenic path. Lemosho crosses different terrains and is great for acclimatization.

Distance: Ranges from 35 km (Rongai) to 70 km (Northern Circuit) depending on the route taken.

Duration: 5 to 9 days to summit, depending on route.

Best Time to Hike: June to October and December to March. The conditions are more favorable during these periods.

Highlights: Trekking through the unique ecosystems from cultivated farmlands through rainforest, alpine meadows, desert, and arctic summits. Witnessing a breathtaking sunrise at Uhuru Peak, Africa’s highest point. Seeing the glaciers and erosion patterns on Kibo’s crater. Spotting unique flora and fauna along the way.

As the highest peak in Africa and one of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro draws adventurous climbers from around the world. The varied routes offer different challenges, though most require no technical climbing expertise. Trekkers pass through lush cloud forests, alpine moorlands, icy scree, and more, in environments equivalent to hiking from the equator to the Arctic.

2. Atlas Mountains, Morocco: The Berber Heartland

The Atlas Mountains hiking trails
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Trail: Popular trails are the ascent of Toubkal and hikes in the M’Goun Massif. The Toubkal Circuit takes 2 days to summit and descend while connecting with villages.

Distance: Toubkal round trip is 41 km, but the Atlas Mountains offer various multi-day treks.

Duration: 2 to 15 days depending on the extent of the itinerary.

Best Time to Hike: Late spring (April to June) and autumn (September to October).

Highlights: Hiking through Berber villages and seeing the locals’ way of life. Ascending North Africa’s highest peak, Toubkal (4,167 m). Exploring ridges, peaks, and terraced farming. Seeing the lush valleys with the Moroccan landscapes as the backdrop.

The High Atlas, Middle Atlas, and Anti-Atlas ranges offer excellent trekking opportunities. Toubkal National Park protects the highest peaks of the High Atlas Mountains and provides access to summits, passes, and valleys. Hikes through the Atlas Mountains provide both cultural immersion and great physical challenge.

3. Drakensberg, South Africa: Dragon’s Backbone

The Drakensberg - South Africa
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Trail: Some notable hikes are the Tugela Falls hike, the Amphitheatre hike, and the Giants Cup Trail. The 5-day Tugela Gorge Trail traverses Tugela Falls.

Distance: Ranges from 5 km day hikes to multi-day 65 km treks.

Duration: Day hikes to a 5-day hike on the Tugela Gorge Trail.

Best Time to Hike: April to September in autumn and spring.

Highlights: Seeing the Tugela Falls, the world’s second-highest waterfall with a 948 m cascade. Viewing ancient cave paintings and rock art left by the San people. Exploring the unique high-altitude grassland terrain. Spotting local wildlife like the bearded vulture.

This rocky mountain range forms a natural border between Lesotho and South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. It has many sheer cliffs and deep cutbacks. The range is named “Dragon’s Backbone” for its resemblance to a sleeping dragon.

4. Fish River Canyon, Namibia: Desert Trekking at its Finest

Hiking and adventure - Fish River Canyon
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Trail: Fish River Hiking Trail

Distance: 85 km one way

Duration: 4 to 5 days

Best Time to Hike: May to September during winter

Highlights: Hiking through one of the largest canyons in the world. Taking in views of the gigantic Fish River ravine. Bathing in natural hot springs along the trail. Seeing rare plants that only grow in the canyon. Sleeping under the desert night sky.

With 160 km long, 27 km wide, and up to 550 m deep canyon, Fish River Canyon provides one of the most dramatic settings for hiking in the world. The Fish River Hiking Trail involves walking down a sandy and rocky riverbed enclosed by sheer rock faces. But the ever-changing desert scenery will take your mind off the challenging terrain!

5. Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda: Mountains of the Moon

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Trail: The main Central Circuit Trail makes a complete circuit of the range of over 120 km. The Kilembe Trail ascends to the highest peak, Margherita.

Distance: The Central Circuit is 120 km long. Kilembe Trail is 72 km.

Duration: 7 to 12 days. The Central Circuit makes a full circle.

Best Time to Hike: Dry seasons from mid-December to mid-March and June to August.

Highlights: Walking on glacier-covered trails. Summiting several peaks over 16,000 ft including Mount Stanley and Margherita Peak. Seeing endemic species like the Rwenzori turaco. Photographing scenic lakes, glaciers, and snow-capped peaks.

Reaching 5,109 m, the Rwenzori Mountains are permanently snow-capped. Their misty peaks inspired the nickname “Mountains of the Moon.” The range covers nearly 100 km along the Uganda-Congo border and contains Africa’s third and fourth-highest peaks. Walking along muddy trails and scrambling over rocks, hikers are rewarded with scenic lakes and close encounters with the mountains’ unique flora and fauna.

6. Simien Mountains, Ethiopia: Chess Pieces of God

Simien Mountains National Park - African hiking trails
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Trail: Most treks focus on the Northern Trekking Circuit in Simien Mountains National Park. Side trips can reach summits like Ras Dashen.

Distance: 10-20 km on average but can vary based on tailored routes.

Duration: 1 to 14 days. Good options are 3-5 day treks.

Best Time to Hike: September to November and February to May. Avoid the rainy season.

Highlights: Summiting Ras Dashen, Ethiopia’s tallest peak at 4,620 m. Seeing endemic wildlife like gelada monkeys and walia ibex. Taking in sheer cliffs and pinnacles that rise over 1,000 m. Photographing the breathtaking high-altitude scenery.

The unique highlands of the Simien Mountains feature jagged volcanic plugs, spires, and pinnacles which represent one of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Africa, akin to the Grand Canyon. Treks explore these landscapes and encounter some species found nowhere else on Earth. The mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

7. Table Mountain, South Africa: Cape Town’s Crown

Pipetrack Hike on Table Mountain - one of the top African hiking trails
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Trail: Platteklip Gorge, Skeleton Gorge, India Venster, and more. Platteklip is the most popular and straightforward ascent.

Distance: Ranging from 2 to 6 km one way. Platteklip Gorge is 2.2 km to the upper cableway.

Duration: 2 to 5 hours up and 1.5 to 3 hours down.

Best Time to Hike: Open year-round but avoid wet winter months (May to August)

Highlights: Panoramic views overlooking Cape Town, Robben Island and beyond. Seeing unique fauna like Table Mountain Ghost Frog. Descending via cable car. Enjoying the sunset from the summit (if timed right).

Visible from Cape Town below, Table Mountain’s impressive flat-topped cliffs run for 3 km, flanked by the steep Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. Hikes ascend the front “tablecloth” or the gorges cutting into the vertical cliffs. The rewards are sweeping views of South Africa’s “Mother City.”

8. Hiking in the Sahara, Tunisia: The Grand Erg Oriental

camel safari in the sahara desert - great hiking trail
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Trail: Multi-day hikes like Douz to Ksar Ghilane through the Grand Erg Oriental. Routes can be customized.

Distance: Varies based on personalized route, may cover 25-30 km per day.

Duration: Typically 4 to 7 days.

Best Time to Hike: October to April, the cooler months.

Highlights: Camel-supported hikes with camping in the desert each night. Seeing vast expanses of windblown sand dunes. Visiting oasis towns for rest and resupply. Experiencing clear night skies in the Sahara. Learning about desert life.

The Sahara is the world’s largest hot desert, covering huge swaths of Northern Africa. While harsh, it offers a truly magical landscape for hiking. Trails usually follow Bedouin routes winding between sand dunes, Salt flats, and oases. Expert guides arrange logistics including camel trekking, food, and gear. With the right support, the Sahara becomes an unforgettable hiking destination.

9. Amatola Trail, South Africa: The Enchanted Forest Hike

Amatola Trail - South Africa
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Trail: Amatola Trail walking route

Distance: 100 km total over 6 days

Duration: 6 days

Best Time: Open year-round but good water flow in spring

Highlights: Walking through indigenous forests with Yellowwood and Stinkwood trees. Seeing the cascading Katberg Falls. Passing rock pools for swimming. Learning about anti-apartheid history. Staying in mountain huts.

Winding through the dense Amatola forests and mountain fynbos, this trail is touted as South Africa’s most challenging hike. Days involve tough ascents and descents but with scenic waterfalls as rewards. Nights are spent in basic forest huts with communal meals. The 6-day journey offers complete immersion in nature.

10. Nyika Plateau, Malawi: Wild Highlands

Nyika National Park
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Trail: Various loops and routes across Nyika National Park.

Distance: Ranging from 10 to 30 km depending on the chosen loop.

Duration: 2 to 3-day hikes are common.

Best Time to Hike: May to October during the dry season.

Highlights: Hiking across the unique high-elevation grasslands and moorlands. Seeing wildflowers blossom in spring. Spotting antelope, zebra, and other wildlife. Stargazing the clear night skies. Staying at scenic wilderness camps.

Rising to 2,600 m between Malawi and Zambia, the Nyika Plateau is a magical highland wilderness that feels like walking through an African storybook. The network of hiking trails crosses rolling hills blanketed in wildflowers and unique Afro-alpine vegetation. Large mammal sightings are almost guaranteed. Offering few signs of civilization, Nyika feels untouched by modernity.

11. Hell’s Gate National Park, Kenya: Walk on the Wild Side

hiking trail in Hell's Gate National Park capturing the dramatic landscape with visible geothermal activity
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Trail: Main Gorge Trail, natural spa route, Buffalo Circuit, Fischer’s Tower climb, and more.

Distance: 8 to 16 km depending on the chosen route.

Duration: Half to full day hikes.

Best Time to Hike: Open year-round.

Highlights: Walking through the Rift Valley landscapes of towering cliffs and gorges. Seeing steam vents, geothermal springs, and fascinating rock formations. Spotting zebra, antelope, hyena, buffalo and more. Relaxing in natural geothermal spa pools. Rock climbing Fischer’s Tower.

Sitting within Kenya’s Rift Valley, Hell’s Gate offers superb hiking along rocky gorges, ash plains, and basalt cliffs. The park uniquely allows walking unguided which provides an intimate experience. The geothermal activity adds to the dramatic scenery of an already striking landscape.

12. Tugela Falls, South Africa: Stairway to Heaven

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Trail: Tugela Falls Trail via the Chain Ladder. Other routes also reach the base of the falls.

Distance: 14 km roundtrip

Duration: Full-day hike

Best Time to Hike: June to September

Highlights: Viewing the Tugela Falls spanning 948 m as one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. Hiking the adventurous Chain Ladders route down the escarpment. Seeing the amphitheater of cliffs surrounding the falls. Photographing from different views along the hike.

By following a steep zig-zag path and chain ladders bolted into the cliffs, hikers can reach the base of the mighty Tugela Falls in the Drakensberg Amphitheatre. It’s an ambitious day hike but standing at the bottom of the falls is an unforgettable experience. The pure volume of water and the towering amphitheater is humbling yet exhilarating.

13. Leopard Trail, South Africa: Remote and Untouched

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Trail: 55 km circular Leopard Trail through Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area.

Duration: 4 days

Best Time to Hike: March to May and August to October

Highlights: A remote, wilderness hike with no facilities. River crossings and swimming in mountain pools. Excellent leopard sightings along with other wildlife. Population of endangered Cape mountain zebra. Sleeping under starry night skies.

This circular trail provides a raw wilderness experience through the Kouga and Baviaanskloof ranges with nights spent camping out under the stars. It’s an untamed area where leopards still roam freely and a lucky few hikers spot these elusive big cats. With no amenities, hikers carry everything and battle tough terrain, but the payoff is witnessing nature at its wildest.

14. Cederberg Wilderness Area, South Africa: Ancient Rock Art and Rugged Terrain

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Trails: Maltese Cross Route, Wolfberg Cracks, Algeria Forest Hikes, and more. From day hikes to multi-day trips.

Distance: From 4 km to 40+ km depending on chosen routes.

Duration: 1 to 5 days.

Best Time to Hike: March to May and September to November. Avoid hot summers.

Highlights: Seeing thousand-year-old San bushman rock art and dwelling sites. Hiking through rugged sandstone formations like the Wolfberg Arch. Exploring the forests and marshlands of the region. Spotting over 200 species of birds. Stargazing the clear night skies.

An erosion-sculpted landscape dotted with ancient rock art sites, Cederberg Wilderness Area offers both scenic grandeur and human history. Days involve hikes through otherworldly sandstone formations and deep gorges. Nights are spent at scenic campsites under some of the best night skies. Cederberg’s numerous trails allow hikers to craft their perfect adventure from day trips to multi-day treks.

15. The Rim of Africa, South Africa: Africa’s Longest Mountain Traverse

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Trail: The Rim of Africa trail spanning the Cape Fold Belt across Western Cape and Eastern Cape. Divided into 33 sections.

Distance: Over 650 km in total. Sections range from 12 to 44 km.

Duration: From several days to take on the entire route over months.

Best Time to Hike: Late spring and early autumn (April and November)

Highlights: Traversing the mountains forming the backbone of the Cape Fold Belt over hundreds of kilometers showcases an astounding diversity of fynbos and landscapes.

Conceived in the 1980s as one of the world’s longest uninterrupted mountain walks, the Rim of Africa trail traverses the length of the Cape Fold Mountains, from the Cederberg range to the Amatolas. Most hikers take on sections versus the entire trail, but over months it’s possible to walk the full route through mountains, rivers, deserts, and forests. For long-distance backpackers, it’s the ultimate African mountain challenge.

Other Top African Hiking Trails

Mount Meru, Tanzania: The fifth highest mountain in Africa, Mount Meru is a dormant stratovolcano located 70 kilometers west of Kilimanjaro in the southeastern Arusha Region, Tanzania. It is visible from Mount Kilimanjaro on a clear day.

Blyde River Canyon, South Africa: The third largest canyon in the world, the Blyde River Canyon is a “green canyon” that is dominated by subtropical vegetation. The canyon forms part of the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve.

Mount Mulanje, Malawi: Known as the “Island in the Sky”, Mount Mulanje is the highest peak in Central Africa. The mountain’s height creates its own climate, and it has a great variety of vegetation reflecting its massive range of altitude.

The Tsitsikamma Trail, South Africa: This trail takes you through mountain fynbos and indigenous forests. The Tsitsikamma Trail is a southern Cape hiking paradise, journeying through extensive indigenous afromontane forest and mountain fynbos.

Key Takeaways

After this deep dive into the top 15 hiking trails that Africa has to offer, it’s clear that the continent is a powerhouse of hiking experiences, each with unique attributes and scenic offerings. These trails are spread across various countries, catering to a wide range of preferences and difficulty levels.

They’re not just routes, but gateways to immersive natural experiences, promising both physical challenges and the rewards of unparalleled landscapes. With planning and respect, hiking them leads to unforgettable memories to last a lifetime.

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