South Africa

Posted by Jason Crowther | Sep 03, 2016 | Hiking Trails, Table Mountain
Skeleton Gorge to Maclears Beacon


6 hours



Moderate - Difficult



Out & Back



7 km

Hiking up Skeleton Gorge to Maclears Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain, is arguably one of the best hikes up the mountain. Albeit not an easy hike, it’s certainly worth every ounce of effort you put in. From the beautiful Kirstenbosch botanical gardens and the lush indigenous forest above, to the diverse fynbos at the top, this hike has it all. Taking approximately 5 – 6 hours for most people to complete, it is advised to pack a lunch and make a day of it.

Getting started on the trail

To get started on the hike up skeleton gorge to maclears beacon you have two options, with money being the deciding factor in which route you opt to take. Option 1 starts at Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. Although a beautiful addition to the hike, it’s not entirely necessary to pay the R55 entrance fee if you just want to go for a hike up the mountain.

I would suggest taking option 2, as you can always go into Kirstenbosch on the way down and avoid paying altogether. Bonus! This route may take a little longer, but there’s probably no more than 10 minutes difference.

Walking towards Skeleton Gorge from Cecilia Forest

Park your car at Cecilia Forest on Rhodes Drive. Take the first footpath to your right. After a short walk up, turn right at the contour path and walk until you reach a sharp right turn in the road accompanied by a stream. You will see a trail up to your left, follow this until you reach the next contour path where you will take another right. Follow this path all the way along. The path eventually narrows into a single track and after a few stairs you will reach the border of Kirstenbosch. Here you will see a sign post with a map showing you where you are.

Heading up Skeleton Gorge

Continue straight along this path for about 20 minutes until you reach Skeleton Gorge. Before you head up you might like to have a short rest at the waterfall just past the start of the trail, this is also a great spot to snap a few pics!

Waterfall at the bottom of Skeleton Gorge

The trail starts off fairly steep and continues in this fashion all the way up, winding its way through the lush indigenous forest setting. After about 20 minutes the real fun begins! You will reach a set of step ladders taking you up some steeper sections, these can be quite slippery so watch out!

Step ladders heading up the steep sections of the trail
Stairs along the route

After the step ladders you will be navigating your way up the stream, scrambling your way over boulders. There is no real best route to take so go wild, just be careful! It’s called Skeleton Gorge for a reason! After about 100m up, the path heads off to the right hand side of the river.

Scrambling over rocks up the river bed

After a short while you will get your first look out from the gorge with a great view over the southern suburbs of Cape Town and False Bay. From here the path winds its way up in a zig zag fashion before reaching the top. From here you can either head straight, which will take you to the Hely-hutchinson Reservoir where you can enjoy a bit of a break, or head right onto Smuts Track and continue on towards Maclears Beacon.

Helly-Hutchinson Reservoir above Skeleton Gorge The first view looking out of the gorge
A small waterfall along the trail

Smuts Track to Maclears Beacon

With most of the height being covered heading up skeleton gorge (700m), Smuts track is quite a welcoming change with only about 300m left to climb. The trail continues fairly level before climbing up a series of steps, providing great views when looking back from where you have come.

The last stretch before reaching Maclears beacon can feel like an eternity, but keep your head up as once you’re at the top, you can only go down! Once at the top you can find a spot to grab a bite to eat and take in some of the spectacular views of Cape Town.

Climbing up along Smuts Track
Memorial of Jan Christiaan Smuts View of Cape Town from Maclears Beacon

Helen on Sep 07, 2016

Great commentary on the Skeleton Gorge Hike.

Coenraad on Aug 18, 2017

Apparently, Cecelia forest is a little tricky to navigate, can you confirm after the first footpath that you turn right into the lower contour path which is accessible as the first diversion of the route? So, in other words, the ‘first footpath’ does not include first going slightly left, around some buildings and then turning right into the upper contour path?

Jason Crowther on Aug 18, 2017

Starting at the boom/hut in the parking lot, about 5 – 10 metres on the road there is a small path to your right (opposite the big concrete thing). If you follow this path you bypass the buildings further up the road. Once at the top of the small path you will meet the road again where you turn right. Walk along the road for a few hundred metres until the road does a sharp right turn (there should be a stream). You should see another small path with “stairs” on the left of the stream. Follow this path up until you reach the next road. Turn right onto the road and follow it all the way until it narrows into a single path. You will eventually come to a set of stairs going left, go up the stairs and you will be at the edge of Kirstenbosch. Now you follow the path all the way to Skeleton Gorge. Here is a link to our map: (Once you find Cecelia forest switch to satellite view) Hope this helps!

Coenraad on Aug 18, 2017

Thank you so much for the quick clarification. On google maps it isn’t clear where 4 ends of paths merge around the dense trees by the stream. So I assume by what you are saying is that they all merge in there as you can cross from the lower contour path to one going left with the ‘stairs’. Excited to see tomorrow and appreciate that you are providing a faster alternative to this one Cheers!


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