South Africans love trail running. It’s that taking on trails, climbing mountains and racing through forests thing that appears to have bitten hard.
It isn’t surprising really, given the legions of mountain bike singletrack up for grabs across the country. These serve equally well as trail running routes in South Africa.
But which are the best trail running routes in South Africa?
Here’s the list of a mix of short and long trail running routes that most trail runners will agree are up there with the best…
The Otter African Trail Run, Garden Route
Also known as the Grail of Trail, this is an annual marathon trail running route that sorts the men from the boys (or the ladies from the girls). It follows part of the (usually) 5-day Otter Trail hike (one of South Africa’s best loved Garden Route coastal hiking trails) in the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park.
Its gruelling route includes four river crossings, over 2600 metres of elevation gain and 11 (rather taxing) climbs. Take note that runners have access only once a year (the damage to the environment would be too great otherwise) where they try to outdo one another to beat the four hour mark.
Rhino Peak Challenge, KwaZulu-Natal
Named for World Rhino Day, on which the annual running trail challenge happens, Rhino Peak Challenge is something of an extreme jog through the Maloti-Drakensberg Park. Its principle goal, besides providing a hell of a run for trail runners, is to raise both awareness and funds for the rhino.
Rhino Peak is literally an iconic mountain top in the World Heritage Site, and the highly technical single track and extreme 26 km run makes it onto the country’s top list of runs (the higher sections’ rock climbing is daunting). At the moment you need an invitation to take part, and there are only two groups of about 12 runners who take on the challenge.
Stay at accommodation in Underberg, close to Rhino Peak
Hogsback Trails, Eastern Cape
Famous for its position in the heart of the Amatola Hiking Trail, the little faerie town of Hogsback is also well known for its MTB and dirt forest trails. As a result there’s an annual family trail run that includes a 5 km nite race and 21 km marathon trail run that attracts runners.
The dozen or so hikes and day trails easily take you in amongst the faerie realm of waterfalls, pine needle laden footpaths and trees that have been in the forest a lot longer than you. And you’re free to experience them at any time of year.
Stay at accommodation in Hogsback, but book early, places get booked up quickly here.
Num-Num trail run, Mpumalanga
If you want to combine a pure trail running route experience with some of the greatest scenery then the Num-Num Trail, also a well-known hiking trail, is for you. But it’s not known as a ‘knee-breaker’ for nothing. The trail includes steep up hills, down hills, bridges, ladders and technical bits.
It’s a challenge for fit trail runners who equally love nature. Its 32 km length has been described as ‘not for sissies’, which is South African for: ‘a ball-breaker’ of a run.
Find accommodation in Machadodorp, close to the Num-Num trail
Kings Kloof, Gauteng
Gautengers enjoy this series of trails in the valleys and mountains of the Crocodile Ramble near Krugersdorp. A combination of single-track and jeep track the network of trails might be well marked, but little has been done to tame the environment and the terrain is tough.
The good news is that there are various routes designed for all levels of runners and there’s a great track for newbies. The scenery is a wow (stream crossings, mountain climbs) and the outdoor experience a winner.
Sacramento Trail, Eastern Cape
This is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Port Elizabeth, a circular 8 km trail through the Schoenmakerskop-Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve. It’s not difficult, mostly along single track, but the scenery – right alongside the ocean – is difficult to beat.
For newbie runners, this one is a must-do. More avid runners can add Sardinia Bay beach to their route (stick to the shoreline for more solid sand).
Stay at accommodation in Port Elizabeth. You are spoilt for choice here.
Oorlogskloof Nature Reserve, Northern Cape
Up in the far reaches of Namaqualand is a little-known nature reserve better described as a wilderness reserve, just outside the little town of Nieuwoudtville. Through it run a couple of challenging annual trails (the 42 km version is regarded as taxing and not for beginners).
The shorter route follows the first 6 km of the Rietvlei River hiking trail, passing two rock art sites on route (for those prepared to stop). But you don’t have to wait for the annual event. You can also convert the Leopard Trap Day hiking trail into a two-hour trail run.
Stay at accommodation in Namaqualand. Its great for a getaway too.