The iconic mountain at Cape Town’s center really is the heart of the city. With its flat peak often wreathed in cloud cover, its base forms the hilly home of all our favourite suburbs, from Sea Point to Newlands.
Table Mountain is the site of most of Cape Town’s best hiking trails and mountain biking routes. It also forms the backdrop for everyone’s favourite photos, along with Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak. We’ve put together everything you can do on the mountain, as well as info on the fauna and flora you could spot here, and the unique biosphere that makes the mountain much more than its striking silhouette.
Table Mountain’s unique biosphere
The mountain’s famous ‘Tablecloth’, the cloud cover that forms when the southeasterly wind blows, aids an impressive array of vegetation.
The Table Mountain National Park stretches across the whole Table Mountain chain, ending in the Southern tip of Africa – the Cape of Good Hope. This park protects the rare fynbos which is endemic to our city. You’ll find various types of Protea, as well as the local Silver Tree. In fact, over two thousand different species grow in this park, making it a real biodiversity hotspot. I’ve trekked up the mountain with a group before, searching for a flower that only grows on one side of this mountain, and only at a certain time of year – the red disa!
Unfortunately, because of invasive species and plant poaching for traditional medicines and tourist’s trophies (very illegal), the National Park also has a high concentration of endangered species.
Table Mountain FAQs
Before we jump into Table Mountain’s activities, I’ve added a few frequently asked questions. Because it’s always more exciting to explore a place once you know more about it!
How high is Table Mountain?
The highest point on Table Mountain, Maclear’s Beacon, has an elevation of 1086 metres above sea level.
Is it safe?
Table Mountain is, for the most part, happily safe. However, there are a few attacks every year, and there are people who live on the mountain.
Because of this low-level threat, it’s always better to be careful. Specifically, don’t hike alone, and don’t carry your valuables with you. It’s also important to reach the bottom of the mountain before the sun sets – unless you’re with a large, secure group. You can keep an eye out for attacks in that link above to stay informed on how safe the mountain is at any given time.
Can you camp on the top?
No, since Table Mountain is a protected National Park and a very popular one at that, no camping is allowed on Table Mountain. It would simply lead to too much damage if people regularly camped among this unique biosphere.
What animals live on the mountain?
While the mountain is more famous for its flora than its fauna, there are many different species to be spotted – and carefully protected – here.
Dassies are a real South African favourite! Their chubby-cheeked faces are just so darn cute. They’re agile climbers, too, and you can find plenty of them near the cable station in particular, making daring moves to reach their favourite foods.
You’ll also see many lizards on the rocky mountain, their lichen-like scales blending in so well that you often only spot them when they dart away. The lizards are mostly black, but the males grow blue-green faces during mating season.
Endemic to India, these shaggy, silky goat-like animals escaped a nearby zoo in 1930 and have been living on Table Mountain ever since! They’re thriving actually – so much so that they’re threatening a number of the rare plant species on the mountain.
We saw a pair of tahrs on our Devil’s Peak hike, and it was pretty amazing seeing how comfortable they are on the super-steep cliffs!
From sunbirds and warblers to buzzards and flycatchers, Table Mountain has a large variety of birds attracted to its lush vegetation (and few humans to disturb them). Birdwatchers can tick off dozens on a proper day outing, and even if you’re not looking hard, you’re sure to see some beautiful birds searching out nectar and insects.
Snakes, frogs & tortoises
The Table Mountain ghost frog is critically endangered and can only be found here. They, and other frogs and tortoises find refuge in the National Park. You can also find twelve snake species, include dangerous ones you should keep an eye out for – puffadders like to lie on paths for their cozy sun-exposure.
If you do come across one of these serpentine sunbathers, stand still or slowly walk back, and the snake will almost always move away. You don’t want to run away or shout or do anything threatening.
Klipspringers and other bokkies can be found on the mountain – but they’re quite rare. If you visit in the early morning you may spot bontebok, grysbok and steenbok munching and idling along.
Hiking up Table Mountain
If you can manage it, hiking up Table Mountain is the best way to experience it. You’ll see so much more of the nature, and enjoy how the landscape changes as you move to higher altitude.
If your fitness is not up to the rather daunting task, I’d recommend you take the cable car up and then walk down. That way you get the best of both! I’ve expanded more on the routes below our post on Cape Town’s hiking trails. But here’s a brief overview:
Nursery Ravine – along with Skeleton Gorge, this is Table Mountain’s most beautiful route to the top! You’ll walk up through native forests and thick fynbos vegetation, and for much of the time you’ll be in the shade – important in summer! This route is made widely accessible with easy steps, so it’s just one foot after the other.
Skeleton Gorge – similar to Nursery Ravine, you’ll be surrounded by gorgeous nature and trekking up well-laid steps for the most part. It’s not technically difficult, but it’s certainly tiring – with well-worthwhile views! But if you’re afraid of heights, this one may not be for you, as it includes a bit of a steep rope-aided climb.
Platteklip Gorge – the most commonly used route up Table Mountain, this is a simple switchback route that feels less daunting. However, it’s very sun-exposed, making it rough on sunny days. It is also definitely not as beautiful as the gorges.
Kasteelspoort – if you want to approach Table Mountain from the other side, you can follow the lovely and well-used Pipe Track, and then up Kasteelspoort. It’s a beautiful route, with rocky steps and giant square boulders that feel almost out of this world.
Other Table Mountain experiences
Of course, not all of us can hike up the mountain! While I’ve been up every route at my fittest, I’ve also been unfit enough that to reach even the contour path from the lower cable station was as much as I could accomplish. So, what else can you do on our beautiful mountain?
Cable Car ride
This is the most common Table Mountain activity! The cable car takes you up the side of the mountain, giving you beautiful views over the mountain far below you, and as you near the top, the rocky outcrops feel like they’re surging up at you. The car also spins slowly, so that everyone gets a 360° view! The only issue is that if you’re going in-season (Dec – Feb), particularly over the weekend, you’ll have to stand in a line for quite a while.
A one-way trip on the cable car costs R200 for adults, and half-price or lower for students, children and senior citizens. Two ways costs about double. But if you decide to go up for your birthday, you get a free trip!
And if you’re visiting Table Mountain as part of a larger Cape Town adventure, you can also book a hop-on-hop-off and cable car combo. This way, you can use the bus to drop you off at the station.
Lunch with a view
Once you’re up at the top, you can visit the Aerial Cableway Cafe for some great milk tart and coffee, or a light lunch. You can eat at the restaurant, or take your food to eat out by the lookout point, which has some of the best views on the mountain!
Explore the mountain top
Once you’re on top of the mountain, it’s not all just about beautiful views of the city. There’s so much to explore up here – if you’ve caught the cable car, that area has three different trails to follow. These will allow you to see the rich plant life up here, as well as the dassies, lizards and birds that call the mountain home.
If you trekked up, you’ll be in a very different area of the mountain, but still with well-marked routes. You can see the wine-red lakes and white beach sand, the forests of wind-carved rock pillars and striking plant life. This really is a sprawling, pristine environment, a National Park that you can explore for hours, and feel like you’re hours away from any city.
If you’re looking for adventure, abseiling 1000 metres above sea level is sure to be good fun! Abseil Africa offers 1-hour abseiling adventures down the mountain’s rocky cliff face. You’ll have the Twelve Apostles stretching away at your side, with the city below and the ocean beyond. It’s a terrific experience, and one you’ll remember for a long time!
Do be aware that this experience includes a little hike back to the top of the mountain – you unfortunately won’t be abseiling all the way down.
My experience of abseiling Table Mountain was a little different. I went up with a few experienced hikers that had done the trip before, as well as some gear and cupcakes. Equally important, in my eyes.
We took it all as it came, and had a great time doing so. Focussing on safety allowed us to have tons of fun walking vertically down the mountainside. We dislodged a few rocks on our way down, but the helmets we made sure to wear took the brunt of it.
However you’re able to experience abseiling, I trust that it will be a truly memorable adventure!
Very few people get to sleep on top of Table Mountain – but it’s possible! The Overseers Cottage sits near Nursery Ravine, in a beautifully lush space that feels like you’re far from the city. It’s usually booked up, and it’s also quite pricey, but you can check its availability here.
If you’re part of the Mountain Club of South Africa, you can also try to book their mountain hut. Both can only be reached by hiking up or trekking over from the cable station.
Last thoughts on Table Mountain
So, now you know all about my favourite place on earth! Did I miss anything out? I’d love to hear about your hikes and experiences up the mountain.