Five of our favourite trail runs in National Parks

by | Dec 18, 2023 | Run, Featured, Where To Run

If you’re looking for great trail running trails then you live in the right country. We’re fortunate to have a magnitude of beautiful protected areas in South Africa. Many of our National Parks offer a variety of activities including mountain bike trails and hiking routes. Many of these hiking routes make for great trail-running trails. Here are a few of our favourites. Remember, as most of these are hiking trails, show the necessary trail courtesy to the other (slower) trail users.

South Africa National Parks Trail Running
Running is a great way to explore our national parks as it allows you to really take in the sights and sounds. (c) Rory Scheffer – K-Way Skyrun

Kingfisher Trail – Garden Route National Park, Wilderness

DISTANCE: 8km round-trip
UNDER FOOT: Not technical, boardwalks and groomed forest trail
PERMITS: Available at Ebb & Flow gate
OTHER ACTIVITIES NEARBY: Kayaking in the Touw River, Tandem Paragliding at Map of Africa, mountain bike trails near George

This out-and-back trail is the ideal place to introduce someone new to trail running, or soak up a few hours in the forest on a not-so-strenuous trot. A hint of advice though, it can get very packed with hikers in peak season, so choose your running times wisely.

The trail running is not technical, featuring boardwalks and groomed singletrack in the spectacular woodlands of indigenous yellowwoods, white stinkwood, white milkwood, wild pear, climbers, lichens, flowering bulbs and ferns. There are a fair amount of stairs, so don’t be fooled, you’ll feel it in the lungs and legs.

There are heaps of cool spots along the riverbank for a quick (or longer) breather (and a pic or two). The trail leads to a waterfall and rock pool, perfect to chill before the turnaround and return leg on the same trail.

Steenbok Flower Trail – West Coast National Park

DISTANCE: 15,8km loop
UNDER FOOT: Not technical, sandy trails that can get soft in places
PERMITS: Only open in August and September and daily numbers are limited, reserve your spot through
OTHER ACTIVITIES NEARBY: Kitesurfing in Langebaan Lagoon

As the name suggests (and the reason it is only open during a certain period) this trail running route showcases the West Coast’s famed spring flowers. There is not much elevation gain so it’s a good trail on which to test your distance legs. The start is just outside the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park, which is about a 40-minute drive from the main gate. Start early as it can get hot and windy. Aside from the flowers, look out for puff adders, Cape cobra, eland, springbok, zebra and bontebok.

Matt Healy Trail Running Near Cape Town, South Africa
Matt Healy, trail running near Cape Town, South Africa

Silvermine – Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town

DISTANCE: 10km loop
UNDER FOOT: Can get loose, rocky and technical depending on which route you choose, variety of jeep tracks and singletrack.
PERMITS: Silvermine Gate
OTHER ACTIVITIES NEARBY: Ocean paddle in False Bay

There are various routes to suit trail runners of all skill and fitness levels and you can easily stitch together 10km featuring a mix of singletrack and jeep track and work in a fair amount of elevation. Our favourite is to push up to the Constantiaberg summit for spectacular vistas of the Mother City. On the same loop, you can take a short detour to the famed Elephant’s Eye cave. Be sure to be kitted for all manner of weather on this trail run, it can go from treacherously hot to cold and misty in a matter of minutes up there.

Ribbok Trail – Golden Gate National Park, Eastern Free State

DISTANCE: 28km, two days.
UNDER FOOT: Technical singletrack with a fair amount of climbing.
PERMITS: Glen Reenen Rest Camp
OTHER ACTIVITIES NEARBY: Game viewing, mountain biking, fly-fishing

The Ribbok Trail is Golden Gate National Park’s flagship hiking trail. For trail running, it is the ideal overnight mission, with Ribbok Hut (featuring running water, sleeping quarters and a fireplace) near the halfway mark as a way station. Day one of the usual trail is around 16km long and will take you past some of the iconic sandstone formations that make the Eastern Free State so special.

Day two is the tougher of the two as it features around 1000m of vert, but makes for a rewarding day of trail running. Make sure you can run with enough supplies for the overnight and return journey and expect to see black wildebeest, blesbok, Burchell’s zebra, eland, red hartebeest and springbok along the way. Also, look out for the rare bearded vulture.

Zuurberg Trails – Addo Elephant National Park

DISTANCE: 12km loop
UNDER FOOT: Rocky and technical singletrack.
PERMITS: Zuurberg Office, Addo Elephant National Park (located 16 km from the main park entrance along a gravel road).OTHER ACTIVITIES NEARBY: Game viewing

The Doringnek Trail will give you a taste of what trail running the Addo Elephant Trail Run is all about. Just ask Matt Healy, it can get hot and dry and is super technical underfoot for trail running. The 12km loop takes in all four of the five biomes found in Addo — fynbos, grassland, forest and subtropical thicket – and includes a range of terrain from 4×4 tracks to singletrack trails. The turnaround point is a beautiful natural pool ideal to cool the legs.

Have we missed one? Tell us in the comments. To track your routes and keep tabs on your trail running progress, invest in a sports watch, read our guide, here.

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