Top Hikes that are Child-friendly

Heading outdoors to explore nature is amazing for the soul and a great way to get some fresh air and stay healthy with your family. We’ve put together our pick of fun child-friendly trails and 10 tips for hiking with children so that the entire family can experience South Africa’s rich natural bounty.

Given South Africa’s beautiful nature and scenery, hiking is one of the best activities for the whole family to get outside, enjoy some fresh air, and keep the children entertained during weekends and school holidays. Hiking is an ideal hobby for children and especially around South Africa, considering the variety of beautiful trails and routes.

Outdoor adventures and hikes for children are educational and enjoyable provided that you don’t choose challenging routes. We’ve put together 5 great family-friendly hiking destinations around South Africa that your children are bound to love.

1) Castle Gorge, Magaliesberg

This beautiful hidden nook in South Africa offers one of the most beautiful and fun hikes that the whole family will enjoy. The route starts with an initial steep climb that is slightly tough, but once this short part is completed, the rest of the trail is easy and filled with interesting rock formations and a level plateau. The final destination consists of a series of idyllic mountain pools that are the perfect, fun reward for the children to enjoy at the end of the route.

You will need a permit from the Johannesburg Hiking Club or the Mountain Club South Africa. You can find out everything you need to know about this hike here: https://mcsajohannesburg.org/climbing-and-hiking-venues/nw/castle-gorge-magaliesberg/

2) The Whale Trail, Western Cape

Cape Nature clearly states that no children under the age of eight may join the Whale Trail hike. However, for children 8 and above, this multi-day hike is a fantastic adventure and is one of the country’s most popular trails. Covering 55 kilometers, the slackpacker route stretches from Potberg to Koppie Alleen with five overnight stops.

The trail takes one through the De Hoop Nature Reserve and the Potberg Mountains. The route follows the marine-protected coast and is the countries top whale watching location, which the kids are bound to love. The first couple of days are the most taxing at 15 km, but by day three the hiking slows down to about half of that - giving the children more time to play on the beach, watch the whales, and explore the rock pools. Overnight accommodation is also well catered for large groups and families.

Find out more about this magical multi-day adventure here.

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3) Leopards Kloof Hike

Leopards Kloof hike is a little hidden gem outside of the common tourist trails. It is in an area of the Western Cape called the Overberg and just east of a small coastal town called Betty’s Bay. The entrance to the Leopards Kloof is located inside the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden and follows the valley straight from the back of the property. The trail ends at the stunning Leopards Kloof waterfall and pool surrounded by high cliffs that the children will definitely enjoy.

Leopards Kloof is a great hike for smaller kids, as much of the path can be walked, and the occasional ladder will provide fun breaks for young adventurers.. The hike will take anywhere around two to three hours which is perfect for all ages.

The drive from the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden to Stellenbosch or Hermanus is about 1 hour, and the drive to Cape Town will be about 1.5 hours. The beautiful coastal roads to reach this hike are an added bonus that will even make the family road trip an adventure.

Find out more about Leopards Kloof Trail here.

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4) Kosi Bay Hiking Trail

This beautiful estuary system comprises four lakes that are connected by a network of channels and are perfect for avid young explorers. The Kosi Bay Hiking Trail lets you experience one of the most inaccessible parts of South Africa. The trail can be tailored to suit your needs, so there is no need to worry about fitness levels, just pick the trail that suits your group’s needs. There is also a slackpacking option if you would prefer an easier multi-day hiking experience.

Hikers can choose between a 4, 5, or 6-night slackpacking trail with overnight accommodation provided along the way in beach and bush camps. The hike is led by knowledgeable guides who will provide intriguing details about the route and scenery, perfect for the little ones to learn more about South Africa’s different ecosystems.

This trail offers plenty of exciting activities that children will enjoy, from snorkeling to watching the local fishermen, boat excursions for whale or dolphin watching, and even turtle tours to go and see the loggerhead turtles when they lay their eggs.

Click here to find out more about the Kosi Bay Hiking Trail. 

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5) Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve, Umhlanga

Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve is a 26-hectare area on the shore of the Indian ocean which provides the perfect mix of coastal and in-land exploring that is perfect for little ones. The reserve includes the Ohlanga River’s lagoon which provides plenty of fun water-sport activities for the whole family.

The reserve trails start at the car park at the northern end of Lagoon Drive, Umhlanga. The reserve has the remains of the prehistoric shell midden and walking trails with a walkway and pedestrian bridge that span the lagoon. You can select a variety of routes for different levels of fitness and there are plenty of easy, non-strenuous paths that everyone can enjoy.

Click here to find out more about the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve.

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Ten tips for hiking with children

1) Keep it easy & feature-friendly. It is quite easy to forget that children are not as hiking fit as adults, and will require more time, water, snacks, and breaks than you. The first step is to choose a good child-friendly route and then plan ahead to ensure that the experience is easy and enjoyable rather than challenging or strenuous.

2) Plan to have extra time. Children are great explorers and love to take their time to absorb all the beauty and magic of nature, so plan to take it slow and let them explore freely. Children hate being rushed and especially during fun activities in new places.

3) Prepare for anything. While this is valuable advice for any type of outdoor adventure you are preparing for, it is vital to plan your family hikes with safety in mind. It is advised to always educate and include your children in any safety precautions, as well as general hiking safety tips. You can read more about this on our Safety While Hiking guide here.

4) Dress correctly. Although staying adequately warm is always a high priority, when hiking with children, it is even more important to ensure that everyone is wearing the correct apparel for the weather and route you are on. Browse our range of junior apparel that is perfect for hiking here.

5) Plan frequent breaks and stops. Children often require more breaks, water, and snacks while hiking, so be sure to plan more stops on your route than usual. This will also give everyone the chance to enjoy the activities and scenery on your route.

6) Pick a leader and check in regularly with everyone. It is important that there is always someone keeping an eye on the group and making sure everyone is comfortable and happy. Always follow the pace of the slowest person in the group, and sometimes it can be a good idea to let the children lead the pack as this is a fun activity for young explorers and also lets the adults keep an eye on slower members of the group.

7) Have fun! With all the preparation and packing involved with family hikes, it can sometimes become a tedious exercise, which is why you must always remember that when hiking with children, it is vital to make the experience as fun as possible.

8) Use positive reinforcement. Most parents will know that at some point your kids will become grumpy, tired, or unmotivated to continue hiking. It is important to use positive reinforcement and always go easy on them, as this helps improve their confidence and enjoy the challenges of hiking.

9) Leave no trace. It is always important to go hiking with a leave no trace attitude, and it is especially important to start teaching youngsters this important lesson from an early age. It can also become a fun activity or game for the kids to pick up rubbish while out on the trails.

10) Hike regularly. With children spending a large portion of their time indoors, making a tradition out of regular family hikes is a great way to get your kids excited about outdoor adventures. Also the more often you and your family go hiking, the better prepared and experienced you will become at making your outings as enjoyable as possible.

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