The most scenic hiking trails in Johannesburg
Where to wander near South Africa's third largest city
You wouldn’t think it looking at its shimmering skycrapers and bustling streets, but Johannesburg is a great place to go for a nature walk. From manmade waterfalls and ancient ridges to families of zebras and eagles, going for a walk in and around the City of Gold puts a spring in your step.
Peaceful surrounds at Klipriviersberg / Image: Alamy
Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve will make your heart flutter / Image: Alamy
Located just 10km from the centre of Joburg, the 640-hectare Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is home to zebra, red hartebeest and black wildebeest in addition to being a twitcher’s dream with around 230 bird species. There’s a variety of nature walks whether you like a gentle stroll or a proper hike (trails range from 23 to 652 meters in elevation gain) with routes taking you over green rolling hills and across babbling brooks in what is the most serene surroundings.
A 66km network of open grassland, wooded gorges, acacia woodland, marshland and rare Bankenveld grassland await at this nature reserve just an hour’s drive from Johannesburg. Walks here are dotted with some 270 bird species – look out for the African Grass Owl and Sentinel Rock Thrush – and wildlife like steenbok, grey duiker, baboon, oribi, blesbok, springbok and kudu. An important conservation area, Suikerbosrand is one of the few areas in the southern Highveld with significant traces of the region’s original flora and fauna.
A breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles nesting on cliffs near a waterfall are some of the star attractions at the Botanical Gardens named after the legendary anti-apartheid activist Walter Sisulu. Featuring beautiful, diverse terrain, the Botanical Gardens are made up of Egoli granite grassland, Gold Reef mountain bushveld and northern afrotemperate forest, alongside 600 natural plant species. One of Joburg’s most popular nature spots for yonks, the Witpoortjie Falls, the centrepiece of the Gardens, has been a focal point for ramblers since the late 1800s.
The Wilds Nature Reserve is the perfect inner city nature spot / Image: Jhbcityparks
Wild no more: the once crime-ridden reserve has been transformed in recent years / Image: Jhbcityparks
Looking for lovely views of the city? This 16-hectare inner city park on the outskirts of Houghton has you covered. Laid out over a two rocky koppies (hills) with well-developed indigenous gardens, the Wilds has waterfalls, fountains and urban wildlife to make each walk special. After developing a reputation for being dangerous and crime ridden the reserve has been reclaimed by local artists and activists in recent years with over 100 sculptural installations and a restored pond system bringing The Wilds back to life.
Often described as ‘the lungs of Johannesburg’, the city’s 81-hectare Botanical Gardens act as a mental pause button in a city that’s always on the move. Large, grassy, open spaces sprinkled with trees are perfect for runners, dog walkers or ramblers, while you can also catch the occasional concert or kite festival. The gardens are divided into the Shakespeare Garden, the Rose Garden, the Herb Garden, a Hedge Demonstration Garden and the main arboretum and overlook the Emmarentia Dam, which dates back to the turn of the century.
A Nature Reserve and a Johannesburg City Heritage Site, Melville Koppies allows you to experience Jozi before the gold rush. Here you’ll find the last conserved remnant of the city’s ridges as they were before the discovery of the shiny stuff in 1886. A walk around Melville Koppies is a real step back in time with – stone tools found in the area show that Early Stone Age man set up camp as far back as 500,000 years ago. If you’re not here for the history, the entirely indigenous vegetation of highveld grasses, flowers, and trees makes for a pleasant stroll every time.
Wobbly business: crossing the Hennops River by suspension bridge
Views from the Hennops River Hiking Trail
At Hennops River the start of your walk is as remarkable as the nature trails – each hike kicks off with ramblers crossing the water using either an old-fashioned cable car or a suspension bridge. From there you can pick one of three animal-themed routes. The dassie walk (a dassie is a small rodent-like creature whose closest living relative is the elephant) is 2.5km long, the zebra route 6.1km and the Krokoldilberg (Crocodile Mountain) route 11.3 km, all just a 45 minute drive from Johannesburg.
It’s not often that a water feature is the highlight of your nature walk, but the Cradle Moon Conservancy, 40 minutes from Sandton, has such an incredible one, you have to stop and stare. Essentially a manmade waterfall, the Franz Richter Dam is 300m long and 20m high, making it the largest stone dam in Africa. Located in the heart of the UNESCO listed Cradle of Humankind, the structure has five crests with a walkway along one of these so visitors can take in panoramic views of Heritage Lake.