Where can you hike for free in the Boland, plus tips to stay safe
It has become quite the norm to pay entrance fees almost everywhere you go to enjoy nature, but here are a few places you don’t have to pay a cent to have fun, get exercise, and experience nature at its best.
You will find Eden Forest, Paradyskloof, where dogs are welcome, just a few kilometres outside Stellenbosch central. Take the R44 out of town towards Strand and turn left into the Paradyskloof road. Follow the road all the way to the parking area close to the Eden Forest entrance gate. There are many routes you can follow through the forest, depending on how much time and energy you have. Stroll between the pines and hunt for mushrooms after a rain spell, or meander in the shady pine forest on a very hot day. Pack in a picnic to enjoy in the forest, or further up in the fynbos veld.
For a two-hour hike, pack in your water bottle and snacks and take the beautiful mountain path above the forest to the first waterfall. Another route from the forest would be through the protea fields up to the second waterfall. Just take a photo of the map at the entrance and off you go on one of the paths leading to waterfalls or contour paths. And don’t worry if you take the wrong path, because every which way you go you will enjoy the scenery and the flora. You can always go back to Eden to try another route on your next visit!
Park under the trees at the Coetzenburg centre, walk past the rugby fields towards the “kleidam”, or as it’s officially called, Ertjieskloofdam. Your dog will love splashing around in this dam. There’s a map near the dam so take a photo and off you go on your route. You have many choices, so here are a few.
Up to the cross
Hike up Stellenbosch Mountain to the cross (about two hours there and back) to enjoy the beautiful views of the Stellenbosch valley from here. If you have more time and energy to spend, take a breather at the cross and venture further up the mountain to the top! You will have views of Table Mountain, False Bay from higher up the mountain. It’s glorious.
To the right towards Eden
To the right of the dam, you can walk up the forest track and veer to the right towards Eden. Once you’ve done the steep forest part, it’s an easy walk above the neighbourhoods towards Eden Forest. You can backtrack from Eden Forest to Coetzenburg, or if you’re short on time, walk down the forest paths to the parking area on Paradyskloof road and Uber back to town. (Or plan ahead and leave one of your group’s cars here before the hike).
The Bergpad trail
A less strenuous walk would be the Coetzenburg to hangbrug Bergpad trail. This is more of a contour path than an uphill trek, with just one or two hillocks to cross before you get to the Eerste River and hangbrug. You can extend the walk from the hangbrug all the way to Ride in Cafe in Jonkershoek, with the last part of your walk through a neighbourhood, then past the Lanzerac Hotel’s borders on a decent pedestrian path next to the tarred road. The Ride in Café has great snacks, meals and drinks and a beautiful garden setting where you (and your dog!) can relax. There’s a kid’s play area too. The hike to Ride in Café and back will take you about three hours (excluding the time you spend having your meal or drinks). The Coetzenburg to the hangbrug and back walk alone should take you no more than two hours.
Coetzenburg to Blaauwklippen Estate
This is a one-way hike. You have the choice to leave one of the hikers in your group’s cars at Blaauwklippen Estate, or uber back from there to Coetzenburg. Start off in the Coetzenburg centre parking area, past the dam on the right-hand side, up the forest and then to your right, all the way past Eden and eventually down to Blaauwklippen road. This is where you walk alongside the tarred Blaauwklippen road. Once you pass the Paradyskloof circle, look out for the gravel road on the left-hand side, which will lead you through the field and vineyard to the Blaauwklippen Estate’s main gate.
One of the main attractions of this hike is the destination. The Blaauwklippen Family Market is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays (except for winter). You can choose your meal and drinks from the small selection of stalls and eat and drink alfresco on one of the oldest farms in South Africa. If you prefer a fine dining experience, Hamm & Uys Eatery is an excellent choice. Remember to reserve your table, as this is a very popular restaurant. Your other option would be to have your treats, brunch, or lunch at the Farm Shop & Deli. Please note, no dogs are allowed at this estate.
Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve
Here is another destination where you have a choice of trails to follow, ranging from 2.5km to 11km. The main entrance road to the reserve is just below the Taal monument and you will drive for about 5 kilometres on a dirt road to the picnic spots and starting points. Take a photo of the map (which you will find at the starting points of the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve trails) before you set off on your walk. Entrance is free for hikers, the lazy bums in cars do have to pay an entrance fee to enter the reserve areas leading off the main entrance route.
The iconic Paarl Rock is worth the climb. You start off on a gravel road and end up on the path leading up the granite rock to the top. On your walk you will pass the canon on Paarl rock, then the track leads 200m further on a dirt road to the base of Bretagna Rock. There are chains to hold on to when you reach the steeper part of this rock. The smooth rock surfaces can be a bit slippery so make sure you wear hiking shoes with good grip. Once you’re at the top you will marvel at the stunning views over the Boland and towards Table Mountain. Take in the scenery as you enjoy your picnic on the rock, or hike back down to the picnic spots (where there are bathrooms and barbeque facilities) in the reserve. The main picnic area in the reserve is called Meulwater/Millwater Botanical Garden. You can stroll around the ponds, enjoy the flowers, and stay in the garden if you’re not in the mood to do a more strenuous hike.
Circular route past the dams
Do the loop trail of about 11km through the reserve, past the dams, circling towards the top of the reserve to take you back to the starting point. This is a route along the gravel roads with moderate inclines which will take you around 3 hours to complete. It is simply lovely to walk in the reserve and take in the scenery and fresh air.
Save this number!
Cape Metro Rescue: 021 937 0300. It’s a free rescue service for all South African citizens who hike responsibly. If you do something stupid like getting drunk, and have an accident, this may not be a free rescue, so always be responsible, stay sober and treat nature with respect.
Pack it in!
Water to keep you hydrated and alert
Windbreaker for sudden Boland weather changes
Snack in case you get lost, faint, or just simply hungry 😊
Cellphone in case of emergency (and to take photos of course)
Travel size Fynemist Facial Mist and Fynemist Hand Sanitizer to stay fresh and clean all day long.
I’m very fortunate to live in the beautiful Boland and invite you to visit the Cape Winelands and to come and enjoy our beautiful mountains, valleys, and beaches.
See you in nature!