Trail Development

Hiking Trails-An Introduction


The Footprint website (that these pages form part of) is visited by people from all over the world, but being based in South Africa, these pages on trail development are based on the South African experience and may need to be modified to suite local conditions to be found in other parts of the world.

I would like to thank all the contributors who have given input into these pages.


The history of organized hiking in South Africa can be traced back to 1968 with the opening of the Otter Trail in the Tsitsikamma region of the Eastern Cape. Hiking, however, did not really become recognized as part of the South African way of life until the opening of the Fanie Botha Hiking Trail in 1973 and the establishment of the National Hiking Way Board in 1975. The idea behind the board was to establish a network of trails that would stretch the length of the country, from the Soutpansberg Mountains in the north to mountains of the Southern Cape. These early trails were developed on state land and used the forestry dept labour to do the construction work. About this time, the former homelands decided that tourism was a good way of earning income and established a number of hiking trails that still exist today including the Amatola Trail and the Transkei  Wildcoast Trail.

 It soon became apparent that these rather grandiose ideas were rather impractical and costly to maintain. Hikers preferred circular routes and private landowners soon discovered that they had potential for earning additional income from establishing hiking trails on their land. Early private trails included Holkrans trail near Newcastle in Natal (since closed) and a number of trails in the Eastern Free State around Bethlehem, Fouriesburg and Ficksburg. The establishment of Jacana Marketing helped to promote and market these trails.

With the privatization of much of the state forestry land in the 80's and 90's the costs of maintaining the early trails became an issue. Of late, Komatiland Forestry and MTO Forestry (both divisions of South African Forestry Company) have spent a considerable sum of  money in upgrading their trails and returning trails such as the Fanie Botha to their former glory. Other forms of Eco Tourism such as Mountain Biking have helped go some way to balancing the books.

Groot Winterhoek Wilderness

State of hiking in South Africa today

There are approximately 1500 hiking trails in South Africa today ranging from short nature walks of under an hour duration to those of eight days or more. There are many short trails that are run by local municipalities. SANparks, Western Cape Nature Conservation Board, Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Conservation Services and the provincial governments all have excellent trails that fall under their authority. In fact, Western Cape have nearly 100 trails. About 80% of hikers live in Gauteng and here lies the popularity of the 2-day private farm trail within three hours and a half hours drive of that centre. In recent years there has been a decline in the occupancy on trails but this seems to be turning around. Foreign interest in our trails seems to be on the rise. The young family wishing to take their children for a bush experience has meant that the weekend day hike from a hut with rustic amenities with hot showers, flushing toilets and basic cooking facilities has become popular but backpacking routes remain the preference of those who are serious about hiking.  The Otter Trail remains one of the most popular trails in South Africa. The National Hiking Way Board has ceased to exist and despite several attempts to revive it, an effective national body for hiking seems to be as elusive as ever.

Queen Rose Hiking Trail near Barberton,Mpumalanga

Who makes up the modern day hiking fraternity?

Firstly, there are your traditional purest hikers. Typically, these people hike regularly in the Drakensberg, do trails such as the Fish River Canyon and other wilderness trails. These hikers usually have their own group that walk with them. They will consider doing weekend backpack trails providing they have a degree of difficulty and the facilities are basic. Komatiland Forestry trails are quite popular with this group.

Secondly, there are the hikers who engage in other outdoor activities such as 4x4, Mountain Biking, Road Running etc. These hikers are normally looking for opportunities to enjoy a relaxing weekend away with their families.

Thirdly, there are the members of hiking clubs. Membership of hiking clubs is made up of a variety of people from different backgrounds who find it convenient to leave the organization of trails to the club. Probably about 10% of all hikers are hiking club members.

The hiking community of South Africa, in total is made up of between 50-60 thousand hikers that hike at least once a year.

Why build more trail?

Hikers are always on the lookout for trails that they have not done. Some of the older ones close or change over to quad bikes or mountain biking. Farms on which trails have been developed, are sold and the new owners decide against keeping the trail open. In future it is projected that people are going to have more leisure time and the increase in work pressures will force a new look at recreational activities. Hiking again is an ideal recreational activity as it can be enjoyed by the whole family.


For comments and information please contact Tim Hartwright