Hiking the Drakensberg: Royal Natal National Park, South Africa

The best hiking trails in Africa worth exploring

The Drakensberg, meaning “Dragon Mountains” in Afrikaan, is a breathtaking mountain range in South Africa that offers some of the most spectacular hiking experiences on the continent. Nestled within this rugged landscape is the Royal Natal National Park, a jewel in the crown of South Africa’s protected areas.

Hiking in this UNESCO World Heritage Site provides adventurers with the opportunity to explore dramatic peaks, lush valleys, cascading waterfalls, and a rich tapestry of flora and fauna.

In this article, we will take you on a virtual journey through the Royal Natal National Park, highlighting its incredible hiking trails and the natural beauty that awaits those who explore it.

Wildlife and Flora

The Royal Natal National Park is home to a diverse range of wildlife and plant species. Keep an eye out for the elusive klipspringer, baboons, and a variety of bird species, including the Cape vulture.

The park is also known for its rich and unique floral biodiversity, including many indigenous species that have adapted to the harsh mountain environment.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Royal Natal National Park for hiking is during the dry season, which typically runs from April to September. The weather is cooler, and the trails are less slippery, making for a more enjoyable hiking experience.

Camping and Accommodation

The park offers a range of accommodation options, from camping sites to self-catering chalets. Mahai Camp and Thendele Camp are popular choices, and advanced booking is recommended, especially during peak seasons.

Hiking Trails in Royal Natal National Park

Tugela Gorge Trail

This iconic trail is one of the park’s most popular hikes. It begins at the Tendele Camp and takes you deep into the Tugela Gorge. Along the way, you’ll traverse wooden walkways, cross the Tugela River, and marvel at the soaring cliffs that surround you.

The highlight of the hike is the view of the Tugela Falls, the second-highest waterfall in the world. This moderately challenging hike spans approximately 15 kilometers round trip.

The Policeman’s Helmet Trail

This shorter, less strenuous hike is perfect for those looking for a more relaxed adventure. The trail offers beautiful views of the Drakensberg and Royal Natal National Park, and the reward at the end is the impressive Policeman’s Helmet rock formation. It’s a roughly 8-kilometer round-trip journey that can be completed in half a day.

The Cascades Path Rock

If you’re interested in exploring the park’s waterfalls, the Cascades Trail is an ideal choice. Situated beside the Mahai River, a brief 800-meter stroll from the Mahai campsite, this is the sole rock art site that is wheelchair-accessible.

The Cascades path rock primarily features rhebuck depictions but also includes depictions of people. This trail is perfect for families and beginners, offering a refreshing escape into nature.


Hiking in the Royal Natal National Park, nestled within the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, is an adventure that should be on every nature enthusiast’s bucket list.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker looking for a challenge or a beginner seeking a gentle introduction to the beauty of the Drakensberg, this park has something to offer everyone.

With its stunning vistas, unique wildlife, and pristine natural beauty, the Royal Natal National Park is a South African treasure waiting to be explored.

Pearce Kibaale is a freelance writer, content creator, and Editor-in-Chief of Trip Dhow.