Last updated June 2023
Jump into a pool of refreshing mountain water and escape the city just an hour outside of Cape Town when you hike to Crystal Pools near Gordon’s Bay. By “refreshing”, of course, we mean quite cold – in true Cape Town fashion. But after 45 minutes to an hour of hiking at the Steenbras Nature Reserve, it comes as sweet relief from the heat.
Here’s everything you need to know about this memorable hike that offers so much to anyone looking for adventure and a fun day out.
The beautiful Crystal Pool Hiking Trail starts on the R44, just after you’ve crossed the bridge over the mouth of the Steenbras River. You need to book your permits ahead of time and these will be checked on arrival. Once you’re in, you’ll need to follow the little yellow footprints to ensure you stay on the path. The trail is lush with indigenous fynbos, and there are large boulders along the route.
The first pool is about 45 minutes from the start of the trail and you can stop here for a snack or break in the shade. For some serious swimming and kloofing opportunities, it’s best to hold out for the second pool, which is another ten to fifteen minutes up. There is also a waterfall, which you can stand below and enjoy an open-air cold shower.
Jumping off of the rocks into the pools is exhilarating, but we’d like to stress that you should only do this with a professional guide or expert hiker who is familiar with the route and the pools. It is a lot of fun, but it’s also dangerous so don’t take any chances if it’s your first time. It goes without saying you should never dive, but we’ll say it anyway. We’d recommend booking a tour with Local Knowledge Tours.
It’s only a 2km hike, but your legs will beg to differ. It starts out fairly easy but the climb gets tough. If you’re up for the challenge you can keep going after the second pool to the third pool that offers more swimming opportunities and an excellent view of the area.
The Fauna and Flora
The Crystal Pools hike falls under the greater Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, home to over 1,600 plant species. This unique Kogelberg sandstone fynbos is also loved by troops of baboons. Reserve management tracks their movements and will able to tell you on the day whether baboons are nearby. It’s important to keep food securely stashed away and to act respectfully and responsibly around these highly intelligent, opportunistic, mischievous animals. Fynbos mountain ranges in the Western Cape also hosts African wildcats, cape clawless otters, large spotted genets, caracals, cape foxes, and leopards, but most of the cats in this area are nocturnal, so not something you need to sweat over.
The hike is open from the beginning of November (bookings open 1 October) until the end of April annually and is closed during the winter season for rehabilitation. You can book for a group of between two and 10 people (only 50 people are allowed on the reserve per day, so you’ll feel a bit like you have the place to yourself).
The entry fee for the Steenbras River Gorge is R80 per person and the entry fee for the Steenbras hiking trails is R25 per person. You’ll need to book and pay in advance and bring your permit with on the day. All of this is done to ensure the area is taken care of and to prevent soil erosion and damage to the natural fauna and flora.
To book, email email@example.com with the size of your party at least two working days before you’d like to set off. They’re open from Monday to Friday (excluding public holidays) from 8:30am to 2:30pm.
General hiking safety tips apply, but make sure you have good hiking shoes, a sun hat, and sunblock—this hike is in full sun, which makes the pools all the more refreshing.
Pack enough water and some snacks for a lovely lunch by the pools. It’s a bin-free hike, so take an extra bag for your trash and pick up any litter you might spot along the way. Please don’t disturb the natural plant life or animals and act responsibly while on the reserve. Walk single file to avoid soil erosion and stick to the well-trodden footpaths.