Each year, Cape Town winter sneaks in like a frosty chill under the door and before you know it the long summer days have ended, the autumn leaves have fallen and the Cape Doctor has swirled in with some nasty cold fronts and stormy weather. Compared to the rest of the country, Cape Town winters rank pretty low. We experience the wind and the rain while Durban and Jozi have sunny, dry (but very cold) days. It can often feel like adventures run dry in winter in Cape Town and you’re left stuck indoors with nothing to do. A few years back I put together a guide of what to do in Cape Town in Winter. I also love making the most of the cool weather and hitting the Cape Town hiking trails, checking out all my Cape Town Hike blogs. This is also the perfect time to go chasing waterfalls so check out my blog post on Waterfalls in Cape Town for another stunning winter adventure in Cape Town. My favourite winter adventure in Cape Town has to be a trip to see the snow. On a select few weekends in winter we get hit by an extreme cold snap and the high lying areas of the Western Cape are dusted in snow! One of the most popular Cape Town snow adventures is a day trip to the Matroosberg. Read my complete guide on how to plan your trip to the Snow in the Matroosberg here.
However, a trip to the Matroosberg can be quite a commitment with a 2 hour drive each way, queues of cars to contend with and many logistics to arrange on such short notice. Last year I decided to give Matroosberg a miss and instead try out hiking to the snow in Mont Rochelle Nature reserve in Franschhoek. It’s much closer to Cape Town, easier to arrange, and while you still have to contend with plenty of other snow-seekers, the satisfaction of hiking up a mountain to the snow is incredibly rewarding.
Things to note when hiking to the snow in Mont Rochelle:
The Forecast: When looking at the forecast I recommend looking for snow predictions followed by freezing temperatures and sunshine. While hiking while it is snowing sounds romantic, it is less than ideal. Ideally you want to arrive the day AFTER snowfall when there is a thick lay of snow and clear skies. Your experience will be much more enjoyable. Also keep an eye on the Mont Rochelle Facebook page as they have up to date snow reports from on site.
What to wear: It is imperative that you wear good hiking shoes for this hike. As the day wears on, the snow begins to melt and on the way down it can be pretty slippery and sludgy. We saw many pairs of heeled boots, unsupported sneakers and wellies. There were many instances of people falling and hurting themselves badly on the trail. This is a HIKE and so hiking boots are strongly recommended. Another recommendation is to dress in layers. You assume that since it is snowy it is freezing. However, while hiking it can get hot and you’ll want to peel off a few layers. Pack beanies, gloves and a jacket for the top as it can be icy up there, especially once you stop walking. Finally, wear sunscreen. Snow burn is a very real thing and I actually got sunstroke after doing this hike. I know it sounds counter-intuitive but wear your sunblock and drink lots of water.
Cost: There is a conservation fee for doing this hike. Book your permits in advance on WebTickets.
Child (age 12-17): R70
Child (age 0-12): free
Get there early: On a busy day the whole of Franschhoek pass is lined with hundreds of cars packed with eager snow-seekers. It is for this reason that I would recommend leaving Cape Town fairly early in the morning. We got there around 9:30am and the place was PACKED! Parking was a nightmare and you hiked in a long line. If you want the place to yourself, to enjoy the serenity of nature, I recommend an early start.
Start Location: Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve along Franschhoek Pass
Duration: 2-4 hours
Difficulty: Moderate. The trail is mostly flat and easy. The path may be slippery in the snow.
Conservation fee: R70 pp. Book your permits in advance on WebTickets.
Getting there: If you want to go hiking to the snow in Mont Rochelle you will need to drive out to Franschhoek (about 1 hour drive), through the French-inspired winelands town, and up the Franschhoek pass. You are going to park near the entrance to the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve. Once parked you can walk to the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve entrance. This is clearly indicated with hiker signs. You need a permit to enter the reserve. This can either be purchased online via WebTickets beforehand (highly recommend doing this, it makes the otherwise chaotic entry much less stressful).
Once you have entered Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve you can follow the signs towards the Uitkyk trail. This is a 6km trail that is fairly accessible for most levels of fitness and ends with a gorgeous lookout point overlooking the Berg River Dam. How high you need to climb will depend on how low down the snow is. The day we went we started seeing snow from halfway up the Uitkyk trail. However, when the snow isn’t as low down you may need to do a longer hike up the Perdekop trail which is 13km.
When the snow is low down and thick, going as high as the Perdekop trail is not recommended without appropriate gear as you will be hiking through THICK snow to get there which can be slippery and dangerous.
Mont Rochelle Uitkyk trail, Franschhoek
To do the Uitkyk trail you will begin by heading up a short steep section. You will reach a T-junction where the left-hand path takes you to a look out point, you will follow the right hand path to continue along the trail. The path from here is incredibly straightforward with one path all the way up. The trail is fairly flat and easy to hike with a slow climb at the end. If you are just doing the Uitkyk trail you will keep going straight up until you reach the plateau and look out point over the Wemmershoek valley and Wemmershoek Dam. If you want to follow the Perdekop Trail you will turn right off the Uitkyk path. There is a sign clearly indicating this point in the trail. I have not done this hike and so cannot provide details on it. If you want to do this hike read this blog post for the instructions.
On a snowy day you will see snow from pretty low down on the trail and enjoy a walk up surrounded by snowy white mountains. At the Wemmershoek Dam lookout point you have sprawling vistas of snow-capped peaks. You will follow the same path down again back to the car.
Hiking to the snow in Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek is an incredible experience! You’ll feel like you’ve left Africa and stepped into a European winter. After your hike head down to Franschhoek to continue the European vibes for a nice hot choccy, croissant or Apres-ski (drink).
Planning a snowy adventure in Cape Town? Read my blog post on Planning a trip to the snow in Matroosberg.