The Drakensberg is famous for its incredible hiking trails, and one hike that definitely deserves a mention is the Wodehouse Peak hiking trail in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Hiking the Wodehouse Peak trail
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is definitely one of the most beautiful national parks in South Africa. That puts it up there with some pretty famous company such as the Garden Route National Park, the Kruger National Park and the Table Mountain National Park. However, no one would deny that the sheer scale and beauty of this magnificent corner of the country has earned it a rightful place among these top attractions.
The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is in an area commonly referred to as the Northern Drakensberg. This stretch is famous for its hiking trails, including another notable entry; the Sentinel Peak (chain ladders) hiking trail.
While not to be outdone by its neighbours in KwaZulu-Natal, the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State province is home to its own special trails and one trail that really got our hearts racing was the Wodehouse Peak hiking trail. As the name suggests, this trail summits the Wodehouse Peak but not before meandering hikers through some of the park’s most notable landmarks such as Brandwag Buttress and the Red Mountains.
The Wodehouse Peak hiking trail starts in the park’s camp site just across the road from the SAN Parks office. You can pick up a map from the office, although we didn’t find this map too helpful and, while the route is very well marked, there were one or two points where it is not exactly clear which way to go – but hopefully this article will help with that.
The first part of the Wodehouse Peak hike takes you along the lower contours of the mountain. There are some interesting spots along the way as well as some incredible sandstone rock formations to look at. After a steady walk along the gently sloped contour you’ll arrive at a chain handrail that takes you to the top of the Brandwag Buttress. This is an awesome view site and a great place to catch your breath before pressing on.
This next part is very important as this is where there is room for some trail-spoiling confusion. Once you’ve rejoined the trail from the Brandwag Buttress the path will continue for a short stretch until you reach what appears to be a fork in the path. At this point be sure to follow the steps back down the mountain. It feels a bit counter-intuitive to be heading back down again, but rest assured, that is the right way. The other path leads through some very steep and treacherous sections before disappearing altogether (can you tell we made this mistake ourselves?).
From here on the path is quite straight forward and well marked. There is a deviation that forms part of a multi-day hike (the Rhebok trail), however, this is clearly marked and shouldn’t cause too much confusion.
Climbing the Wodehouse Peak is relatively easy, albeit steep in sections and the view from the top is as glorious as you would expect from a vantage point that overlooks the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Descending the mountain is also a case of following the well marked trail, however, as you get close to the bottom, the route goes through a rocky section which calls for a great deal of nerve and caution. At one point you will have to slide yourself down a section of open-face rock assisted by metal poles that have been drilled into the rock face, and is not for the fainthearted.
It’s a short way down to the bottom from here, and a gentle stroll back along the road to the campsite.
Map of the route
Important info for hikers
Approximate trail distance:
8 km (5 miles)
4 hour round trip at a comfortable pace.
There are no permits required to do this hike, but it is a good idea to check in with the SAN Parks office to check the safety of the trail and to let them know you’ll be hiking.
You can check out the updated tariff list here: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/golden_gate/tourism/tariffs.php
What to pack
- Layered clothing
- Good hiking boots
- Sun cream
- Water (there are no water points along the way)
- Rain coat in Spring and Summer – afternoon thunderstorms are not uncommon and can come up very quickly.
- Cell phone with saved emergency numbers and power bank.
When to go
The Wodehouse Peak hiking trail is open all-year round. The spring and summer months can be wet with afternoon thundershowers, while the winter months are cold with the possibility of snow.
Check with SAN Parks that the route is safe and let them know you’ll be hiking the Wodehouse Peak trail. Also be sure that you are fit and capable as there are a number of steep and dangerous sections along the way. The weather is also a factor that can change very quickly, so if in doubt head back down the quickest and safest route to the bottom.