Follow the Green Flag for excellent hiking in South Africa

by Fran
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Hiking in South Africa is a popular tourist activity - and now with the Green Flag Trail System accrediting and rating trails, your hiking experience in South Africa just got even better!
Hiking in South Africa is a popular tourist activity - and now with the Green Flag Trail System accrediting and rating trails, your hiking experience in South Africa just got even better!
  • Foreign hikers can now consult South Africa's Green Flag Trail System accreditation program for complete info on trail difficulty, level of fitness, environment and accommodation.
  • The accreditation system was developed to offer hikers the best hiking experience while meeting expectations.
  • The system is an on-going project and hiking trails will be reviewed on a regular basis.

South Africa Green Trail Hiking System

South Africa is well-known for its impressive mountain regions, with deep valleys and coastline borders.  Many a foreign traveler heads for the mountains shortly after arrival in South Africa.  With the variety in mountain landscapes from the Cape’s folded mountains to the cathedral peaks of the Drakensberge, there are many options to choose from and a hiking trail to suit every level of hiker.  For travelers wishing to explore South Africa’s mountains, there is an excellent guiding system in place: the local Green Flag Trail Accreditation System.  This system standardized trails, allowing for ratings and accreditations, telling the hiker exactly what can be expected in terms of trail difficulty, accommodation type and options, facilities available, the environment and what precautions are necessary. 

With this blueprint for hiking in South Africa, the Hiking Organization of South Africa (HOSA) and the South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) with the help from nature conservation organizations, achieved work of great success.  The categories are easy to understand and provide information that hikers can use to find the hiking trail that best suit their needs and interests. 

South Africa hiking environment

The Green Flag Trail’s environment is categorized as pristine, natural, rural or semi-urban.  Hiking trails in a pristine environment is likely to be within a proclaimed wilderness area or natural setting under strict conservation control.  A natural category predicts a natural environment, but with some man-made elements.  A typical example is a hiking route traversing through a commercially managed forestry environment.  A hiking trail classified according to a rural environment, offers a pleasant mix of farming environment with open space.  Lastly, the semi-urban category might offer you a trail crossing through a quiet urban environment, leading to the periphery of the town or city. 

Accommodation categories covered by Green Flag Trail System

Together with the hiking environment, a certain type of accommodation is usually offered.  The accommodation categories covered by the Green Flag Trail System include excellent, standard and rustic.  Typically, a wilderness hiking trail far away from the urban environmental will offer a rustic accommodation type.  This often means limited luxuries including limited warm water and electricity, but hikers can be assured of everything needed for a basic overnight stay.  On the other hand, your natural to semi-urban hiking trails can offer either standard or excellent accommodation options, with corresponding facilities and price ranges.

Green Flag Trail difficulty & energy required

It is critically important that hikers are clearly informed of a specific trail’s difficulty prior to setting off.  To guide the hiker, the Green Flag Trail System classifies a hiking trail according to the technique that will be necessary for completing the route.  A hiking trail indicated as requiring walking is an easy route, whereas climbing warns the hiker that some rock or mountain climbing will be necessary.  The most difficult routes will require free rock climbing, warning the hiker that hiking aids such as ropes will be necessary.  Apart from the difficulty ratings, the Green Flag Trail System also foretells the typical energy levels required to complete the accredited hiking trails, choose from an easy to extremely difficult route to suit your fitness level!


Environmental responsibility is one of the key baselines of the Green Flag Trail System. Hiking routes with quality environmental principles and that promote responsible hiking are recognized. The accreditation furthermore considers the environmental protection and current environmental state of the hiking trail – are there any signs of erosion, pollution along the way?  How can the hiker contribute to the environmental standard of the trail? 

Hiking safety

The Green Flag Trail System also considers the hiker’s safety.  Some factors considered in this category include mobile phone reception, medical evacuation possibilities, safety of the trail features (including ladders or bridges) and whether the trail is associated with any crime incidences.

Green Flag: offering hikers the best!

With Green Flag’s quality control and accreditation, the foreign hiker is well-equipped to find the best routes in South Africa, meeting your expectations!  The system is a work in progress, and many volunteers are involved with the continued rating and accrediting of new routes and trails.  A total of 40 routes, including the Maluti Cave Route, Vredefort Meteorite Trail (Free State), Giant’s Cup (Drakensberge) and Hoerrikwaggo (Table Mount, Cape Town) are already accredited under the Green Flag Trail System.  Besides the already accredited routes, there are many more are waiting for their Green Flag accreditation.  To offer the hiking community the best experience, all routes will be reviewed every two years and accreditation will need to be renewed on a bi-annual basis.

Sources and credits

Sources: Hiking Organisation of South Africa
Photo rights: some rights reserved by Palojono via flickr [Creative Commons]

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